The Season for Cookies

If you think of yourself as an apprentice elf and put away any
perfectionism and unrealistic expectations, making decorated
holiday cookies can be a relaxing project to do alone, with friends
or with young children.
If you think of yourself as an apprentice elf and put away any perfectionism and unrealistic expectations, making decorated holiday cookies can be a relaxing project to do alone, with friends or with young children.

Start by digging out your holiday cookie cutters. If you don’t have any cookie cutters, or can’t find them, you can use an empty tuna can (washed, of course) and still make a variety of festive ornaments and other designs.

After you find your cookie cutters, make the cookie dough (recipe follows) because it needs to chill for several hours before rolling and cutting. While it chills, there are other things you can do. Clear off a counter or table to allow enough room for a couple of racks of cookies at a time, plus containers of frosting and other decorations.

Spread the work surface with a few layers of newspaper, and then a layer of paper towels or opened-out brown grocery bags.

Next, gather your other decors. It’s fun to use sprinkles and silver dragees. You can also use cut-up red licorice, chocolate chips or M&M’s, plain sugar or chopped nuts.

People who do a lot of cake and cookie decorating recommend using paste food coloring because the colors are truer, and it’s more economical in the long run because the coloring is so concentrated. But ordinary food coloring works fine.

Tubes of frosting with small tips are also available to buy, but you can get the same result in any color you want by putting a spoonful or two of frosting in a plastic sandwich or snack bag and cutting a tiny tip – say, less than an 1/8-inch – off one corner.

Here is the basic cookie recipe:

Basic Cookies

1 cup butter, softened plus more for pan.

1 cup white sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla extract

3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

Step 1: In a medium bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Stir in the eggs and vanilla.

Step 2: In a small bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder.

Step 3: Stir the flour mixture into the creamed mixture alternately with the heavy cream. Cover dough, and chill for 2 to 3 hours, until firm.

Step 4: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease cookie sheets.

Step 5: On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes with cookie cutters. Place cookies 1 inch apart on the prepared cookie sheets.

Step 6: Bake for 12 to 14 minutes in the preheated oven, until bottoms and edges of cookies are light brown.

Step 7: Remove from baking sheet and cool on completely on wire racks before decorating. Store in an airtight container.

Decorative Icing

Coats about 2 dozen 2-inch cookies

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

1-2 Tbs. milk

food coloring

2-3 drops flavored extracts (mint, vanilla, peppermint, cherry, banana, almond, etc.) to taste (optional)

Step 1: Stir minimum amount of milk into confectioners’ sugar with a small wire whisk or a fork to make a soft smooth icing. (Stir in optional food coloring and flavor extracts.) If mixture is too stiff, add milk in very tiny increments until correct consistency is reached.

Step 2: Let your imagination come alive! You can spread icing over an entire cookie, then add designs with icing piped from a bag. If coating the cookie, use a small metal spatula to spread icing over entire top surface. Or, you can simply outline shapes directly on the cookies. You can spread one color as a base, then add stripes in another color and run a toothpick through perpendicular to the stripe, in opposite directions, to make a sort of Florentine motif.

Once cookies are frosted and before the frosting hardens, you can sprinkle the colored or plain sugar or dragees along or between your decorating lines.

You can also dip half the cookie in one color of icing, let harden, then dip the other half in another color. If icing mixture hardens, remix with a bit of water, whisking well to make icing smooth.

Once you have completed your creations, you may be inspired to send them to friends and family in other parts of the country. Here are some mailing guidelines from the U.S. Postal Service:

Deadlines for mailing within the United States to reach destinations by Dec. 25 are:

– Parcel Post, Dec. 14

– First Class, Dec. 19

– Priority mail, Dec. 21

– Express mail, Dec. 23.

The post office is offering lots of ways to print labels, pay for and print postage and arrange for your packages to be picked up by your mail carrier. For details, go to www.usps.com and look for the holiday section.

Finally, here are some suggestions from allrecipes.com for packing your treasures so that your loved ones don’t receive festive boxes full of crumbs and frosting shards.

– Don’t pack crisp and soft cookies together. The moisture from the soft cookies will seep into the crisp cookies, making them lose their delightful crunch.

– Don’t overstuff your container. Your cookies may be damaged. Likewise, don’t under-pack your container. The cookies should fit snugly. If you have too much space, crumple up a bit of tissue paper to fill the holes.

– Pack cookies in a sturdy decorative tin or other airtight container. On the bottom of the container place a piece of bubble wrap, then line the container with parchment paper or cellophane, leaving enough to fold over the top once the container is fully packed. Place one layer of cookies in the container. Cover with parchment paper. Arrange another layer of cookies, followed with more parchment paper, and continue this layering until the container is almost full. Fold the cellophane or parchment paper over the top and if desired seal with a seal or sticker. Place another piece of bubble wrap on top, and seal your container.

You now need to pack your tin or container in a heavy-duty cardboard box that’s large enough to allow a 2- to 3-inch cushion between the tin and the wall of the outside box. Place a layer of shipping peanuts, air-popped popcorn or crumpled paper on the bottom of your shipping box. Set your cookie tin on this bottom layer. Then fill in the sides and top with more shipping materials. Seal the shipping box with 2-inch-wide shipping tape. Place a mailing label on the box, and you’re ready to send those treats on their way.

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