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My Favorite Holiday Cookies

It doesn't seem like Christmas unless I bake some holiday cookies -- even if it's only Gingerbread People.  These are the recipes I like best, either because of nostalgia, novelty, or because they ship well.

Gingerbread People
Nutcracker Cookies
Aunt Clare's Anise Seed Cookies
Paintbrush Cookies
More to come . . .

Gingerbread People

Makes about 5 dozen

If you have Gingerbread Man and Woman cookie cutters in different sizes, you can make cookies that look like their recipients.  Decorate them with Royal Icing piped to outline and draw facial and clothing details.  You can hang them like ornaments if you use a cocktail straw to make a hole near the top of each before you bake them.

1 cup shortening
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 cup molasses
2 tablespoons vinegar
5 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves

Cream shortening and sugar.  Beat in egg, molasses, and vinegar.  Sift together dry ingredients; blend in.  Chill 3 hours.

Heat oven to 375.  Roll dough 1/8 inch thick (1/4 inch thick, if you like soft cookies) on lightly floured surface.  Cut in shapes.  Place 1 inch apart on greased cookie sheet.  Bake at 375 for 5 to 6 minutes.  Cool slightly; remove to rack.

Nutcracker Cookies

Makes about 72 (3- to 4-inch) cookies

I got this recipe from the November 1996 issue of Better Homes and Gardens.  I tried it because (if you don't glaze the cookies) it really cuts down on the deadly whites -- white flour and white sugar -- without sacrificing taste.  Not only were these a hit with my family, my daughter's Girl Scout troop and her fourth grade class gobbled them up.

1-1/2 cups unbleached flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom or 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1/3 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 recipe Meringue Powder Glaze (optional)

In a medium mixing bowl stir together unbleached flour, whole wheat pastry flour, baking soda, and cardamom or cinnamon.

In a large mixer bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds.  Add brown sugar; beat till fluffy.  Add egg, honey, and vanilla; beat well.  Beat in as much of the flour mixture as you can.  Use a wooden spoon to stir in remaining flour mixture by hand.  Divide dough in half.  Cover and chill at least 2 hours or till easy to handle.

On a lightly floured surface, roll each portion of dough to between 1/8- and 1/4-inch thickness.  Cut with assorted cutters, such as ballerina, toy soldier, tree, star, sleigh, candy cane, heart, candle, rocking horse and bell cutters.  Place on a cookie sheet.  Bake in a 375 oven for 5 to 6 minutes or till edges are light brown.  Remove immediately and cool on a wire rack.

Decorate cookies with Meringue Powder Glaze if you wish.

Meringue Powder Glaze: In a medium mixing bowl stir together 1/4 cup warm water and 2 tablespoons meringue powder.  Stir in 2 cups sifted powdered sugar till combined.  Gradually stir in about 1-1/2 cups of sifted powdered sugar to make a smooth glaze that is spreadable but not runny.  (It should have a flowing consistency and be too thin to hold ridges when spread.)  Makes about 1 cup glaze.

Aunt Clare's Anise Seed Cookies

This is one of my favorite cookies from the boxfull that Aunt Clare would make us every Christmas when I was a child.  I'd pop one in my mouth and let it melt, savoring the faint, sweet taste of anise.  This was her grandmother's recipe.  Aunt Clare is sure this recipe was written for a hand held rotary beater -- hence the long beating times.

2 cups sugar - 1 lb
4 eggs
2 1/4 cups flour - 1/2 lb
2 teaspoons anise seed (or 1-1/4 tsp anise extract)

With a hand beater, beat eggs for 15 minutes (or with an electric mixer until foamy).  Then slowly add sugar and beat for 15 minutes (or until firm peaks appear).  Add flour and anise seed.  Mix well and drop by small spoonfuls on lightly greased cookie sheets.  Let stand in cold place overnight.

Bake in the morning in 300 oven until tops are hard.

Paintbrush Cookies

The kids love to help with these cookies.  Make your favorite rolled sugar cookies.  Before you bake them, let the kids use clean paintbrushes to paint them with Edible Tempra Paint.  Sprinkle them with sugar if you wish.  Then bake them as directed.

Edible Tempra Paint

2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons liquid food coloring

Beat yolks in small dish; divide among 4 custard cups (1 1/4 teaspoons each).

For blue and green colors, stir 1/4 teaspoon of coloring into each cup.  For all other colors, stir 1/2 teaspoon coloring into each cup.  (To make black, combine 1 whole egg yolk, 1 1/2 teaspoons green, 1 1/2 teaspoons red, 5 drops blue.)