2023 is spinning away from us, and zipping by so fast! I just ate the last of the leftover Thanksgiving turkey for my lunchtime sandwich today, and now I have to start thinking about holiday cookies. Hanukkah is in a week, and all the Yuletide revelries and First Nights and Lunches with Santa start momentarily. This weekend is a good time to start getting ahead of yourself, and bake a couple of batches of your signature cookies. Monday in National Cookie Day, so for once we are ahead of the game.
I always get too ambitious, and think that I will tirelessly bake batches and batches of adorable Christmas cookies. I have such an amusing fantasy life! There are no children at home here, just Mr. Sanders and me, and Luke the wonder dog. And yet I persist in believing I am preparing for the competitive Annual Sewall’s Point Cookie Swap, or Ms. Backnick’s Fourth Grade Holiday Party. It might be time to cut back.
Where to turn this year? Everything Martha bakes looks so beautiful and uniform, and intimidating; crafted by CIA professionals, but this year I have also become acquainted with Dorie Greenspan. There is alway our favorite Julia Child to consider, and our friends at Food52. The New York Times is producing a week of cookie recipes in a newsletter format, and then there are the new young folks cooking and baking up a storm on Instagram and TikTok. Whew. December is just not long enough for all the baking we can do – while we are decking the halls, celebrating Hanukkah, and cleaning up from Thanksgiving.
Plus, there are store-bought cookies. We ran through a Trader Joe’s on our Thanksgiving trip. You could make a feast that Charlie Bucket would yearn for with all the cookies and sweets available at Trader Joe’s: Peppermint Meringues, Dark Chocolate Covered Peppermint Joe Joe’s, Ginger Cookie Thins, Lebkuchen cookies, Mini Gingerbread People, Decked Out Tree Cookies and and all that Peppermint Bark. It is good for my waistline that we live two hours away from Trader Joe’s, and I have to rely on my own baking skills. If you live near a nice bakery, consider yourself lucky, and try to buy local and support small businesses. We are rationing the Dark Peppermint Joe Joes, and treat ourselves to one a day. I am sorry, but Mr. Sanders and I will not be sharing. We even hid them from our grandchildren at Thanksgiving. Shhh!
It is easy to get overwhelmed with the myriad holiday recipes in Bon Appetit, Epicurious, the Washington Post, Ina Garten and others. It is important to pace yourself. I usually like to bake my mother’s ginger snaps first, because they are simple and fragrant. The house suddenly smells like the house I grew up in. I can sit down at the kitchen table with a plate of warm ginger snaps, and a glass of milk, and be the eight-year-old me again. The magic of Christmas.
I always admire the folks who find all the cute baking supplies, too. I love the fluted paper, the shiny cellophane, the dragées and the colorful jimmies, hundreds and thousands nonpareils, and seasonal sprinkles.
Make something pretty. Make something that reminds you of your mother. When I was little we made some iced sugar cookies with my mother every year. I’d wear one of her aprons and stand on a wobbly red wooden stool at the kitchen table, rolling and cutting and slathering on the confectioner’s sugar icing. And then I made the same cookies, with the same cookies cutters, with my children. All the cookies were hideous, because we mixed icing colors together and got sky blue pink, and grays, and purples. Totally unappetizing to gaze upon, but they were delicious, and very sweet, though fleeting, moments together. Let’s make the world a sweeter, more colorful place again this year.
Nowadays you can find everything you want by way of cookie decorating supplies at Amazon – which makes the process completely devoid of romance. But there you have it – plain, prosaic practicality: Cookie Supplies
I’ve never been to this place in New York City, but I have heard great things about the sheer number of its supplies: NYCake
This are my mother’s plain, unadorned, pure and simple Gingersnaps. I haul the recipe out every year, and so should you:
My favorite cookie is the humble gingersnap. Gingersnaps are among the most versatile of cookies. They taste deelish warm from the oven, cold in a lunch bag, and are still not too bad when they are stale. These are simple, round and wholesome.
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temp
1/2 cup dark brown sugar (pack it into the measuring cup)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup molasses 1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt 1
1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
For dusting the cookies: 1 cup granulated white sugar
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Beat the butter and sugars until light and fluffy, I use an electric mixer. Add the molasses, egg, and vanilla extract and beat until well-mixed. In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix well. Cover the bowl with Saran Wrap and chill it in the fridge for about half an hour, until it is firm.
Fill a little bowl with the cup (or thereabouts) of granulated sugar. When the dough is nice and chilly, roll it into 1-inch balls. Then drop and roll the balls of dough in the sugar, this is the best point for expecting kid interaction and assistance. Put the dough balls on the baking sheets, and use a small flat-bottomed glass to flatten the balls. Sometimes you will need to dip the glass back into the sugar to maintain the right amount of crunchy, sugary goodness. Do not squash them too thin, or the cookies will get too dark and brittle. Bake for about 12 – 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
Food52, which will never steer your wrong, has Bazillions of Cookie Recipes.
Martha will drive you nuts with her perfectionism, and you will undoubtedly have the prettiest cookies at the Cookie Swap
These are sophisticated and are suitable for your grownup friends:
Vanilla Bean Sablés
And if you just can’t decide, Sally will undoubtedly have a cookie for Santa: Sally’s Baking
“She stuck her head out and took a deep breath. If she could eat the cold air, she would. She thought cold snaps were like cookies, like gingersnaps. In her mind they were made with white chocolate chunks and had a cool, brittle vanilla frosting. They melted like snow in her mouth, turning creamy and warm.”
― Sarah Addison Allen