The holiday season is here! We’ve emptied our fridge of the last of the cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, and mashed potatoes from Thanksgiving. We’ve boxed up the stuffed pumpkins and orange icicle lights to clear space for a mini Christmas tree, a Menorah, and assorted Santa Claus figurines. Let the December traditions begin.
One of my favorite December traditions is baking cookies. When I was younger, my Mom would dedicate a Sunday afternoon to mixing, rolling, cutting, and baking hundreds of holiday cookies. And my sister and I would help. Even as young as 4 years old, I have a memory of standing in my parents’ kitchen at the wooden card table that was just short enough so I didn’t have to stand on my chair, large clumps of gingerbread and sugar cookie dough in front of me. I was wearing an oversized red cloth apron, and I was covered in flour. The taste of green and red colored sugar was still on my lips, and the oven was making the room smell like sweet, cinnamony toasted bread.
Using a wooden rolling pin that had handles that my small hands barely fit around, we flattened the dough against the flour-dusted parchment paper. We were instructed to smooth the dough to the edge of the table and back, rolling out any bumps and adding flour if the dough became too sticky along the way. When Mom said that was enough, we could choose a silver cookie-cutter from the ziplock bags on Mom’s table, and we could start cutting the dough into the shape we chose: a Gingerbread man, a Santa, a reindeer.
We pressed the cookie-cutters into the flattened dough, trying to keep them as close together as we could, as Mom instructed. When there wasn’t much dough that hadn’t been used, save it for a few corners and tiny patches, we peeled away that unused dough and rolled it into a ball for the next batch. Mom took the shapes that were left and lifted them onto shiny cookie sheets, and into the oven they went.
The result was those holiday cookies that I still enjoy baking today.
The Top 5
Here are my top 5 holiday cookies, some of which I learned how to bake in that childhood kitchen:
- Gingerbread Cookies
These cookies are the perfect balance of sweet dough and nutty spices. They’re not too sweet, so if you’re tempted to overindulge, it’s likely that your stomach can handle it. Often made with butter, brown sugar, molasses, cloves, ginger, and cinnamon. Can be easily modified for a dairy-free version. I haven’t found a vegan version that works, yet. If you have, please comment below!
- Sugar Cookies
Sweet, albeit plain, these cookies serve one purpose: to be decorated. Made with sugar, flour, and butter, they are the base for Christmas tree, dradle, snowflake, and other holiday designs. The sky is the limit with the add-ons for these! I like to dust them with green or red colored baking sugar.
- Chocolate Chip Cookies
These cookies aren’t exactly holiday by design, but I’d be remiss not to include them. They always seem to wind up in holiday gift baskets or in the kitchen or the break room this time of year. If you’re looking for a vegan version, check on my review of Tasty’s recipe for the Best Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies.
- Italian Wedding Cookies
These were a later discovery of mine. I kept stumbling across them in the holiday cookie trays at the office, until one time I tried them and immediately understood why they were such a staple. For a tiny powdered cookie, they are incredibly dense and flavorful. Made with butter, sugar, powdered sugar, and almonds or licorice. Try them with coffee or tea.
- Thumbprint Cookies
These are simply fun to make. Made with butter, brown sugar, egg yolk, cornstarch, and jam. As with all food preparation, be sure to wash your hands when preparing these cookies. You’ll actually be pressing your thumb into the dough to get that jellied thumbprint design. To read about the dangers of not washing your hands, check out Paul’s post on handwashing.
Have a holiday favorite that I left off of this list? Comment below!