CHRISTMAS COOKIES

This past Christmas, for the first time since I had kids, I managed to bake Christmas cookies in sufficient quantities to share.  Usually I’d get one batch made, the family would eat them all, and that was the end of that.  I was so pleased with my cookie trays that I think I tore my rotator cuff patting myself on the back.

The cookies didn’t go quite as far as I’d planned, however, because we had a slight incident here.  The heater in our garage apartment had been acting up, and one day while I was out shopping I got a call from the police that our alarm company notified them that our smoke detector had gone off and the temperature in the garage apartment was 120 degrees.  I raced home to find 3 firemen and 2 policemen in my garage apartment, playing with my worthless watchdogs.  It really was 120 degrees — they said they’d never seen a room that hot that wasn’t on fire.  I think it was too hot even for hot yoga.   It turned out to be a broken heat relay (maybe) or thermostat (maybe) — we replaced both just in case.  Anyway, after shutting off the heater, we all came downstairs, and as I stood there in my kitchen surrounded by 5 very nice policemen and firemen, all I could think to do was offer them the Christmas cookies I’d been baking for the past two weeks, which to my delight, they gladly accepted.  So I packed them up a HUGE tin, and sent them off with profuse thanks and warm wishes.

Several of my cookies were recipes that I tried for the first time this year.  They were great, but in my opinion, they’re all keepers.  So, for posterity’s sake, and because cookies aren’t just for the holidays, here are my 2017 Christmas cookies with links to the recipes.

Clockwise from the top:  Favorite Ginger Cookies, Pistachio Cranberry Icebox Cookies, Split Seconds, Double Coconut Macaroons, Cinnamon Pinwheels, Chewy Double Chocolate Cookies, Cream Cheese Spritz, and Golden Pecan Balls in the center.

Favorite Ginger Cookies

Pistachio Cranberry Icebox Cookies

Split Seconds

Double Coconut Macaroons

Cinnamon Pinwheels

Chewy Double Chocolate Cookies

Cream Cheese Spritz

Golden Pecan Balls

CINNAMON PINWHEELS

These red and white pinwheel cookies were a pretty addition to my Christmas cookie trays.  The recipe is slightly modified from the Food Network’s Cinnamon Pinwheels.  This was the first time I made these, and mine were admittedly not as perfect as the Food Network’s — but they were still attractive and delicious, and disappeared quickly.  Next year they’ll be more pinwheel-y.  🙂

CINNAMON PINWHEELS
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Recipe type: Cookies
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1-1/2 sticks butter, softened
  • ⅔ cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
  • ¾ teaspoon red food coloring
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon coarse or sparkling sugar, plus extra for rolling dough in
Instructions
  1. Place butter and sugar in a large bowl and beat, using an electric mixer, until light and fluffy.
  2. Beat in egg and vanilla. On low speed, beat in flour, baking powder, and salt, until just combined.
  3. Remove half of the dough and wrap in plastic wrap. Add the cocoa powder and food coloring to the remaining dough, and beat until thoroughly combined. Wrap red dough in plastic wrap.
  4. Refrigerate both pieces of dough until firm, about 1 hour.
  5. Dust the dough lightly with flour and roll out each piece on parchment paper into a 10x11" rectangle. Flip the red dough on top of the plain dough, remove the top piece of parchment, and trim the edges. Sprinkle the cinnamon and coarse sugar on top. Starting from a short end, tightly roll up the dough, using the parchment to help. Roll the log in coarse sugar. Wrap the log in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 3 hours.
  6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice the log crosswise into ¼"-thick slices. Place on baking sheet 1-1/2" apart. Bake until slightly puffed and lightly golden on the bottom, approximately 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool briefly, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

 

CHEWY DOUBLE CHOCOLATE COOKIES

These intensely chocolate cookies with a chewy texture were a big hit.  Use good quality bittersweet chocolate for best results.

CHEWY DOUBLE CHOCOLATE COOKIES
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Author:
Ingredients
  • ½ cup dark corn syrup
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1-1/2 sticks butter, softened
  • ⅓ cup brown sugar, packed
  • ⅓ cup sugar, plus ½ cup extra for rolling cookies in
  • 1-1/2 cups flour
  • ¾ cup cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together corn syrup, egg white, and vanilla.
  3. Place the butter, brown sugar, and ⅓ cup sugar in a large bowl and beat using an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the corn syrup mixture and beat until combined. Add the flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt, and chocolate, and mix just until combined. Chill in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  4. Place ½ cup sugar in a shallow bowl. Roll dough into 1" balls, then roll in sugar to coat. Place on cookie sheet approximately 2" apart, and bake for approximately 10 minutes, until cookies are cracked but still look wet between cracks. Allow to cool briefly on sheets, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

SPLIT SECONDS

My Mom used to make jam-filled Split Seconds every year at the holidays.  These were one of her favorites because in addition to tasting good, you can bang out 4 dozen in no time.  When I looked up the recipe, I was surprised to see it was actually a Pillsbury Bake-Off recipe from 1954.  These added a little bit of nostalgia to my cookie trays this year.
SPLIT SECONDS
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Recipe type: Cookies
Author:
Ingredients
  • ⅔ cup sugar
  • ¾ cup butter, softened
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ cup jam or preserves
  • Optional glaze:
  • 1 cup confectioner's sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons milk
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Place sugar and butter in a large bowl, and beat using an electric beater until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla and egg until well blended. Add flour and baking powder, and beat on low speed until dough forms.
  3. Divide dough into 4 equal portions. On a lightly floured surface, shape each portion into 12x3/4-inch roll. Place rolls on cookie sheet. Using the handle of a wooden spoon or your finger, make an indentation lengthwise down the center of each roll approximately ½ inch wide and ¼ inch deep. Be careful not to press all the way through the dough. Fill the indentation in each roll with approximately 2 tablespoons preserves (it is easier to spoon preserves if you warm them slightly in microwave). Don't overfill indentations.
  4. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until light golden brown. Allow to cool before slicing diagonally into 12 cookies. If using optional glaze, do so before slicing the cookies. Make the glaze by whisking the confectioner's sugar together with enough milk to make a smooth drizzle, not too runny. Drizzle over cooled cookies. Allow glaze to set before slicing and storing.

Fill the indentations with your favorite jam

Allow to cool slightly before cutting on the diagonal

Drizzled with glaze

Especially nice with tea

PISTACHIO CRANBERRY ICEBOX COOKIES

With the red and green from the cranberries and pistachios, this is an obvious choice for Christmas cookies.  The dough is a little bit of a hassle to work with — very crumbly — but the end result is worth it because these are wonderful.  The recipe is slightly adapted from Liz The Chef, who in turn, adapted the recipe from Gourmet.

PISTACHIO CRANBERRY ICEBOX COOKIES
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Recipe type: Cookies
Author:
Ingredients
  • ¾ cup butter (1-1/2 sticks), softened
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1-1/2 cups flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup shelled pistachios, coarsely chopped
  • ½ cup sweetened dried cranberries, coarsely chopped
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • ½ cup coarse or sparkling sugar
Instructions
  1. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter, sugar, orange juice, and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add the flour and salt, and continue to beat on low speed until the dough comes together in clumps. Mix in pistachios and cranberries.
  2. Gather the dough together and divide into 2 pieces. Shape each piece into a log approximately 1-1/2 inches thick. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour the coarse or sparkling sugar onto a plate. Brush each log with the beaten egg, then roll in the sugar. Using a sharp knife, slice the dough into ¼-inch slices, and place on cookie sheet at least 1 inch apart. Bake until edges of the cookies are lightly golden, approximately 12-15 minutes. Remove to racks to cool.

GOLDEN PECAN BALLS

Baking cookies is an integral part of many families’ holiday traditions. Part of my holiday baking tradition also includes trying a new cookie every year.   I’m not sure which recipe it’ll be yet (I’ll update when I decide), but have I got a cookie for YOU to try!  This  recipe for Golden Pecan Balls won the grand prize in a holiday cookie contest sponsored by House & Home magazine. My prize was a beautiful set of Jamie Oliver T-Fal stainless and copper cookware, which my daughter is happily using in her first apartment.

Golden Pecan Balls are based on a cookie my Mom used to make called Walnut Crescents.  There’s a lot of variations of the cookie out there, which you may recognize as Mexican Wedding Cookies, Russian Tea Cakes, Snowballs, or Butterballs.  My version is different in that it uses European butter, golden syrup, and toasted pecans, and if I don’t say so myself, it is delicious.  If you’re looking for a holiday cookie that’s easy and delectable, I would be honored if you gave my prize-winning Golden Pecan Balls a try.

GOLDEN PECAN BALLS
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Recipe type: Cookies
Author:
Ingredients
  • ½ cup European-style butter, softened
  • ¼ cup Lyle's golden syrup
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup toasted pecans,* finely chopped
  • ¾ cup powdered sugar
  • *To toast pecans, place them in a single layer in a large dry skillet over medium-heat. Stir continuously for 4 or 5 minutes, until nuts are fragrant and beginning to darken in color, being very careful not to let them burn. Let cool before using.
Instructions
  1. Place butter, syrup, and vanilla in a medium bowl and beat using an electric beater, until smooth. Add flour and salt and stir until thoroughly combined. Fold in pecans. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
  2. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Roll dough into 1" balls. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet, approximately 1-1/2" apart. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until lightly golden.
  3. Place powdered sugar in a shallow bowl. When cookies are cool enough to handle, roll them in powdered sugar. For a pretty presentation, dust lightly with powdered sugar just before serving or packaging (see magazine photo above).

 IMG_3161Ready for the oven

IMG_3162

Baked to golden deliciousness

IMG_3164

All dressed up and ready to go

FAVORITE GINGER COOKIES

This is a vintage handkerchief that I purchased on ebay.  My daughter loves these old hankies, especially the ones with fancy borders, like the scalloped poinsettia border on this one, and I snap them up at estate sales whenever I see them.  It’s so much nicer to dab away tears with one of these frilly hankies, instead of having to carry around a ball of wadded up soggy tissue.

Also known as the Christmas Flower,  poinsettias are native to Mexico.  They are named after Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico and an amateur botanist, who imported them from Mexico in the early 1800s.  According to Mexican legend, a poor child wanted to bring a gift to the Virgin Mary/Holy Child/church altar, but had no money to buy one.  He picked some weeds along the roadside on the way to church to leave as a gift.  By way of a Christmas miracle, the weeds turned into gorgeous bright red star-shaped flowers.

Christmas Poinsettias

At the grocery store yesterday I saw poinsettias that had been dyed blue.  Maybe some grower somewhere is hoping they’ll become known as Hanukkah Poinsettias, but I doubt that will ever happen–the plants were hideously ugly.

Hanukkah poinsettias?

Poinsettias have a special meaning for me.  Two days before Thanksgiving 2010, my dog died.  Dexter, a wiry little shar pei who loved me madly, was “my boy.”  We had learned a few weeks earlier that he had a large abdominal tumor, and there really wasn’t much we could do to stop the progression of the disease.  Our family agreed that as long as he did not appear to be in pain we would keep him at home.  And so we provided Dexter the best hospice care we could, and he passed quietly, surrounded by his heartbroken family that adored him.

Dexter in a pensive mood.

If you have ever experienced the death of a beloved pet, you’ll understand that Dexter dying just about killed me.  We cancelled our Thanksgiving plans with the family and the four of us stayed home, flattened by grief.  It was the saddest Thanksgiving I ever experienced.  That Sunday at church, we bought a poinsettia in his memory, which would be among hundreds decorating the sanctuary for Christmas.

It is our family’s tradition to usher at the Christmas Eve service at our church.

That year, the sea of poinsettias in the packed sanctuary were as stunning as ever.  As we stood there lined up with our collection plates, I happened to look down at the program in my hand, and saw an insert listing all the names that poinsettias had been donated in honor or in memory of.

Dexter’s name practically jumped off the page at me:

And with that, I started crying.  Rivers of tears streaming uncontrollably down my cheeks. I couldn’t stop them, either.  The kids were staring at me, half embarassed, half scared — they had no idea what was wrong with me.  I was mortified.  After a while, the usher behind me tapped me on the shoulder, and when I turned my red eyes to him to see what he wanted, he whispered in my ear, “You have toilet paper on your shoe.”  I looked down, but there wasn’t any toilet paper on either of my shoes.  As I realized what he had done, I burst out laughing and thanked him for distracting me.  It was perfect.

Last year, as we sat through a service in December, I noticed all the poinsettias and started tearing up again.  My son poked me and made an inquisitive face, and I mouthed, “Dexter.”  He, in turn, poked my daughter, and whispered, “Mom’s crying over Dexter,” who in turn poked my husband and whispered, “Mom’s crying over Dexter.”  Discreet, they are not.  I am hoping that this week when we go to church and see the sanctuary filled with poinsettias that I can keep my composure.  Fat chance.  But I’ll be prepared with my poinsettia hankie.

I baked a lot the Christmas after Dexter died, trying to spread Christmas cheer to everyone including myself.  I made hundreds of my favorite ginger cookies and shared them with friends and neighbors.  Carolers came by just as I was pulling a batch out of the oven, and they loved the surprise treat.  I even brought a batch of dough to my son’s boy scout troop meeting and, using the church’s oven, was able to serve the boys freshly-baked warm ginger cookies with made-from-scratch hot cocoa.

Inspired by the poinsettia hankie, and memories of my beloved Dexter, I baked a batch of my favorite ginger cookies to bring to my son’s school today for a holiday party, as they wrapped gifts for a family with a child with cancer.  I’m sure I’ll be baking many more batches before the year is over.

FAVORITE GINGER COOKIES
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Recipe type: Cookies
Author:
Ingredients
  • ¾ cup butter, softened (no substitutions)
  • 1-1/4 cups sugar, divided use
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup Steen's Cane Syrup (no substitutions)
  • 2-1/2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon salt
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Place butter and 1 cup sugar in a large mixing bowl, and beat until fluffy using an electric mixer. Add egg and beat well. Add cane syrup and beat until smooth.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, and salt. Add to butter mixture in 2 additions, stirring well after each addition until thoroughly combined.
  4. Place remaining ¼ cup sugar in a small bowl. Roll dough into 1-inch balls, then roll in sugar until coated. Place approximately 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake approximately 10 minutes until just firm. Remove from oven and let stand on cookie sheets for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool.

 

Hot from the oven.  Where’s those boy scouts and carolers?

 A heaping plate of holiday cheer

In loving memory of my boy Dexter