Thursday, December 11, 2008

Frugal but Fabulous*: Holiday Cookies (and random musings)

Those of you who know me well know that I am the biggest Christmas loving Jew you'll ever meet. Imagine my delight in marrying a man who was Christian and Chinese. For the last 12 years I have not only been able to maintain the tradition long established by my people (Chinese Food + Movies = Christmas) but I also get *presents*. Really, it's the perfect storm of holiday goodness.

And, we can't forget Chanukah. A holiday the celebrates the wonders of oil. Presents and fried food. We Jews know how to par-tay.

Aren't the holidays wonderful? Sigh.

In the spirit of the season I give you my favorite cut-out cookie recipe. These cookies are easy to make and kid friendly, cost very little and are a great way to get into the holiday mood. They also fall under the Frugal but Fabulous banner: they make excellent and festive holiday gifts (think co-workers, teachers, your friendly US postal employee, etc.) in these trying times.

Don't worry about how they look. Just enjoy the process of making them. And, if you're making these with children, just savor the time you spend together.

Next time I will take step by step pictures. Cut me some slack, please. I'm new to this!

Everyone into the kitchen: it's time to get baking!

Basic Cut Out Cookies
Yields approximately 4 dozen 3" cookies

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 TBS baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened so they yield to the touch, not melted
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla

  • Preheat oven to 350 F.
  • Combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon (if using) and salt in a bowl. Mix well and set aside.
  • Cream butter and sugar together until very pale yellow and fluffy.
  • Add in egg and vanilla and mix to combine well.
  • Add in dry ingredients in 3-4 additions, mixing well in between each.
  • Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface and knead to bring the dough together - it should be smooth.
  • Divide into 3 equal parts and flatten each into a disk. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap or parchment paper. Chill for at least 1/2 hour before rolling and cutting out shapes. Can be frozen at this point and used at a later date. Just place the wrapped dough into an air-tight container.
  • Roll out to between 1/8 and 1/4" (1/4" are sturdier and easier to transfer to baking sheets). Either roll on a surface you don't mind coating with flour or roll between two pieces of parchment paper (much easier!!). Scraps can be chilled and re-rolled but will be a little tougher the more they are rolled.
  • Bake 8-10 minutes, on ungreased sheets or sheets lined with parchment, until lightly golden.
  • Cool on a wire rack and decorate if desired.

To decorate:
Option 1 - mix 1 egg yolk with 1tsp water and food coloring and "paint" the cookies (using watercolor brushes) before baking
Option 2 - lightly dab cookies with water and sprinkle on colored sugar before baking
Option 3 - once cooled completely ice with royal icing (1 box confectioner's sugar, 3 TBS pasteurized dried egg whites ("Just Whites" brand is carried by most grocery stores in the baking aisle) 4-8 TBS milk and 1 tsp vanilla, lemon or almond extract. Combine dry ingredients and then, using only 4 TBS liquid to start, blend together. The icing should be slightly thicker than Elmer's glue). Icing can be piped on using a pastry bag and tips or by placing in a Ziploc bag and cutting off a very small piece of a corner. Icing will harden on the cookies if left to dry overnight. While icing is wet you can sprinkle on colored sugar which will also dry. Icing takes well to coloring.

Note: These bake up the best when they're very cold before going into the oven. I usually refrigerate them for 15 minutes after I have cut them out before baking. This way the edges are very neat and the cookies don't spread when baking.

*Shout out to Debby for the catchy name. Check out her cool website at:

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