By Jessica Roy Holiday baking is such a fun way to really celebrate the season. It's the time of year when indulging in your favorite treats seems a bit less sinful. Sharing is caring, and there is no better treat to share than homemade holiday cookies.
My family's traditional Christmas cookies are made from a basic sugar cookie dough, cut into fun shapes, and decorated with a really simple yet delicate icing and sugar sprinkles. While I adore cookies in all shapes and sizes, this recipe is the one that is especially pertinent this time of year.
This week, to help with some of your baking business, I'm going to share a few of my favorite recipes and tips for deliciously care-free holiday treats. All of the following cookie recipes are what we call "ice box dough," making them easy for pre-made prep work. This term means the dough should be refrigerated prior to baking, as opposed to "drop cookies," in which the dough is simply spooned straight after mixing, and dropped onto the cookie sheet to bake immediately.
Christmas Sugar Cookies
1 cup butter, cubed and softened
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. almond extract
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 cup powdered sugar (1 each for icing)
1-2 tsp. water
Using a mixer, cream together butter and sugar.
Sift together flour, baking soda and cream of tartar, and then add to the mixing bowl. Mix well until dough forms.
Cover dough with plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator for two hours.
On a lightly-floured surface, roll out dough to just under 1/4-inch thick, and cut into shapes with cookie cutters.
Bake at 375 degrees for 7-8 minutes. Allow to cool, and decorate away!
Stir 1-2 tsp. cold water into 1/2 cup powdered sugar, a few drops at a time, until icing thickly coats the back of a spoon. Stir in a drop of food coloring at a time -- a little goes a long way.
Chef's tip: After you cut the dough into cookie shapes, place them onto a baking sheet about 1 inch apart on all sides, and put the whole tray into the freezer for about 10 minutes. This should help the cookies keep their shape while cooking, so the butter doesn t melt and spread so quickly, giving the flour more time to cook and gelatinize (aka hold their shape).
Maple Cinnamon Shortbreads
1 cup butter, softened at room temperature
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter, sugar, vanilla and maple syrup.
Add flour, cinnamon and salt, and continue to mix until cookie dough starts to come together. If dough texture is too crumbly, you can add more butter 1 Tbsp. at a time.
Gather dough into a ball, and transfer to a piece of parchment paper on the counter. Roll the dough inside the parchment paper into a log approximately 2 inches in diameter, and twist the ends to seal shut. Refrigerate for 30-60 minutes.
Slice dough log into 1/4-inch pieces. Place slices on an ungreased cookie sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake at 365 degrees F for 10-12 minutes until edges are just slightly browned.
Remove shortbreads from baking sheets and allow to cool.
Chef's tip: Make into ice cream sandwiches! Once the cookies are completely cooked, place a scoop of ice cream in-between two cookies and gently squeeze together. Wipe around the edges of the cookie sandwich to clean up any errant ice cream, place on a baking sheet lined with wax paper, and allow to freeze at least 1 hour. Roll the ice cream edge of the sandwich into mini chocolate chips, sprinkles or crushed cookies for fun flavor boost.
Happy Holidays from my kitchen to yours. Sending wishes for a happy and healthy 2017! Jessica Roy is a specialty chef and caterer, food writer and chef instructor, and owner of Shiso Kitchen in Somerville, where she teaches classes. Follow her at http://blogs.lowellsun.com/yourpersonalchef.