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Corrupted Palate: Christmas Cookies

By Kate Baker

Saturday, December 17, 2011

I asked a large group of friends (yes, I used Facebook) for stories about Christmas cookies. I learned something. Families make Christmas cookies together. I always got a plate of assorted Christmas cookies from a student who made them with her mom and sister, but had never really thought about baking as a family activity. Turns out my own older brother does it with his whole family every year. The man is reputed to be an expert cookie cutter. It’s kind of great to know that.

I reap the benefits of the major cookie-baking operation by that other fabulous Christmas cookie tradition: the cookie exchange. We started doing it about five years ago with our middle school students, and it has been a big success. Each student brings in about two dozen cookies, and we set them all out on a big round table. Everyone circles around, picking up cookies, until they are all gone. I tuck away cookies for students to prevent predation by lurking cookie monsters. I leave with a plate filled with a wild and wonderful assortment of cookies. Best part? I didn’t have to bake 15 types of cookies to get this assortment, although it’s always a little heavy on the chocolate chip.

I always bring a spiced sugar cookie that has been rolled in pine nuts. I believe that any recipe can be improved with pine nuts, so when I saw the recipe in a magazine, I knew it was the cookie for me. The pine nuts get toasted as the cookie bakes. Not a traditional Christmas cookie, but it’s my favorite. (I promise to post all recipes to the Lake George Mirror Facebook page.)

Before that, it was those hazelnut cookies rolled in confectioner’s sugar. I’m thinking about making those this year, since I’ve planned to buy some hazelnuts to make something I’ve always wanted to try: Nutella cookies. I found a recipe for a cookie that is thin and crispy that calls for both Nutella and roasted hazelnuts. Of course, this requires actually using the Nutella, rather than just eating it right out of the jar. (Okay, I’ve spread it on toast and have made a few Nutella pudding cakes with it. But mostly, yeah, right out of the jar.)

Although I love to cook, I’m not really big on making cookies, so I’m not that adept. My all-time favorite is peanut-butter, and I’ve got that down to just three ingredients. The idea for this column came from a holiday newspaper article where I learned 3 things. Don’t cheat on the butter temperature, it makes a difference to the cookie. Only one cookie sheet in the oven at a time (and use the size called for!) and last (yes, I know, it’s four now.) don’t use a hot cookie sheet. Let the thing cool off. It’s easier if you’re rotating through two cookie sheets.

So I’ve decided to strike out this year and try some new cookie recipes. (Yes, rum balls made with Nilla Wafers and Cruzan Nine rum.) I know lots of people who should get a special thank you, and who doesn’t love a Christmas cookie? And cookies that get their own holiday? That’s my kind of cookie!

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