Every Christmas since 1994 I bake cookies with my friend Joan....lots and lots of cookies, probably 100 dozen. Joan and I scour stores for the perfect holiday plates to try and top each other with kitschy Christmas designs. We started this tradition in my studio apartment (I am still baffled how we did this), advanced to her new condominium kitchen (not much bigger) and, finally, to our suburban homes nearly 25 years later. One night we baked through the night, ready for a morning cookie exchange at her neighbor's house, armed with our festive, homemade cookies. While we fought at 3 am what color the gingerbread man's eyes would be, we got it together, put our holiday best on and proudly displayed our array of cookies, usually about nine different types (yes, we know, the word "insanity" does come to mind thinking about the ridiculous amount of effort). Much to our chagrin, others did not have the same dedication...most buying theirs at the local market. We looked at each other and wanted to cry...we were so excited to try other people's creations, but alas, only the processed, mass produced cookies were on display, with the exception of someone who tried so hard and put a Hershey's Kiss in the center of a peanut butter cookie (and yes, it was delicious). I will share our absolute FAVORITE chewy orange gingerbread recipe a little closer to the holidays, but we wanted to introduce the sugar cookie that I think is the best, Alton Brown's recipe. Those of you who know me, know I can't leave anything alone, so of course I had to add a little something-something...a hint of almond. Almond extract is the je ne sais quoi in this recipe. If you are serving to a crowd, best to leave it out in case there are people with nut allergies. But if you are serving to close friends and know there are no allergies, adding the almond extract is the way to go. After we made our cookies, we'd get up in the morning and deliver to friends and family....we truly felt like Santa... We try to continue the tradition, although in recent years we make a lot less of an assortment and fewer cookies, but it's still our favorite holiday tradition. Nothing gets me more excited than making Christmas cookies -- it sets the stage for the holidays. And I am not half bad for being Jewish...
Having pretty much missed Christmas last year due to COVID, I thought I might start a new tradition this year and make Christmas cookies in July. Why not? Lets celebrate twice this year and make up for lost memories. I can't wait to call Joan!
3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg beaten
1 tablespoon milk
1/2 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
Powdered sugar, for rolling out dough
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. Place butter and sugar in large bowl of electric stand mixer and beat until light in color. Add egg and milk and beat to combine. Put mixer on low speed, gradually add flour, and beat until mixture pulls away from the side of the bowl. Divide the dough in half, wrap in waxed paper, and refrigerate for 2 hours.
- Sprinkle surface where you will roll out dough with powdered sugar. Remove 1 wrapped pack of dough from refrigerator at a time, sprinkle rolling pin with powdered sugar, and roll out dough to 1/4-inch thick. Move the dough around and check underneath frequently to make sure it is not sticking. If dough has warmed during rolling, place cold cookie sheet on top for 10 minutes to chill. Cut into desired shape, place at least 1-inch apart on greased baking sheet, parchment, or silicone baking mat, and bake for 7 to 9 minutes or until cookies are just beginning to turn brown around the edges, rotating cookie sheet halfway through baking time. Let sit on baking sheet for 2 minutes after removal from oven and then move to complete cooling on wire rack. Serve as is or ice as desired. Store in airtight container for up to 1 week.
Royal Icing Recipe
3 ounces pasteurized egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups confectioners sugar
- In large bowl of stand mixer combine the egg whites and vanilla and beat until frothy. Add confectioners' sugar gradually and mix on low speed until sugar is incorporated and mixture is shiny. Turn speed up to high and beat until mixture forms stiff, glossy peaks. This should take approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Add food coloring, if desired. For immediate use, transfer icing to pastry bag or heavy duty storage bag and pipe as desired. If using storage bag, clip corner. Store in airtight container in refrigerator for up to 3 days.