Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Cookies

This weekend, Kara and I made Christmas cookies. This is one of my favorite holiday pastimes.Christmas cookies are not especially easy, quick or neat, but I find them immensely satisfying to make, especially now that I have a little helper. I know it is probably not on any pediatrician's list of milestones, but I think that it is pretty remarkable when your child actually helps you in the kitchen. I have made cookies with Kara since she was three, I think, but this was the first year that she basically worked at it on her own and produced some really lovely looking cookies. See that candy cane in the center of the picture? That was all Kara.

This recipe comes from my stepmother, and though I am not at all close with her now, I have fond memories of making cookies with her. Cooking together was one of the few ways that we could spend conflict-free time together. So in the spirit of not just conflict-free but joyous holiday time with your family, I give you the best Christmas cookie recipe ever.

  • With a hand mixer or in a stand up mixer, cream 1/2 cup margarine.
  • Add 3/4 cup sugar and beat until fluffy
  • Add 2 egg yolks and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract. Reserve the whites.
  • Add 1 tbsp cream, half and half or whole milk
  • Sift together 1 1/2 cups flour, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp baking powder and combine into wet ingredients
  • Divide dough into 4 quarters, wrap in wax paper and freeze until ready to use. You can make the dough days ahead of time.
  • When you are ready, roll out the dough to scant 1/4 inch thickness on a floured surface. It may take some additional flour to prevent sticking. Cut out shapes and place on non-stick or greased regular cookie sheet. Use a pastry brush to wet the cookies with the egg white. If you want to use sprinkles, sprinkle away. If you plan to ice your cookies, pop them in the oven. Don't skip the egg wash, it make the cookies look much prettier.
  • Bake at 350 for about 7 minutes.
  • Note: I usually double this recipe. Also, you can reserve part of the dough and add 1-2 tbsp cocoa powder, depending on the amount of dough you saved, to make chocolate cookies. You can also add food coloring to make red/.green cookies. You can also add a little cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice to make a spicier cookie. These are flexible cookies.
I really love using icing to decorate the cookies. Here is a basic Royal Icing recipe. (You can find about a million more on the web.)
-Mix 1 box (1 lb) confectioners sugar with 5 tbsp meringue powder, 1/2 cup water and a squirt of lemon juice. Use a hand mixer to beat until icing is thick and smooth. You can add more sugar or water to achieve the thickness you are looking for. You can also use 2 egg whites instead of meringue powder. I have done this many times and no one has died of salmonella, but when I am decorating with kids, I usually don't risk it.
Cute gel colors - I even saw these at Target last week.

-Divide the icing into small bowls and add either food coloring or invest in gel pastes. I made this leap last year, and it was wall worth it. Gel coloring makes much brighter colors and there are a wide variety of color choices. You can buy them at craft stores like Michael's or online at any baking supply company. Yes, they cost more than the food coloring that you get in your local spice aisle, but they last a long time and can be used with any white icing to decorate your next batch of cupcakes.

-If you are cooking with kids, definitely let them do the addition of colors to the white icing. Good times were had by all.

When you have the colors you want, spoon icing into plastic sandwich bags and cut a tiny hole in the bottom corner. Use the bags to pipe icing on to cookies. You can also leave the icing in bowls and use paint brushes, Popsicle sticks, or toddler utensils to spread it on the cookies.

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