I've been making Christmas cookies. You should see my kitchen.
Last week the teacher in charge of the library volunteers invited all of us hard-working mothers to her home for afternoon cake and coffee, asking that we each bring something sweet to share.
I brought along Cranberry Shortbread (first attempt making this - very nice, but next time I'd add some finely chopped candied ginger as well) and Toffee Bars (thank you, Maribeth, these were wonderful!)
After the initial suspicion had passed (you know how some Germans can be about trying new things), these cookies were well-received and disappeared quickly.
Today I concentrated on some family favourites: iced sugar cookies, checkerboards, gingerbread reindeer and vanilla cresents.
The sugar cookies are a recipe I've been making since I was about 6 years old. It's from one of those charity cookbooks from the 50's where everyone submits recipes so I have no idea where it originally came from except that someone called Ruth claimed it as her own. The use of the cream of tartar harks back to the days when baking powder wasn't readily available. I still use the cream of tartar/baking soda combination because I think it gives the cookies a unique taste and texture. If you're looking for cream of tartar in Germany, you'll have to visit the pharmacy and ask for Weinsteinpulver.
Ruth's Sugar Cookies
1 cup white sugar
1 cup butter
2 well-beaten eggs
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cream of tartar
dash nutmeg (optional)
Cream butter and sugar. Add beaten eggs and sifted dry ingredients. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill for several hours before rolling thin on a lightly floured surface and cutting into desired shapes. Bake in 350°F (180°C) oven until light golden. Let cool and decorate as desired.
Mr. M loooves Checkerboard Cookies. Me? Not so much. I call them You Do the Math Cookies because instructions like "divide dough in half, shape each half into a 7-inch square and cut each square into 9 3/4-inch strips" uses up a week's worth of brain cells, not to mention the 20-minute search for the elusive ruler with inches on it. No wonder I only make these once a year.
You can use any ol' gingerbread cookie recipe for the reindeer. I tried a new recipe this year and was not all that impressed so I won't write it down here. Gingerbread is a very personal thing, anyway. Some like it soft and puffy, others hard and chewy. And there's an art to getting just the right combination of spices, so get out there and experiment.
The vanilla crescents have been in my repertoire since 1986 when I found the recipe in a Christmas magazine and fell in love. I believe the ingredients are slightly different than the traditional Austrian Vanillekipferl, which can also be made with ground hazelnuts or walnuts and usually adds an egg to the dough.
These cookies are very easy to make and freeze wonderfully, but it's best to apply the chocolate decoration after they are thawed since it tends to fall off in the freezer and make a bit of a mess.
Vanilla Crescents (Family Circle Magazine, December 1986)
1 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup unsifted icing sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup ground blanched almonds
2 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
Icing sugar and melted semi-sweet chocolate for garnish
Preheat oven to 325°F (160°C). Beat together butter, sugar and vanilla in medium-sized bowl until well-mixed. Beat in ground almonds. Stir in flour until well-blended. Shape dough into ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 2 - 3 hours.
Using level measuring tablespoon for each cookie, roll dough between palms to form a horseshoe shape about 3 in. long. Place on greased cookie sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes. When cool roll in icing sugar and decorate with melted chocolate. Makes about 4 dozen.
Hope I've inspired you to get baking!
Must go. My messy kitchen awaits...