Visions of sugarplums…

- by Charlotte Hubbard

For me, it wouldn’t be Christmas without the cookies. And we’re talking thousands of cookies! I start in late September, baking batches in the evenings and on weekends, and I make at least 150 dozen cookies to give to friends, family and my church. I’m mailing and delivering this season’s goodies now, so—HO HO HO!–how ‘bout we do a recipe exchange?

I’ll share my sugar cookie and buttercream frosting recipes, with a colorful variation, AND I’ll give a signed copy of UNWRAP ME to the person who submits the recipe I can’t wait to try (“Naughty Noelle” has a mom who bakes hundreds of cookies in that story…in case you’re wondering how this is “writing related!” We write what we know, right?)

Some baking hints before the recipes (and yeah, you could probably bake them right on the cover of this anthology ):

***I’ve discovered parchment paper, and it’s the BEST way to produce wonderful nonstick cookies with a minimum of pan cleanup. You can use the same paper batch after batch.
***If your cookies turn out dry and hard, set a timer for a few minutes less than the recipe calls for and focus on those cookies! Overbaking is quickest way to ruin a beautiful cookie (unless you like them dry and hard! Me, I’m the soft-and-chewy type.)
***Sugar cookies, bar cookies, you name it—they all freeze very well in boxes/bins with wax paper between the layers. And they’re still great after months of being in the freezer.
***Use real butter for cut-outs. No substitutes! Cookies hold their shape better as they bake, and they just taste better.
***And those cookies you see in magazines with shapes cut out of the centers?? The recipe might SAY to cut that shape before you bake but it doesn’t work! For a nice clean
opening, cool the cookies on the pan for about 30 seconds and then cut/lift the shape out with a metal cutter. You can use the cut-out parts on other cookies, AS cookies…or they pop into your mouth, too! It’s called quality control, before you serve these to your friends!

Merry Christmas, everyone! Have a wonderful holiday season!

SUGAR CUT-OUTS
(about 3 doz.)

½ C. butter, softened
1 C. sugar
1 egg
1 T. lemon juice
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 C. flour
½ tsp. each salt and baking soda

Cream the butter and sugar, add the egg, lemon juice and vanilla until well mixed. Add the dry ingredients until moist and blended. Roll dough in wax paper and chill at least 2 hours (I leave these in the fridge overnight, or for whenever I have the time to bake).

Preheat oven to 350. Roll out the dough about ¼” thick, cut out shapes, and bake on
sprayed or parchment papered pans for 7-9 minutes. Cookies firm up as they cool.

A PRETTY VARIATION:  Add a box of sugar-free gelatin, along with coordinating paste food color to intensify the tint. Green/lime makes awesome trees, holly, etc., red/cherry looks festive as Santa boots, poinsettias, etc. and for yellow, use peach or orange gelatin. If you use regular sugared gelatin, decrease the recipe sugar by 1/8 cup.

BUTTERCREAM FROSTING

1 stick butter, softened
½ C. Crisco
½ C. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. lemon flavoring
A 2 lb. bag of powdered sugar

Put the butter, Crisco and liquids in the mixing bowl and add sugar a cup at time
until frosting peaks hold their shape as you mix. Best to tint this with paste color,
as liquid makes it too soft. Pipe or spread this on cookies. You can freeze leftover
frosting.

3 comments

  1. That is an impressive number of cookies. I unfortunately don’t really cook or bake. I have to use recipes in books and what not. Great tips though. I’ll have to be sure to get them written down for use later.

  2. What I love about these cookies is that they give me a chocolate fix and nut crunch without any of the guilt of added fat in a cookie. (You could take out the egg yolks and add more egg white to make them cholesterol free.)

    Dark Chocolate Almond Biscotti

    1 1/3 cup Whole Almonds with skins
    1 3/4 cup Unbleached All Purpose Flour
    1 cup Granulated Sugar
    1/3 cup Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
    1 tsp Baking Soda
    1/8 tsp Salt
    1 – 6 oz. bag Semi-sweet Chocolate Chips
    4 Eggs, Large
    1 tsp Vanilla Extract
    As needed water

    Heat oven to 350˚F. Spread almonds on a sheet pan and toast in oven for 15-20 minutes or until dark golden and aromatic, stirring frequently. Let almonds cool.

    Line one large or two small baking sheets with parchment paper.

    In mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, chocolate chips and cooled almonds. Combine eggs and vanilla and slowly add to flour mixture, mixing at low speed or by hand. Mix well. If dough does not come together add a little water until it does and dough is moist but not sticky.

    Spoon dough onto parchment forming 2 long logs or 4 shorter logs depending on baking sheets being used. Use a pastry scraper or the back end of a butter knife to shape logs being careful not to rip the parchment (if this occurs slide another sheet underneath), and smooth dough gently into 1/2 inch thickness. Leave enough room for the logs to spread when baking.

    Bake at 350˚F for 30 to 45 minutes, until surface springs back when lightly presssed at center. Rotate pans at 15 – 20 minute intervals for even baking. Remove pans to rack.

    When loaves are cool enough to handle but still warm, transfer to a cutting board. With a sharp thin bladed knife or a bread knife cut into 1/2 inch slices. Do a test slice before deciding to proceed with all the loves.
    [If loaves are too hot when cut the cookie texture will be compressed. If loaves cool too long it may be hard to cut cleanly. Return to oven for a few minutes to soften slightly.]

    Arrange slices on pans (parchment at this point is optional). Reduce oven temperature to 325˚F and return to oven for 15-20 minutes until biscotti are slightly browned and thoroughly dried. Watch carefully to avoid scorching and turn pans as needed. Let cookies cool on racks. Store in air tight containers.

    Makes 48 cookies.
    (You can cut the cookies thinner if you want more cookies. Remember to adjust baking times.)

    Note: Air-Insulated Cookie Sheets work great for these cookies.

  3. Best Thumbprint Cookies Ever:

    1 stick of butter
    1/2 c sugar
    1 egg
    1 1/2 c flour
    pinch of salt
    pinch of soda
    crushed cereal (about 1/2 c) – I use Rice Krispies
    jam or chocolate (kisses work)
    egg white (optional)

    Preparation:
    Preheat oven to 350°. Cream butter & sugar. Beat in egg. Mix in flour, salt, soda. Roll into balls about 1 inch in diameter. Roll each ball in crushed cereal, place on ungreased cookie sheet and press thumb into center for a thumbprint. Fill with jam (or chocolate). If desired, brush jam with a little egg white to keep it from drying out. Bake 12-15 minutes.