On Your Table: Time for Christmas cookies!

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By Cathy Branciaroli, Food Correspondent, The Times

Who can resist sugar cookies at Christmas time?

The countdown to Christmas is well underway and in many kitchens so is the rush to bake holiday sweets, notably cookies.  Why do we eat cookies for Christmas? For so many families, it’s not Christmas without cookies. Our kids leave cookies out for Santa on Christmas Eve, we spend weeks baking and decorating our cookies, and a cookie plate graces every party.

Every family has its tradition, whether it’s Mommom’s gingerbread men, Aunt Ginny’s pecan tassies or joining a neighborhood cookie swap.  Cookie cutters in every variety come out from the closet – candy canes, Christmas trees, stars, angels, reindeer and holly leaves – and are employed with great enthusiasm though it’s hard to say how many make it to the table or are consumed by the baking crew themselves.

In Pennsylvania, Amish or Nazareth sugar cookies became the official state cookie in 2001.  Like all sugar cookies they are crumbly, buttery, addictive treats that come in a multitude of shapes and sizes, frosted or sprinkled with colorful sugar.  That tradition originally came from the Moravians who settled in Nazareth PA in the 1800’s from Germany.  But we all own them now.

Sugar cookies might be officially designated, but according to a 2017 report from Readers Digest, the most popular cookie in Pennsylvania, and in nearby Delaware too, is the Italian pizzelle, a classic waffle-type cookie.  It was a hard fought battle with chocolate chip and sugar cookies but somehow the Italian tradition won out.  I have to say I’m glad, having hovered near the pizzelle iron in my grandmother’s kitchen on many a baking day for the first taste of the anise-flavored treats.

With so many options for holiday cookies, it’s hard to choose.  And these days who has the time to devote whole weekends to baking?  Which likely is why most families stick to a familiar roster.

So in the spirit of sugar and spice and everything nice, not to mention because it’s the state cookie and so easy to bake, here is a recipe for the perfect sugar cookie.  A key to success is to chill the dough for an hour, especially if you intend to cut out shapes.  Otherwise it will be sticky and can spread while baking, disfiguring those lovely angels and candy canes.  Check for golden edges after eight minutes of baking.  When you see them it’s time to take the cookies out of the oven.

In our family, good kids traditionally get a tangerine in their Christmas stocking.  But there have to be Christmas cookies somewhere nearby as well.  Make sure to have some handy.

This will be my last official On Your Table column for a while, so if you’re hungry for great food, stories or recipes, check out my website Delaware Girl Eats

Perfect Sugar Cookies
Yield: 2 dozen

Ingredients

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 tbs milk

For buttercream frosting:
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
5 cups powdered sugar
¼  cup heavy cream
½ tsp almond extract
¼ tsp kosher salt
Food coloring

Preparation

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside.  In another large bowl, beat butter and sugar until fluffy and pale in color. Add egg, milk, and vanilla and beat until combined, then add flour mixture gradually until totally combined.

Shape into a disk and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate 1 hour.

When ready to roll the dough, preheat oven to 350º and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Lightly flour a clean work surface and roll out dough until 1/8” thick. Cut out shapes and transfer to prepared baking sheets.

Meanwhile, make frosting. Using a hand mixer, beat butter until smooth, then add powdered sugar and beat until no lumps remain. Add cream, almond extract, and salt.  Beat until combined.  Set aside till ready to frost the cookies after baking.

Bake cookies until edges are lightly golden, 8 to 10 minutes.   Let cool, then frost and decorate as desired.

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