At our house, the month of December would feel incomplete without a stash of homemade cookies to nibble on and share. For me, the aroma of chocolate, mint, ginger, and cinnamon wafting from room to room signals the season as clearly as the arrival of Santa cards in our mailbox. I especially enjoy making cookies that can be easily frosted, dipped into a glaze, or dotted with colored sprinkles. Since most will be given as gifts, I want them to look as appealing as I expect them to taste.
Part of the fun of baking holiday cookies, whatever one’s religion, is having company in the kitchen to lend a hand. While adult-sized help is always appreciated, recruiting grandchildren may be best of all. Kiddos learn that cookies made from scratch taste better than anything wrapped in cellophane and cardboard purchased at a supermarket. Accompanying that euphoria of cookie bliss is the satisfaction of producing beautiful yummy treats they can be proud of. If they learn some basic math skills while precisely measuring ingredients, or learn why you should stay focused as cookies bake so none burn, all the better.
The following recipes are among my holiday favorites and include tasks little hands can assist with. Should you not have a grandchild close by to join you—or one to borrow for the afternoon—no worries. You can still whip up batches of these tried-and-trues singlehandedly.
CHOCOLATE MINT COOKIES (Makes 6 dozen)
Reminiscent of Girl Scout cookies, this goodie evaporates at my house faster than you can say, “more please.” I love the fact that the batter can be made in one saucepan, and that Andes Mint glaze is a snap to add. Kids especially like to put the mints on the warm cookies and swirl them as they melt. The adapted recipe comes from a holiday-cookie pamphlet put together and distributed some 35 years ago by Boston radio host Gene Burns.
- 3/4 cup butter
- 1-1/2 cups brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons water
- 2 cups chocolate chips
- 2 eggs
- 2-1/2 cups flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1-1/4 teaspoons baking soda
- Topping: 2 or 3 packages (28 pieces per package) Andes Mints
In a medium-sized saucepan, melt butter, then add brown sugar, water, and chocolate chips. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until the batter is smooth. Off the heat, beat in eggs, one at a time, then add the dry ingredients. Roll into small balls, or use a small (1 tablespoon) cookie scoop to portion dough. Bake on parchment-lined cookie sheets at 350° for about 10 minutes. When done, they won’t be set in the center. Place the pan on a cooling rack. Immediately put a whole or a half mint on top of each while the cookies remain on hot baking sheet. Spread each melted mint with a butter knife, then move cookies to another rack to cool as soon as they’re firm enough to transfer. Since I prefer these on the chewy side, I swirl the mint quickly and move the cookies as fast as I can to the cooling rack, to decorate with colored sprinkles.
SUGAR-N’-CINNAMON COOKIES (Makes 4 dozen)
These delicate cookies earned blue ribbons five years’ running at state fairs. The recipe is adapted from a 1970s-era book, Blue Ribbon Cookies. An easy way to add the sugar-cinnamon topping is to put it in a small paper bag. As soon as the cookies finish baking, your helper can toss them in the bag to shake several times and coat them with the mixture.
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2-1/4 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar mixed with a scant 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
With an electric mixer, cream butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla. Sift flour with 1 teaspoon cinnamon, then blend into creamed mixture. Roll into 1-inch balls and flatten them between your palms to 1/4 inch. Bake 8 – 10 minutes at 400° on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Remove the cookies immediately from the pan, and toss them in the sugar-cinnamon mixture while they are until warm. Let them cool on a rack.
Be sure to work quickly once the glaze is ready because it starts to set up as it cools. Chocolate chips may be substituted for bittersweet chocolate.
- 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate
- 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
- 2 tablespoons butter
Melt chocolate in the top of a small double boiler. Whisk in corn syrup and butter. Blend until silky smooth. When cookies are completely cool, dip one edge or half of the cookie into the warm chocolate. Scrape the bottom of the dipped portion against the side of the pan to remove excess glaze. Place each cookie on a piece of wax paper, and nudge it forward slightly to avoid puddling around the edges. You can decorate them further with colored sprinkles while the glaze is suntil liquidy, or leave them as is. Be sure the glaze has completely set before moving the cookies.
– While I use parchment, so cookies won’t stick to the baking pan, aluminum foil also works nicely.
– Typically, I’ll pull cookies from the oven when the edges are firm and (when appropriate) golden, even if the center hasn’t fully set. Thanks to the pan’s residual heat, cookies will finish baking if they remain on the hot pan a while longer.
– Form cookies as closely as possible to the same size so they bake evenly.
– Remember: there is no flavor substitute for real butter.
Gail Jokerst is a longtime contributor to this newspaper. The recipes featured here come from her cookbook, The Hungry Bear Kitchen: Recipes And Writings. Visit her website at www.gailjokerst.com.