Surveying Christmas decorations and food last week, it occurred to me that almost any holiday treat that used to require baking in a home kitchen is now being mass-produced and sold at a supermarket or bakery. Most locally-owned bakeries offer delicious baked goods, but what about those last-minute occasions when ordering a dozen iced cookies isn’t feasible? Finding a store-bought Christmas cookie that looks festive and is actually edible is almost impossible. Pepperidge Farm's Ginger Man is the exception, but that's about it. Last weekend’s Christmas cookie swap with friends provided a wealth of ideas and recipes that’ll jump start your holiday baking and gift-giving, no supermarket needed.
Since I’d offered to bring a container of hot punch, time to make elaborate cookies was limited. Christmas Snowballs are a quick treat to make and serve to guests or to give to friends and co-workers in a festive tin. Rolled in powdered sugar, these buttery, melt-in-your-mouth cookies are like Lay’s potato chips. You can’t eat just one.
To make them, cream together a cup of softened butter and half cup of powdered sugar in a stand mixer at medium speed. Turn to low and add 1/4 teaspoon of salt, 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour, and a cup of chopped pecans. Roll into one-inch balls and place on parchment paper-covered baking sheet. Bake for 11 minutes in 350 degree F oven.
Remove the tray from the oven and allow cookies to cool slightly; make sure they’re still warm. Pour a cup of powdered sugar in large Ziploc bag and slowly add 3-4 cookies at a time. Roll cookies gently in the bottom of the bag to cover completely. Place on cooling racks and once completely cooled, roll in powdered sugar bag again.
My friends' contributions to the cookie swap were equally delicious. Just a few of the offerings were festive decorated sugar cookies in a variety of flavors; chocolate crinkles; shortbread rounds; meringue drops; old-fashioned tea cakes; almond spritz; stained glass, and jam thumbprints. Colorful Christmas cookies made of shortbread, chopped cherries, and pecans were a favorite addition at the cookie swap.
It’s hard to play favorites among homemade cookies, especially creative cutouts of Santa, snowmen, and candy canes decorated with sugary icing. However, a friend’s transformation of traditional gingerbread cookies, which I’ve always found a bit too spicy and crispy, took top honors in my unofficial cookie swap contest. Even more interesting, my friend eschewed the traditional gingerbread man shape. Instead, she cut the dough into the shape of festive trees.
After sampling more than a few, I concluded the sugary lemon frosting counteracted the gingerbread’s spiciness in the most delightful way. It’s a genius combination that will make a believer out of any gingerbread skeptic.
Kick off your Christmas cookie baking with this delectable treat. Trust me, Lemony Gingerbread Trees are not your mother’s gingerbread – and especially not the supermarket’s – Christmas cookies.
Lemony Gingerbread Trees
For the cookies:
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon coarse salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/4 cup unsulfured molasses
For the icing:
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1-1/3 cups confectioners' sugar
Sanding or coarse sugar (optional)
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, and salt. In a large bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter and granulated sugar on medium-high until creamy, about 3 minutes. Add egg and beat to combine. Add molasses and beat to combine. With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture and beat until combined. Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate until firm, at least one hour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out dough to a 1/4-inch thickness. With a sharp knife or cookie cutter, cut dough into small 2-inch-wide triangles. Arrange triangles, one inch apart, on two parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake until cookies are firm and golden at edges, 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool completely on sheets on wire racks.
To make the icing: In a small bowl, combine lemon juice and confectioners' sugar and whisk until smooth. Drizzle icing over cooled cookies and sprinkle with sanding sugar, if desired.
Makes 60 cookies.