"Making cookies from scratch is not much more complicated than ripping open a box or slicing cookies from a tube. But it is infinitely more satisfying..."
'Tis the season for giving, and baked goods are a special way to offer love in a bite-sized morsel. Many churches bring cookies and cards to nursing homes and shut-ins, or send their youth groups out for caroling and cookies. Cookie-making offers an important component to bake sales, caroling, and gifts: cooperation, concentration...and sugar! Making cookies from scratch is not much more complicated than ripping open a box or slicing cookies from a tube. But it is infinitely more satisfying, and teaches young people important kitchen skills.
I use 3 super-simple recipes every year: Chocolate Chip, Oatmeal Raisin, and Cut-out Sugar Cookies, recipe below. No peanuts, no tree nuts, and each one very forgiving of every foible (except burning - keep an eye on your timer)!
Surivival Tips for Christmas Cookie Time
Relax: Enjoy yourself. Kitchen skills are like theology: we want to teach joy and competency, not fear.
Read ahead: Read (the whole recipe), mark (what the recipe is telling you to do), and inwardly digest (make sure you understand).
Use your nose! Julia Child often said she smelled when her food was cooked properly and the same is true for cookies.
Safe hands: Teach good hand-washing skills and have lots of towels available for drying. (Accept that kids will eat raw dough. But do have them wash their hands afterwards!)
The skinny on fat: Butter melts at close-to room temperature. To make drop cookies that keep their shape, substitute crisco (solid shortening) for half of the butter.
Even measure: Spoon in flour for even measuring and cookies that taste the same from batch to batch.
Parchment pays! Invest in parchment paper for your cookie trays. Parchment will make moving cookies from tray to rack easier and clean up will be a snap. You can reuse one sheet of paper until it is very dark and brittle.
The right tool: Use cookie scoops! When you use a scoop, you get exactly how many cookies the recipe calls for. If you are making a lot of cookies, this is a real boon.
No rushing: Exercise patience - in mixing, baking, cooling, and with kids.
Get ahead: Clean up while cookies are baking and share the goodness of baking with everyone in your congregation.
Recipe for Rich Rolled Sugar Cookies, from the Joy of Cooking
2 sticks butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/3 cup flour
1. Beat butter and sugar together on medium speed until fluffy.
2. Add egg, baking powder, salt, and vanilla until well combined.
3. Stir in flour until well-blended.
4. Divide dough in half. Place each half between two large sheets of waxed or parchment paper. Roll out to 1/4 inch thick - thicker is okay but not as tasty, thinner and you will have a very hard time with the cut-out cookies. Refrigerate for 20-30 minutes until firm, but not hard.**
(You can also wrap each half of dough in waxed paper and flatten slightly to make a disk. This dough can be kept in the fridge or in an airtight container in the freezer. You will need to bring the dough to firm-but-not-hard room temperature to cut out cookies.)
5. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350. Use one piece of parchment for each cookie sheet OR grease cookie sheets.
6. Remove dough from refrigerator. Working with 1 portion of dough at a time, gently lift and replace top sheet of waxed paper. Flip dough over and remove sheet. Cut out cookies using 2- or 3-inch cutters. Transfer to cookie sheets, leaving about 1 inch between cookies.
7. Gather scraps together and re-roll, repeating process until all dough has been used, and chilling to keep dough at workable temperature.
8. Bake until cookies are lightly colored and slightly darker on the edges, 6 to 9 minutes.
9. Remove the sheet to a rack and let stand until cookies firm slightly. Cool completely before icing.
**You will most likely need to roll, refrigerate, cut, and refrigerate again to firm the cookies before transferring to cookie sheets - as the temperature rises in your kitchen, the butter in the dough will soften more quickly. If you are becoming frustrated with torn cookies, stick the dough in the fridge and take a break.
Decorating Your Cookies
You can use whatever icing you choose. I like to make a paste from confectioner's sugar and milk, adding milk to obtain the consistency I need. Add more sugar to make the mixture thicker; more milk to make it thinner.
Divide icing into bowls or cups and add food coloring. Store, with the surface covered with plastic wrap, in the refrigerator.
Charlotte Hand Greeson is thankful to share her passion for formation as a manager, editor, and writer for Building Faith. She is grateful for almost twenty years of Navy life, which has exposed her to a variety of churches and formation styles. Baking Christmas cookies is a joy passed on to her from her father and one she happily shares with her family.
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