You will never walk into my house to find me without cookies. If they’re not sitting there in plain sight, they’ll be found in the door of the freezer frozen and ready for the exact moment when the ice cold glass of milk is poured. This is, after all, Colorado, where cookies turn into hockey pucks 30 minutes after they’ve hit the cooling rack. I’m not particularly a cookie monster, but those of you who know him well recognize I’m married to one. And one truth I’ll share is this: I love to bake cookies. There’s a sweet comfort to the rhythm and rhyme of beating up butter and sugar, a zen atmosphere when time is suspended as they bake (I can’t answer the phone/let the cat in/check your homework; I’m baking cookies), and the perfect control I exhibit when they’re cooling (I’ll will slap your hand with this wooden spoon if you grab one while they’re still that hot. They must set, for God’s sake.)
Listen to HIGHLAND CHRISTMAS/The McCallans while you read or bake.
At Christmas time, you can imagine how the scene develops. If I have made any less than 11 varieties by mid-December, I hiss and pout worse than a 13-year old, feeling out of sorts and basically unworthy of my well-earned cookie crown. And it’s even worse the last few years when I’ve been developing a new Christmas cookie each holiday season. For 2020, I had peppermint on my mind even before Thanksgiving because my mother-in-law Lorna Morgan adores anything peppermint and will miss being with us this season. I thought it would be fun to make something ultra pepperminty and send it via UPS since “Brown” has little else to do lately. So while I had the flavor profile set, I wasn’t sure what kind of cookie it might turn out to be. I spent days fussing over the possibilities. Should it be a puffy soft mint-laced cloud with pinkish frosting? That sounded tasty, but it wouldn’t travel well. Hmm. What about a chocolate bar cookie with candy canes and maybe almonds crushed in here and there? That was an attractive possibility, but how long would it remain fresh? And while she’ll eat chocolate if it’s in something else (unlike her husband who wouldn’t touch chocolate with a ten-foot pole), it’s not at the tip top of Lorna’s favorite list. I could go all candy-ish for a change and whip the hell out of a dozen egg whites for some kind of peppermint meringue. But, but. Too sweet. Too white. In the end, I opted for a variation of the cookie I always gravitate toward: shortbread. It’s simple, inexpensive, keeps a long time, is Scottish in heritage like me, and everyone loves it. Shortbread’s the sort of cookie you just take one piece of and go, “Yum.” You walk away to start a load of laundry not thinking much more about it. Next thing you know, you’ve brewed a pot of tea and are back into the cookie jar for the fifth time, plopping down with a sleazy novel. I’ll slide this in here because you might someday want to know…
Shortbread’s really good with whisky. That would be scotch to Americans. Yeah, like late on a cold winter’s night. What grows together goes together.
While cut-out sugar cookies have their own special place in the Christmas baking world, here’s a little secret. Shortbread is, to many minds, tastier, cuts out and decorates more easily and just as beautifully, yet only has to chill 30 minutes vs the hours sugar cookie dough needs in the refrigerator. For this year’s More Time sweets to be truly holiday favorites and obviously Christmasy, star (or other) cookie cutters are employed and the cookies are simply decorated before baking with sparkling, sanding, or granulated sugar — or to add a little more festive mint — extra crushed peppermint candy (my favorite!). Now that you’re jolly well convinced and feeling peckish for something darling, charming, and delish this December, try this:
lorna’s peppermint stars
- ¾ pound salted butter-softened (3 sticks)
- ¾ cup white granulated sugar
- ¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon peppermint extract
- 3 ½ cups all purpose, unbleached flour
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup crushed peppermint candy or candy canes plus more for decorating*
- Sparkling, sanding, or granulated sugar for decorating
- Beat together the butter, granulated sugar, and extracts with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth and fluffy. Slowly add the flour and salt and mix until the dough just starts to come together, sprinkling in the crushed peppermints toward the end. Turn out onto a counter sprinkled lightly with flour and bring the dough together into a ball with your hands. Flatten it into a disc, wrap with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for a half hour or longer. (If longer, you may need to let the dough sit a while at room temperature before rolling. If very cold, you may need to knead the dough a bit and/or pinch together cracks in dough as you roll. They'll still work just fine.)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place rack at center.
- Divide the dough into 4 or more pieces and roll each into ¼-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Cut into stars with a 2-inch star cookie cutter. Place cookies on ungreased cookie sheets. Sprinkle with sparkling sugar or additional crushed peppermint candies and pat decorations into cookies very gently. Bake for 8-10 minutes OR until barely golden on bottom.
- Remove cookie sheets to a cooling rack and let sit a minute or two before removing cookies to the rack to cool completely. If baking more than one sheet of cookies at a time, rotate cookie sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through the baking time.Glazing or drizzling? Make sure the baked cookies are first totally cool after baking. Once you've added the glaze or drizzle, let them dry completely on racks before storing carefully in single layers or between layers of waxed paper.
MORE INFO THAN YOU WANTED:
Want a savory cookie for drinks at 5 or gifting? Try my TWO-CHEESE WALNUT AND ROSEMARY SHORTBREAD COOKIES.
Need a GF and Vegan special? Try my ALMOND AND CHOCOLATE SHORTBREAD COOKIES.
LIFE GOES ON
And sometimes Tucker gets to pick the Christmas movie. “Santa Buddies” was his choice last weekend. Insert eye roll and find a family with young kids to pass on this 10-year-old dvd we somehow never before watched. I now know why 😉
Outdoor visit from the grandkids for an early Christmas gift and cookie exchange. Haven’t seen them since last February and a bit hard to not touch them. Made our month!!! (Come on, vaccine.)
BRINGING THE LIGHT: When the old Advent wreath couldn’t be located, Dave made a quick and gorgeous Advent Log for us after seeing a friend’s version on fb. Candles are a little wonky (shopping is pretty sketchy lately), but they work. We’ve decided to light them at brunch instead of at dinner each Sunday. Yesterday was the second Sunday (hope), so two candles were lit. We’ll complete the slow, thoughtful walk to the stable on Christmas, lighting the white Christ candle in honor of the Christ child’s birth in our hearts.
Our state, Colorado, is at a red covid level and we are mostly home as are many people nationwide. There are days that briefly feels like prison, but mostly we are grateful for health, food, and a roof over our heads. We’re in constant prayer for our friends, family, and fellow citizens who must work in the public sector to keep our world afloat. That includes our son, whom you might remember is an assistant manager for a grocery store, our daughter who works in a banking office, and other family and good friends in the health field or other critical areas.
Donate to FEEDING AMERICA or your local food bank if you’re able. 40% of Americans have experience food insecurity during this Covid time.
Be well and patient,
When people were hungry, Jesus didn’t say, “Now is that political or social?” He said, “I feed you.” Because the good news to a hungry person is bread.