Christmas Cookies

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Decorated cutter cookies by Crow and Mars Girl.

My boyfriend Crow and I decided to make Christmas cookies this year. I’ve always wanted to make a bunch of batches of cookies and then pass platefuls of them to coworkers and friends. It just seemed a nice, festive activity. I love the holidays.

We ambitiously decided to take on making six different kinds of cookies. If you know Crow, you know this kind of ambition is not unusual. And for once I got swept up in the thrill of it. It’s hard to pick just one or two types of cookies to make amongst the millions of different kinds there are out there to make (and eat). We both wanted to do it all.

We ended up selecting to make peppermint pinwheels, chocolate almond rosettes, cutter cookies with frosting, whole wheat gingerbread, spritz, and peanut butter blossoms. We had wanted to make snickerdoodles, but they missed the cut since we wanted to make some cookies that were different than the standard Christmas cookies everyone else makes.

We decided that we were going to make our cookies out of as many organic ingredients as we could. The peanut butter blossoms, for example, had Hershey kisses, which were not organic (though we would have bought some had we found something like a Hershey kiss that was organic). The flavoring extracts (vanilla, peppermint) were not organic nor was the food coloring or the decorations for the cutter and gingerbread cookies.

We blocked off the entire weekend of December 2-3 for making cookies. We started our cookie baking with the peppermint pinwheels because the dough is refrigerated for at least eight hours. We made the dough and rolled it into two swirled loaves on Friday night. On Saturday, the first thing we did was cut the cookies, put them on sheets, and began baking them. I was amazed about how the two doughs rolled together actually congealed overnight so that they were one in the loaf while maintaining their swirl color.

They came out extraordinarily well. Crow and I both love peppermint flavored goodies (ice cream is the best!) so we were pretty happy with the results. I loved the smell when you opened the oven–warm peppermint flooded the nose tauntingly. Next to the scent of pine trees, the fragrance of peppermint is definitely one that makes me think of Christmas. The recipe also makes a ton of cookies (somewhere in the range of four dozen!). They are small cookies so they don’t take up much room when packed up.

We next attempted to make what we figured to be the next hardest cookie–the rosettes. I must explain that finding the rosette irons required to make this cookie was like trying to find the Holy Grail except, as Crow pointed out to me, everyone knows what the Holy Grail is. Even at specialized cooking stores, we were often met with a blank stare when we asked for rosette irons. At places where the associates knew what we were talking about, we were told that they didn’t have any and weren’t expecting to get any any time soon.

We did find a set of three rosettes, buried on a low shelf, at one specialty cooking store but we didn’t buy them because the only shapes were not at all Christmasy–a butterfly, cloverleaf, and the basic rosette pattern (like a flower). We knew that Christmas patterns existed out there (the picture of the rosettes in my cook book were a Christmas tree and a snowflake) and we were determined to find them.

The funny thing is, the harder those damned irons were the find, the more I wanted to make them. I had delusions of returning the lost art of rosettes to the western world. I swear I’d eaten them once, somewhere in my distant past, but I couldn’t remember where. When I described them to my mom, she also had a distant memory of having had one before. Perhaps my Aunt JoAnn–the cookie guru of the family–had made them before.

Finally, after Crow vented his frustration on Facebook, a mutual friend contacted me to tell me that she had a set to sell us and that they were, in fact, Christmas-themed. (Thank you so much, Cheryl.) We were a little disconcerted, however, that a self-proclaimed cookie expert such as Cheryl was so willingly give up her only set of the rare rosette irons… That did not bode well for the ease of making the cookies.

Crow had a fryer. We used Safflower oil (healthier?) as the fry oil. Our first attempt to make the rosette was a fail. We either didn’t put enough of the batter onto the rosette iron or the iron wasn’t hot enough because it stuck to the rosette. All my hopes and dreams of re-discovering the love of the lost rosette cookie were starting to fade.

I tried a different iron while Crow frustratedly removed the fried batter from the Christmas tree rosette. The second attempt with a snowman iron worked a little better, but the cookie was still sticking a bit to the iron. The whole process was starting to look like a two-man operation and we didn’t have that kind of time–Crow needed to be starting the next batch of cookies.

The rosettes finally started sliding off the iron better–maybe it was because the iron or the oil were hotter. After awhile, the rosettes were actually falling off of the iron while still in the oil, so I suspect something wasn’t quite right. Also, my rosettes looked a bit puffier than I thought they should. I continued making them until the batter ran out but I was not entirely happy with the end result. They seemed crisp immediately out of the fryer, but after they sat for a bit, they got soft. I proceeded to decorate them with frosting and glitter. I never tried to eat one, regrettably. I had bits and pieces of the broken one that Crow had pried off of the first iron and it tasted good. After they got flabby, though, I was too depressed to try one. That did not stop me from adding them to the plates I later distributed to friends and coworkers.

While I struggled with the rosettes, Crow made an excellent batch of peanut butter blossoms. They were tasty and crumbly. Perfect. But they only made about one dozen so we decided that we might make a second batch later.

Next, I made spritz cookies while Crow made the cookie cutter cookies. Both of these cookies use roughly the same ingredients so we figured it would be easier to share the mixer. Crow’s cookies turned out great. After mixing my ingredients, I had a very dry dough that didn’t seem like it would work in the cookie press very well. And, in fact, it didn’t–the pieces of cookie coming through the little tree-shaped pattern kept breaking apart into separate piles of un-congealed dough. That is, when they managed to come out of the press.

I thought the mix needed some moisture… so I added water. Big mistake. Now I had a gooey mess. I trashed the first bowl of dough. It fell into the garbage can like the ectoplasm from a ghost in the movie Ghostbusters. I tried to make the dough a second time. I followed the instructions exactly, slowly adding the flour mix, and it seemed to work at first. However, the dough still seemed a little dryer than I remembered it should be (my mom used to make these cookies). Still, I again tried to run it through the press. The dough would come through the press, but it would not break off and drop onto the cookie sheet. I later discovered that I had the press plate in backwards. I didn’t know this at the time, though, so I just gave up and rolled the dough flat to make more cookie cutter cookies since the consistency was right for that.

Crow started making gingerbread cookies, but at about that time, we had to be cleaning up because Crow’s friends were coming over for a game night. We were also partaking in a cookie exchange (more cookies!) so things started to get a bit hectic as Crow ran off to pick up the lasagna for the night’s dinner and I assembled cookie plates for the cookie exchange. At that point, our cutter cookies were baked and cooled, but not decorated, so I did not use those for the cookie exchange. We had to table the rest of our cookie making efforts for the next day.

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Decorated whole wheat gingerbread cookies by Crow and Mars Girl.

Sunday afternoon, we started making cookies again. This time, I started a new batch of gingerbread cookies (we had to throw out the rest of the dough from the batch Crow started the night before–don’t ask) while Crow attempted the spritz cookies for the third time. He actually got them to work out (with the press plate in the correct direction) but after three or four sheets of making them, he got tired of working the press (which is not as easy as it looks) so he just made drop cookies out of the rest of the dough, turning them into what he called “not peanut butter cookies” and “not peanut butter blossoms” as the cookies looked suspiciously like one or the other.

I found the whole wheat gingerbread dough a bit difficult to flatten and maintain form without breaking apart when using the cookie cutters. I suspect the dough was a little over-dry, but Crow kept assuring me it was perfect. The dough was hard to press flat and I could tell after my cookies were baked that they were a little thicker than they should have been. However, they tasted pretty good. I liked them better than regular gingerbread–they were more “meaty.”

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Some of the many cookies waiting for plates to be distributed to Crow and Mars Girl's associates. (And, yes, that's a Halloween table cloth.)

By the time we finished making these two batches of cookies, we were getting pretty tired. Still, I mixed up a batch of red and a batch of green frosting and we decorated the oodles of cutter cookies through tired and blurry eyes. I thought Crow did a better job overall of decorating than me. Mine tended to look like a 3rd grader had decorated them… I’m just not that good at visually artistic things. Crow used one of those frosting tubes to make even cooler designs with his cookies. I tried one of the small cookies with frosting. Mine might not have looked good, but they tasted great!

We still hadn’t decorated the gingerbread cookies, but by that time, we were pretty much worn out from cookie baking. We decided to resume our efforts later in the week. Which turned out to be Wednesday. I made one more batch of frosting, this time without food coloring, while Crow made a second batch of peanut butter blossoms. I decorated the gingerbread cookies but let Crow finish them while the peanut blossoms were cooling because I just got too frustrated with my lack of artistic ability (I have much better ideas in my head than what my hands can make). Oh well. People eat the cookies ultimately after all. So I suppose they aren’t spending much time admiring their beauty first.

Once I started loading those cookies onto plates for my coworkers, I felt a little better about the results. The cookies did look nice–if not as nice as I imagined them–and it was fun preparing the plates. I enjoy giving people gifts and I knew my coworkers would appreciate this little surprise. Crow brought some cookies to his customers, too. For a day, we were both little Santa Clauses.

Despite what I perceive as a failure, I would like to attempt the rosettes again. After all, we went through all that trouble to get the damned irons. I’m still determined to bring back the lost art of rosettes… I will become the rosette expert, darn it, or brand myself trying. Crow and I are also thinking of making another batch of the peppermint cookies to bring to our families for Christmas. I really, really liked those; they were definitely my favorite cookies of what we made because they were so different. I found a recipe online that suggests adding baking cocoa to the other layer of dough to make chocolate peppermint swirls. For. The. Win.

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