It’s Christmas cookie time!  To be completely honest, I don’t have much fun baking cookies.  Rolling out dozens of little dough balls and moving them on and off counters, pans, and cooling racks always seems so… boring.  But I love eating cookies (probably a little too much), and the only way to eat them is to bake them.

From left to right:  Vamino Bars, Snowball Cookies, Molasses Cookies, Peanut Butter Blossoms, Almond Glazed Sugar Cookies

From left to right: Vamino Bars, Snowball Cookies, Molasses Cookies, Peanut Butter Blossoms, Almond Glazed Sugar Cookies

Here are five of my family’s favorite Christmas confections.  I suppose none of them are uniquely Christmas-y, but we always make them in December for the holidays.  I’ve omitted spritz cookies, which are my very favorite, mostly because I don’t have a cookie press and the rolled-out versions just aren’t as pretty.

My tips for baking:  1)  Always use room temperature butter.  Do not microwave the butter to soften it!  Plan ahead and let it sit out on the counter for at least an hour.  2)  Most of these recipes begin by creaming together the butter and sugar(s), then adding eggs, extracts, and flour.  I use a hand mixer for each step:  first, “cream” or beat the softened butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy; second, beat in eggs, one at a time, on low speed, followed by any extracts; third, gradually add flour and other dry ingredients on low speed, about 1/2 cup at a time, until well combined.  Scrape the bowl’s sides and finish working the dough with your hands, if needed.

Christmas CookiesVamino Bars
Yield:  3 dozen

The unsweetened chocolate gives these bars a grown-up flavor–I never really cared for them much as a kid.  Now, of course, I know better.  The inclusion of pistachio pudding mix is probably more for color than flavor, but I’m not going to mess with Grandma’s recipe.

1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1/4 cup sugar
5 T. cocoa powder
1 tsp. vanilla
1 egg
2 cups graham cracker crumbs (14 “boards,” about 1 1/2 packages)
1/2 cup chopped nuts (I use walnuts)
1/2 cup coconut
1/4 cup butter, melted
3 T. milk
2 T. dry instant pistachio pudding
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 one-ounce squares unsweetened chocolate
2 T. butter

Combine first five ingredients (through egg) in a medium saucepan.  Slowly bring to boil over low heat; continue boiling for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Add graham cracker crumbs, nuts, and coconut.  Spread mixture in a 9×13 pan; pat down with fingers.  Cool to room temperature.

In a medium bowl, combine 1/4 cup melted butter, milk, dry pudding, and confectioners’ sugar.  Gently spread mixture over bottom layer in pan.

In a small saucepan over very low heat, melt chocolate squares and 2 T. butter, stirring frequently (you can also use a double boiler).  Carefully spread mixture on top of pistachio layer.

Refrigerate until set (do not store at room temperature).  Cut into 36 bars (6 each way).

Snowball Cookies
Yield:  2 1/2 to 3 dozen

Some people call these Russian tea cakes, but we always called them powdered sugar cookies or snowball cookies.  Whatever you call them, they’re buttery, not overly sweet, and delicious.

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup finely chopped nuts (I use walnuts)
1 tsp. vanilla
dash salt
2 cups flour
confectioners’ sugar, for rolling (about 1/2 cup)

Cream butter, shortening, sugar, and nuts; add vanilla and salt; gradually mix in flour.  Roll into 1-inch balls; place on ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake at 350 F for 20-25 minutes.  Cool, then roll in confectioners’ sugar.

Molasses Cookies
Yield:  5 dozen

I recently tried a different molasses cookie recipe that used fresh ginger in place of ground ginger.  They turned out okay, but not nearly as soft and chewy as my family’s recipe.  Maybe I’ll do some more experimenting with fresh ginger later, but for now, I’m sticking with the old standby.

1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup shortening
6 T. molasses
3 egg yolks
3 cups flour
1 T. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1 1/2 tsp. salt
granulated sugar, for rolling (about 1 cup)

Cream together sugar, butter, shortening, and molasses.  Beat in egg yolks.  In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, spices, and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture.  Form 1-inch balls, roll in sugar, and place 2 inches apart on greased cookie sheet.  Bake at 375 F for 8 minutes or until large cracks appear in cookies.

Christmas CookiesPeanut Butter Blossoms
Yield:  4 dozen

I’m sure most people have a version of this recipe in their collections, but I still think my grandma’s is the best.  The kisses are pressed into the cookies while they are still undercooked, then baked a few minutes more to soften the chocolate.

1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg, unbeaten
2 T. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
granulated sugar, for rolling (about 1 cup)
4 to 5 dozen chocolate kisses, unwrapped

Cream shortening and peanut butter.  Gradually add sugars; cream well.  Add egg, milk, and vanilla; beat well.  In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and baking soda.  Gradually add dry ingredients into creamed mixture.

Shape dough into 3/4-inch balls.  Roll in granulated sugar; place on ungreased cookie sheets.  Bake at 350 F for 8-10 minutes (cookies should be set, but not browned).  Remove from oven; firmly press a chocolate kiss into top of each cookie, pressing down so that cookie cracks around the edge.  Return to oven; bake 2 minutes more, until cookies are lightly browned and chocolate is soft (but not melted).

Almond Glazed Sugar Cookies (source)
Yield:  3 1/2 dozen

If you like almond extract, you’ll love these crispy little cookies.  These are a fairly recent addition to my family’s cookie lineup.  We received the recipe from a family friend, and they were delicious enough to include in our holiday baking from then on.

Cookie:
1 cup butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. almond extract
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
sugar (about 1/4 cup)

Glaze:
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp. almond extract
4-5 tsp. water

sliced almonds

Cream butter, sugar, and almond extract in large bowl until light and fluffy (1-2 minutes).  Reduce mixer speed to low; gradually add remaining cookie ingredients.  Beat 1-2 minutes until well combined.  Roll dough into 1-inch balls; place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet.  Flatten balls to 1/4-inch thickness with the bottom of a buttered glass dipped in sugar.  Bake at 400 F for 7-9 minutes or until edges are very lightly browned.  Cool 1 minute; remove from cookie sheets.  Cool completely.

Combine glaze ingredients in small bowl with whisk.  Decorate each cookie with glaze and three sliced almonds.  Glaze sets quickly, so frost and decorate a few cookies at a time.

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