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Not a Tough Cookie

In my opinion, when it comes to Christmas cookies, nothing beats a good old-fashioned sugar cookie with hard, shiny icing.

So a few years back, I decided to hunt down & perfect the perfect Christmas cookie recipe.

As my holiday gift to you, I’d like to share it!

First and foremost, I did not create these recipes. I got the cookie recipe here. It’s perfect as is. I don’t “tweak” it at all.

I got my icing recipe here.

** This recipe I did modify a tad. I use 1/4 tsp. almond extract & 1/4 tsp. lemon extract. The lemon gives it a little zing without being recognizable.

The frosting recipe I got here. It’s softer & fluffier than the icing, but it does harden a bit. I pipe it on to decorate on top of the hard icing. It holds up relatively well to stacking/jostling.

So, just follow the recipes and you really will be fine.

And I’ll give you some tips I’ve devised to make the process easy & tidy.

1) Measure out your ingredients beforehand. I know, I know, only geeks & Food Network chefs pre-measure their ingredients. True. That’s why their recipes turn out so well. When you measure as you go, it’s waaaaaay too easy to forget whether you’ve put in 3 cups or 4 cups of flour. Pre-measuring your ingredients is especially helpful if your kids want to help bake the cookies, because all they have to do is dump bowl A into mixture B.

2) Make the dough in the evening. It needs to chill overnight. The recipe says it can be worked with after an hour in the fridge, but do yourself a favor — leave it overnight.

To efficiently store/use my dough, I divide each batch in half & wrap the halves in plastic wrap. That way, I can keep the second half of a batch chilling in the fridge while I roll out/cut cookies from the first half.

The colder (read: stiffer) your dough, the easier it’ll be to roll/cut.

I also try to shape it like a flat-ish square. Again… easier to roll out that way.

3) When it’s time to roll, grab a roll… of wax paper. Put some on the counter/table where you plan to roll. Also put a sheet on top of the dough. In other words, sandwich your dough in wax paper. Now roll. No sticking!

Cutting the cookies is also easier if you do it on wax paper. Why? Easier to lift the cookies. Just slip your fingertips underneath the wax paper and tip the cookie into your other hand.

And… super easy cleanup.

4) Parchment paper is your friend. Yes, it’s pricey. But it eliminates the need for non-stick spray, which, in my opinion, tastes weird. Seriously. I can tell when people use it. Yuck. Plus… what a greasy mess.

And frankly, a little parchment paper goes a long way. I’ve been working on the same roll for a couple of years now. How so? I reuse it. That’s right, you can use the same piece of parchment paper to bake a few batches of cookies. On the same day, I mean. I don’t advocate keeping soiled parchment paper in your cupboards. I’m not that cheap. Yet. ;->

Eventually it’ll get all crispy & wrinkly and you’ll need to use a new sheet, but you’re good for, like 3 or 4 trips through the oven.

5) Let your cookies cool completely before icing them. Completely. If they’re warm, the icing won’t stick.

I layer them — again using parchment paper — while they cool to keep them from overrunning my counter space.

6) Make your own icing & frosting. Seriously. Why do people bake homemade cookies only to ruin them with mass-produced frosting? Frosting and icing are sooo easy to make. And sooo much cheaper than the store-bought stuff.

What’s the difference between icing & frosting? Texture, essentially. Frosting you spread or squeeze on; icing you dribble on. Frosting is fluffy; icing is slick. Frosting stays more or less soft; icing hardens.

You use the same ingredients for both, save one. For frosting, you use shortening. For icing, you use corn syrup.

7) Measure the flavored extracts for your icing carefully. Don’t do it right over the mixing bowl. Trust me. One slip of the wrist & you’ll end up with uber-icing. Extracts be potent, yo. And they ain’t cheap either. So proceed with caution. I measure mine into a little bowl, then dump that in the mixing bowl.

8) Set up an icing station.

Use a deep sheet pan & a cookie cooling rack that fits inside it. Line the sheet pan with waxed paper. Set the cooling rack on top of the paper. Set cookies on rack.

Now ice. The video says either “dip” or “paint,” but I ladle. It coats the front & sides of the cookie and kind of wraps around to the back a tiny bit. It’s kind of a middle ground between the (in my opinion) too little icing you get by painting it on & the too much you get when you dip.

Don’t be stingy, though. You need to coat the whole cookie, relatively thickly.

You will be left with what could be a big ole mess. But thanks to your handy dandy icing station, cleanup is a breeze!

(I somehow didn’t get a pic of this part of the process, which is a shame. Sorry. What you do is just remove/rinse the cooling rack; fold the edges of the icing-covered wax paper in toward the middle; then tip the whole sheet pan upside down over the trash can to throw out the extra icing. You barely have to touch it. Awesome.)

9) Let the icing dry completely. Put iced cookies on sheets of… you guessed it… wax paper while they harden. They’ll come right off, leaving the pooled icing around their edges behind. I mean, you might have to clean up the edges a little, but it’s really a pretty clean lift.

10) Give ’em another coat.

If you’re short on time, you can skip the second coat, but honestly, they’re better with two coats. They just are.

11) To frost, or not to frost? If you want to give your cookies a little more pop, you can whip up some frosting to pipe on.

Don’t have a piping bag & tips? Just put your frosting in a plastic baggie, trim one corner & squeeze! Just be careful. If you get overzealous, you could pop a seam.

This pic is from last year. This year, I chose to forgo the piping & just torque up the colors. See below.

12) Spread the love! People love these cookies. They’re not too sweet, but deeply satisfying. And they’re excellent dunkers, from milk to coffee.

But make sure you give them the entrance they deserve — these are no plastic baggie cookies.

They’re a gift in & of themselves — put them in a cute cookie tin, or in a box lined with foil, sprinkled with glitter & tied with a ribbon. Bling bling!

12) Enclose a copy of the recipe. People will appreciate it.

So there you have it. Easy, tidy & delicious. The Christmas cookie trifecta — my gift to you. Happy holidays, everyone!!!!!!!

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