Friday, December 16, 2011

The Joy of Baking & Merrymaking: Christmas Cookies & Other Fun Traditions

I hate sugar cookies.  I always have and I always will.  They are dry and flavorless and I hate eating sprinkles in any form, which they are always inevitably drowned in.  But I love to make Sugar Cookies.  They epitomize so much about Christmas for me: the seasonal, the special, the almost-too-sweet but still-so-appealing.  And I remember so many Christmas seasons filled with them - cool Texas afternoons spent at the dining room table, our easy-bake-oven humming away, aprons tightly tied, red and green sugar sprinkles already scattered here there and everywhere despite the cookies and cakes not being ready.

This is the first Christmas season that Roman is old enough to understand a lot of the traditions we celebrate as a budding family.  He is filled with wonder, excitement and literally brimming with Christmas carols.  His favorites are "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" (usually the Jackson Five version, incidentally), Frosty the Snowman, and Jingle Bells (which he just calls "Christmas" - as in, "let's sing Christmas").  We've been doing the Elf on the Shelf this year as well, and he named his elf "Finxy" - an awesome name for a 2 year-old to come up with; much to my dismay I was later reminded by Matt's uncle that the toilet-flushing cat on Meet the Fockers was called Finxy - oh great.

We like it, we like it.
We went and cut down our first ever natural tree at a Christmas tree farm here in Maine which was an amazing and beautiful adventure.  And I bought Roman his token cheap ceramic train ornament which he painted.  It still looks similarly muddy in color to the one from last year. :)

  All of this merrymaking is almost enough to make things like inevitable winter colds and snuffly noses, or the horrendous speeding ticket I got on Wednesday (my first ever!) forgettable, but I knew when despite all the cheer I started to get into a Grinchy-funk earlier this week that the only thing that could save me was a ridiculous amount of Christmas cookie baking.

Christmas cookies are such a wonderfully American thing.  Between my Bon Appetit subscription and Pinterest I have been bombarded with more recipes than I know what to do with.  In a brief moment of insanity, I flipped through my old issues of Olive (my British food magazine) to get more baking ideas but after pages of Mince Pies, Trifles and Sticky Toffee Puddings (and variations thereof), I realized - duh! - the British don't do cookies!  At best you might get some shortbread biscuits but none of the madness that you get stateside.  No snowflakes or snowmen or jammy sandwiches or hershey kiss toppings.  None of the little holly & berry sprinkles.  No Martha Stewart boxes.  So this year I decided to take a headlong dive back into American culture - just as much for Roman as for my own sanity - and bake several different cookies at once.  Not that I wanted to eat them or anything. :)

Here they are, in list form:

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My Christmas Cookies 2011
(So Far)

4. Biscotti Bars (a mess-up saved)
Every year I bake my jolly-good cranberry almond biscotti from Payard's dessert book that Matt gave me the night we got engaged.  They are a tradition.  And yet every single year I manage to kind of botch-up the dough.  Sometimes it's too wet, sometimes too dry.  There are SO few ingredients I almost don't know how I manage it, but I do. :)  Anyway, this year the dough was way too dry and WAY too chunky because I decided to add the pistachios that I usually omit, so I ended up with what I have dubbed "Biscotti Bars."  Huge and chunky as hell, they taste good but have none of the sliced finesse that you will find below at number 3.

3. My Cranberry Biscotti
These are my holiday tradition.  Not too sweet and not too savory.  They have the delicious anise seeds and tangy cranberries and slivered almonds (which I omitted this year because I was giving the as gifts to Roman's teachers).  They are great for dunking in tea, coffee or straight liqueur, depending on how good, bad or boring your Christmas was this year.

2. Deep Dark Chocolate Cookies
I found the recipe for these on Pinterest and I've been drooling over the picture for weeks now.  They weren't all that hard to make and came out as deep, dark and delicious as I guessed they would.  If I had to make them again, though, I'd cut the sugar by almost half (even more than the girl linked above who "adapted" the epicurious recipe).  

These cookies are for bonafide chocaholics only and must absolutely be had with milk, which is why they were very-well-received by Matt, me and the resident expert, Romolph.

1. Sugar Cookies
I made these cookies with Roman and they turned out so cute I can't stand it.  Not only is the entire process of baking and cookie-cutting a great exercise in coordination, precision and complete and utter self-expression through sprinkles, but Roman got more than a month's worth of sugar and raw cookie dough in one sitting, so he was happy. :)  I got the recipe from the Joy of Baking Christmas Cookie site - an invaluable online tool for limitless types of Christmas cookies with tested recipes.  I didn't get a chance to make my royal icing but to be honest, I'm more a sprinkler than I am an icer when it comes to Sugar Cookies.

Still to come: The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies Ever, Shortbread, & Profiteroles, if I'm feeling particularly nasty :)
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Happy Baking and Merry-Making!  Just a week to go!

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