O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, o night when Christ was born;
O night, O holy night, O night divine!
Mahalia Jackson or Nat King Cole singing that carol are pure Christmas spirit and everything wonderful I feel about Christmas. Growing up, December 1st always meant the arrival of Mom’s stack of Christmas albums; the Advent wreath, a stiff wire form covered in fresh greens, red berries, and ribbons, topped with four candles – three purple and one pink; and the Advent calendar tacked to the kitchen door to the basement. The season had arrived and cookies were not far behind!
It’s the most wonderful time of the year
There’ll be much mistltoeing
And hearts will be glowing
When loved ones are near
It’s the most wonderful time of the year
(fave version: Andy Williams Christmas Album)
I still make all but one of the Christmas cookies we had at home when I was a child. You’ll always find sugar cookies, mintywiches, peanut blossoms and fudge. The one I don’t make is Spritz which require my mother’s half-century(plus) old tin creature of cookie magic. I have yet to find a cookie press on the market that does even a remotely decent job so I leave those cookies to Bunny who always makes enough for a crowd (and a pilfering child or two). Guide me to a cookie press that actually works and I will gladly take on that cookie … Gauntlet Thrown!
The cookies I always bake first are sugar cookies. Not to play favorites, but they are mine. Crisp, vanilla-strong, buttery cookies topped with a generous slather of buttercream, maybe a few sprinkles … pure Christmas joy. Cookie baking in my house is generally the week before Christmas, starting with these sturdier cookies and ending a day or two before with the more delicate ones.
Those years as an adult when I would bake cookies with Mom and Monica, we would do a two-and-a-half day frenzied marathon of baking debauchery fueled by Fritos Scoops (must be the Scoops) and Heluva Good dips (French Onion and Bacon Horseradish). Every year we would agree we were only going to do five or six types of cookies and every year Monica would totally ignore that plan and bring the recipes and fixings for about five or six additional types which we were then obligated to bake. You can’t waste ingredients, right? People need 65 choices, right? Pretending you run a bakery so you never get the idea that’s a good plan is a good idea, right (though oddly a sisters-run food truck is still in the talking mix)?
Now that I’m baking alone, I tend to stick to my five or six favorites with one or two … or three … extra thrown in to silence that niggling little Monica voice, “but everyone NEEDS a jam-filled mini hand pie with a lemon drizzle!” Oh, and the Fritos and dip? I actually have to buy extra – bah humbug! – because the locusts love the stuff and I have yet to come up with a reason to deny them. Damn my seasonal generosity.
Growing up, our Christmas celebration was never about the gifts, something that in childhood was of great consternation to me but now I am grateful for and continue. The locusts happily jot down, edit and re-jot their obscenely long list o’wants each Christmas, but as soon as the mixer comes out or the smells start wafting, they are in the kitchen, offering to help (translation: taste), generally getting in my way (why God invited steel-toe boots), singing carols (sometimes with interpretive dance – them and me) and making merry. Just as things should be this most merry time of the year.
I pray my wish will come true
For my child and your child too
He’ll see the day of glory
See the day when men of good will
Live in peace, live in peace again
Little baby pa-rum-pum-pum-pum
I stood beside him there pa-rum-pum-pum-pum
I played my drum for him pa-rum-pum-pum-pum
I played my best for him pa-rum-pum-pum-pum
And he smiled at me pa-rum-pum-pum-pum
me and my drum.
(David Bowie and Bing Crosby duet of Little Drummer Boy and Peace on Earth)
I wish you happy baking, a merry Christmas, and peace on earth to us all. And now onto the sugar cookies!
There are very few ingredients so make sure they’re good ones. Most specifically, the vanilla and almond extracts should be exactly that, extracts of the thing on the label. Imitation almond flavoring can contain benzaldehyde, an industrial-use chemical. Yummy … go look that ingredient up while you’re gobbling down a cookie or three. Wait, wait … first check out the ingredients for imitation vanilla … it may either be synthesized from wood pulp or wood-tar creosote. Lordy, I need another one of those cookies. Huge apologies for the rant; lemme unhook my hug from the old oak and keep typing… You are free to pick your own ingredients.
This cookie is a great gateway bake item because it’s so simple. You sift the dry ingredients together and set aside, cream the butter and sugar together, add the eggs and extracts, scrape down the sides, add the dry ingredients and you’re done.
Divide the dough in half, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least six hours though I always do overnight (or 48 hours … it really is a flexi dough). If you have a lot of pungent scents in your chiller, do yourself (and your cookie audience) a favor and double-wrap the dough.