Ah! the hustle and bustle of the holiday season – starting the week before Thanksgiving and lasting until just after the start of the new year everything is go-go-go. My to-do list usually includes putting up Christmas decorations, holiday shopping, several Christmas parties, and so much more. Every year my favorite holiday project is also my biggest and, therefore, my most dreaded – baking and sending cookies to friends and family who are far away. On average, I send cookies to about 10 people, although, when I was in Michigan for grad school, that list got as high as 20 people.
The first step to my Christmas cookie bonanza is deciding what cookies and candies I plan to make that season. I aim to have about a dozen different confections to choose from as I fill the cookie tins. Some of the sweets are easy to pick because they are standard every year – decorated sugar cookies, gingerbread men, and Italian wedding cookies, for example. I also spend hours pouring over Christmas editions of my favorite foodie magazines and cooking blogs to pick new recipes to try. When I choose my cookies, I take several things into account, such as how long the baked cookie will last, if they can be frozen, and how many steps are involved in making the final product. My favorite sugar cookie recipe, for example, is great because it can be baked as early as 4 weeks before I mail the cookies, frozen undecorated, and decorated the weekend before the cookies go out. Toffees and caramels, on the other hand, have to be made a few days before shipping because they can’t be frozen or placed in the fridge. It’s okay though because they take little time to prepare, and can easily be done during the evening after a day at work.
This year’s confection list included:
The standout cookie for me this year was the Mexican Hot Chocolate cookie, a Martha Stewart recipe that is definitely going into regular rotation in my kitchen. I found the chocolate “pretzel” cookies, a recipe from the Smitten Kitchen, a little dry for my tastes, although they were great dipped in steaming cups of hot cocoa or coffee.
Most of the cookies were made on weekends when I had more time and then frozen. When I woke up on packing day, I took all of the cookies out of the freezer and allowed them to defrost before packing the tins later that day. Although, the cutout sugar cookies and gingerbread men were taken out of the freezer several days in advance so that they could be decorated with royal icing. I was very lucky this year to have Ruth’s help with the sugar cookies. With her help I was able to get them decorated in about 3 hours, whereas it takes about 5 hours to decorate them by myself.
Once the cookies are decorated, I spend a morning diving up the treats to cookie tins I’ve been collecting since the Christmas stuff hit store shelves. The hardest part of filling the cookie tins is realizing that I might have a few too many leftovers. Luckily, I have new coworkers who are unlikely to turn down free sweets and it is Christmas so I have every right to indulge a little. I spent the rest of the week scrounging around for boxes and newspapers for shipping and shipped the last of the cookies on Saturday. Now I’m going to turn my attention to my next big project – Christmas dinner and the duck that currently sits in my freezer.