The freezer is loaded with butter, bags of flour are backed up on the pantry and the cookbooks are out. It’s time for the annual cookie-baking marathon.
Holiday cookies can be made ahead and kept refrigerated in metal tins or plastic containers, with layers of wax paper between the chocolate-dipped or jam-filled kinds to keep them neat. Or you can set aside a day to spend baking.
I usually do a mix of both. When pressed for time, I’ll eke a batch of cookie dough to be baked later, and also set aside one day to turn out as many as I can. It’s exhausting, but exhilarating, and the outcome is lots of wonderful cookies to give as gifts.
This year I’m starting early with refrigerator cookies. Woefully underrated, they come in lots of flavors and can be started way ahead of time. Think about how brilliant they are: mix the dough when you feel like it, roll it into tubes to put in the fridge or freezer, then when you want them, slice and bake what you need. Just like the ones in the market, but real cookies that taste much better.
The day before, I put a batch of buttery triangle swirls into the refrigerator, along with spice cookie dough.
The plan is to add a few more batches of cookie to ones I’ve done ahead, selected because they’re familiar and provide a variety of flavor and color.
On the morning of the big day, butter and eggs are out on the counter, as are the two kinds of dough. While they warm up a bit, I mix more dough: slice and bake cookies and sugar cookies.
The slice and bake cookies from the "Joy Of Cooking" are easy-peasy. Just a few ingredients and the dough is so easy to work with. I cut the dough in half, and by the time I’d rolled the logs in the colored sugar, they were 1 to 1-1/4 inches thick. That was OK with me — I prefer smaller cookies. They go in the fridge.
Time to roll out and make the triangles. The first batch of dough was at room temperature, which I thought would be easier to handle, but no. The other two batches, which I’d taken out an hour earlier - bricks.
Triangle swirls make three rolls, well, triangles of dough, and the first always comes out messy. You don’t notice it so much when they’re sliced and baked, though.
These things are a nightmare to roll up. Why do I make them every year? Nonpareils rain on the floor, and I can feel flour under my feet. This drives me nuts; I’m a neat cook. By the third roll, things are much better. Into the fridge they go.
Sugar cookies next. I usually scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl compulsively, today I threw all the ingredients in, one after the other, and it was pretty much fine. At the end, the sides of the bowl were clean. What was I wasting my time for? Fridge for them, too.
I scraped the counter frequently; it was a job trying to keep the colored sugar and nonpareils out of the other dough.
Time to bake. Flip back the pages to the spice cookie recipe. Temp? 375 degrees. Scoop, roll in sugar, bake. Easy.
Next come the slice and bake. Almost effortless. Wow, and are these things are delicious. I used an extra teaspoon of vanilla.
Now I remember why I like the triangles. They slice beautifully, and I can flip the dough to keep the shape as I go. They bake nicely, too, and make lots.
Sugar cookies are the most work, as they have to be rolled out and cut into fancy shapes. Why do I make myself so much work? Because they’re gorgeous. I roll out the sandwiches, counting so I have the same number of tops and bottoms. Then, with a teensy cutter, I take star shapes out of half. Bake.
I save the fussiest for last, and I use the other half of the sugar cookie dough to make snowflakes. Once the big snowflakes are on the baking pan, I cut out smaller ones from them and use two kinds of blue sugar. They bake quick; I have to watch them.
At this point I’ve misplaced the spatula and I’m not cutting out any more stars; I’m done. All that’s left is to make the sandwiches, using the strawberry jam my sister-in-law made this past summer. I lay it on thick in the middle, they look great.
Two pounds of butter later, I’m exhausted. But my cookies are done and the holiday baking is well underway. And, as a bonus, there are still rolls of cookie dough stashed away. Easy-peasy.