(By the way, I have the answer to my own question, below: The 4th Sunday of Advent is Christmas Eve-Eve. I only have three weeks to get ready, not four! I really AM behind!!!)
OK, then! Building the Ark has put out an all call for Cookie recipes. I love, love, love this part of Christmas preparations. In the past, I've made more than a dozen different varieties--and plenty of each! It's a creative outlet, a fun project with the kids, a terrific homemade gift and a delightful source of very satisfying, happy reactions from the family. It just wouldn't be Christmas without it!
I love to try a few new recipes every year (I didn't think I'd get to that this year, but with this "Virtual Cookie Swap, how can I go wrong?) Still, there are a few that are always on the platter, come what may...and while for the most part they're probably not the most creative recipe choices, they're the ones that get begged for, year after year! (Sorry about the dearth of photos--I haven't even stocked the larder yet, let alone baked a single cookie!! See? I'm behind, all right!)
First and foremost is Santa's choice: Traditional Chocolate Chip Cookies. Everyone has their own favorite recipe; ours is the Original Tollhouse, right on the chocolate chip bag (and it has to be Nestle chips, too. Santa can tell the difference.) Granted, this is our first choice for a cookie baking project all year long, sans nuts; but at Christmas I add 1/2 cup of finely chopped pecans. Yum!
Our second-most requested recipe is for Mexican Wedding Cakes. Simple ingredients; simple to make. My only "secret," if I have one, is being sure to keep them small (about the width of your thumb), and not to overbake them. Oh, and it really is important to roll them in confectioner's sugar twice--once when warm (when the steam from the cookie blends with the sugar to make a buttery, melt-in-your-mouth layer), and then again when they're completely cooled. Here's our recipe (makes about 4 dozen):
1 cup softened butter
1/2 cup 10X sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup finely chopped pecans
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Mix thoroughly butter, sugar and vanilla. Work in flour, salt and nuts until dough holds together.
3. Shape dough into 1” balls. Place on ungreased or parchment-lined (my preference) baking sheet; bake 10-12 minutes or until set, but not brown.
4. While still warm, roll in 10X sugar. Cool completely; roll in sugar again.
Of course, what would Christmas be without Sugar Cookie Cutouts? This is a buttery, pastry-like sugar cookie, not soft, and makes about 5 dozen. A hard-drying royal icing (in a variety of pastel shades!) finishes them off just right:
1-1/2 cups butter, softened
2 cups white sugar
1 t vanilla
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 t baking powder
1. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt, and stir in. Cover, and chill dough for at least one hour (or overnight).
2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll out dough on floured surface 1/4” thick. Cut into shapes with any cookie cutter. Place cookies 1” apart on ungreased cookie sheets.
3. Bake 6-8 minutes in preheated oven. Cool completely before icing.
And the Classic Christmas Cookie Icing, which in our family is used for some very creative cookie decorating (we especially look forward every year to Step 1's reindeer, frosted to look like American, Irish and Korean flags!) :
3 cups 10X sugar
1/4 t cream of tartar
3 egg whites (I use powdered egg whites from Wilton, since this won't be cooked)
3/4 t vanilla
1. In a bowl, sift together sugar and cream of tartar. Set aside.
2. Beat egg whites and vanilla until stiff. Add reserved sugar mixture a little at a time. Beat at high speed until stiff peaks form.
3. Separate into small dishes and add food coloring as desired. (Be sure to reserve a sizable portion of white--at least at our house!)
4. Decorate cookies with icing, variety of colored sugars, candies and nuts. Icing will dry hard with a matte finish.
This next recipe was actually inspired by a neighbor for whom I babysat many years ago. Whenever she baked a pie, she took the leftover scraps of dough, spread them with cinnamon sugar, and baked them into little cookies. I looked at that and said, "So who needs pie??" I give to you our family's classic Christmas favorite: Pie Crust Cookies! (makes 16 cookies):
1 unbaked Pillsbury pie crust (one disc of dough)
3-4 T butter (not! margarine), melted
1/4 cup white sugar
2-3 t cinnamon
2-3 T chopped walnuts
1. Brush melted butter over entire rolled pie crust dough with pastry brush, right up to crust edges.
2. Sprinkle nuts over buttered crust dough, and press in lightly. Combine sugar and cinnamon; sprinkle over all, completely to the edges.
3. With a pizza cutter, cut dough into 16 equal wedges.
4. Starting at wide end of each triangle, roll toward point. Place about 1” apart on parchment-lined cookie sheet.
5. Bake at 400 degrees for 5-7 minutes, or until set and lightly brown.
6. Cool for about 2 minutes before removing from tray, then allow to cool completely. Break off any burnt sugar.
7. Drizzle with 10X sugar glaze (about 1/2 cup of 10x sugar moistened with milk, added a few drops at a time until of a drizzling consistency) and sprinkle with multi-colored nonpareils.
Maybe one of these days I'll add another post including our other favorites; for now, this'll have to do. I'm looking forward to seeing what's coming out of everyone else's kitchens this Christmas season--maybe that'll be just the inspiration I need to get started here!!