06 December 2008
Christmas Cookies: Frosted Trees
Here's a bit of holiday cheer!
And if you think these cookies have sparkle...
You should have seen the twinkle in my kindergartener's eye when he saw the results of today's culinary labor--though I ought not call it "labor," it was simply too much messy fun for all involved.
There is nothing like the first batch of Christmas cookies to build a kid's anticipation as we head into the December season. Yes, these cookies are gaudy, and no they're in no way good for the body... but for the childlike spirit inside--no matter your age--these do the trick. You start listening for sleigh bells and a certain jolly toy-maker. You lick your lips and beg for just one more cookie, please... one more marshmallow in your mug of hot chocolate, you swear it won't ruin your dinner later on. And as you munch and sip, smile and dream, yes, you know it's time to pull out the yuletide CD and brush up on your caroling. (At least, that's what we did today, waiting for the icing on the cookies to harden. My son is hooked on Nat King Cole singing "Joy to the World" and all the rest, and I wonder if, a year gone by, he remembers the catalog of gifts in "The Twelve Days of Christmas"?)
Of course if it weren't for the chronological child in the family, I'd have nothing to do with such fare, so I pause to thank him here, because I have to admit that these colorful cut-out cookies make my eyes light up, too. They get me in the right spirit, and suddenly I can really remember what it's like to be five years old and counting the days until the 25th of December: it's exciting, and pure magic.
For the child (or "inner child") in your life, here's a simple butter cookie recipe, with directions for royal icing.
Basic Sugar Cookies
(makes approximately 3 dozen cookies, depending on size of cutters)
1/3 cup butter (no substitutes), softened
1/3 cup shortening (such as Crisco brand)
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
dash of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
Beat butter and shortening in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar, baking powder, and salt. Beat till combined, scraping bowl occasionally. Beat in egg and vanilla till combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can, and stir in remaining flour with a wooden spoon. Divide dough in half. Form each half into a disk and wrap in plastic. Chill in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Preheat oven to 375F. Roll one dough portion at a time on a lightly floured surface, until 1/8-inch thick. Cut with desired cookie cutters. Place cutouts on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 7-8 minutes or till edges are firm and bottoms lightly browned. Transfer to wire rack to cool.
To store: Place cookies in layers separated by wax paper in a shallow container; cover. Store at room temperature up to 1 week or freeze (unfrosted) for up to 3 months. If freezing, allow to thaw before icing.
(This makes a lot of icing; I always have too much left over. I recommend cutting the recipe in half!)
3 TBS meringue powder
16-ounce package powdered sugar (=4.5 cups), sifted
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 cup warm water
Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on high speed for 7-10 minutes or till mixture is extremely stiff. Cover icing with clear plastic wrap. You can use small portions of the icing to mix individual colors--try to use small amounts of natural food coloring; if using paste food coloring, remember that a very little goes a long way.
Decorating Your Cookies
Have fun and let your imagination lead the way! Sprinkle cookies with sanding sugar or other decoration while royal icing is still wet. One technique you may want to try is using a small paintbrush (dedicated only for food) to paint designs: paint patterns on cookies that have already been iced and have dried, or paint on still-wet royal icing and swirl to blend colors in pretty patterns.
Of course if you're like most children, you will succumb to the "little bit of everything" desire and your cookies will be a collage of color and every conceivable topping. (More is just more, but sometimes it's better!)
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