It turns out that we enjoy giving parties, which is funny because I used to hate going to parties. But now, who doesn’t like hanging out eating and drinking with some friends? This is basically our Christmas party. It’s not exactly a cookie exchange, much less formal. Basically we invite our friends to come and bring a batch of their favorite Christmas cookie with them. We put them all out on the table (looks so pretty) and then everyone gorges on cookies. When everyone leaves they are welcome to take an assortment of whatever is leftover home with them. I do offer something savory to cut the sweet-this year it was crudite and a delicious new party nut–Orange Curried Pecans. The nuts I had made for Thanksgiving and I thought they were excellent, sweet and spicy. If you like to give food gifts during the holidays I highly recommend a party nut of some sort and these are somewhat unusual so I think they’d be good.
From Party Nuts: Whisk an egg white in a big bowl. Whisk into it 1 T frozen OJ concentrate, 1 t kosher salt, 2-3 t curry powder, 1/4 t cayenne (optional, but of course you want to spice these up!). Toss in 2 c pecan halves 1/4 c sugar and toss all around to coat well. Spread out on a parchent or silpat lined baking sheet and place in a 225 oven. Bake an hour and 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the nuts are nice and dry. When you remove from the oven toss the nuts with the grated zest of one orange. Let cool completely.
For drinks I served a cranberry-pear bellini. Mix 1 c pear nectar with 1 c cranberry juice cocktail. Then pour a whole bottle of prosecco over it. Delicious, though not too peary. I think I like my bellinis to have a little sludge in them. The best ones I’ve had were peach, which Denise made for her Oscars party several years ago. Now, on to the cookies…
This year I made thumbprint cookies and sugar cookies (cut out with cookie cutters and decorated with various seasonal colored sugars.) The whole point of the cookie party is to get to experience a whole bunch of kinds as everyone has their own favorites and traditions. Some of the other cookies that made an appearance: giant round lemon sugar cookies, peppermint white chocolate balls, some kind of ball that was crispy peanut butter on the inside chocolate on the outside (yum!), gingerbread chocolate chip, dairy free hamentaschen, snickerdoodles. The thumbprint cookie recipe was new to me this year and from Martha Stewart. They are absolutely fantastic. After exhaustive, ahem, “research”, I’ve concluded that my favorite cookies are ones that involve jam.
Here are the Christmas cookies I consider to be an integral part of my Christmas traditions and memories:
Sugar cookies-both rolled and cut and cookie press. I remember making tons of these as a kid and I love them. Sadly, I am not very adept with the cookie press and don’t often make them.
Chocolate Mosaics-a slice and bake cookie. The outer ring is a brown sugar dough adn the inside a concoction of chocolate, sweetened condensed milk, and walnuts. This is always a big favorite with everyone else, though it’s not my fave as it’s a bit chocolatey for me. Also when you make these you are a far more mature person than I if you don’t snicker and remark upon how the chocolate “log” looks like a big poop before you wrap the dough around it.
Danish Pastries-my very favorite Christmas cookie. These are labor intensive and require a ton of butter. A flaky dough is cut out, smeared with butter and sugar and a dollop of jam, and then has a little lid put on top (like a linzer tart). Superb.
Almond Crescents–Dare I say that mine are better than my mother used to make? I use a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated. I have a hard time shaping them into crescents, so sometime they are balls instead.
Florence’s Pinwheels–my friend Joanna’s mother makes these every year. Last year I got the recipe so I could make them too. A brown sugar dough gets rolled up with a filling of dates and jam, and then sliced. Florence (eek-I never call her that!) also makes these with an anise filling, which is scrumptious. They get a light dusting of confectioners sugar when they come out of the oven.
Orange Date Nut Cookies–a Southern Living recipe added to my repetoire a couple years ago. Rectangular cookies that are striped: nut part, date part, nut part. This is a great cookie because a)it’s super easy to make (the dough gets layered in a loaf pan, then sliced) b)it makes a ton and c) all three flavors really come through.
Just for the record, all of these cookies freeze well. When we were kids my mother would make lots and lots of cookies and then to keep everyone from eating them up right then would stick them in the freezer. Well, we all (especially Dad) discovered that frozen Christmas cookies are pretty tasty. And if you don’t like them frozen they all defrost very quickly. So bake up some batches of cookies to have on hand when company stops by! Happy holiday baking!