Cathie Campbell

It’s Christmas cookie time again

Bake some cookies this holiday season to keep or give away.
Bake some cookies this holiday season to keep or give away. Wikimedia Commons

Hey bakers, it’s time to stop, drop and roll, and I am not referring to what you do when your apron catches on fire. There are so many cookie types to choose from, such as drop cookies and rolled ones. I think most of us like a variety of cookie types, and if you bake goodies to give away, often it is nice to present a nice array of different cookies.

My Italian Nana always did that. She made a huge tray of breads, cookies, cakes and candy to give to each of her sons’ families and also her daughter’s family. It wouldn’t surprise me if she had given away trays of goodies to many more relatives and friends. I used to do that too, but now I have had to scale down, as life gets very busy and baking time often gets taken over by something else.

Time management seems to get more difficult these days, at least for me. It gives me great pleasure to share with you a few of my favorite holiday cookie recipes, and I hope that if you bake any of them this season, they bring happy smiles to all your loved ones.

Christmas vanilla-almond sugar cookies

Frost and decorate with royal icing and candies, if desired, or just sprinkle with colored sugar crystals before baking.

3 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

 1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter

1 egg

1  1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

1. In a small mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.

2. In a large mixing bowl, cream the sugar and butter. Add the egg and extracts, and mix. Gradually add the flour mixture and beat just until combined, scraping down the bowl, especially the bottom. The dough will be crumbly, so knead it together a bit with your hands as you scoop it out of the bowl. Form into a disc, and wrap in plastic wrap. Let it sit in the refrigerator for about 1 hour.

3. Preheat oven to 350. Roll the cookie dough  1/4 inch thick on a floured surface. Cut into shapes with holiday cookie cutters. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet. Freeze the cut-out shapes on the baking sheet for 5 to 10 minutes before baking. This helps prevent the cookies from spreading too much as they bake.

(Form any remaining dough into a disc, and re-wrap with plastic wrap. Place in refrigerator while the first batch bakes, then roll it out again when you’re ready to do a second batch.)

4. Bake for 9 to 10 minutes, or until the tops look mostly dry, but edges aren’t browned yet. Let them sit for 2 to 3 minutes on the sheet, then transfer to a cooling rack.

Royal icing 1

4 tablespoons meringue powder

Scant  1/2 cup water

1 pound confectioners’ sugar

 1/2 to 1 teaspoon light corn syrup

Few drops clear vanilla extract (optional)

1. Combine the meringue powder and water. With the paddle attachment of an electric mixer, beat until combined and foamy.

2. Sift in the powdered sugar and beat on low to combine. (Do not skip the sifting.)

3. Add in the corn syrup and extract if desired. Increase speed to med-high/high and beat for about 5 minutes, just until the icing is glossy and stiff peaks form. (Not peaks that limp over at the tips.)

4. Cover with plastic wrap touching the icing or divide and color using gel paste food colorings. This stiff icing is perfect for outlining and even for building gingerbread houses. To fill in your cookies, add water to your icing a teaspoon at a time, stirring with a rubber spatula, until it is the consistency of syrup. This technique of filling a cookie with thinned icing is called flooding. Makes enough icing to cover 2 to 3 dozen 3  1/2 -inch cookies.

Royal icing 2

4 egg whites

4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

1 teaspoon lemon (or vanilla) extract

1. Beat egg whites in clean, large bowl with mixer at high speed until foamy. Gradually add sugar and lemon or vanilla extract.

2. Beat at high speed until thickened. Use plain or tint with food coloring, if desired. Should cover about 32 cookies.

Candy cane kisses

1  1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

1  1/4 cups butter, at room temperature

1 teaspoon peppermint extract, optional

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large egg

3 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

 1/2 teaspoon salt

 1/2 cup candy cane flavored Hershey’s Kisses, finely chopped

Granulated sugar

Additional unwrapped candy cane Kisses (about 30)

1. Preheat oven to 350. Make room in refrigerator (or freezer) for your baking sheet.

2. In large mixer bowl, combine confectioners’ sugar, butter, extracts and egg. Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often until creamy (2 to 3 minutes). In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Add to sugar mixture and beat, scraping bowl often until well blended (1 to 2 minutes). The mixture will be a bit crumbly. Stir in chopped Kisses.

3. Shape dough into  3/4 -inch to 1-inch balls; roll in granulated sugar. Place 1 inch apart on baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until set. As soon as they come out of the oven, press a candy cane Kiss in the center of each cookie. They’ll crack a little around the edges, so just use your fingers to kind of hold the cookie together while you set the candy inside. Put cookie sheet (with cookies) immediately into the freezer (preferred) or refrigerator so that the Kisses will set quickly. As soon as you press them into the cookie, they will begin to soften and you want them to keep their shape as much as possible.

4. Store the cookies in a covered container at room temperature for up to a week. They can also be frozen for at least two weeks, if desired. Makes about 2  1/2 dozen.

Chewy gingerbread cookies

Adapted from a recipe in the Betty Crocker Big Book of Cookies.

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 cup packed brown sugar

1 large egg

 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons dark molasses

2  1/2 cups flour

2  1/4 teaspoons baking soda

 1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon ground ginger

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons ground cloves

1  1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground allspice

 2/3 cup granulated white sugar

1. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in egg and molasses.

2. In another bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, salt and spices (not the  2/3 cup granulated sugar). Add dry mixture to the butter and sugar mixture, blend evenly. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours.

3. Preheat oven to 350. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mat. In small bowl, place granulated sugar. Shape chilled dough into 1-inch balls; roll in sugar. Place each ball 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets.

4. Bake in preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes or just until set and soft in canter. Cool 2 minutes, then remove from baking sheets onto cooling racks. Store tightly covered up to 1 week. Makes about 7 dozen cookies (depending on size).

Butter toffee cookies

Sparkling sugar can often be found in craft and baking supply stores, if you can’t find it at a grocery store.

1 cup granulated white sugar

 3/4 cup salted butter, softened

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups flour

1  1/2 teaspoons baking powder

 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

 1/2 cup toffee bits (or more)

Additional sugar for rolling (sparkling white sugar works best)

1. Preheat oven to 350. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silpat mats.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine sugar, butter, egg and vanilla. Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often until creamy.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and baking soda. Add to sugar and butter mixture and beat until well mixed. Stir in toffee bits by hand.

4. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll in the sparkling sugar. Place 2 inches apart onto prepared baking sheets. Flatten each with bottom of a glass to 1  1/2 -inch circles (if glass sticks, dip in sugar).

5. Bake in preheated oven for 9 to 11 minutes or until edges are just lightly browned. Do not overbake. Sprinkle with additional sugar while warm. Cool completely. Makes 3 dozen cookies.

Raspberry thumbprints

If I don’t make a lot of these every year, my family practically riots. I like to roll the dough balls in sesame seeds before baking, and omit the icing.

1 cup butter, softened

 2/3 cup sugar

 1/2 teaspoon almond extract

2 cups flour

 1/2 cup seedless raspberry preserves

 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar

 3/4 teaspoon almond extract

1 teaspoon milk

1. Preheat oven to 350. Make room in either refrigerator or freezer for your cookie sheet.

2. In a medium mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Mix in  1/2 teaspoon almond extract. Mix in flour until dough comes together. Roll dough into 1  1/2 - inch balls, and place on ungreased baking sheets. Make a small hole in the center of each ball, using your thumb, and fill the hole with a small amount of raspberry preserves (about  1/4 teaspoon).

3. Bake in preheated oven for 14 to 18 minutes, or until lightly browned. Let cool 1 minute on the baking sheet.

4. In a medium bowl, mix together the confectioners’ sugar,  3/4 teaspoon almond extract, and milk until smooth. Drizzle lightly over warm cookies. Makes about 36 cookies.