The Joy of Cookies


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Cinnamon, cloves and ginger fill kitchens with warm, spicy goodness this month as cookie bakers go into high gear. We pull out dog-eared cards holding the secrets to our favorite holiday recipes, adding smudged fingerprints to those of years gone by. The process of making, baking and sharing cookies is a joy for everyone and adds much to the open-hearted spirit of the holidays.

In my home, I’ll be making plump gingerbread men with candy buttons for the kids, gingersnaps for the adults—and everybody’s favorite, sugar cookies. This year, along with the playful shapes of Christmas trees, candy canes and seashells, I’ll be making sugar cookies in the shapes of doves, angels and liberty bells, and adding stars-and-stripes decoration, in sweet tribute to my country and hopes for peace.

When you give home-baked cookies as gifts, remember to wrap the varieties separately so their flavors don’t mingle. You want your biscotti to taste of almonds, not the gingersnaps snuggled next to them. Cookies to be shipped should be labeled “fragile—food, open immediately” so all your efforts don’t go stale. Any cookies not given as gifts or consumed hot out of the oven can be frozen, sealed back to back by twos in plastic wrap, then pulled out of the freezer as the urge strikes you.

These are homey, old-fashioned favorites, the kinds of cookies everybody wants to eat. Three of the recipes are from cookbooks I’m giving as gifts. Two recipes are family favorites; two are contributed by respected San Diego pastry shops; and one is the favorite of an up-and-coming baker whose cookies are the talk of her middle school.

Baked by Etta’s Sugar Cookies

Etta Miller, of Baked by Etta in San Diego, contributes her no-fuss, no-fail recipe for sugar cookies. It yields thin, crisp, traditional sugar cookies you can cut into fanciful shapes and eat plain, covered with colorful sprinkles or iced. Makes three dozen 2- to 3-inch cookies.

1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar,

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

21/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted

3/4 teaspoon salt

Cream butter and sugars in an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, approximately two minutes. Beat in the egg and vanilla.

Stir together flour and salt, then stir into the cookie base. Divide mixture into two balls of dough, and wrap and refrigerate an hour or so, until the dough begins to firm up. (The dough may be frozen at this point for later baking.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove one ball of dough from the refrigerator. Roll it out no more than an eighth of an inch thick, then cut with cookie cutters. Sprinkle with colored sugars, if desired. Place on greased cookie sheets and bake 10 to 12 minutes until barely golden brown. While the initial batch bakes, prepare the second ball of dough, rolling and cutting like the first. Cool cookies on wire racks. These freeze beautifully.

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