It’s time to think about cookies and not just any kind of cookies. I’m talking about Christmas cookies.
You may ask, “What makes a cookie a Christmas cookie?” There are so many different varieties and types that it might be easier to talk about what cookies don’t qualify as Christmas cookies. In my book, chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin cookies are not Christmas cookies. Don’t get me wrong — they are delicious, but they just don’t have defining characteristics that make a holiday cookie special. To me those characteristics include Yuletide shapes, sugars of every holiday hue, all varieties of sprinkles and unique flavors including peppermint, lime, coconut and almond.
I was willing to bet that if I asked a dozen different people, I would get a dozen different answers to the question “What makes a Christmas cookie special?” As I shopped last week, I did a very unscientific survey and asked some of the “friendly smiles in every aisle” at our local Hy-Vee just what makes a cookie a Christmas cookie.
For Julie, it has to be butter spritz in various Christmas shapes and she doesn’t need sprinkles or frosting — just those cookies like Grandma made. Verne says any type of cookie will do as long as they have lots of frosting on them. Kim has great memories of eating Christmas snicker doodles. Scott said any cookie that he made with his dad brings back good cookie memories. Mike thinks Christmas needs sugar cookies cut out in holiday shapes and resplendent with red or green frosting. Bob and Dolly are also sugar cookie fans, but Dolly prefers hers with sprinkles. Lavonne still thinks chocolate chips are the best no matter what the season and Dolly suggested she could color a cornflake, butter and melted marshmallow combination green to make a wreath complete with cinnamon candy berries on a chocolate chip base. How clever is that?
However, the common theme in all the conversations had to do with sharing the memories of Christmas past or making new Yuletide memories with those we love.
The following recipes are easy ways to create cookie and memory delights for all those you love. We are busy people and often over committed during December, so it is OK to take shortcuts when we can. Whether you make these sweets for a cookie exchange, a gift for friends and neighbors or to share during your family’s Christmas celebration, I offer these ideas with the hope that they might become a new memory for you and yours.
2 rolls (16.5-ounce each) refrigerated sugar cookie dough
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons almond extract
1 egg white
1 tablespoon water
3/4 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup sugar
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 15-inch-by10-inch-by-1-inch baking pan. Break up cookie dough in a large bowl and mix in cinnamon and almond extract. With greased fingers, press mixture evenly in the bottom of the greased pan. (I ran a small rolling pin over the dough to make sure it was an even thickness.) In a small bowl, beat the egg white and water until frothy. Brush over the dough. Sprinkle with almonds and sugar. Bake cookies for 20 minutes or until edges are light golden brown. Cool for 30 minutes or until completely cooled. For diamond shaped bars, cut 5 straight parallel lines about 2 inches apart down the length of the pan; cut diagonal lines about 1 1/2 inches apart across the straight lines. Recipe note: To give these cookies more holiday sparkle, I used a tablespoon of green sugar in the white sugar that I use to sprinkle over the top of the cookies before baking. The slivered almonds and colored sugar make this bar an easy but very special cookie.
1 1/2 cups crushed peppermint candy
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, divided
3/4 cup butter
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
Grind or crush the peppermints in 1/2 cup of the sugar until the candy is finely ground. Combine the flour and salt together in a small bowl and set aside. Mix the butter, eggs and 1 cup sugar together in a large bowl. Add in the vanilla and peppermint extracts. Add the flour mixture and thoroughly combine. Form the dough into 1-inch diameter balls. Roll in the sugar/peppermint mixture and bake on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet for 8 to 10 minutes in a 350-degree oven. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for one minute, remove and roll them in the sugar/peppermint mixture again. Cool.
* * *
The next recipe is so simple and since it only has 3 ingredients that are all shelf-stable, you can always have what you need to whip up a batch for last minute cookie needs. To give these macaroons Christmas flair, I usually put half of a red or green candied cherry on each one before baking. Karla found a great hint I like even better in the latest edition of Martha Stewart’s Living magazine. Martha suggested that you form the macaroons into a cone shape and then dust them with powdered sugar just before serving. They look like little snow covered Christmas trees. This is such an effortless way to transform a simple cookie into a special holiday treat.
Three Ingredients Macaroons
1 package (16-ounce) shredded coconut
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 can (14-ounce) sweetened condensed milk
Mix ingredients and drop from a teaspoon onto a well-greased cookie sheet. (Top with a candied cherry if desired.) Bake in a 350-degree oven for 10-12 minutes. Cool slightly; remove to a cooking rack. Store in an airtight container.
Quote of the week
The children were nestled all snug in their beds while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads. — Clement C. Moore
Ellen Lund of Fremont is a freelance food columnist.