Every year I like to set an impossible Christmas goal for myself to finish some project or another. They usually involve great unexpected expense, copious amounts of frustration, random outbursts of tears, and sometimes even completion. Past years have seen me attempting to make gingerbread mansions (failure), gingerbread houses (half failures, half successes), scrapbooks (success, but only after a rather large fight with my mother), and stockings (in general a success, but only because I took time off of work to finish them and didn’t sleep).
Well, this year was no different. I decided to make a representative array of cookies to send to a few friends and family. The plan came to fruition over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and I had grand notions of sending amazing platters of cookies to everyone in the first or second week of December.
As it turns out, compiling a smorgasboard of baked delights for a half dozen people is nearly impossible when you’re working 60 hours a week. (Who would have thought?) Add in the additional complexity of the constant battle to clean the house and prepare it for rounds of friends and family coming through during the month, and it almost looked like cookies weren’t going to happen.
Then work disappeared. Like, practically entirely. Yes, I still have my job, I just don’t have to live chained to my desk anymore. Did you know regular people are home before 9:00 or 10:00 pm at night and do more than eat a quick bite of food and pass out on their sofas in front of “Chopped” marathons? No, I didn’t either.
So, thanks to the sudden lull in work, I was able to take the week before Christmas off. The entire week! Surely I could crank out the cookies in a day, get them in the mail, and voila!
No. Emphatically no.
I set my goals high, deciding to make some of my favorite showstoppers, as well as try some new recipes. And I did it:
However, it simply wouldn’t be one of my Christmas projects if it weren’t rife with difficulties and cursing. A quick summary:
- My new spritz cookie gun is a total piece of crap. Or maybe I just don’t know how to make spritz. Whatever the reason, there was an excessive amount of cursing, and the heart ones ended up looking like a rather inappropriate part of the male anatomy, as was so kindly pointed out to me on Christmas Eve by The Boy’s drunken brother.
- The Chocolate Shortbread (another new recipe) is delightful, but doesn’t go particularly far. So people got a bit stiffed on those guys.
- Something went caddy-whompus with the Four Spice Crackles. Don’t get me wrong, they were still delicious, but not what I was hoping for, and not as amazing as last Christmas.
- The Triple Chocolate Chubbies are just a pain in the backside generally. Do you know how long it takes to chop up two bars of baking chocolate? Yeah, a long time. And I am constantly reminded when making these guys how desperately I need a double boiler. Note to Self: Stalk Amazon for good deals on double boilers.
- The Peanut Butter Cookies were delicious, but my oven was busy being the finicky piece of garbage that it is, and they came out looking burned. I was able to ferret out the best looking ones to send off, but it was still incredibly frustrating.
- The Homemade Oreo-Style Cookies were delicious as always, but I was so freakin’ exhausted from the multi-day endeavor of making all the other cookies that I almost couldn’t work up the energy to make them. By the time I got to them, I must have rolled 200 or more little cookie balls, to the point of having repetitive stress disorder symptoms in my hands. But my favorite Denverite was looking forward to them, so they had to get made.
In the end, the whole ordeal ended up taking three days? Four days? I don’t know, I’ve tried to blank it out. The sea of cookies turned into this:
Thanks to the miracle that is flat-rate priority shipping, they all made it to their destinations across the country in time for Christmas, despite not getting out of my kitchen until December 22nd. And all for only a slightly princely sum. (Like I said, there is always unanticipated expense involved in these ridiculous projects I conjure up.)
I know what you’re thinking: Ok, ok, I get it, it was a pain in the butt, now stfu and give us the recipes already! I’ve previously blogged about the Oreo-Style Cookies here, the Triple Chocolate Chubbies here, and the Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies here. The recipes for the Triple Chocolate Chubbies and the Chocolate Shortbread Cookies can be found in the Mother’s Best Cookbook, a favorite of mine I’ve talked up before. And the recipe for the Spritz cookies can be found in a cookbook every baker should have, the Joy of Cooking. If you make the Spritz cookies, sub out the vanilla for almond extract…trust me. Even though those little beasts made me want to go into a stabbing fit, they were delicious.
So that leaves the Four Spice Crackles and the Peanut Butter Cookies.
Four Spice Crackles
The Four Spice Crackles are a recipe I found online a number of years ago that have become a Christmas crowd favorite.
- 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 tsps ground ginger
- 1 tsp ground cloves
- 1 tsp ground nutmeg
- 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 1/2 cup shortening (yes, you really do want to use shortening in addition to the butter!)
- 1/4 cup molasses
- 1 egg
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar (coarse is nice but regular will do; this is for rolling the cookie balls in before baking)
Mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon. [Helpful Hint: Grind up whole cloves in a clean coffee grinder instead of using pre-ground cloves. They are far more pungent and add to the complexity and flavor of the cookie.] In a separate, medium bowl, cream together the brown sugar, butter, and shortening. (I like to use my KitchenAid stand mixer.) Stir in the molasses and egg and mix till well blended. Gradually stir in the dry ingredients until everything is mixed together. Cover and chill the dough at least 1 1/2 hours.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll chilled dough into 1″ balls, and roll each ball in the 2/3 cup sugar. Place the balls 2″ apart on a cookie sheet, and flatten each slightly. Bake 9-12 minutes, till cracked but still soft in the center. Cool on wire racks. Store in an airtight container up to two weeks.
Peanut Butter Cookies
The Peanut Butter Cookies take me back to summers traveling with my beloved Grandma and Bopaw. My grandma had a wooden recipe card box filled to the brim with delicious culinary treats, including these guys. One summer, Grandma bought me a package of index cards and a plastic recipe card box, and I very studiously copied all the recipes I wanted, including these bad boys. They’ll always have a special place in my heart. If you make these, buy the cheap, store-brand peanut butter…you really don’t need fancy peanut butter just to make cookies, and peanut butter is spendy these days. I prefer to use crunchy, but creamy works just as well. It’s all a matter of preference.
Measure carefully and add each of the following ingredients to the bowl one at a time, in the following order, mixing well after adding each ingredient:
- 1/2 cup softened butter
- 1/2 cup peanut butter [Helpful Hint: Microwave the peanut butter in a glass measuring cup, stirring every 20-30 seconds, until it’s melty enough to tell how much you have. Doing so makes mixing, and measuring accurately, easier.]
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1 egg
Measure and mix together in a separate bowl the following ingredients, then add to the liquid mixture above and blend:
- 1 1/4 cup flour
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 3/4 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp salt
Cover and chill dough for at least an hour. (I generally chill my dough overnight.) Once the dough is chilled, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll the dough into balls and place them 3″ apart on a cookie sheet. Flatten each ball in a criss-cross pattern with the tines of a fork dipped in a small bowl of flour to prevent sticking. Sprinkle the tops of the cookies with sugar. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until cookies are set but not hard. [Helpful Hint: If your oven is a tricky beast like mine is, check them at 8-9 minutes; they should be slightly golden but NOT dark brown!]