What a week-end!
Our first annual (maybe) Christmas Cookie Baking Extravaganza was a big success, except for the ending – which I'll explain in a minute.
Three of nine grandkids spent the night with us last Friday evening. We spent the evening with popcorn and a Christmas movie, a little reading together, then to bed.
Next morning, Grandpa made some of his specialty buttermilk pancakes and bacon, feeding the original three visitors as well as the other five grandchildren who got there early – and a few stray parents, as well.
After that, we cleaned up the kitchen and got on to the first order of business: decorating the Christmas tree. John and I had put up a tall Fraser fir the day before, and strung the lights. We wanted the kids to help us with the garland and ornaments.
Every year after Christmas is over, I pack the ornaments away carefully. Every year the unwrapping is a little more hectic, and this year was no exception.
Standing five and six deep around the ornament box, the grandkids were anxious to be the next one to hang an ornament on the tree. As we went I tried to tell the stories of some of the ornaments (and this is one Uncle Ted made in kindergarten . . .) but truthfully, the kids weren't too impressed with the story part. They just wanted to hang more ornaments!
Once the box was empty (in no time flat) we took time to admire the tree – a relatively short time – then it was on to the kitchen.
The icebox cookies I'd mixed up were perfect for the middlers – the grandkids between three and six – to help slice, decorate, and bake. (You can find the recipe for these great cookies below.)
The slicing was very exciting. With a little help from me, the two six-year olds took turns slicing the rolls of chilly icebox cookies on a breadboard with a sharp knife. Using a sharp knife, even with grandma's hand over yours, is dangerously thrilling!
Then the three, four, and five-year olds sprinkled those cookies with decorative sugars, and placed them carefully on the baking sheet.
After the icebox cookies were baked (and tested with a little milk) those grandkids watched a Christmas movie while the two oldest grandkids came and rolled out the sugar cookies and used the Christmas cookie cutters to cut them out. The two big girls did a good job rolling out the dough, cutting out the cookies, and getting them onto the baking sheet. Once they were baked we set them on a rack to cool for later icing.
Next was lunch – a feast of macaroni and cheese – then, with everyone helping, we mixed up the icing for the sugar cookies. Were we ready for this?
We divided up the icing into eight bowls and colored it red, green, blue, and yellow, plus one measuring cup of uncolored (white) icing. We had a good supply of decorative sugars, and down the middle of the long dining room table we put cooling racks for cookies with drippy icing. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
I gave each one of the grandkids (except for the two 18-month olds, who were down for naps by now) their own batch of cookies and we began.
The kids were highly skilled at getting icing on the table, various body parts, and occasionally, the cookies. (Once we were done, it took ten minutes just to scrub the table clean.) Some cookies were artfully done with imaginative decorations; others were simply thickly spread with icing and sprinkled with decorative sugar.
All of them were delicious.
We fixed a plate of cookies for each family as parents came to collect their children before the gathering ice storm got any worse.
All too soon, it was over – or so we thought. We sighed, smiled, and agreed that we'd had a wonderful, wonderful time, and now were ready for a long winter's nap!
As it turned out, the kids took home more than cookies. Sunday afternoon our oldest daughter called with the news that our grandson had the flu.
Over the next two days, he was joined by his sister, three cousins, one uncle, and ultimately, two grandparents.
Merry Christmas to us!
VANILLA ICEBOX COOKIES
This is the recipe we used for the icebox cookies we made this past week-end. I found it in the Cook's Illustrated Holiday Baking 2007 magazine, pp. 50-51. It is a simple, delicious recipe, easily adapted to baking with children. I highly recommend it!
2 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon table salt
16 Tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ cup confectioners' sugar
2 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Whisk together flour and salt in medium bowl, set aside.
In bowl of electric mixer, beat butter and sugars at medium speed until light and fluffy, 1 to 1½ minutes. Scrape sides of bowl with rubber spatula. Add yolks and vanilla and beat until incorporated, 15 to 20 seconds. Scrape bowl with rubber spatula. Add dry ingredients and mix at low speed until dough forms and is thoroughly mixed, 25 to 30 seconds. (Dough will be soft but should not be sticky. If dough is sticky, chill for 10 to 15 minutes.)
Divide dough in half. Working with one half at a time, roll dough on clean work surface into log measuring about 6 inches long and 2 inches thick. Wrap each log in plastic and refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to 3 days. (Dough can be frozen up to 1 month. Wrap logs in plastic wrap and then foil before freezing.)
Adjust oven racks to upper-andlower-middle positions and heat oven to 325 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or spray with nonstick cooking spray.
Unwrap dough logs one at a time and with sharp knife, cut each dough log in half, then into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Place slices on prepared baking sheets, spacing them ½ to 1 inch apart.
Bake until edges begin to brown, about 14 minutes, rotating baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through baking time. Cool cookies on baking sheets for 2 minutes, then transfer to wire rack with wide metal spatula.
This article includes several variations on this recipe, including chocolate icebox cookies, marble icebox cookies, and ginger icebox cookies. You should still be able to purchase this issue of the magazine on any newstand. Cook's Illustrated also has a website with other delicious recipes at www.cooksillustrated.com.