…is not that big a deal. We don’t have kids and love spending time at home, relaxing, for the holiday instead of driving anywhere or partaking in frenetic family celebrations. And I take it a step further, almost borderline Scrooge-like by not wanting to spend hours in the kitchen. I rarely cook anything complicated, and we make it a rule not to have guests. New Year’s will bring Japanese ozoni rice cake soup, and I’ll be busy preparing my spiced pork, almond, and golden raisin tamales. But Christmas, Christmas is for relaxing.
Instead of a roast or fondue, as we’ve done in the past, we’re planning to have plump dungeness crabs, preceded by oysters and some gorgeous imported cheeses and local bread. I flirted with the idea of boeuf à la ficelle, a tenderloin or similar cut that’s been tied and poached in a rich stock, but even that seemed like too much work. OK, I did make stock today — chicken and beef — and finally decorated the cookies.
For my standard iced sugar cookies, I tried out a recipe in one of the cookbooks I recently reviewed for the Eugene Weekly: The Grand Central Baking Book. It was the Classic Buttery Shortbread recipe, but adapted for rolled sugar cookies. I really like the way this cookbook integrates preparation tips and possibilities for variation. (These things are a boon for a (still) beginner baker like me.) The recipe includes several pages of a “workshop” on how to assemble the cookies and icing, complete with a chart for 1.5 lbs., 2.25 lbs, and 3 lbs. of dough. I have to admit that the dough was crumbly and difficult to work with — this could be a function of not knowing when to stop with my new stand mixer, or perhaps the recipe, which is designed to actually taste good (unlike most rolled Christmas sugar cookies.) But my grumbling about the dough was soon stifled by a mouth full of cookie. They were delicious.
The royal icing recipe looked manageable, eschewing the blending that some recipes require, but I used my tried and true powdered-sugar-and-water icing, which is much thinner and undoubtedly less effective at keeping on all the glittery bits, but it makes the recipe more about the cooking than the icing.
And better yet, as I was transferring my peppermint pig and sparkle star cookies to a tray, my kind neighbors dropped by and brought a selection of their cookies. Yay! I thought I’d show off their baking. :)
Merry, merry Christmas! Hope your holiday is stress-free and filled with delicious delights.
Decorated Christmas Cookies
Adapted from The Grand Central Baking Book‘s recipe
Makes 3 lbs. of dough
- 4 2/3 c. all purpose flour (1 lb., 7 oz.)
- 2 t. kosher salt
- 2 c. unsalted butter, at room temperature (1 lb.)
- 1 1/3 c. sugar (9.5 oz.)
- 2 t. vanilla extract
- (optional: 1 drop peppermint candy flavoring oil — this isn’t in the original but I like the combination of peppermint and vanilla)
Mix flour and salt in small bowl; whisk to combine.
Cream the butter and sugar using your new stand mixer on medium high speed for 6 minutes or more – the mixture should be lighter in color and fluffy. The original says sugar should start to dissolve into butter, but I’m not sure what this means. Scrape bottom and sides of bowl a few times.
Switch over to low speed. Add vanilla and flour mixture “until the dough begins to come together” (also a bit mysterious to me).
Divide dough in two, flatten out into flat disks, then wrap each disk in plastic wrap. You may choose to freeze or refrigerate, or do one of each, at this point. It keeps in the refrigerator for a week or frozen for 6 months.
Then you’re ready to roll. After at least two or three hours chilling in the refrigerator, remove dough and let warm on counter for about 30 minutes. You’re looking for cool and firm dough that is pliable. Add a bit (no more than a tablespoon) of flour to your workspace and rolling pin, then roll to an even thickness, as thinly as possible.
Cut out cookies with similar-sized cookie cutters per batch, and place them on parchment-sheet covered cookie sheets. You can reuse the scraps, but I recommend chilling them first before re-using.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
As you finish cutting out cookies and filling cookie sheets, return sheets to refrigerator to chill for another 5-10 minutes. This makes for nice edges on your cookies.
Cook until only very slightly golden on edges, about 10 minutes. Switch sweets from top to bottom after 5 minutes. No matter what you do, the cookies will cook a bit unevenly if the dough is of variable thickness and your cookies are made of different shapes.
Allow cookies to cool completely before decorating. They harden as they cool.
For icing, I just use a mixture of powdered sugar, a drop of peppermint oil, and water, which makes a thin, transparent gloss upon which I can embed colored sugar and crushed peppermint sticks. It’s more traditional to use royal icing, a thicker preparation made of egg white, powdered sugar, and lemon juice.