I stopped by the post office yesterday, before 9:00, before the counter was open, to pick up some stamps from the machine in the lobby, and already there was a queue of grim folks, arms full of awkward holiday parcels. That was on December 9 – Christmas is still a couple of weeks away. The U.S. Postal Service has announced we should have all our packages in the system by December 15 if we have even the vaguest hope that they will arrive by the 25th. There is no more dilly dallying. This weekend is our last shot. I just love the threat of imminent holiday disaster.
I’ve given up on perusing gift guides, which ordinarily can be amusing time wasters. Ordinarily I love looking at the luxury items I will not be buying for myself – or others. In our new world, where we can’t spend afternoons pleasantly in brick and mortar stores for fear of COVID and Omicron, I have been looking at the many shopping lists provided by publications I read. The New York Times has its Wirecutter – an excellent resource for electronics and the practical – they review porch furniture, laptop computers, steak knives and linen sheets among scads of important life choices. New York Magazine’s Strategist is a little more frivolous and light-hearted: life-altering mascaras, the best inexpensive underwear, scented candles, and shoe sales of a lifetime. These are both enjoyable rabbit holes. But according to the USPS we don’t have any more time for that nonsense. No more day dreaming. It’s time for action: we have to kick into gear, and get baking.
For those of you for whom I usually send a rude Christmas tea towel or a thoughtfully chosen British murder mystery – stop reading now. I am about to reveal all. Avert your eyes, and read up on the Chesapeake Film Festival instead.
This weekend I am having a bake-a-thon, and will be whipping up batches of Christmas cookies, so I can go join the queue at the post office on Monday with my boxes of home-baked Christmas cookies. I won’t be a sour puss, though. I will have my arms full of sweetness for my loved ones.
I love fancy cookies. Give me a fistful of pastel-colored macarons any day. Let me enjoy artfully piped royal frosting. Show me an abundance of tooth-cracking silver dragées, and fancy dusting sugars. And now – let’s talk reality. The best home-made cookies remind us of our own childhoods. We baked homely cookies that always looked a little wonky, but the best part was sampling them as we went along. Remember all those tiny tastes of dough and batter and icing? Ostensibly, we were learning how to decide if there was enough salt or vanilla or ginger in our mixtures. Remember smelling the cookies as they baked? Or that terrible aroma of burnt sugar cookie? There were so many lessons to be learned in a single afternoon.
Production and assembly-line cookies are the easiest cookies for children, and consequently their adults. Mix, scoop, bake, repeat. Think of Mr. Gilbreth and Cheaper by the Dozen. And think of chocolate chip cookies, and gingersnaps and snowball cookies. Chocolate chip cookies call for uniform scoops of dough onto parchment paper-covered sheet pans. I bake a couple of batches of chocolate chip cookies every month. The dough freezes nicely, so there is never a cookie shortage in this house. I scoop all the batter, freeze the balls, and can dip into the freezer whenever there is a situation that calls for chocolate. This is my favorite recipe. I consider the addition of oatmeal to make it health food. https://food52.com/recipes/78188-chewy-chocolate-chip-cookies
I always thought this was my mother’s recipe, but it turns out it is her sister’s. Either way, I am related to it, and I approve of these gingersnaps.
Makes approximately 3 dozen cookies Pre-heat the oven to 350°F
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
Sift together the dry ingredients above. This is crucial – follow the steps here.
Add the dry ingredients to:
3/4 cup softened butter
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup molasses
Mix thoroughly. Roll mixture into small balls and then roll the balls in a bowl of granulated sugar. Flatten the balls onto parchment paper-lined cookie sheets with a small glass. Bake for 12-15 minutes. Cool on racks. They are quite delicious with a nice cold glass of milk. We just loved rolling the balls in the little Pyrex bowls of sugar, and then flattening the balls with jelly jars. Sometimes we would get creative, and use a drinking straw to make a hole in the flattened cookie – so we could use a ribbon and hang it from the Christmas tree.
Like many of the best secret family recipes, Snowball Cookies come from the Land O’Lakes test kitchens. They are tasty, reliable, and easy to make: https://www.landolakes.com/recipe/20055/snowball-cookies/
This is another family stalwart: Fudge. I love watching fudge being made in shops, on long marble-topped tables. At home, I prefer the easiest and most reliable method: following the recipe on the Carnation Sweetened Condensed Milk label. This year I am crushing some candy canes to add for a colorful, minty-fresh topping: https://www.verybestbaking.com/carnation/recipes/carnation-famous-fudge/
I made a disastrous batch of spritz cookies a couple of weeks ago. I discovered if you leave out the rising agent, the dough does not rise. It spreads itself thin, into buttery pools all over the cookie sheet. I am going to be much more careful this weekend. https://food52.com/recipes/15350-holiday-spritz-cookies
Baking cookies is therapeutic. You can relive some childhood memories, while creating some new ones, too. And you can share the holiday love. Leave some cookies for your letter carrier. Bring a plate across the street. We live in stressful times, and sometimes it is nice to pour a glass of milk, and sit down with a plate of crisp, sugary indulgence.
“Even when freshly washed and relieved of all obvious confections, children tend to be sticky.”