In & Out of the Kitchen: All in all, ’twas a good cookie season

A box of cookies, destined for a friend.
PHOTOGRAPHER:

A box of cookies, destined for a friend.

Are there ever enough Christmas cookies, I wonder? According to friends, no. I purchase holiday cardboard boxes for packaging my cookies, and usually end up giving most of them away.

It was a good year, Christmas cookie-wise. I started with the most important, the Moravian cookies for the Christmas tree, thinly rolled and cut out with my family’s old shapes, outlined in royal icing. I made the switch from my mother’s to another cookie recipe (heaven help me), this one from the seventh edition of “Joy of Cooking.” They get tied with curling ribbon and hung on my tree and others throughout the Capital Region.

The other difficult ones, the rainbow cookies, are up next. Impressive and worth the two days invested in them, they are made with almond paste and two kinds of jam, topped with chocolate. I know people who bang these out; they’re still tricky for me. The recipe makes a lot.

Next up: spritz. These are very popular, since the proportion of butter and egg yolk to flour makes them rich. Last year, husband bought me an Italian-made, all-metal Marcato “biscuits machine” which pops out cookies like nothing I’ve ever used. I made two batches, one tinted light pink. They go quick, so I made another batch about a week later.

The next session I rolled a batch of sugar-cookie dough into linzer-type sandwiches, with raspberry and apricot jam filling. I used a patterned rolling pin to emboss the bottoms, and cut stars into the tops to allow the brightly colored jam to peek through.

Another day I knocked out more sugar-cookie dough, this time for snowflakes. Half are turned into cutout flakes, intricate, delicate and tricky to get right. The blue, purple and white sanding sugar I use on these always reminds me of the Disney movie “Frozen.”

The rest of that batch gets punched out with small snowflake cutters that emboss an intricate pattern on top. They need just a squiggle of chocolate and some winter-themed nonpareils.

Who doesn’t love shortbread? Nobody, I’ve discovered, so I made two batches of those, too. I make dainty ones — trees, six-pointed stars, holly leaves, bells — and decorate them with just enough colored sugar in the middle to show up. Their small size allows me to maximize the space in the cookie boxes. Imported butter shines here.

Somewhere in there I made molasses sugar cookies amped up with extra spices, rolled in sparkling sugar. Crowd-pleasers, too: They were gone before Christmas. I never got around to that second batch.

It’s nice to have a mix of flavors, shapes and colors. This year I tinted white chocolate melting wafers pink and green for dipping the first spritz cookies. The last batch was dipped in dark and milk chocolate. Warm spices, butter, chocolate and fruit-flavored jam make a nice combination on a cookie tray.

My cookies are decorated with colored sugar and nonpareils in holiday colors, not too much. Restraint is important to me. You don’t have to hit someone over the head with red and green; a hint does the job.

What I didn’t get to this year: the tricky checkerboard black-and-white cookies, made with shortening. They were my favorite as a kid but I sometimes skip them because I can’t get them perfectly square. Or even close. Also, what we called sour cream cookies, flaky layers with lots of vanilla sugar. They look like palmiers, or elephant ears. They are the messiest thing I’ve ever made.

The family cookies we grew up with and I don’t carry on making are lebkuchen and pfeffernuss, but my sister-in-law still does those so I don’t feel they’re lost. But the big gingerbread men, destined for the tree, and large spice cookies cut out and decorated with a paper picture of Father Christmas, or macaroons — no one in my family makes those anymore.

Mom wrote a list of holiday cookies on the first page of her old scrapbook cookbook, presumably the ones she made early on. Later she added spritz and macaroons.

Mom’s Christmas cookie list evolved; mine has, too. The basic lineup, what I did this year, has stayed the same for a long time.
Some kinds I don’t make anymore, like the messy ones and the ones with coconut, and some I add because they have meaning or are especially decorative or tasty.

Eric has only one requirement for Christmas cookies: “Don’t give them all away.”

Categories: Food, Life and Arts

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