I try to keep everything simple at Christmas time, otherwise, I’m easily stressed out by shopping and gift-wrapping, Christmas cards, decorating, food, and parties. Maybe not parties. I love parties. I’ll do my little bit of shopping, and I think I’m going to use every leftover Christmas card from the ghosts of Christmases past. Surely, you don’t remember what I sent you five years ago, do you? I’ll put my tree up a week before Christmas (yes, I realize that would be, like, now) and pull out my nativity on Christmas Eve. But I’m not a big holiday baker. I don’t get the appeal of Christmas cookies.
On Facebook this week, many of my beautifully organized friends are posting photos of their scrumptious cookies and advertising cookie parties. I admire them, and I told one of them, “You’re a better woman than I,” because, really, isn’t that what you’re supposed to do at Christmas, bake beautiful cookies from family recipes to warm the heart and resurrect fond memories of Christmas past? Oh, I am such a cookie Scrooge.
In early marriage, I made rolled butter cookies and spritz cookies, because I thought you just had to provide your family with cookies at Christmas. My Mother did. I just don’t have the patience. It takes you days on end to make about 500 dozen cookies, and they’re all eaten within a few days. If I had to go to a cookie exchange and take a recipe, the other bakers would be pretty disappointed. I’d either take my non-traditional chocolate chip cookies (with coconut and chopped pecans) or my oatmeal cookies. Those are the only cookies worth making, and I only make the chocolate chips once a year, at the most.
I only like crispy cookies (hence the hint of coconut in the chocolate chips to give them a little extra crunch). Crispy peanut butter cookies are good (slightly burnt), as are crispy lemon, and lace cookies and even those little French almond tuiles, which you cool around a wine bottle to look like a roof tile. But, they’re all too much trouble for me, the lazy baker. Cookies? Meh. You might as well buy a package at the grocery store.
Good luck with that. I wanted to show you a picture of the perfect Christmas cookie, as opposed to the lame ones that I would make, so I went to my local Wegman’s, which knows how to bake dozens of different breads with just the right crust and elegant tarts with crystalline glazes. Apparently, a color-blind person was decorating the Christmas cookies. The icing on the snowmen cookies was slightly yellow, and we all know what yellow snow means. The Christmas tree cookies were olive green, as if they had been standing in the living room on the 13th day of Christmas and were about to go up in flames. The snowflake cookies were royal blue and sunshine yellow. And, worst of all, Santa wore a rosy lavender hat. All of the colors had a drab, gray cast, sort of like they got covered in soot when Santa fell down the chimney with them.
Now, I’m a creative person. I appreciate different visions of the world, because that’s what adds joy to life, but, when it comes to Christmas, I’m a purist. I finally found a package of cookies that looked like someone cut them with Grandma’s cookie cutters and sprinkled them with red sugar (Santa) and green sugar (trees). They even had cookies for idiots like me that were entirely plain and labeled, “Decorate-it-Yourself”.
I, however, rolled my cart over to the dairy section and bought a roll of sugar cookie dough for $2.99. It showed them sliced and baked and in the shape of stars. I assumed that the dough could be rolled and cut. How else could you get that star shape by slicing a roll of dough?
I hauled out cookie cutters that hadn’t seen the mini-lights of Christmas in decades, 13 in all, a baker’s dozen. Two red plastic ones belonged to my grandmother and must date to the 1940s or 50s. The aluminum ones are early marriage, c. 1972. The Nutcracker is from the 80s; the hippo from a set of animal cutters I acquired from Williams-Sonoma in the 90s.
With enough flour on the granite counter, the dough rolled out to 1/4″ easily, although it seemed a little soft. I carefully pressed the cutters into the dough, then removed the excess from around them and removed the dorky hat from the gingerbread man. I slid a metal turner under each cookie and eased it onto the cookie sheet. They all made the transfer except the red plastic holly. The dough clung to little ridges inside the cutter. So much for lucky number 13.
Unfortunately, they didn’t smell like butter or sugar or vanilla or lemon extract, just commercial cookie dough. I decided to brush them with my cure-all for baked goods, Grand Marnier, and popped them into the oven.
Uh-oh — they were too close together and turned into Pangea; you know? That supercontinent from which all the other continents broke off? Santa appeared to be delivering a star. The Nutcracker oozed into an aerial view of a sports car with its doors open — or a feminine hygiene product with wings, maybe. (I’m an eHarmony reject, remember?) They browned beautifully, but they still tasted like commercial cookie dough, a real waste of Grand Marnier. I pulled them apart.
One cookie stole my heart. I’ve always wanted a hippopotamus for Christmas.
I’m not entirely down on commercial cookie dough. You may recall that I keep Nestle’s Tollhouse cookie dough in my freezer for emergencies — like when I don’t have anything else to eat for breakfast. I break off four little cubes, bake them in the convection oven until they get soft, and then flatten them with a fork, so they’ll get crispy. I also push two pecan halves into each cookie. Voilà! Home-baked cookies!
If you’re as lazy as I am but need to leave something for Santa, my oatmeal cookies are the perfect choice. You dump the ingredients into a food processor and drop them onto a cookie sheet (use a silicone mat so you don’t even have to grease the pan). Santa would appreciate them with a glass of spiked eggnog, I’m sure. Nothing like a little fiber after a long night in the sleigh.
The number of cookies varies according to the size of cookies that you make. An ice cream scoop makes a big fat chewy cookie — the kind that keeps Santa and Rudolph strong all night long. A tablespoon makes a smaller, crisper cookie — my fav!
½ cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup white sugar
½ cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 Tablespoon milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup quick-cooking (not instant) oats
Preheat oven to 350°. Prepare cookie sheets either by greasing or just use a silicone baking mat.
In food processor, cream sugars and butter. Add egg, vanilla, and milk. Pulse until blended. Add all remaining ingredients except the oats and pulse just until moistened. Add oats and pulse twice, just to evenly distribute the oats.
Drop cookies two inches apart on sheet and bake 8-10 minutes, until golden brown, depending on how large you make the cookies. Remove immediately from the oven and, using a metal turner, transfer to a rack to cool. (Cookies will stick to the sheet if allowed to get too cool. If this happens, return to the oven for two minutes to reheat and loosen.)
Didn’t I tell you it was easy? Ho-ho-ho! Merry Christmas!