I am currently in a state of limbo. My in-laws are due to fly over from London next week and with an airline strike looming, we're wondering if it will be a Christmas dinner for 5 or a lonely dinner for 2. We are all trying to be positive and hope that they will arrive, as planned, with all of their newly bought winter attire and ready to face the Chicago cold. When I put it in perspective, planning the Christmas meal at the last minute is the least of my worries. I know that if pushed, we'll all pitch in and make it happen. My sister-in-law, Helen, will definitely be put in charge of the roast potatoes. She is a potato fanatic. As long as there are a few cold roast potatoes and sausages left in the fridge Christmas night, I'm pretty sure she doesn't care what was served hot on the table.
In preparation for the holidays, I spent a weekend at my sister's with my two Aunts, Patty and Michelle, making Christmas cookies. I adore spending time in the kitchen with these ladies, sipping wine and chit-chatting. We managed to make 8 tins of cookies in one afternoon. The following are are a few recipes that are perfect for this time of year to either have around the house during Christmas or to give as gifts.
If you're like me, I spend a lot of time during December gathering recipes for parties, family gatherings and gift giving. I like to incorporate the new with the old, incorporating family recipes that are made every year with new ones to keep it exciting. Over the next week I'll be sharing a few recipes that are essential in my kitchen this time of year.
My Aunts spent the night before they arrived at my sister's making the dough for the Neapolitan Christmas Bars. These shortbread cookies are unbelievably tasty. In fact, many of them did not make it to the tins. The recipe came from my Aunt Patty's friend, Karen Howard, from LA and date back to 1983.
I brought Triple-Ginger cookie dough (in lieu of making gingerbread) with me. I made these after seeing them in the latest issue of Bon Appetit.
Click on the link above to see the recipe. I made the dough balls smaller so we could maximize the number of cookies. It says it makes 40 but we got about 60 smaller cookies out of the recipe.
They turned out perfectly chewy and packed a mighty spicy punch with the combination of cinnamon, ground ginger, ground cloves, grated fresh ginger and crystallized ginger.
We made the Spritz dough on-site. These cookies are a permanent fixture in my childhood Christmas memories. My Mom would always make these and chocolate chip cookies. We made them on the day because the dough cannot be refrigerated and we needed to use a cookie press. You can get a cookie press at most places that sell baking gear.
My sister, Stacia, is a great baker of cookies. You can always find some home-made cookie dough in her freezer ready to thaw and pop in the oven. I have a feeling this habit will come in handy as her 11 month-old twins grow older. I inherited most of my Mom's cookbooks, but there is one special book that had Stacia written all over it. It is the Better Homes and Gardens Cookies and Candies circa 1969. The Spritz cookies come from this book and she makes these sugar cookies every year.
I know that Christmas cookies are a thing of tradition, but I urge you to add these to your holiday cookie recipe collection.
Neapolitan Christmas Bars
Makes about 60 cookies
2 cups sifted all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 tsp good vanilla extract
1 square of unsweetened chocolate, melted
1/4 cup finely chopped maraschino cherries, well drained from their juices
1 or 2 drops of red food color
1/4 cup of finely chopped pecans or walnuts
Don't forget that the dough has to be refrigerated overnight for this recipe.
Sift the flour with the baking powder and salt and set aside. In a large bowl, beat the butter until light with an electric mixer. Gradually beat in the sugar and add the vanilla. Continue beating until the mixture is very light and fluffy.
At a low speed, beat in half of the flour mixture and mix the rest with hand to form the dough.
Divide the dough into thirds and place in separate bowls. Add the chocolate to one bowl, the cherries and food color to the second and the nuts to the third bowl. Combine until completely mixed through.
Turn out the dough separately onto a lightly floured surface and divide in half. With hands, shape each half into a 7 inch long roll and flatten each roll to a 2 inch width. Stack a layer of each on top of each other and press lightly. Repeat. This should make about four separate sections of dough.
When you're ready to bake, preheat your oven to 375F and slice the dough in 1/8 inch pieces to produce a cookie that shows each of the three layers. Lay them on a non-stick baking sheet and cook for 10 minutes. They should be cooked through, and only slightly starting to turn golden. You don't want to over-cook these.
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Cookies and Candies
Makes 5 Dozen
1 1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp milk
1 tsp good vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
Colored sugar sprinkles in green and red
Preheat the oven to 400 F.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer. Add the egg, vanilla and almond extracts. Beat well. Sift together the flour and baking powder and gradually add to the butter mixture, mixing until you get a smooth dough. DO NOT CHILL.
Using a cookie press, force the dough through it and onto an un-greased cookie sheet. This may take a little practice, but it's easy to get the hang of. Sprinkle each cookie with colored sugar.
Bake for about 7-8 minutes until just turning slightly golden.