ALL the Christmas cookies
It started – as many things do – with one person. We all have a few of these in our lives: a dear friend and former colleague who was impossible to buy presents for. But – and this was the all important but that scuppered me – he loved home baking. So I decided to make him some cookies one Christmas. And a few more the next year. And then, if you’re making cookies for one person, you may as well make LOTS, so I started making larger batches and sharing them with friends, with family. Before I knew it, I had inadvertently baked myself into a Christmas tradition.
Over the years, as my siblings moved overseas and didn’t make it home for Christmas, cookies were packed up and shipped off to Melbourne, Singapore, Vancouver and Wellington. The box sent to Texas never made it, whipped by customs officials before they could get to the Small Brother. Long journeys in the post are challenging, especially when the destination is in the summertime southern hemisphere. I learned the hard way that anything involving caramel or chocolate is out. And that it’s important to keep an eye on postal dates. (Although I’m often late!)
I’ve also learned not to be too ambitious. The making and the baking hasn’t always been what you’d call successful, especially when I’ve pushed kitchen equipment to its limits. My food processor nearly gave up the ghost when faced with a double batch of Smitten Kitchen’s rugelagh a couple of years ago. Those were a particular disaster, which ended up looking like straightforward shortbread rather than anything vaguely shaped like Deb’s creations. And there have been many, many more.
We normally eat the failures. It’s a good way of dealing with frustration.
Once they’re all – finally – baked, it’s time to think about presentation. This is not an area where I shine but but I’ve learned over the years that cookies, lovingly handmade cookies, just can’t just be handed over in a plastic box, especially if you’re sending them overseas. I collect stacks of tins in all shapes and sizes and Euro shops, Tiger, Søstrene Grene, Ikea and Lidl have all furnished various Christmases, with post-Christmas sales offering some rich pickings. The trick is not to forget where you’ve carefully stashed them.
Every year I get (a little) carried away. Many bags of caster sugar, tins of golden syrup, jars of honey and pounds of butter were harmed in the making of this year’s selection of gingerbread people, dark chocolate drizzled basler leckerli (A Luisa Weiss/Wednesday Chef recipe that I first found in her My Berlin Kitchen book), choc chunk shortbreads (Alison Roman’s The Cookies, shortcutted), marzipan & cranberry flapjacks and ever dependable, always loved millionaire squares. This year’s trashy flapjacks went too trashy (ie I added too much cornflakes) so they’ve been repurposed as trashy granola. Then there were the sweets with a beer twist: Imperial stout truffles, chocolate-dipped Sunburnt Irish Red fudge and IPA pumpkin seed brittle.
Every year I swear I’ll do less. Every year I get seduced by the sweet buttery mess into trying “just one more recipe”.
Every year there’s just enough time to make sweet treats for my favourite people. Nollaig Shona daoibh go léir!
A few old reliables:
Ard Bia Cookies – simple sugar cookies that you can customise yourself.
Butterscotch Almond Shortbread – good for almond fans.
Caramel Squares – aka Millionaire Squares. So popular that next year – really! – I’m just going to make these and nothing else for the folk in Ireland.
Choc Chip Cranberry Cookies – my riff on a Kiwi classic. Brilliant to pack into a travelling tin.
Chocolate Buckwheat Cookies – these are especially good with ice cream. Another good traveler.
Dark Chocolate and Orange Cookies – Sophie Morris’ cookies are a winner and also offer a great colour contrast.
Ginger Crunch – it’s good to have a few tray bakes as easy options and this, another Kiwi classic, is one of my favourites.
NYT Chocolate Chip Cookies – these never fail and always travel well.
Lemon Slices – at a time of the year when there’s a lot of sweetness around, this Michelle Dermody recipe is lovely and bright.
Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies – a hardy cookie that stands up to time in the post.
Salted Caramel and Hazelnut Squares – best for people located nearby. Don’t make too far in advance as the chocolate on top can streak.
Tan Slice – again, something that doesn’t travel far but always gets the thumbs up.
Plans for next year (aka the cookies that I didn’t get to make for 2019!)
Donna Hay’s Gingerbread Cookies with salted caramel
These Glazed Soft Ginger Cookies from Vancouver bakery Flourist, who have lots of other lovely ideas.
Dorie Greenspan’s World Peace Cookies (with metric measurements from Smitten Kitchen) are always a good idea.
I’m a sucker for Bon Appetit’s listicles: 27 Easy Cookie Recipes You’ll Make on Repeat
This looks like a Food52 “recipe” that the smallies would like to make: The 3-Ingredient Hail Mary of Edible Gifts to Save You From Yourself
Martha Stewart’s 17 Christmas Bar Cookie Recipes – anything baked in bars makes the cook’s life easier.
Some day I’ll have the fridge space for these: Donna Hay’s Salted Dark Chocolate Christmas Truffles (plus it’s a good way to repurpose Christmas cake or pudding!)