I’ve always been a Christmas fiend, but having a child brings the whole season into sharper focus. This year the Nuni is old enough to get it — she can sing all of the words to “Jingle Bells” and “Silent Night”, she points out every decorated house we drive past with a cry of “Look Mama! Pretty lights!” and she knows that every time we make cookies, we are making them for Santa Claus to eat.
Spending time with a kid is who so entranced by the magic of Christmas makes me want to revisit the Christmas magic of my own childhood. As an adult I’ve expanded my Christmas baking repertoire (though it probably says something about my family that Christmas dinner this year — gravlax, roast beef, scalloped potatoes, creamed spinach and steamed persimmon pudding — was the exact same Christmas dinner I ate when I was eight and when I was eighteen), but when it comes down to cookies for Santa Claus to eat, we’re talking the old fashioned rolled sugar cookies, cut into pretty shapes, then iced and decorated.
Some tips for rolling — if you roll on a nonstick surface you’ll be better off, but at a minimum use flour on both the surface and the rolling pin. Thicker rolling will result in softer cookies, and thinner rolling crisper. Rolling when the dough is very chilled makes it easier to handle, and letting it rest at least overnight between mixing and rolling will make for better cookies.
As for decorating, everyone has their own style — some people use royal icing, some use sprinkles. In my family we’ve always iced first with a plain coat of white icing and then decorated. Traditionally, after icing the cookies and letting the icing dry, we sit down with liquid food coloring and some paint brushes and paint the cookies (you can see the results of the Nuni’s naptime above) but this year, with a two year old trying to help and a mountain of cookies to make for preschool as well as Santa Claus, we also broke out the red and green sanding sugar, and sprinkled it on the iced cookies.
And really, Santa can’t help being pleased by cookies like these. Nothing else spells Christmas in quite the same way.
- 1 c. butter
- 2 c. sugar
- ¾ tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tsp vanilla
- ¼ tsp. almond extract
- zest of 1 lemon
- 3 eggs
- 3⅔ c. flour
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- Cream butter with sugar, soda, salt, and flavorings until fluffy.
- Add eggs, one at a time.
- Add flour and baking powder and beat until combined.
- Chill the dough until firm, but if you leave it in the fridge at least overnight or for a few days, the color and flavor will be better.
- Roll out on a floured surface (the thicker you roll, the softer the cookies, and the dough is easier to roll out if it’s very cold) and bake at 450 degrees 6-8 minutes. Cool on racks, ice and decorate.
- For the icing I just put a bunch of powdered sugar in a bowl and add heavy cream until it is thin enough to brush on smoothly – really a glaze more than a frosting. I brush it on the cookies and let dry.