Food: The power of a plate of cookies
While I enjoy cookies any time of year, it’s this season that I remember with fond memories my mother working tirelessly to make her annual Christmas cookie assortment. And what an assortment it was. Mom didn’t make just one type of cookie, but 10 to 15 different varieties, and when they were all arranged on a plate, it was quite a sight to see.
One year in a ceramics class, my sister made Mom a giant, Santa head cookie plate which she took great pride in. On Christmas Eve this plate was loaded up for our own family dinner, and then the next day it was reloaded and brought to the relative’s house that was hosting the Christmas Day feast that year. When Mom walked in with her cookies, everyone oohed and aahed, and it wasn’t long before Santa’s eyes, red nose and white beard were showing through the disappearing goodies.
Over the years Mom’s cookies became her signature Christmas trademark. She gave a plate to the dentist, to all our teachers, the paperboy, the mailman, and many times she would place a plate of cookies in my hands and direct me to take them to some elderly shut-in or a family that was down on their luck. Over the years I came to realize, that these small gestures of kindness meant far more to these folks than the actual plate of cookies.
Many times I would help Mom make her Christmas cookies. You either had to develop a sneaky streak, or be a saint, because eating any of them (or the dough) was strictly forbidden. The work was pleasant though. These were the types of cookies that took infinite care. No plain chocolate chip or oatmeal where the dough was simply plopped onto a cookie sheet for baking. These masterpieces had to be rolled into balls, frosted, dipped in nuts, sprinkled, topped with cherries, or some other labor intensive duty. But just being part of this tradition was reward enough for me, even though I almost always did develop a sneaky streak.
The other day, while I was visiting friends, I brought up the fact that I had been thinking about Mom’s big Santa plate and the wonderful cookie varieties that were on it, and my friends broke out in their own enthusiastic recollections of special cookie recipes. Some of my favorites, and theirs, are included this week.
I know I will never be able to rival Mom’s cookie plate, but now that Christmas is getting near I’m thinking about making a few of her holiday goodies myself. They will taste wonderful for sure but more importantly than that, I know some people that could use a plate of homemade goodness right about now. I’m glad I learned at a young age, the real power of a plate of cookies.
Pistachio Cherry Meltaway Cookies
1 cup butter, softened
½ cup powdered sugar
1 (3.4 oz.) pistachio pudding mix
1 2/3 cups flour
1 ½ tsp. almond extract
(green food coloring-optional)
½ cup maraschino cherries, chopped fine
Beat the butter until fluffy then add the powdered sugar, pudding mix and flour. Mix thoroughly and then add the almond extract and green food coloring for a brighter green color if desired. Make sure all the juice is removed from the cherries by blotting them with a paper towel then add to the mix. Wrap the dough in plastic and place in the freezer 30 to 60 minutes or until firm. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray a couple of cookie sheets with oil. Take a tablespoon of dough and roll it into a ball then place on the cookie sheet. Bake for 9 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle with additional powdered sugar when cooled.
Christmas Cutout Cookies
1 ½ cups butter, softened
2 cups white sugar
1 tsp. vaniila extract
5 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cover, and chill dough for at least one hour (or overnight). Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll out dough on floured surface 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Cut into shapes with any cookie cutter. Place cookies 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 6 to 8 minutes in preheated oven. Cool completely. These cookies can be decorated with frosting, sprinkles or red and green colored sugar.
Christmas Wreath Cookies
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 large egg, separated, yolk and white slightly beaten
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
Red and green candied cherries, halved
Preheat oven to 350. Grease a cookie sheet; set aside. In a bowl cream butter with an electric mixer, then gradually add brown sugar. Beat in egg yolk and vanilla to blend. Add flour and salt, mixing thoroughly. Form dough into small balls. Dip the balls into egg white, then roll in walnuts. Place cookies on cookie sheet, 1 inch apart. Lightly press a piece of candied cherry in the center. Continue baking for 15 minutes or until cookies are golden brown.