Our family has never done major Christmas baking like some people. Usually we make some cookies, but we don’t have 16 different recipes to make and give away like some people. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that; I certainly benefit from the people who give away their goodies! I’ve got numerous treats on my kitchen table right now from other friends whose baking agendas are more elaborate than mine, and I appreciate them all!)
The real tradition we have is making cutout cookies to decorate. Not sugar cookies like most people do, but butter cookies. So much more delicious, and richer. The actual recipe is called “Silver Bells”, because you were supposed to cut them out in bell shapes, but that’s boring–we have loads of holiday cookie cutters, like Santa, Christmas trees, hearts, stars, moons (not exactly Christmas-y, but they add variety), gingerbread boys and girls, sleighs, and the traditional reindeer whose antlers always fall off. Seriously–every year, the reindeer cookies fall apart. I think the shape just has too many little details, especially the antlers. But it’s a favorite, especially since I adored Rudolph when I was little.
My mom and I paint our cookies with colored powdered-sugar icing. Usually the first half are done quite elaborately, while we are feeling creative. Later, when we get bored and still have tons of cookies left, they tend to get more boring. But it’s always fun to see what new designs we can come up with.
A few years ago, we had a crisis of all the gingerbread-people falling apart and losing limbs. Not wanting to waste all those cookies, I capitalized on the opportunity by decorating appropriately:
Yes, I realize I must have a sick and disturbed mind. But it was fun, all the same. My mom and I titled it “The Gingerbread Massacre” and we had a story to go along with it. I think the one second from the left was the crazy murderer…you’ll notice he was injured in the fight. The one uninjured one was, I think, his girlfriend or something.
All that to say, I’d like to share a completely different cookie recipe with you. This are the only cookies I have baked so far this year, but they are delicious, simple, and different. My mom and I have made them a number of times, and they come from that delightful goldmine, “Betty Crocker’s Cookie Book,” published in the 80s. My mom has a copy and I was delighted to discover my own copy in a used book store when I was getting ready to move out on my own. In the cookbook, these are called “Crisp Pastel Cookies”, but I prefer to call them:
3/4 cup shortening (I use butter)
1/2 cup sugar
1 3-oz package fruit-flavored gelatin (use something red or green for holiday colors; I used strawberry this time around)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Mix shortening, sugar, gelatin, eggs, and vanilla. Stir in remaining ingredients. Shape dough into 3/4-inch balls. Place about 3 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten with the bottom of a glass dipped in sugar (dip in water first or the sugar won’t stick). Bake 6-8 minutes.
One year, for a cookie exchange, I did a batch with strawberry and one with lime jello, for the red-and-green effect. I imagine any flavor of Jello would be tasty, though.