Christmas Cookies

Bet you can’t just eat one

By Hope Cusick

Holiday traditions are enhanced with a variety of cookies, bars and other delights for Christmas. Of course, everyone has a favorite recipe that has been passed down through the generations as a family treasure.These buttery delights are great gifts to share with family, friends, guests and colleagues.

Use the best-quality ingredients that you can afford. When a recipe calls for softened butter, don’t let the butter get too soft or the dough will not hold its shape. In many cases, refrigerating the cookie dough overnight will add more flavor and make the dough more pliable; even freezing the dough for a few days enhances it.

Ingredients should be fresh. Buy new unbleached all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, vanilla and other spices. Cookie dough may be made days or weeks in advance and frozen before using. For drop-cookie dough, form the dough into balls and freeze on a pan, then place in plastic freezer bags. These balls can be baked from the frozen stage by adding a few minutes to the baking time.

A few more tips:

Over-mixing cookie dough will make the cookies tough and hard. Be sure to follow the recipe exactly as stated.

Using parchment paper for the cookie sheets helps to remove cookies easily without breaking off the lightly browned edges.

Use a sturdy cookie sheet pan to bake on.

Be sure not to let the parchment paper overlap the pan’s edges; cut the paper to fit the pan because paper edges may cause a fire in the oven.

Put cookie dough on cold cookie sheets so cookies won’t spread and lose their shape.

Bake on single cookie sheets in middle of oven.

Remove cookies from the oven before they are completely done. They continue to cook for 3 to 5 minutes after they are removed from the oven.

When cookies are slightly golden on the edges is the best time to take them out of the oven.

Hope’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes 4 dozen cookies

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 egg

1 cup unbleached flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup chocolate chips

1/2 cup chopped pecans

With an electric mixer beat butter, sugars, vanilla and egg until light and fluffy. Add dry ingredients and blend well. With a spoon, stir in chocolate chips and chopped pecans. Drop from a teaspoon onto ungreased baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake in a 375-degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes.

Here is a special treat that you can give as a gift to anyone on your holiday list. I use a one-quart jar (recycled tomato sauce jars work great). Put a label on the front, type directions on a tag and tie to the ribbon, put a piece of cloth over the top cover, and tie a holiday colorful ribbon around the neck of the jar. Voilà, one perfect and easy-to-do gift.

Gingerbread Cookie Mix in a Jar

3 1/2 cups unbleached flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cloves, optional

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1 cup packed brown sugar

1 gingerbread boy-shaped cookie cutter

In a clean one-quart jar, layer the ingredients, pressing each layer down firmly. Mix baking powder and baking soda together with the flour. Put in half of the flour. Add the spices and the remaining flour. Add the brown sugar last.

Tie a ribbon around the top of the jar and attach the cookie cutter and the directions to the jar.

Directions:

Empty jar of cookie mix into large mixing bowl. Mix thoroughly.

Mix in 1/2 (one half) cup softened butter, 3/4 (three quarters) cup molasses and 2 eggs. Mix until completely blended.

Cover and refrigerate 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 350°F. Roll dough to 1/4 inch thick on a lightly floured surface. Cut into shapes. Place cookies on lightly greased cookie sheet about 2 inches apart.

Bake 10 to 15 minutes. Decorate with icing.

Oatmeal Cranberry White
Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Makes 2 1/2 dozen cookies

2/3 cup butter, softened

2/3 cup brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 1/2cups old-fashioned oats

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 pinch of salt

1 6-ounce package dried cranberries

2/3 cup white chocolate chunks or chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

With an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar together in a bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs, mixing well.

In another bowl combine oats, flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to butter mixture in several additions, mixing well after each addition. Stir in dried cranberries and white chocolate chunks, mix well.

Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on wire rack.

Cranberry and Pecan Delight Cookies

Makes 3 dozen cookies

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup butter, melted (1/2 stick)

1/2 cup fresh orange juice

1 large egg, room temperature

1 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup chopped pecans

1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange rind or zest

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Spray nonstick cooking spray on 3 baking sheets.

In a bowl whisk together flour, sugar, salt and baking soda. Set aside.

In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat olive oil, butter and orange juice on medium speed for 2-3 minutes. Beat in egg. At low speed, beat in the flour mixture, just until blended. Fold in cranberries, pecans and orange rind. Beat for 1 minute.

Drop by heaping tablespoonfuls onto baking sheets, about 2 inches apart.

Bake cookies at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes, until firm and golden around the edges. Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool completely.

Gluten-Free Oatmeal-Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes 2 dozen cookies

I like to make these a big cookie by using tablespoonfuls of dough or more.

White chocolate chips may be substituted.

1/4 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup creamy peanut
butter

1 cup brown sugar,
packed

1 large egg

1 large egg white

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 cups rolled oats

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 Pinch of salt

1/2 cup chocolate chips

1/4 cup mini-chocolate pieces, like M & M’s

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl, mix together with an electric mixer the butter and peanut butter. Add brown sugar, egg, egg white and vanilla extract. Beat until smooth.

In another bowl mix together oats, baking soda and salt. Add this to peanut butter mixture. Fold in chocolate chips and chocolate pieces and mix well.

Drop by spoonfuls of dough about 2 inches apart on baking sheet. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes, until golden. Let cool a few minutes on baking sheet before removing to wire rack.

Flourless Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes 2 dozen cookies

1 cup creamy peanut butter

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 pinch of salt

1 cup semisweet chocolate morsels

Parchment paper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl stir together peanut butter, sugar, egg, baking soda, and salt until well blended. Stir in chocolate morsels.

Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto parchment paper-lined baking sheets 2 inches apart.

Bake in a 350-degree oven for 12 to 14 minutes or until puffed and lightly browned. Cool on baking sheets on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire rack and let cool for 15 minutes.

Helpful hint: When portioning dough, spray your tablespoon with cooking spray for easy release onto baking sheets.

Mexican Wedding Cakes

Makes 54 cookies

Recipe by Janet Niederberger

2 cups flour

2 cups pecans, chopped fine

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 pinch of salt

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 cup butter, softened and cut up

Additional powdered sugar, for finish

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine flour, pecans, powdered sugar and salt. Stir in vanilla. With pastry blender or two knives, cut in butter until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Gently knead dough until it begins to hold together. Roll dough into 3/4-inch balls and place 1 1/2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool 5 minutes on wire rack, then roll in powdered sugar and cool completely. Roll in additional sugar before serving.

Hope Cusick is a prize-winning cook and a poet.

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