What would Christmas be like without the cookies? Our waistlines would probably be thinner, I suppose, but who worries about such things during the holidays? Don’t answer that. Our family got a head start on the Christmas baking and eating, because my mom was making some to mail to my youngest brother (he’s in the Air Force), and some for my older brother’s graduation party. So, some of the cookies were well on their way or already baked by the time I arrived home from work.
But the afternoon that press cookies were the order of business, my hands were in demand, as soon as I arrived home. Some of you may remember my press cookie mishaps (“cookie ups & downs”), while in Australia, but that is not generally how things work out. Normally, we make up the dough, I grab a stool to sit on, and then I whip out several trays of tiny Christmas trees, pinwheels, and wreaths.
Our press cookies are made with an old-fashioned Mirro cookie press, with a twist handle (or knob?), instead of a button or trigger like some of the more modern ones. My family has never used anything different to make them, as they work beautifully, year after year. In fact, I make a habit of wandering through antique stores, looking for this particular Mirro brand press, so that when my brothers get married, they’ll still be able to have them.
My hand quickly got tired of all the twisting, but we finished all of those trays. Thankfully, we had a back-up press, when the first one had a part break. It’s funny how the knack of turning the press returns to your hands, just like riding a bicycle. If you let too much dough come out, you get a more squashed piece of dough, with a design printed on top. But if you do it just right, you get the actual shape of the tree (or pinwheel or wreath), almost in danger of coming apart into separate branches.
On Saturday, as soon as I woke up (I sleep late), I joined in the making of the cut-out sugar cookies. If you’re looking for the recipe to either of these, they’re both in the link listed above. My cousin recently commented on the tediousness of making these, but if you don’t have a helper, it definitely takes longer. My mom did the rolling out of the dough and cutting out the bells, trees, and stars, and I was on oven duty.
You must understand, in our house, we don’t condone the use or making of cookies that are crunchy. They have to be just barely cooked and have not a hint of brown in them, to be perfect. Underdone is perfectly acceptable, because all cookies are supposed to be soft. So, basically, you have to stalk the oven, and make sure you pull them in time, every time. But I’ve been helping with this branch of baking for at least twenty years, so I am perfectly trustworthy when it comes to bringing out the beautifully baked delicacies. Nothing got burnt on my watch.
When we finally finished the baking, the icing was started for both the press cookies and the cut-outs. Same icing, we just use milk to “water down” the icing for the press cookies. When my brothers and I were younger, this was our favorite part, mixing up several colors in the icing and liberally coating the cookies with icing. There were several years when (to my mom’s horror) we mixed up horrible versions of purple and neon pink for some of them.
This time around, though we stuck with mostly white and green for all the press cookies, I managed to put too much blue in the icing for the cut-outs. I blame it on using the food coloring “gel”, whereas we used to use a food coloring that was liquid. You had to use a lot of it to make a good color. So, I got a very rich blue, but considering the other icing colors were in the pastel range, I think it balanced out quite nicely. And at the end of it, we combined the leftover blues and greens, resulting in a more turquoise color.
Funny thing is, I can look at all the cut-outs, and tell exactly who iced them. Since you have to use knives on these, it’s a little more difficult than dipping the press cookies. Mom’s tend to be thinly iced, and beautifully spread to the points of all the stars, like an artist would. She doesn’t like icing as much as the rest of us, so she ices them accordingly.
Mine were more liberally iced, up until the end, when I ran out and my last ten were spread so thin it looked like I’d used paint on them, instead of icing. And, of course, mine were all blue. Matt was having a little more trouble, as he seemed to be trying to ice both of his hands, as well as the sides of the cookies. But the icing lovers in our house will like his best, because they had more icing than mine, even.
This is not to say that our icing activities were accident-free. For some reason, I couldn’t get my knife to stay on the edge of my bowl, so I kept shrieking when it fell off, and caught it in my lap. Or when it hit the floor. I was a little worried that the blue would stain the carpet, but it came off. Of course, my clothes were in need of washing, afterwards, because I managed to get a lot of icing on myself, too.
These two kinds of cookies were not the only ones made during the last few weeks, but I wasn’t around for some of the rest. Scandinavian thumbprint cookies (to be filled with jam), Russian tea cakes (or snowballs or wedding cookies), peanut blossoms, mini pecan pies, and Mrs. Fields cookies made up the rest of the assortment. Of course, Mrs. Fields cookies are NOT Christmas cookies in our house, but they were mainly for Joe’s Christmas box. It’s kind of interesting how this particular Dinger household doesn’t do chocolate chip cookies for Christmas, but our Dinger cousins do. Traditions are strange and wonderful things, wouldn’t you say?
Now, all this writing about dessert has made me hungry. I think I’ll go have a cut-out Christmas tree. What are you munching on this Christmas season? If you don’t hear from me sooner, have a blessed and wonderfully Merry Christmas with your friends and loved ones!