I make the same Christmas cookies every year: chocolate gingerbread, chocolate crackles, spice stars and lemon poppyseed crisps. I try other recipes, but these four are the regulars, the starting lineup. They all come from a "Holiday Cookies" edition of Martha Stewart that I bought in 2006. This magazine is tattered and marked up with all my notes:
"Cut sugar by 1/4"
"Bake 9 minutes only"
"Add lemon zest"
"Use the jarred ginger"
I need no other guide but this. I will give it to Panda someday if it hasn't fallen apart.
Before I start with the recipes, I'll answer another question I get frequently, which is, "How do you have time to do this?" Those of you who know me will know my standard answer to that question (I don't watch TV), but for the cookies there are a couple of time-management tricks.
First of all, around Thanksgiving, when I'm in the kitchen cooking stuff anyway, I measure out and sift all the dry ingredients for the cookies. Single batch, double batch, whatever. All the flour, spices, baking soda, baking powder...all that gets measured out and put into ziplock bags. The bags are labeled, I put them downstairs on the laundry room shelves, and that's done. Then, after Thanksgiving, when I have a day or night free, I'll make a batch of dough, flatten it into a disk, wrap it in Saran, and put it in the freezer.
So I'm not making batches and batches of cookies from dough to ovenin one fell swoop. Please.
So we're going to start with Chocolate Crackles because I promised. But I must warn you: these are the cookies the kids clamor for every year. They want to help make them, they wait by the oven while they bake. People fight over these. They are freakin' awesome.
And they are a supreme pain in the ASS to make. I'm sorry. It has to be said. They are the cookie that is most loved, and the one I like least to make. But once you make them...you have to.
Obligatory Chocolate Crackles
8 oz bittersweet chocolate
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup whole milk
1 cup granulated sugar and 1 cup confectioners sugar to coat.
Preheat oven to 350. Melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring. Set aside and let cool.
Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Or, if you're like me, go fetch your ziplock bag labeled "Chocolate Crackles." See how easy?
Mix butter and brown sugar on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Mix in eggs and vanilla, and then the melted chocolate.
Reduce speed to low, mix in flour mixture in 2 batches, alternating with the milk. Shoo away the little fingers reaching in to taste the dough.
Lay out 2 long sheets of Saran wrap on the counter. Do this first. Are you listening to me?
Lay out the Saran wrap first!!
Once you start working with this dough, you cannot touch anything else. In fact the pictures stop here because there is just no way to photograph the process.
This cookie dough is GLOP.
The stickiest, goopiest, glopiest glop you will ever work with in your life. Scoop the glop out equally on each piece of saran wrap. Fold the ends over and flatten the dough into a disk. Transport to the freezer to store, or to the fridge to chill until firm. Go scour your hands and every surface in the kitchen that attracted chocolate glop to it. And good luck keeping the kids out of the scraped bowl and the beaters.
To assemble the cookies, it is best to have a helper. A child or two is perfect. You, the responsible adult, will be on dough rolling. Put 1 cup granulated sugar in a small bowl and 1 cup confectioners sugar in another bowl. One bowl for each kid, or one kid can manage both. Have your baking sheets at the ready, with either parchment paper, or Silpat mats, or whatever your method is.
Roll the dough into 1-inch balls. The best way to do this is to have a can of Pam at your side, and spray your hands. Spraying a knife with Pam and cutting the dough into approximate 1-inch chunks also helps, but really you will need to stop and rinse off your hands and the knife blade, or both, after every dozen or so. It's a mess. Just keep your eye on the prize.
So each 1-inch ball gets rolled first in granulated sugar, then in the powdered sugar, and then onto the baking sheet. An assembly line makes this go fast. Just stay with the dough. Don't answer the phone. Don't touch anything.
Bake for 14 minutes at 350 until the surfaces crack. Kids seem to never tire of watching through the oven window as the cookies crackle. Let cool on wire racks.
See? The effort was worth it. You are wonderful. Please make them every year, Mom.