One of my favorite childhood memories was going through my mother’s recipe box and choosing what Christmas cookies we were going to bake that year. I grew up with three sisters, and we all had our favorites. To get you into the spirit of Christmas baking I thought I would share some basic cookie baking tips.
- Always start with your ingredients at room temperature.
- Always use unsalted butter in your baking. Take the butter out a few hours before or even the night before so it will be soft.
- To bring eggs to temp quickly, put them in a bowl with hot tap water for a few minutes.
- Use parchment paper every time you bake; it prevents cookies from sticking to the pan, makes for easy cleanup, and I never bake cookies without it.
- Cookies are a great way to get into baking even for beginners. Kids love to lend a hand; and with a little bit of effort, you can make amazing little bite-sized goodies that no one can resist.
Below is a favorite shortbread cookie recipe with some easy variations. The basis of this recipe is hundreds of years old. It’s the basic 1-2-3-4 shortbread recipe: one part sugar, two parts fat (I only use butter), three parts flour and 4 eggs for every pound of sugar. Plus 1/2 teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of vanilla, of course.
Assuming everyone doesn’t own a kitchen scale, I went ahead and altered the recipe slightly for home bakers using measuring cups. What I love about this recipe is its flexibility; you can get many different cookies with just one recipe, therefore saving precious time that we are all in such short supply of.
Shortbread Cookies Three Ways:
- 1/2 pound softened unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 egg
- 2 1/4 cups flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
Cream butter and sugar together. Add egg, vanilla, and salt and mix well, scraping down the bowl until it is all mixed together. Add flour and mix until combined, again scraping the bowl as necessary. Divide the dough into three pieces.
Jam Thumbprints: Scoop the dough into balls, and place onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Space the cookies two inches apart. Press your thumb to make the indent in each cookie, and fill each with your favorite jam. Bake 10-12 minutes, cool before removing from the cookie tray.
Hershey’s Kiss Cookies: Scoop and press the indents just like the jam thumbprint cookies. Bake the cookies with the indent for 10-12 minutes and immediately when they come out of the oven, press an unwrapped Hershey’s Kiss into each one. The heat of the cookie will melt the chocolate slightly and once the cookie cools, the kiss will stay in place.
Pecan Sandies: Mix ¼ cup chopped pecans into the dough and scoop it into balls. Flatten the balls with the bottom of glass and sprinkle generously with sugar. Bake 10-12 minutes. Fill a plate of cookies with a variety of shapes and sizes with just one recipe and in one evening!
This holiday season I wish you peace, happiness and I hope you’ll bake.
Susan O’Keefe is the baker/owner of Baked by Susan in Croton-on-Hudson. bakedbysusan.com.