Tim and I have an agreement when it comes to family stuff at the holidays. We switch which family we spend Thanksgiving with and Christmas with (this year, Thanksgiving was in Illinois with Tim’s family, and Christmas will actually be in our house with my family, including my sister flying in from Colorado, I’m pretty excited about this), and then priority for extended family parties goes to whichever family we did not celebrate Christmas day with. This means we’ll be headed to Kentucky for Tim’s mom’s family’s party and that would get priority over either my Dad’s or Mom’s family parties if there is a conflict. The following year it switches, ensuring we get to see all of the family at least every other year. It’s a good system and it keeps us from guilt trips and we get to do lots of celebrating, all things we like! If there isn’t a conflict between the parties, well, then, we get to hit them all, which is even more exciting!
This year, my Dad’s family party was super-early on December 1st. It was so early that my parents wouldn’t be able to make it since they live 9 hours away and can’t really run out to Ohio twice in the same month. With my mom out of commission and my older sister busy with her family, I volunteered to buy the gifts for the kids on behalf of our immediate family. (I have wiggled out of decision-making on this for several straight years, instead just coughing up money for my portion, so it was time to step up.) I got my Christmas spreadsheet cranking and figured out gifts for each kid (eight total this year!), put in an Amazon order, and even sucked it up and faced the Target toy aisle, which was nearly my undoing. (I had an expression of horror on my face the whole time. Lord help us when we decide to have little ones of our own.)
Between shopping and wrapping (plus figuring out something amusing for a white elephant gift exchange with the theme of “Grandma’s Attic”), I wanted to take a super-easy approach to the food I was required to bring. Tim couldn’t attend the party himself, as he was headed to Indianapolis with tickets to the Big Ten Championship Game (I gave him my blessing, he and our friend had a marvelous time), so the appetizer and dessert to share I was bringing for my “family” was really just for me. I admit it, I punked out on putting in a monumental effort. However, holiday parties I think are sometimes about bringing something super-easy and enjoyable, so there you go. My appetizer was a big bowl of spicy soda crackers (honestly, easiest thing to bring), and for my dessert I tackled Joy the Baker’s Vanilla Almond Orange Cloud Cookies which caught my eye because they were gluten-free. My older sister as well as my cousin and another cousin’s daughter are gluten-free, so I thought it’d be a nice thing to share. Even though it was a new recipe, it looked pretty straight-forward and easy, but then I panicked and got concerned that the two-dozen yield (due to some complicated almond-paste math, I made a batch and a half) was going to be so small for the party. I had no energy or desire to whip up one of our beloved family Christmas cookie recipes so close to the day (and so FAR before the holiday!).
That’s where my savior cookies come in. Chances are better than not that on any given week, I have logs of dough in my freezer, all ready to be baked into cookies. I came across this recipe from Smitten Kitchen for Chocolate Toffee Walnut Cookies a few years ago, and it quickly became a staple. The suggestion she makes to freeze the dough was eye-opening (I think this was about the time I was getting into the idea of slice-and-bake from a couple of Martha Stewart recipes, too), because one of my biggest gripes about baking cookies is that if you’re going to put in the work, you want to enjoy the results and I simply don’t eat cookies that fast. Tim is usually packing up extras and bringing them into his office (where I am beloved, I think) and I’m sad that the cookies are gone like that. Slice-and-bake is awesome, because I can put in a whole lot of effort up front and then bake cookies off a dozen at a time and get to savor them. They are also ideal to have on hand for things like church get-togethers or knowing a friend is going to drop by on their way through town. Or super-early Christmas parties.
As the recipe suggests, you can roll the dough into logs (I usually have to let the dough chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours so it’s firm enough to shape), which for me requires a lot of patience and a bench scraper to clean my rolling surface and collect stray dough often. The logs will not be pretty, but they will be little lifesavers, so keep at it. Wrapped well, these have lasted well over a month in my freezer without any problems baking up later. When you’re ready to redeem your investment in the process, slice off as many as necessary and bake according to the directions. (Actually, the time given is still way longer than I bake them, but I think I’ve mentioned before our oven is insane, so I check things often and pull them out as soon as they seem ready. Kitchen renovation, I am so looking forward to you.)
These bake up so nicely and always seem to be a hit when I take them places. Even though I took two dozen almond cookies and two dozen chocolate cookies with me to a party that ended up having 15 people (whoops!), I only came home with three of each.
So if you’re looking to get ahead of your holiday baking, give this recipe a shot. Yeah, it involves a double-boiler (or a glass bowl over simmering water, which is my approach) and there’s some chilling time and the log-shaping is kind of insane, the time you save on the back-end when you actually go from “no cookies” to “fresh baked delicious chocolate cookies” in under 20 minutes, that part is pretty amazing and makes it worthwhile. I usually make this dough on a lazy Sunday and am thanking myself for it weeks or months later. Give it a shot!