For the past two weeks I have been mixing cookie dough almost every day. Most of the recipes are “ice box cookie”* recipes; the dough is shaped into logs and wrapped in wax paper and then I wrap them again in aluminum foil and write on the outside with a Sharpie pen the name of the cookie and the oven temperature and baking time (so I don’t have to look up the recipe again). Some of the cookie dough recipes are just family favorites, such as the original chocolate chip cookie “without ingredients” which means chocolate chips are just fine, don’t add nuts or raisins or anything that might be interpreted by my sons as ingredients. I have packed most of the drop cookie dough into zip lock freezer bags; some is in the freezer and some in the refrigerator. I have doubled most recipes.
A lot of my cookie recipes have to be made up within a few weeks of Christmas – such as a favorite and often requested little lemon crisps that are made with lemon cake mix and – of all things – Rice Krispies. I love all the cookie recipes made with cake mixes! Dress them up with glaze and sprinkles and no one ever guesses it started with a box of cake mix. (I will feature these in a blog post by themselves).
Some cookies need to be made well in advance of Christmas, such as the Amaretto Bon Bons which will improve with aging. Ditto a cookie called Leckerli that is aging in a big cookie tin with a piece of apple to help them mellow. I’m not going to share the Leckerli recipe although it LOOKS very pretty and festive with a European flair—but it was the most difficult dough I have ever worked with & I kept adding liquid to make the dough hold together. As a matter of fact, several of my very old recipes were difficult to work with—it makes me wonder if the processing of the basic ingredients, such as flour, has changed in the past few decades? And, you know, a basic drop cookie can change dramatically depending on the kind of shortening you use (it took me a lot of trial and error to figure that out). I like to use butter in most of my cookie recipes but in most instances it really needs to be at room temperature when you start mixing it with other ingredients.
Making cutout cookies is probably the most work of all holiday cookies. I have been collecting cookie cutters for about 40 years and one thing I’ve discovered is that “open” cookie cutters work a lot better than “closed ones”. What do I mean by open or closed cutters? The metal ones are open and you can push the dough off the cutter if it sticks. Closed cutters are ones like the red cookie cutters from the 40s or 50s—I’ll have to see if I can find some pictures to post with this to give you an idea of what I’m talking about. And regardless of the type of cutters, the dough needs to be pretty stiff to work well. You don’t want a dough that is going to raise or spread and make the cookie lose its definition. You’ll want to chill the dough thoroughly before attempting to roll it out. When I make up a batch of cutout cookie dough, I shape it into balls and then put the balls of dough into plastic ziplock bags to chill. Just take one ball of dough out of the refrigerator at a time. I roll the dough out between two sheets of wax paper that have been dusted with flour. Save scraps for re-rolling. It’s a good idea to cut out the shapes as close together as you can, to avoid having a lot of leftover dough to re-roll. I’ve been coaching two of my grandchildren in making cutout cookies since Savannah was two and Ethan about five, and they are both fairly proficient at making cutout cookies now (She is now 18, he is 10½) – if you or the children you are working with insist on using closed cutters, it’s a good idea to slip the cookie cutter into a bowl of flour every time you are about to cut out a cookie. Otherwise, they will stick inside the cookie cutter. (if you Google red cookie cutters, you will see what I am talking about, with closed cutters.)
We like decorating cutout cookies with frosting – royal icing or glazes or butter cream frosting. If you spread butter cream frosting on a cookie and then hand it to a child to decorate – they will be delighted. I have a wall rack filled with bottles and jars of different kinds of sprinkles (bought when they are on sale after a holiday) so there is always plenty of jars of sprinkles for them from which to choose. I have a couple of old wooden lazy susans on the dining room table and we put a lot of the bottles and jars of sprinkles on those for my budding artists to work with.
Well, all this being said – here are some of my favorite cut out cookie recipes:
WHITE CHRISTMAS COOKIES
I think I have been making this cookie recipe for over 30 years. It’s a good, trustworthy cutout cookie dough.
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
4 eggs, well beaten
4 cups all purpose flour-sifted
1/8 tsp each nutmeg & cinnamon
Cream butter, gradually add sugar; beat with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs. Sift together dry ingredients and stir into creamed mixture. Store overnight in covered container (I now use plastic ziplock bags). Roll dough very thin (I roll it out between 2 sheets of wax paper). Cut into shapes. Bake at 350 degrees 10 to13 minutes. Makes a lot of small cut out cookies.
*I always use parchment paper on the cookie sheets; this eliminates ever needing to butter or grease the cookie sheets. Always cool cookies on wire racks. When completely cool, they can be stacked in plastic storage containers or you can start decorating them.
You can also spread the raw cut out cookies with egg white and then sprinkle on some colored sprinkles (what the British and my Canadian friends call Hundreds & Thousands, a name that I love). Bake the cookies and they are already decorated. And from my grandmother I learned how to make cutout cookies (she usually made diamond shapes); brush one side of the cookie with egg white and then dip it into a mixture of granulated sugar and finely ground walnuts. Then bake—your decorating is done and the cookies will be delicious!
SPICY MOLASSES COOKIES
1 CUP soft butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup molasses
2 tsp baking soda
5 cups sifted flour
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp salt
½ cup strong tea
1 tsp vanilla
Cream butter and sugar until light. Beat in molasses. Add sift dry ingredients alternately with tea. Mix well. Add vanilla. Chill dough at least 24 hours and then roll very thin and cut into desired shapes. Decorate with almonds. Can poke a hole into each unbaked cookie (use a straw) to hang them up. Bake at 375 degrees in a preheated oven, 8 to 10 minutes. Makes 8 to 10 dozen cookies.
½ C. Crisco solid shortening
1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp salt
1 tsp EACH ground cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and allspice
1½ cups molasses
2/3 cup water
6½ cups sifted flour
Cream Crisco, sugar, baking soda, salt, and spices until fluffy. Beat in molasses and water. Gradually add flour to make a stiff dough. Chill overnight. Roll out dough and cut into gingerbread boys and girls. Bake on lightly greased baking sheets (or on parchment lined cookie sheets) at 350 degrees 10-12 minutes. Makes 12 dozen small gingerbread boys.
Merry Christmas from my kitchen to yours!