December 23, 2013

From the Diary of an Inept Chef: The Good-Enough Cookies. ~ Heather Grimes {Recipes}

I had big visions for this year.

The plan was to make our neighbors Christmas cookies and to do it from scratch. With my daughter. Both of us donning our aprons and enjoying holiday music in a state of sustained yuletide bliss.

I picked a morning before I stopped drinking caffeine to investigate “kid-friendly Christmas cookie recipes.” Parents Magazine had a dozen, all in one article. Perfect. Gingerbread villages, snowman cookies, candy-tree cutouts and more.

I read on, to find that most of the cookies had a ton of ingredients and were relatively work intensive.

An example taken from the Parent Magazine website:

Candy Tree Cutouts:


  •  2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  •  3/4 cup  yellow cornmeal
  •  1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  •  1/4 teaspoon salt
  •  1 cup  butter, softened
  •  1 cup sugar
  •  2 eggs
  •  1 teaspoon lemon zest
  •  1 teaspoon vanilla
  •  2 tablespoons each crushed red, green, yellow and blue Jolly Ranchers® candy

1. Combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add lemon zest and vanilla. Gradually add flour mixture and beat until well combined. Divide dough into 3 sections and shape into disks. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 3 hours or overnight.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with foil. Working on one disk at a time, roll out dough on a lightly floured surface until it’s 1/4-inch thick (if too firm, let stand 5 minutes). Using a 5-inch tree cookie cutter, make as many shapes as possible. Transfer shapes to the prepared cookie sheets about 2 inches apart. Use a large straw, apple corer, or a 1/2-inch round pastry tip to remove circles of dough from the tree shapes to look like ornaments. If the dough becomes too warm refrigerate for 5 minutes.

3. Bake for 6 minutes, or until set, but not browning. Place on a wire rack. Sprinkle crushed candies into the openings. Return cookie sheets to the oven and bake until candy is melted and smooth, about 3 minutes more.

4. Transfer cookie sheets to a wire rack and cool completely. Carefully peel the cookies from the foil. Repeat with dough and candies. Makes about 27 cookies.

Ok, maybe they weren’t that work intensive, but as much fun as it is to cook with my daughter, it’s also a bit like taking a jog with a cat duct-taped to my leg. Every step of the way is exponentially more challenging, messy, time-consuming and sometimes dangerous.  Albeit often a glorious adventure.) I entertained the idea of baking some of these ‘easy,’ fancy, poetic cookies by myself one evening, as a bonding experience with my inner inept chef and my meek little kitchen, but I put that idea on hold and went to get a shower.

A day and two goes by. The weather turns oppressively cold, perfect for cookie-baking and hot beverage consumption. Opal and I find ourselves in the Christmas aisle of Target, filling the cart with arbitrary holiday hodgepodge.  We turn a corner, and then… cookie baking stuff. (Displayed with Christmas decorations, not even close to the grocery section of the store. Sneaky.)

It was a veritable wonderland for easy—I mean easy— treat making! Cookie mixes, brownie mixes, pre-made candies and cute little holiday to-go boxes to dump the candy in, misleading the recipient into thinking they are homemade. There were toppings and sprinkles of all holiday shapes and sizes.

Opal and I both shrieked with delight.

We got to work immediately when we got home.

Sugar cookie mix with white chocolate chips and blue snowflake sprinkles. Yum.

Brownies with candy light bulbs on top. (Yum. Though it should be noted that the candy light bulbs are gross when eaten alone and were spit out by Opal into my hand in primary colored bits.)

Chocolate-peppermint cookie mix with chocolate-mint Hershey Kisses. (Perhaps a bit too much mint with this one, but I loved it and it filled the house with a minty aroma.)

And, the piece de resistance: the reindeer cookies.

Parents Magazine has their own rendition:

Red-nosed Reindeer:  Slice pieces from Pillsbury’s Simply Peanut Butter cookie dough in half. Shape into 1-1/2″ triangles and place 3″ apart on cookie sheets. Bake 8 to 10 minutes, or until lightly browned. While they’re still warm, push a mini chocolate pretzel (we used Flipz) on each side to resemble antlers. Let cool completely. Ask the kids to make the face: Attach brown M&M’s Minis for eyes and a red M&M nose with frosting. Makes 24.

This recipe sounds right up my alley. But we simply used Pillsbury sugar cookie mix (very much not organic) and bought some reindeer toppings—candy eyes, antlers, nose and little red bows—to press into the top of the cookie when it was still warm.

These didn’t turn out so great. We needed icing to work as adhesive to hold the toppings on, which we didn’t have, so they all fell off. Opal put all the eyes on crooked and crossed, and kept breaking the chocolate antlers, which gave the reindeers the appearance of having sustained minor head injuries from falling off the roof.

We laughed so hard.

Then we packaged up our goodies and dropped them off on porch after porch on our block, pretending we were Santa’s street-elves.  

Opal has been playing a game lately called “Bringing Christmas spirit to all of the lands.”

I have no idea where she came up with that title, but she emerged into the living room one morning and said, “Let’s play bringing Christmas spirit to all of the lands!”

Her dad and I said, now that’s a great idea.

And we made up a game on the spot that goes like this: one player knocks on the door of another player who pretends to be really, humorously grumpy. The knocker says, “We came to spread Christmas spirit to all of the lands!” And the grumpy player maintains his grumpiness until the knocker bursts into an excessively boisterous version of Jingle Bells or Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer.

(If there is a third player, he or she just helps with the singing.) During the song, the grumpiness of the neighbor falls away and he winds up singing along, totally infused by the Christmas Spirit. Success! That’s the end of the game.

Then you start over, rotating who plays the part of the grumpy person.

We have played this game at least a dozen times over the course of the last few weeks. We have even played in while driving in the car—it is a holiday hit.

As we distributed our imperfect cookies from the back of our wagon, Opal said, “We are spreading Christmas spirit to all of the lands!”

And we were. In our imperfect, too-minty, cross-eyed, not-from-scratch way.

And that was good enough for me.


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Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: courtesy of the author

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