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The Gift of Christmas Cookies

Andrew WeidmanChristmas cookies have been around for a long time. Whether they’re called Christmas cookies, Christmas biscuits, or lebkuchen, they’ve been a part of the Christmas season since at least the sixteenth century. Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without the warm aroma of cookies drifting out from the kitchen as carols play on the radio. Then there’s the plate of cookies set out for Santa, usually eaten by Santa’s Helper before he kisses Mommy underneath the Christmas tree. Whether they’re cutouts, drops, or bars, Christmas cookies are one of the reasons there’s no place like home for the holidays.

Cookie Plate

We love to give baskets of cookies to our friends and family each year. Since we can’t send every one of you your own basket, we’re doing the next best thing: giving you our three favorite recipes so you can share them with your friends and family.

Sand Tarts

Sand tarts, a German Christmas tradition, are a favorite in our house, especially the darker, caramelized, third-run and leftover scraps. The kids always wait for them, holding out when the first-run batch comes out of the oven. These are light, thin, lacy, airy cookies, practically melting in your mouth. They are quite brittle and need to be stored in a single layer, like stacked dominoes or playing cards. They need extra care, but they’re worth it. Don’t worry, they won’t be around long.

Sand Tarts

Ingredients:

• 2-1/2 cup sugar
• 2 cups butter
• 2 eggs, well beaten
• 4 cups flour

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 350° F.

2. Begin with all ingredients at room temperature. Combine all ingredients together, mixing until blended.

3. Refrigerate until cold. Cut batch in half, return remaining half to refrigerator.

4. Roll out thinly (less than 1/8-inch) on an old, cotton bedsheet on a cold surface, dusting with 10X sugar instead of flour.

5. Dip cookie cutters in 10X sugar and cut out shapes from dough. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. 

6. Traditional recipes call for dusting cookies with cinnamon and a half walnut or pecan meat. Alternately, dust each cookie with colored sugar or sprinkles. Bake for 9 minutes. Watch for over-browning. Note: smaller cookies bake faster than larger cookies. Cutout scraps can be rerolled and recut, but no more than three times before the extra sugar begins to caramelize during baking. Scraps left after three rollouts can be baked as is, for kitchen-help treats.

For quicker cookie-cutting, the dough can be worked into a log. Work 1/2 cup 10X sugar into each half batch of dough, then form into a uniform roll 1-1/2 to 2 inches in diameter. Refrigerate overnight, then slice into 1/8” to 1/4” wafers for baking — the thinner the better. Return log to freezer between trays.

Slicing Sand Tarts

Soft Chocolate Chip Sugar Cookies

My grandmother used to make cookies very similar to these, if not identical, but she never shared the recipe with anyone. For many years, it was lost. Jessie experimented for years to find something similar based on my less-than-specific memories of a flavor. Finally, she hit upon the secret: the base cookie is a sugar cookie! The only significant difference is that my grandmother would make half of her cookies with chopped black walnuts, and half without. These have become a Christmas standard cookie at our house, and we think they’ll become a standard at yours as well.

Sugar Cookie

Ingredients:

• 2-1/2 cup flour
• 2 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1 cup milk
• 2 teaspoon vanilla
• 1 cup sugar (plus more for sprinkling)
• 2 teaspoon lemon juice or white vinegar
• 1 egg
• 1 stick butter, melted
• 1 cup semi-sweet mini chocolate chips

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

2. Mix dry ingredients. Dredge chocolate chips in 2 tablespoons of dry mix and set aside.

3. Beat egg, milk, vanilla, and lemon juice or vinegar until blended. Add to dry ingredients. Add melted butter. Mix all until smooth.

4. Add chocolate chips and stir through dough, making sure dry mix on chips is mixed in.

5. Drop spoonfuls of dough onto ungreased cookie sheet. Sprinkle with granulated or colored sugar, if desired. Bake 8 to 10 minutes.

Variation: add 1 tablespoon cocoa powder or 1/2 cup melted chocolate to mix to make double-chocolate cookies. 

Seven-Layer Brownies

Just as I shared a special cookie from my childhood, Jessie wanted to share one from hers. Seven-layer brownies were always on the Christmas cookie plate as she was growing up. This was something she and her siblings could help her mom make when they were little. The recipe is easily tailored, each layer selected according to personal tastes. Replace the chocolate chips with mint chocolate if you like, butterscotch with peanut butter chips, add or remove layers as you desire.

Seven Layer Brownies

Ingredients:

• 1/2 cup unsalted butter
• 1-1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
• 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
• 1 cup butterscotch chips
• 1 cup chopped walnuts
• 1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
• 1-1/3 cup shredded coconut

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place butter in 13 x 9 inch pan and melt in oven. Swirl to coat bottom and sides with butter.

2. Spread graham cracker crumbs evenly over bottom of pan. Layer chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, and nuts over crumbs. Pour condensed milk over nuts. Sprinkle coconut over condensed milk.

3. Bake until edges are golden brown, about 25 minutes. Let cool before cutting into bars.

Cookie Basket

Cookie Tree

Three generations of four families (The Weidmans, the Parrs, the Books, and the Bachmans) wish you a very Merry Christmas, and a prosperous and happy New Year!