My best friend went to a Cookie Exchange Party last year and called me after she got home to rail at the Cookie Gods!
She had laboured lovingly over her Candy Cane Cookies. She had crushed candy canes into little bits and then gently kneaded them into the shortbread dough. She had even dyed half the dough red so that when she braided the two strands together the candy cane cookie would totally look like the real thing. It had taken her the better part of a day but they were her kid’s favourite and she felt that they were special enough for the exchange.
“Pillsbury dough cookies! People brought Pillsbury dough cookies! You know the kind with the snowman in them! And chocolate chip cookies! There were a ton of chocolate chips cookies made from frozen dough! I make chocolate chip cookies every week! Those aren’t Christmas cookies!”
After I talked her off the cookie cliff it got me thinking. What is the criterion for a Christmas cookie? Or a Christmas Cookie Exchange?
Is a commercial product that you buy in the dairy case count as a holiday cookie? And if no, why not?
Growing up we had special cookies that were only made for Christmas. I can still see and smell them – My Grandma’s Sugar Cookies and Mom’s Shortbread.
The sugar cookies made from my Grandma’s recipe were rolled out, baked, iced and then sprinkled with coloured sugar! A coveted job that we kids loved doing! My brother was a single colour kind of guy – me? Red, green, and silver! I was into multicolours even back then.
Then my mom made shortbread.
The butter was brought to room temperature, the sugar added, the flours, the kneading (done by my dad), the cookie dough shaped into logs and then into the fridge overnight, the next day they were cut into slices and baked sending the butter perfume wafting through the house. Once baked they were hidden away for when company came over! Okay, we all got one then, but the rest were for when people came over to visit.
Both recipes only made an appearance in our house in December. Both were made with butter. Both fairly labour intensive. Both involved all family members for certain skills. Both were delicious. And the smell of either one still makes me think of Christmas.
So I’m wondering – is it the special appearance in December part that equals Christmas? Is it the labour intensive part, the communal spirit part, or is it the ritual of tradition that makes a Cookie a Christmas Cookie?
As a foodie and a tweeter I have been reading endless tweets from my fellow foodies as they list off the gems that are coming out of their ovens; gingerbread cookies, nut cookies, cinnamon cookies, sugar cookies, and the much loved shortbread cookie.
We foodies are keeping Christmas baking alive and well, but what about everyone else? Does the real world still bake special, labour intensive, traditional Christmas cookies? Based on my friend’s experience the answer is no. I know that this is a tiny microscopic view of Christmas but I think that it is indicative of what is happening to our food based traditions; real people aren’t baking their family favourites anymore and it makes me very sad. Because I believe that as we lose our foodie traditions we start to lose who we are as a culture. Take away my shortbread cookies at Christmas and I lose part of my family’s traditions and part of myself.
So I fired up my oven and I baked a batch of my family’s Christmas favourites. I don’t want to lose those memories; they’re the stuff that keeps me glued together for the rest of the year.
And what about Cookie Exchanges? Is it alright to bake a batch of frozen cookie dough? It depends.
I think you need to establish some rules or suggestions before you organize one. Here’s a new spin that we could all try this year. Organize a Traditional Christmas Cookie Exchange Party.
Everyone brings the cookies that their Grandma or their Mom made at Christmas. Celebrate your heritage with friends and let the baking begin.
GINGER CHOCOLATE SHORTBREAD
My mom always made shortbread and I am always trying out new shortbread recipes that are similar to my Mom’s. Several years ago I baked an amazing shortbread cookie that I got from the Toronto Star which I then lost! I emailed food editor Jennifer Bain at the Toronto Star (It totally helps having foodie friends) and thanks to her here is my new fav shortbread cookie! It’s sort of like my mom’s recipe, but with a twist!
This recipe is adapted from a winning recipe in a Gay Lea shortbread contest, sent in by Lisa Mitchel of St. Thomas, Ont. You can adapt the dough to any shape; these are baked in slices.
1 ½ cups (375 mL) all-purpose flour, sifted
¼ cup (60 mL) corn starch, sifted
1/8 tsp (0.5 mL) salt
½ cup (125 mL) chopped dark chocolate or dark chocolate chips, divided I use a really high end 64% cocoa mass chocolate, its special!
¼ cup (60 mL) finely chopped candied ginger, the dry kind not the syrup type in a bottle
1 cup (250 mL) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup (125 mL) icing sugar
In medium bowl, whisk together flour, corn starch, salt, ¼ cup (60 mL) dark chocolate pieces or chips, and ginger.
In separate bowl, using electric mixer on low then medium speed, beat butter and sugar until fluffy.
Using wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just moistened. (I used my standing mixer on low – once a rebel always a rebel!)
Gently pat dough into block about 1.5 inches (4 cm) high and 2.5 inches (6 cm) wide.
Line baking sheet with parchment. Preheat oven 325°F (160°C)
Cut off 3/8- to 1/2-inch (0.9 to 1 cm) slices. I prefer the thinner version.
Place slices of cookie dough on prepared baking sheet.
Bake in preheated oven until edges of cookies are golden brown, about 18 minutes. (mine baked for 19 minutes)
Remove from heat and let cookies sit 5 minutes.
Carefully transfer cookies to wire rack to cool completely.
Melt remaining ¼ cup (60 mL) chocolate in small heatproof bowl on medium-low power in microwave, about 2 minutes.
Stir until smooth. Drizzle line of chocolate along top of each cooled cookie.
Run skewer back and forth over chocolate to create jagged design. Return to rack until chocolate sets. (Mine never made it to this step – everyone ate them before they were even cooled! Note to self: make double batch next time and then hide them like my mom did!)
Makes about 36.
Nutrient Breakdown: NOT! It’s a Christmas cookie!
Adapted from my Grandma’s recipe. This is more of a buttery sugar cookie as compared to a regular sugar cookie.
You will need two cookie cutters of the same shape for this one, one big and one small for the window effect.
Makes about 24-28 cookies depending on the size of the cookie cutter.
¾ cup (175 mL) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (250 mL) granulated sugar
2 large eggs, I use omega-3
1 tsp (5 mL) pure vanilla extract
2 ½ cups (625 mL) all-purpose flour
1 tsp (5 mL) baking powder
Approx. 1/3 cup (75 mL) seedless pure raspberry jam
1½ cups (375 mL) icing sugar
¼ tsp (1 mL) pure almond extract
Approx.1 tbsp (15 mL) hot water, enough to make a glaze
1 Line two rimless baking sheets with parchment paper.
2 In large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter with sugar until fluffy; beat in eggs one at a time. Add vanilla extract and beat in.
3 In separate bowl, whisk flour with baking powder; gently stir into butter/sugar mixture.
4 Chill in the fridge for at least an hour, this will make it easier to roll out.
5 Make sure the rack is in the centre of the oven. Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C)
6 On lightly floured surface, roll out dough to 1/8-inch (3 mm) thickness. The dough is very soft, so you might have to flour the board a little thicker than usual. Make sure your rolling pin is well floured as well.
7 Using the larger festive cookie cutter, cut out cookies. If it sticks to the dough, lightly flour. Place the cut out cookies about 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart on prepared baking sheet. Important note: For half the cookies use the smaller cookie cutter to cut out a window. It’s important to do this right on the baking sheet and not on the board, transferring the cut out from the board to the sheet can misshapen the cookie and then they won’t fit together when you are assembling them in step 10. Repeat until all of the dough has been used.
8 Bake for about 6-7 minutes or until edges are golden. Cool on the pan for 2 minutes, remove from pan and then transfer to cooling racks; let cool completely. (You can bake them and then store in an airtight container for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 1 month before you go onto the next step)
9 Make the icing: In small bowl, stir together the icing sugar, almond extract and enough hot water to make thin icing; spread over tops of the cookies that have the window. Let dry completely, about an hour.
10 Lightly spread bottoms of half of the cookies with jam; top with iced cookies. Let set for an hour. Carefully store in an airtight container in between layers of parchment or waxed paper.
No nutrient breakdown….it’s a treat so just eat one…….