Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas Cookies

First off, I apologize for the lapse in postings this week. And thanks to those of you who sent concerned and/or angry messages. No, I’m not sick. No, I’m not dead. No, I don’t find my leftovers interesting enough to post about. It’s been a very busy week, with the holidays coming up so quickly. We’ve been finishing up our shopping, wrapping gifts, visiting Santa, and other necessary holiday tasks.

Today we’re on the cusp of another big snowstorm, so I’m hurrying to finish my Christmas baking (and pack, and wrap those last few gifts, and find someone to feed my cat) before we leave town early this evening.

First on my List of Important Things to Do is make Christmas cookies for my dad. Iced cutout sugar cookies are his favorite holiday treat, and he begs someone to make them each year. He doesn’t ask for much. Really. Some years he’s content if someone throws together a dry packaged mix of sugar cookies, even using Egg Beaters instead of real eggs. (Note to Mom and Dad: Buy real eggs!)

I do enjoy eating Christmas cookies, but I lack the patience for rolling out the dough, cutting out the cookies, and – most of all – frosting them. We did this as a family when I was a kid. And it was fun, for about the first four cookies. Mom would be the first to disappear, using laundry as an excuse. My dad, best known for his stunning Mr. Yuk replica cookies, would eventually start to slack off. And my sister and I would get bored and start mixing all the frosting colors together to create lovely shades of brown.

But I love my dad. He deserves his cookies.

I try a different Christmas cookie recipe each year, and they’re all pretty similar. This year I’m using a recipe from Cuisine at Home, with a few modifications. And I’m also trying some royal icing. We used a powdered sugar and milk icing when I was growing up, and while it tasted good and spread well, it was very drippy. So after a long, involved hunt for meringue powder (thank you, Creative Kitchen), I was able to try my hand at royal icing. And it turned out really well. It spreads easily, it’s very shiny, but it’s not nearly as runny.

Keep in mind that this recipe doesn’t make many cookies: I ended up with about two dozen. If you’re looking to make a huge batch, double or triple as appropriate. If you hate frosting cookies, two dozen is perfect.

Christmas Cookies
Makes about 2 dozen

1½ c. flour
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
½ c. unsalted butter
1/3 c. sugar
¼ c. powdered sugar
1 egg
2 Tbsp. heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. almond extract

Royal Icing
Makes about 2 cups

1 lb. powdered sugar
1/3 c. water
2 Tbsp. meringue powder
Food coloring

1. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. Set aside.

2. Cream butter and sugars in a bowl with a mixer, blending until smooth. Add egg, cream, vanilla, and almond extract and blend.

3. Add half the dry ingredients; mix until nearly incorporated. Blend in the remaining dry ingredients.

4. Shape dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 2 hours.

5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment (optional, but this REALLY helps).

6. Roll half the dough out on a well-floured surface to about 1/8” thick. (I usually go even a little thicker, because I like a softer cookie.) Cut out shapes with cookie cutters – metal are best. Transfer to baking sheets.

7. Bake 10-12 minutes, or until lightly golden. Let cookies cool on pan 5 minutes before transferring to cooling rack.

8. Beat all icing ingredients together with a mixer until set. Spoon small amounts of icing in individual bowls and tint with food coloring as desired. If icing is too thick to spread, add a bit of water to thin to desired consistency.

9. Ice cookies and let set before storing.

You can be one of those fancy-pants people who pipes icing around the edges and then fills in the cookie. Just don't be knocking my childlike style.

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