This post written by our resident Farm Foodie – Debra Dubief
Of all the wonderful treats that surround us at this time of year, the ones that really slay me are homemade Christmas cookies. The truth is most of the time a good cookie is something I find impossible to resist. So when people ask me what I miss most about the bakery I had in what seems like another lifetime, my answer is always the same: our holiday cookie platters.
Like our customers, I would so delight in having an assortment of a dozen or so diffe rent varieties of scrumptious miniature cookies all at my fingertips. Unlike most bakeries, we made our cookies small so that one could easily indulge in several flavors at once. With an assortment so varied there was something for everyone. A twist was put on the classics like powdery white snow balls made with browned butter, hazelnut shortbread shaped into small candy canes – a drizzle of raspberry liqueur glaze provided the requisite stripes.
There were pinky finger-sized slices of cranberry-pistachio biscotti, toasty meringues drops splashed with bittersweet chocolate and all of the past year’s cake mistakes came out of the box in the bottom of our freezer to be toasted, crumbled, soaked and rolled into balls of boozy, chocolaty bliss.
But what really made each and every platter uniquely wonderful was that it came with its own assortment of hand-decorated sugar cookies. Each one a colorful, edible piece of art designed by one of our many creative barristas during the afternoon lull. There were no rules and no two were alike.
Cooking rituals are deeply satisfying and I think perhaps some of the richest – both in experience and in output – are those that occur during the holiday season. While I rarely make cookies anymore, the tradition lives on with our kids whose grandmother began an annual ritual of creating artful platters of buttery cookies one weekend in December when our oldest was just 3-years-old.
Orange-scented sugar cookies, made from our old bakery recipe, are not only cut into the typical holiday trees and wreaths, but other shapes the kids have since deigned traditional — like the Christmas turtle or the delicate fleur de lis. Each lovingly decorated with a lot of brilliantly colored frosting to become whatever sparks their imagination. Stars become sea stars, round ornaments smiley faces or jelly fish and the gingerbread man whose arm breaks off may get a gush of red frosting at the point of injury.
We’ve seen television characters from Pokémon, Sponge Bob and Saturday Night Live (remember Mr. Bill?) all proudly unveiled on those colorful platters of sweets. As much as I might yearn for the varieties of cookie platters past, the truth is I only have a few ultimate favorites. I’m happy our kids cover one of those with their butter cookie collection and chances are I will make one of my other two — snowballs or bourbon balls — for my own sweet, ritualistic pleasure.
Start your own cookie ritual, and try this recipe for Orange-Scented Sugar Cookies. Make these in different shapes and sizes for parties, dessert or just for fun! This is a great recipe to get the kids involved with. For a nice sweet frosting, try the buttercream frosting below!
Delicious Orange-Scented Sugar Cookies
Yield: approximately 3 dozen 3-inch cookies
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup (one stick) butter
1 egg, lightly beaten
Zest from one large orange – approximately 3/4 tablespoon
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh squeezed orange juice
Whisk flour, baking powder and salt together in a small mixing bowl to blend. Cream butter and sugar together then stir in orange zest. Beat in egg and orange juice. Stir in dry ingredients until well combined. Shape dough into two disks, wrap in waxed paper and chill until firm, about one hour.
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or butter lightly. Remove one dough disk from refrigerator and roll on a lightly floured surface to roughly ¼” thickness. Cut out cookies using festive cookie cutters. Carefully transfer cookies to prepared baking sheet, spacing 1 inch apart. If desired, sprinkle with colored sugar prior to baking. Bake cookies until lightly golden brown, about 10-12 minutes. Let cookies cool 5 minutes on pan, then carefully transfer to wire rack. Cool baking sheet completely before reusing.
Gather dough scraps into ball. Flatten, cover, and chill dough until firm enough to roll out again. Roll out remaining disk and repeat. Don’t worry about overworking this dough, it is very forgiving and can be rolled and rerolled as many times as needed to finish it.
Decorate with frosting and sprinkles, if desired, once cookies are completely cool.
Makes enough to frost four to six dozen cookies – depending on who is doing the frosting!
3-4 cups confectioners sugar
1/2 cup (one stick) butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons milk
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes.
With mixer on low speed, add 3 cups confectioners sugar, milk, and vanilla; mix until light and fluffy. If necessary, gradually add remaining 2 cups sugar to reach desired consistency.
Divide frosting into multiple bowls and add color as desired.