This time of year has always been my favorite – I love the change in the weather (yes, even here in soggy Portland), I love the feeling of wrapping up the current year and preparing for the new one, and I love the food. FOOOOOOOOOOD. Turkey and stuffing and potatoes and rolls and pie, oh my – followed by ham and popovers and all things chocolatey and peppermintey and good.
And no, this is not just because I’m pregnant. In fact, between the ongoing heartburn and the fact that Baby #2 has squeezed by stomach down to nothing, the holiday season this year is a sorry time for me, in which I’m reduced to feasting with my eyes while only nibbling with my mouth. Ah, well.
Fortunately, the baby has done nothing to stop me from my favorite thing of all – making homemade edible gifts! For years my mom (who of course taught me to bake, and cook) and I would spend an entire day in December whipping out all kinds of cookies and treats that we then packaged up and gifted to all our favorite people. It was one of my favorite rituals – also because I would send my husband out on baking day to buy all our Christmas gifts, therefore relieving myself of all that running around. Win-win! (for me, that is).
Then I started my chocolate business, and the baking/gifting ritual had to go away for a while. Every edible thing I made in December for six years running was snapped up by my customers, and there was never enough time or energy to make more! But this year, it’s back to gifting. At least, part-way back – being 8.66 months pregnant and spending the majority of my waking hours running around after a toddler, time and energy are in still short supply. But next weekend, I’ll be making the most of what I have, mom will be joining me, and the oven will be in overdrive. Good times, people. Really good times.
Two years ago on C&T: Pumpkin Oat Bread
Three years ago on C&T: Sourdough Pancakes and Waffles
Happily, I had a little bit of spare time in the last week and managed to bust out a few early cookies, just for fun, and to get some ideas flowing for what to make on the big day. Sugar cookies are always a go-to item, and these three variations are my favorites – they are quick and easy to do, but give you a really great bang for your buck in terms of cuteness.
Basic Sugar Cookies
- 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 beaten egg
- 2-1/2 cups flour (for chocolate dough, use 2 cups flour plus 1/2 cup good quality cocoa powder)
Cream butter and sugar until well blended. Add vanilla extract and egg; beat until combined. Add flour (or flour and cocoa powder) and mix just until incorporated. Shape dough into a disk and either chill (up to one day), freeze (well wrapped and sealed airtight up to 2 months) or roll, cut and bake immediately. To retain the best shapes for your cut out cookies, make sure to chill the dough before baking (see directions below). Bake cookies at 350 degrees for 8 to 12 minutes, depending on size and thickness. Cookies are done when just lightly colored and slightly puffed up.
Two Tone Cookies
Mix up one batch vanilla sugar cookie dough and one batch chocolate sugar cookie dough. On parchment or silpat lined baking sheets, roll a piece of each dough to 1/4 inch thick and use cookie cutters to cut medium to large shapes (scalloped rounds, trees, snowflakes etc.). Use mini cutters to cut small shapes from inside the larger ones. Remove excess dough from around cut shapes, but don’t move shapes (unless your dough has been pre-chilled, in which case, skip the following freezer step). Place cookie sheets with dough into freezer for 10 minutes to allow the shapes to firm up enough to be moved. When chilled and firm, carefully swap the small shapes from the inside of each cookie, placing the vanilla shapes into the larger chocolate shapes and vice versa. Push lightly with your fingertips to make sure the two dough shapes stick together. For striped candy canes pictured above, chill the candy cane cutouts, then stack one of each flavor/color together, slice diagonally, unstack and lay the cookies out with alternating stripes, pressing the pieces together. Bake as directed.
Layered cookies can be made with both vanilla and chocolate cookie dough, or just with vanilla cookie dough, using food coloring to make different colored layers. To color vanilla dough, knead food coloring into the dough just after it is mixed. Keep adding drops of food color and kneading until desired color is achieved. Or, use all vanilla or all chocolate dough, and coat one of the cookie layers with sparkling sugar prior to layering and baking. To layer your cookies, roll the dough for the base cookies to 1/4 inch thick, and the dough for top layers just slightly thinner. Cut shapes, layer as desired pressing the pieces together gently, and bake as directed. Thicker layered cookies may take 1-2 minutes longer to bake then single layer cookies – but keep an eye on small details and pointy edges to make sure they don’t burn. Fun ideas for layered cookies: snowman with layered-on scarf, trees with layered on ornaments, a wreath with a layered on bow.
Stained Glass Cookies
Using either vanilla or chocolate cookie dough, follow directions for Two Tone Cookies, above. After chilling the dough, remove the small cut pieces (bake them separately or use them for layered cookies). Place your choice of unwrapped hard candies (the brighter the color, the better) into a heavy duty ziploc bag, seal the bag and then place that bag inside another heavy duty ziploc bag, sealing it. Carefully smash the candies using a rolling pin or small hammer until they are in tiny bits. (don’t do this on a soft wood countertop unless you like the gouged look. just saying.) Pour some of the smashed candy onto a small square of waxed paper and curl the paper into a spout. Pour candy into the small cut areas of the cookies, pressing down and filling the area as full as possible. Make sure you are doing this on parchment or a silpat! Bake as directed. Allow to cool on parchment or silpat until the candy center firms up enough to remove easily.