Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

“Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
Next year all our troubles will be out of sight”

So I’ve finally ventured into the world of online baking, albeit to a select audience- my kids school. Living in the time of Covid-19 has us all at sea, missing connections and striving for some semblance of normality and familiarity in what has become a very isolated, displaced cyber age. Exchanging hugs and handshakes has become thing of the past replaced with online reactions of ‘thumbs up’ and real-time fleeting grabs at proximity with elbow bumps.

It was this want for maintaining connectivity that led me to the small cyber-screen. My kids’ school has a pretty close-knit community of parents and an active parents council. The sundering of this by the Corona virus and the resulting division between “in life” and virtual schooling presented a challenge- how to keep “everyone in the loop”? Both parents and kids missing school-yard friendships and school-gate gossips. Nearly 9 months of following covid-responsible protocols, vastly reduced personal interactions and hyper-vigilant hygiene routines have taken it’s toll on us all – I know they have on me and my family. Now there are feelings of covid-fatigue playing tug-of-war with impending excitement for festivities, all the while trying to hold some together some semblance of normality for ourselves and our children.

Yes, all of this might seem like an overly dramatic preamble to a few festive themed recipes. However, I think it’s in times like these that maybe were forced to look at things differently. Everyday habits and tasks becoming life-buoys helping to navigate the way. We look inward and discover dormant strengths. Especially when it come to our kids. Let’s face it as much as we might complain about them sometimes (oh, I’ll openly admit I do!) there is no judge, jury or executioner that will harm a hair on their heads will we draw breathe. So if distracting them for thirty minutes with cookie making and hot chocolate gives them a well needed little spark of festive joy; a diversion so they aren’t so down about missing playdates or such- then I’m in. I also know as a parent that in times like this when the children are otherwise occupied, you can breathe. Finally exhale and exchange a look with your significant other that says “You okay?… We got this.” Thirty minutes to centre and steady yourself.

A friend of mine said of our current times, “We are not all in the same boat. We are all in the same storm.” There is no cookie-cutter (forgive the pun) or one-size-fits-all way of dealing with this. But we’ll find ways to make it through. It’s what we do as humans and as parents. It’s what we’ll do this holiday season…look for and create some tinsel-tinged spark of festive joy to light the encompassing winter nights. If baking some cookies helps do that then you go ahead and break out those mixing bowls and fire up the oven. I know I will be.

The segment I “zoomed” (?) was just for making and decorating vanilla cookies, along with making peppermint candy cane hot chocolate. I’ve included a couple of other recipes that you can try out if you feel like it. All suitably festively themed and can be made by one or all. Whatever you make or do I hope you and your family have fun. Enjoy the time, the flavors…heck even enjoy the mess.

Wishing you all a happy, safe and healthy Christmas and holiday season. Enjoy the cookies!

“Someday soon we all will be together
If the fates allow
Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now”

Photograph: J Lee Frank

Vanilla Sugar Cookies

*Chilling the dough for at least 2 hours is required or else its too tricky and unworkable. I prefer to chill it overnight.

You can’t really go wrong with sugar cookies. Well you can actually. In my experience store bought sugar cookies err on the side of fudgy staleness enrobed in the tooth-aching sweetness of excess icing. This is definitely a case of “homemade is better”.

The only thing to bear in mind with these is the chilling time. I’ve seen various recipes suggesting 30 minutes, whilst others have up to overnight recommended. I’ve found that longer works better so I follow the overnight direction. If you find the dough becoming too soft, gummy and hard to work, wrap it back up in clingwrap and pop it back in the fridge for 30mins or so.

Makes approximately 48 cookies (this depends on your choice of cookie cutters)

Ingredients (all at room temperature)

Cookies

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt

Glaze/ Icing

  • 1 ½ cups icing sugar
  • 2 Tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp light corn syrup
  • ½ tsp almond extract
  • Food coloring (your favorite festive colors) *see note on coloring
  • Nonpareils; sprinkles; dragees (take your pick!)

Method

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, or with an electric mixer,  beat sugar, butter and vanilla until mixture is creamy, about 5-7 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl. The mixture should become pale, fluffy and not feel grainy when you rub some between your fingers
  2. Whilst your mixture is beating, in a separate bowl combine flour, baking powder and salt and stir to combine. Set aside until needed
  3. To your sugar/ butter mixture, add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition, until fully incorporated. If you notice your mixture starting to split, add teaspoon of your flour mixture to bring it back together
  4. Once the eggs have been added, beat in the dry ingredients into the creamed mixture, until well combined. Increase the speed until the mixture comes together in a soft dough
  5. Remove the dough from the bowl and divide in to four even balls, flatten to discs and wrap in cling wrap
  6. Chill in the refrigerator for a least 2 hrs, or overnight (I personally find overnight works better
  7. When ready to bake, preheat your oven to 350°F
  8. Remove your chilled dough from the fridge, one ball at a time, and leave to become pliable whilst your oven heats to temperature. When your oven reaches temperature, roll out the dough to 1/4″ (0.6 cm) onto a well floured surface. (Avoiding rolling the dough too thin as it may stick and tear). Flour is your friend here – make sure you amply dust everything- counter surface, rolling pin, your hands, cutter
  9. Use cookie cutters of your choice for a variety of different shapes and sizes. Using a palette knife, or spatula, place cookies on your lined cookie sheets
  10. Bake at 350°F for 10 minutes or until the edges are just turning golden brown
  11. Remove from oven and leave to cool on their trays for 5 mins before using a spatula to transfer to cookies to racks to cool completely

Glaze

  1. Combine icing sugar with milk; corn syrup and extract to reach desired spreading consistency. It should be quite thick. If it is much too thick, add 1/2 Tablespoon more milk. If it is much too thin, add 2 more Tablespoons of confectioners’ sugar. If you drizzle a little of the icing with the whisk, the ribbon of icing will hold for a few seconds before melting back into the icing. 
  2. Stir in food coloring or leave icing white. You can pour some icing into different bowls if using multiple colors
  3. You can pipe the icing on to the cookies using a piping bag or squeezy bottle, or using a pastry brush, paint frosting over cooled cookies and decorate with your choice of sprinkles
  4. Allow to set for at least 30mins before eating (note: the icing will still be a little soft at this point. If you want the icing to be fully hard for gifting, leave the decorated cookies to air-dry on a rack overnight

*A note on adding coloring: I prefer to use coloring gels when coloring the glaze. They are a concentrate which with very little will pack a real punch of color without affecting the consistency of your glaze. If you’re using the squeezy tube color dyes be aware that because they have a more form you are adding more liquid to your icing mix.

Enjoy!

Rudolph Oreo Cookies

Now these look like SO much more work than they are. At worst they can be a little fiddly but that just means there’s more “mis-shapes” for the family to enjoy. This is a great recipe to get the little ones involved in. Once the chocolate is melted you can pretty much give them free reign! Step back and enjoy some chocolate covered chaos.

“And now,” cried Max, “let the wild rumpus start!”

Ingredients

  • 24 Double-stuffed Oreo cookies (if you can find “Mega-stuffed” even better
  • Large twist pretzels
  • 48 White chocolate chips (or candy eye decorations)
  • 24 red candy shell chocolates (M&Ms are ideal)
  • 160z chocolate (sweet or semi-sweet, to taste)

Method

  1. Line a cookie sheet with baking parchment or silicone baking matt
  2. Start by cutting up the pretzels. Use a sharp knife to cut them in half, then carefully cut away the center section where the pretzels were joined until to have a vaguely “antler” shape.  This bit can be a bit fiddly as the pretzels can break easy but do remember they don’t have to be exact – all reindeers antlers are different after all! Repeat until you have 24 sets of pretzel antlers
  3. Melt the chocolate in a medium bowl set over a pan of water OR in the microwave, stirring after every 30 seconds to prevent overheating. Once it’s melted and smooth, using two forks or a confectionary dipping scoop dip and coat an Oreo cookie until it is full coated. Remove using your chosen tools, then place the dipped cookie on the prepared baking sheet.
  4. While the chocolate is still wet, press a red candy chocolate into the center of the cookie- there’s your nose!
  5. Make your eyes using two white chocolate chips or candy eye decorations
  6. Create two pretzel antlers by pressing them between the cookies and into the space where the cream filling is. You may need to use a fork to hole the top cookie layer pressed in place while you poke the “antlers” in. Once you’ve assembled one reindeer this way, repeat until all of the cookies are dipped and decorated
  7. Lastly to give your reindeer more “eye appeal” dip a toothpick in the melted coating and give each reindeer two black dots in the center of the white chocolate chip eyes
  8. Refrigerate the tray to set the chocolate completely, for about 20 minutes. Store Oreo Reindeer Cookies carefully in an airtight container at room temperature. They will keep for several weeks, but for the best taste and texture, enjoy them within a week

Candy Cane Hot Chocolate

Well…we need something to wash those cookies down with don’t we? If you want to REALLY treat yourself, dip the rim of your mugs into some melted chocolate and then some crushed peppermint candy canes for a stress-free, festive finishing touch.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4oz semisweet chocolate, broken in to pieces
  • 4 peppermint candy canes, crushed

Optional decorations

  • 1 cup whipping cream, whipped to soft peaks
  • Mini marshmallows
  • Crushed peppermint candy canes
  • 4 small peppermint candy canes, to stir

Method

  1. In a saucepan, combine the milk and cream and heat over a medium heat until hot, but not boiling
  2. Whisk in the chocolate and the crushed peppermint candies until melted and smooth
  3. Pour hot chocolate into four mugs, and garnish as preferred. Serve each with a candy cane stirring stick
  4. Enjoy!

Baileys Edible Cookie Dough

Because even the grown ups need a li’l something in the festive season. This can easily be made kiddie-friendly by omitting the Baileys liqueur. Looking for that gift that’s a bit different? Then look no further! Place in mason jars, decorate and tag accordingly et viola! Cookie dough can be stored (in jars or other air-tight containers) in the refrigerator for up to a week. To enjoy at it’s best remove from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups All Purpose Flour
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup white sugar
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ cup butter, softened
  • 3 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbsp milk
  • 2 Tbsp Baileys liqueur

Extra Fixings

(added to taste but I usually keep it to including 2-3)

  • Festive Candy Sprinkles
  • Dark Chocolate Chips
  • M&M’s
  • Crushed Oreos
  • Crushed Peppermint Candy Cane

Method

  1. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl of a stand mixer and stir to combine.
  2. Add in extras and stir until well incorporated. Enjoy! (A note here – I usually keep the extra fixings to a maximum of 3, or else your cookie dough is in danger of becoming an over-sweet mess).
  3. Store in the refrigerator for up to one week. Before eating, remove from refrigerator and let come to room temperature for a softer texture.

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