Family Christmas cookie recipes

A rare weekend post, but I wanted to drop in and share some family Christmas cookie recipes in case you are still looking for some delicious nibbles to make for the holiday. These are usually favorites at parties, too! As always, I check my cookies while baking after about half of the time in the recipe (these are copied straight from my momma’s instructions as e-mailed to me in 2006), because our oven is crazy.

M&M Cookies Yields about 3 dozen

christmas cookies 01_edit

1 cup brown sugar
1 cup shortening
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups M&Ms

Cream together sugar, shortening, eggs, and vanilla. Add soda and salt to flour. Add dry ingredients to cream mixture. Add M&Ms.
Drop by tsp on ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 375 for 10-12 minutes

Gumdrop Cookies Yields about 4 dozen

These cookies are crazy-good, but they’re a pain to make. My dad loves them and my mom now makes him contribute by having him chop the gumdrops, which is really the most annoying part, but isn’t so bad if you do it with a glass of wine in front of the TV like I did this year. For best results, cut gumdrops and roll them in a shallow dish of sugar so the pieces don’t stick together. Tim generally likes cookies more lightly-baked anyway, but as I made them this year, he commented on how these “suffer more from over-baking than the others,” so keep that in mind.

christmas cookies 02_edit

Cream together 1 cup shortening, 1 cup brown sugar and 1 cup granulated sugar. Add 2 eggs and 1teaspoon vanilla. Dissolve 1 teaspoon baking soda in 1 Tablespoon cold water and add.
Sift 2 cups cake flour into a separate bowl, add 1 teaspoon baking powder and 1 teaspoon salt. Sift 3 times, then combine the two bowls.
Add 2 cups oatmeal, 1 cup coconut, 1 cup chopped nuts (optional) and 1 cup chopped large gumdrops.
Drop by tablespoonful on cookie sheet. Bake 12 minutes @ 375 degrees. Pat with powdered sugar after baking.

Peanut Butter Blossoms Yields about 4 dozen (I got 43 today when I made them)

Everybody seems to have a recipe for peanut butter blossoms, but Tim swears he prefers ours. My trick is to push the kisses into each cookie on the tray, and then go back to the beginning and push down and twist the kiss a little more. The chocolate at the bottom of the candy should be melted by then (if not, give it another minute or two before the twisting, but not too long, or the whole kiss will be melty) and it creates a little collar that really anchors the candy in the cookie.

christmas cookies 03_edit

1 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 egg
2 Tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
48 Hershey kisses
Additional sugar for rolling (white or colored)

Combine all ingredients except candy in large mixer bowl. Mix on lowest speed until dough forms. Shape into balls and roll in sugar. Place on ungreased baking sheet and bake @350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes. Top each cookie immediately with candy kiss. Press down firmly.

I have all three of these cookies stashed in tins in my kitchen right now and they’ve been calling my name all day! Yay, Christmas baked goods!

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Baking without losing your mind

Hi there. How is this holiday season treating you? Are you overwhelmed? Did you bite off more than you can chew? Boy, do I hear you. I am the queen of “well, sure I can probably add 6 more things to my plate” and I usually end up in a state of constant low-level stress, which results in me getting massively sick either just before or just after family parties. I often ring in the new year with a cold.

This year, I’m trying to map things out a bit better. I have a planner in which I actually wrote down major activities I hoped to accomplish each evening. I’m actually staying on top of things, much to my own amazement, and feeling like I can tackle all of the things that I intended to get to by the time my parents and sister arrive on Sunday. What? Awesome. One of the things I have plotted out is baking, and I thought I would share a few tips with you. These are not your “add the dry ingredients in 3 parts” sorts of tips. These are “here is how to strategize several different beloved cookie recipes across the space of a week without getting excessively dramatic” sorts of tips.

I mean, I’m not revealing ground-shattering things here, just how I bake things without going nuts. Read on.

Sugared cranberries

The week before Thanksgiving, my sister had Tim and me over to her house to watch the Buckeyes play football. We showed up at the door and she greeted us with “I cannot stop eating these cranberries.” After being ushered into the kitchen, we tried a sugared cranberry and they were indeed addicting. Tim went elsewhere in the house and Beth and I stayed in the kitchen, picking at the bowl of cranberries and chatting while she roasted some pumpkin seeds (she even followed the recipe I linked on my blog!). Between the four adults and Beth’s daughter, we made short work of the bowl of cranberries and an obsession was born.

Beth shared the recipe for the sugared cranberries with me and once I saw how easy it was, I couldn’t wait to try them out myself. Then a few days later, I was making a run to the grocery store to pick up a few last minute things, as you do the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. (I had to get an orange to make the pumpkin orange muffins to bring along!) On a whim, I looked around for fresh cranberries to try to make those tasty suckers myself. It took me a solid 4 minutes of wandering the produce area until I spotted literally the last bag of cranberries in a case (or they were really well hidden and the bag I snagged was put there by someone who’d changed their minds). I paused just long enough to wonder whether my impulse-desire to make sugared cranberries was about to deprive some other last-minute shopper the ingredients to make some family-tradition cranberry sauce. Then I got over it, snatched up the bag and gleefully dropped it into my basket.

I am religious about watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, but only certain parts. After all of the lovely Broadway performances in the beginning, I gazed at floats and balloons until the cavalcade of unknown pop stars made me realize this part of the parade was skippable. (I always make it back in time for Santa. Even the year that Mom made Mel and I dash out to get stuff from the grocery store before they closed at noon, and we paid for emergency groceries in our pajamas, we rushed back into the house with just enough time to see the jolly man bringing up the tail end of the parade. Traditions are traditions, my friend.) I padded into the kitchen and mixed up the water and honey concoction and soaked the cranberries while I mixed the sugars in a baking dish. Next time I’d use a spoon that was a little more slotted (or shake the cranberries through a collander), because on the next step I got little globules of honey-water in the sugar which made everything a little clumpier than I was looking for. However, with a little extra drying time, soon the cranberries were ready to snack on while we got the rest of the dinner ready.

Man, my mother-in-law's house is a food-staging dream. This lantern is gorgeous, no?

Man, my mother-in-law’s house is a food-staging dream. This lantern is gorgeous, no?

These ended up being as much a hit with my in-laws as they were at Beth’s house. (Okay, I ate at least a 1/4 of them. They’re really tasty.) They’re enormously easy to prepare, and you can feel “good” about eating fruit during the holidays, even though they’re subsequently dredged in sugar. Anyway, Beth promised to make these for all events we’re attending throughout December, so I look forward to eating them over and over. I’m going to keep my eyes peeled for bags of fresh cranberries I can toss in my freezer to make a half-batch just for our own snacking throughout the rest of the winter. It’s a pretty hands-off snack that can be prepped the day of an event with minimal fuss. My favorite kind of recipe!

Chocolate toffee walnut cookies

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.

This knife is my favorite ever. It was a wedding present from my parents, along with kitchen shears and I use it near-daily. I love how it slices through the chunks in the cookie dough.

This knife is my favorite ever. It was a wedding present from my parents, along with kitchen shears and I use it near-daily. I love how it slices through the chunks in the cookie dough.

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.)

Come on, just look at the bits of walnut and toffee in these beauties!

Come on, just look at the bits of walnut and toffee in these beauties!

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.

Okay, so my sister and I were actually the only representatives from our immediate family at all (her kid had the stomach flu and her husband stayed home to take care of her). However, having the party this early coincided with some downright-gorgeous weather and I got to flaunt a lightweight red skirt I joked about being perfect for a Christmas party when I bought it in August.

Okay, so my sister and I were actually the only representatives from our immediate family at all (her kid had the stomach flu and her husband stayed home to take care of her). However, having the party this early coincided with some downright-gorgeous weather and I got to flaunt a lightweight red skirt I joked about being perfect for a Christmas party when I bought it in August. Also, my sister knitted that shrug she’s wearing and it’s amazing. (We did not intentionally wear the same colors.)

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!

Orange pumpkin muffins

Well, it’s been a bit of time! Tim and I both got slammed with colds throughout much of November, and since we weren’t moving forward with house stuff until after the holidays, I didn’t have a whole lot to say anyway. December has kept me hopping, though, because I am Big Into Christmas. This year, I am handmaking a slew of gifts and I’ll certainly share those after they’ve been distributed (I’m pretty pleased with how they’re turning out so far, but I have a bunch of work on them still) and in the meantime, I would love to share some food stuff with the world. I have yet to dive into my Christmas cookie baking (trying to hold off until we’re a little closer, so I don’t have a bunch of stale cookies to leave out for Santa), but I look forward to sharing some of my family’s favorite recipes, in addition to a few that I’ve come to rely on (including the butteriest lace cookies ever, which made me fall in love with almond extract).

I also will probably do a decoration round-up because I am very much in love with our Christmas decorations (almost all of them have some significance to me and I can tell you how they came into my possession). For the record, spending at least a day each weekend sewing for the past several weeks means that Tim did ALL of the decorating so far! I love the choices he’s made with our things and am so grateful that he took over and made the house warm, welcoming and festive while I was otherwise occupied!

Today I want to share with you one of my favorite baked goods, which I didn’t think of as a Christmas treat until recently. I discovered this recipe for Pumpkin Orange Loaf several years ago, and it’s one of my go-to staples when I feel like I should be bringing something breakfast-y for Thanksgiving when we go visit our families. The recipe has always produced more batter than I can fit in one of my loaf pans (alarmingly discovered after the first attempt to bake one!), so I usually grease up a muffin tin and make delicious little muffins as a bonus. This year for our family trip to the cabins in Mohican State Park, I decided to forgo the loaf altogether and just muffin up the entire recipe. Unsurprisingly, it was delicious! As a bonus, I could bake them well in advance of our trip and stick them in a bag in the freezer until we left.

I could eat an embarrassing number of these muffins for breakfast, but I usually limit it to one or two...

I could eat an embarrassing number of these muffins for breakfast, but I usually limit it to one or two…

Then for my birthday, Tim got me a monster food processor and I was excited to make the muffins all over again! Our old food processor was tiny (Tim estimated maybe 4 cups) and I forever had to process things in batches, or add voluminous greens a little at a time (the arugula pesto could be a bit of a challenge sometimes!). The pumpkin orange loaf calls for an entire orange (yup, peel and all!) to be processed and added to the batter. Well, no matter how small I pre-chopped the orange wedges and only did 1/3 or so at a time, prepping the orange in the tiny processor was a total mess. (Also, the blade was probably a bit dull, so it didn’t chop very smoothly.) Orange juice would always come sloshing out the seam where the lid attached and often sprayed on the wall and my stand mixer. However, with my lovely new birthday present, processing the orange for the Thanksgiving batch of muffins was super-easy and did not result in any wasted juice. These muffins were as moist and flavorful as ever!

Our office holiday party plans recently changed and all of a sudden I am responsible for bringing something to a pot-luck next Tuesday. When I mentioned to my best friend that the onion-cheese biscuits I usually make usually don’t go very quickly (there is SO much food every year!), she suggested I try bringing the pumpkin orange muffins this time. Man, I like her thinking. I can put together a batch this weekend, bring some to the party and freeze the rest. That way I’ll have some lovely breakfast ready to go when my family comes to our house for Christmas this year, without having to stress about baking them up while I’m working on delicious cookes! This is a win-win situation.

You should try these muffins, my friends. (Or bake it in a loaf form! Also delicious!) They are tasty heated up just a touch, with a little bit of butter or softened cream cheese, but also delicious without anything extra! They are delicious and moist, and it’s really fun to let people know they’re eating orange peel! You can make them without raisins and/or nuts if you are dealing with food allergies or people who just don’t care for either of those things. I’ve even used dried cranberries before in place of the raisins. They’re a little bit adaptable and a lot delicious. Enjoy!

Roasted pumpkin seeds

Happy Halloween, if that is your thing. As my friends and family knows, though, it’s deeply not mine. I did used to get into dressing up as a kid, dreaming up wild costumes that my parents would then be responsible for scaling back. (They were enthusiastic about helping, but way more realistic than I was. I secretly wish I still had the pair of ruby slippers Dad made me one year to go with a store-bought Dorothy costume, because they were AWESOME and a nice reminder of how great my dad is.) Then I basically lost all interest in Halloween in high school. I gamely dressed up for a few more years, before stopping altogether. (The exception to this in recent years was the fantastic Halloween wedding our friends had a few years back, for which Tim and I dressed up as “wedding guests from the 50s.” I mean, it’s a total cop-out, but we looked awesome and were more-or-less in the spirit of wearing costumes. I got a pretty sweet forest green cocktail dress out of it, too.) I do not begrudge anyone their Halloween fun. If getting decked out in a creative costume is your jam, that’s great, and I am content to observe from the sidelines!

Despite my indifference to the holiday, it is firmly a Fall Event, and I love fall. As may have become clear, fall foods are my favorite, so in my weak show of Halloween-related enthusiasm, I roasted some pumpkin seeds last night to snack on while trick-or-treaters are knocking on our door. My cousins sweetly kept the innards of the pumpkins they carved at our annual Family Cabin Weekend (carving pumpkins is also not my favorite, but I like roasting seeds, so I usually beg them off someone else),  so Sunday after we got home, I separated the seeds from the fibrous bits. I’ve found the easiest way for me to do this is to put a handful of seeds/innards in a bowl of cold water and pluck the seeds from the top of the water. I use my nails to remove any extra bits of pumpkin and put the seeds on a baking sheet to dry. I think I ended up with seeds from two pumpkins, so prepping them wasn’t particularly fast, but I just watched down the DVR from the kitchen TV for awhile and got into a rhythm of stripping bits off the seeds. After all the seeds have been cleaned, I take a paper towel and pat some of the water off the baking sheet. The seeds will stick to the paper towel, just knock them back down onto the baking sheet and take another pass. I kept going until my paper towel was pretty damp and then spread the seeds out as thinly as possible for drying.

Crunchy, yummy pumpkin seeds inside. I mean, they’re in our house, actually, but you can read about and see pictures of them inside!