Have you heard how many people have been singing about Santa Claus coming to town lately? It’s been pretty much everybody and if that doesn’t stress you out a little bit, well you’re a better person than I. There is only one full work week before Christmas. So you know those Christmas cookies you were thinking would be fun to make this year? It’s time to pull the trigger and make them.
It’s hard choosing what cookie recipe to make with so many out there to choose from. After I went with my trusted three recipes that I knew I could churn out without thinking, I realized that I could have done so many other things like a sugar and butter-laden shortbread – the kind that induces heart palpitations but is so utterly addictive. Mint Nanaimo bars or even cornflake wreaths topped with a snippet of Swedish Berry would have both been joy making, especially since my cupboard is stocked with so much green food dye.
At this time of year though, it’s better to go with your autopilot if you have one. It helps to avoid tears on Christmas, just as it does to decide not to roast and peel your own chestnuts or over-do-it on the County Nog.
As much as I’d like to experiment with other recipes, I have to give a recipe for this gingerbread. This is what I want to smell baking when I’m making Christmas cookies and I’d be a little disappointed if I didn’t have that familiar scent around Christmas as there’s really no other appropriate time to have them. It’s heavy on the cloves, which is one thing I really like about them. They’re also lighter in colour and crisp. They’re a perfect gingerbread cookie for those that say they don’t like gingerbread because they really don’t resemble any other gingerbread cookie out there.
I’m not one for decorating cookies. I really hate to do it so for these I enlisted a helper to do the dirty work, after I mixed up some icing that consisted of icing sugar and water, with some added red and green food dye. If no one is expecting pretty Christmas shapes, my real preference for these cookies is to roll out small amounts in my hands and smush them onto the cookie sheet, making for an average-looking round cookie that’s uneven in places but tastes just as good as the fussed-over version.
The prune turnovers, I hope I don’t have to convince you too much about. They’re absolutely basic to put together but taste like a Scandinavian Christmas. The instant you pull out the bottle of brandy, and dump in the sugar and prunes, you know it’s Christmas.
The Peppermint Meringues come from Martha Stewart. I think they were first published in her magazine as a stand-alone holiday cookie issue, before it was turned into the popular Martha Stewart Cookies book. With only three egg whites, some sugar and food colouring, they take no time to put together. Though as a Canadian that flips between Celsius and Fahrenheit from recipe to recipe, I find I always flip the oven temperature in my head to Celsius instead of following it as written, meaning whenever I make this recipe, I inevitably have to run to the oven, remembering that I’ve again turned it up much higher than it’s supposed to be. I skip the chocolate ganache filling because I like them how they are, minty, light, and unfussy.
If you’ve taken the time to read this entire cookie rambling you’re practically done for. Santa Claus is probably reading this with you, over your shoulder and Christmas is about to be over. Just make something quick!
250g unsalted butter, softened
355g granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 tablespoons dark corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
450g all-purpose unbleached white flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons ground ginger
In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, add the butter and sugar. Cream on medium speed for approximately 3 minutes until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the egg, corn syrup, and vanilla extract and continue to mix until fully incorporated. With the mixer turned off add the flour, baking soda, and spices and mix on low speed until just incorporated, finishing mixing by hand using wooden spoon so as not to over mix the dough.
Divide the dough into two portions and wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour. The dough can be made a couple of days ahead of time or frozen if desired.
When ready to bake preheat your oven to 350°F and remove the dough from the fridge to allow time to warm up and become pliable.
Between two sheets of parchment paper, roll out the dough to approximately 1/8” thickness and cut into Christmasy shapes. Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet or a sheet lined with parchment paper for a little non-stick cookie insurance, for approximately 8-10 minutes. Leave a good 1” of space between cookies as these spread a fair amount.
Brandy Prune Turnovers
makes 18 turnovers
60g granulated sugar
125ml brandy or Calvados
250g pitted prunes
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
45g fresh bread crumbs
450g package frozen all-butter puff pastry
1 egg, well beaten
coarse sugar, for sprinkling
In a small saucepan, add the sugar and brandy and heat over medium-low, stirring occasionally until the sugar has dissolved. Add the prunes and continue to heat for another minute. Remove the pan from the heat, cover and let stand for 20 minutes. Add the spices and bread crumbs and using an immersion blender or food processor, blend everything to form a smooth paste. Cool completely before using.
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Roll the puff pastry out into two equal squares if you’re not lucky enough to have scored some ready-rolled puff pastry. Cut each square into 9 smaller squares and heap about 1 tablespoon of the prune mixture into the centre of each. The filling doesn’t do much in the way of expansion when it’s baked so squeeze as much of the filling in each square as you can, while still managing to seal the edges with some of the beaten egg. Fold over each square to form a triangle and press firmly around the edges to ensure they’re sealed. Place the turnovers on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and stash in the fridge to ensure the pastry remains cold. Right before baking, brush the turnovers with the egg and sprinkle with coarse sugar, then bake for approximately 25 minutes or until puffed and golden brown on top. Serve warm or at room temperature.