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The perfect Christmas cookies

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What’s the best Christmas Cookie? There are no right or wrong answers. From gingerbread to shortbread and chocolate chip to sugar, each person’s favorite cookie is a sacred choice that is rooted deep in the tradition of family. But if you’re looking for a good start to make sure Santa leaves your house happy, here are some tips from a couple of pros.

By Todd Martin

Everyone has a favorite part of the holiday season.

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Some enjoy giving gifts, others the parties and festivities. But from the children to Santa, there is one important piece of the holiday season that everyone looks forward to – the food.

And what takes center stage?

The Christmas ham shares its time with Easter, the turkey with Thanksgiving, the trimmings with every holiday – although I think we would all agree that mac-and-cheese should share more dinner tables.

But the one tasty tidbit that takes the cake (and no, it’s not cake, that’s every birthday, too) is – The Classic Christmas Cookie.

But what makes the perfect Christmas cookie?

That’s the beauty of it; the answer is different for everyone.

For my family it’s a simple chocolate-chip cookie with walnuts added, but not just any walnuts.

My father makes the cookies, which in itself is probably different than most families, and he doesn’t just toss in some walnuts. The ones he uses are collected locally and then hung in a sack in the barn for two maybe three years, greatly intensifying the flavor. Then, he chops them so fine that the nuts essentially melt into the cookie.

If not for the strong, sweet smell of aged black walnuts that tickles your olfactory senses when you open that much-anticipated tin each Christmas, you’d never know by looking at them that they have walnuts in them.

“It’s really just whatever you grew up with,” said Diana Jackson-Adams, owner of Butterfly Bakery. “It’s the tradition of the season. I know we usually have the same things every year, and that’s what you expect.”

And that can even mean playing away from your strengths.

“We always have no-bake cookies,” Jackson-Adams said with a laugh. “And my mom always makes fudge and buckeyes [both of which are not baked].”

Jeanne Kemper, who earned 33 blue ribbons at this year’s state fair, her 28th year competing, said she first thinks of butter cookies “cut out and decorated” for the holiday season, but they aren’t her favorite.

“They turn out really pretty, but that can be a whole lot of trouble,” she said. “My favorite is oatmeal cookies with Craisins [dried cranberries] instead of raisins.

And the trick to keep them moist and chewy?

“A little honey will add some flavor and texture. It really helps keep them moist and chewy,” she said.

At the bakery, Jackson-Adams said the key is simply patience.

“You can’t rush it. Your eggs, butter, everything needs to be room temperature,” she said. “That, and people want to touch things too much. You don’t need to have everything so compact. Using your hands or with a wooden spoon is much better than a mixer.

“To me, baking is therapy – don’t rush it, take your time and enjoy the process. Remember when you used to do this with your grandmother, making cookies and baking was an all day affair.”

And if you’re in a hurry, like most are around the holidays, Kemper said you can rush it a little.

“I’m usually in a hurry, so I take a stick of butter and put it in the microwave for about 20 seconds, that way you can mix it,” she said. “And usually I just take my eggs straight out of the refrigerator.”

However, Jackson-Adams did agree with Kemper that sugar – or butter – cookies are the typical holiday cookie, but she likes to spice it up a little.

“Snickerdoodles are great for the holiday,” she said. “I love the cinnamon smell. There’s nothing better this time of year.”

 

Recipes

Kemper’s Honey Oatmeal Cookies

1 ¼ cup sugar

½ cup butter-flavored shortening

2 eggs

1/3 cup honey

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

½ tsp. cinnamon

2 cups quick-cooking oats

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

1 cup Craisins

½ cup chopped nuts

 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix sugar, shortening, eggs, honey, baking soda and salt thoroughly. Stir in remaining ingredients. Drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten with the bottom of a glass dipped in sugar (if desired). Bake 8-10 minutes or until light brown. Let cool 2-3 minutes, move to a wire rack. Yield: 4 doz.

 

 

Kemper’s Best Butter Cookies

2 cups (4 sticks) butter

1 ½ cups sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

5 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

½ tsp. salt

 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cream butter and sugar in large mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually add to butter mixture; mix well. Divide dough into fourths. Roll out one-fourth of dough at a time on lightly floured surface to 1/8-inch thick, keeping remaining dough refrigerated. Cut into desired shapes with floured cookie cutters. Place 1-inch apart on unbuttered cookie sheets. Bake 6-8 minutes or until lightly browned. Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool. Decorate as desired. Dough can be frozen up to 3 months.

Yield: About 2 doz.