I hate Christmas cookie exchanges. I mean really hate them. I know hating isn't PC these days. But nonetheless, I hate the cookie exchange and everything about it. Why? Because I have very specific cookies that I make for Christmas and I don't want anyone else's cookies in there mucking up my plan. How's that for Christmas cookie snobbery?
Why is it such a big deal to me? Because growing up, we baked the same cookies each year with my Mom and now Christmas just wouldn't be the same without them. And one of the things that says "Christmas is here" to me is opening up my Mom's Tupperware cake taker and smelling the combination of cookies stored in there. In fact, when I became a grown up (and when that actually happened is still up for debate), I just had to go out and buy my OWN Tupperware cake taker so I could store cookies and enjoy that smell of my youth.
This is the cake taker:
We actually use the cake taker upside down. You would never put a cake in it like this. In fact, I don't think I've ever used it to carry a cake. But when you get it loaded with Christmas cookies and then lift the lid, that is one of the sweet smells of Christmas to me.
An overview of my cookie obsession (Please note that all of my raw, organic tendencies do not apply during Christmas cookie baking and eating. Because what would be the point?):
Let's start with the brown powder sugar-covered ball near the glass of milk. This is a bourbon ball. It's made with crushed 'Nilla Wafers, cocoa powder, corn syrup, powdered sugar, nuts, and copious amounts of bourbon. I usually eat about a half dozen of these at a time and probably am over the legal limit if I was to be breathalyzed after consumption. Which fortunately has never happened. They're best if they ferment for a few days so I wrap them in foil and put them in a tin while they get stronger.
Next cookie--the swirly looking ones. Those are date pinwheels. It was my great grandmother's recipe. You make the dough and roll it out and then spread the date/nut filling on it. You roll them up, wrap the rolls in wax paper, chill them, and then slice and bake later. This was my least favorite cookie growing up but my favorite now, probably because of my unnatural love of dates. Don't get between me and my medjools. The first time I ever made these on my own, it was December 1995. I remember it vividly because it was the first Christmas in our first house and I was so excited to bake. I mixed and spread the dough, cooked the filling and dumped it right on the rolled dough. . .and ended up with a giant pile of mush. I called my Grandma Moffitt to find out what I had done wrong. She was walking me through the steps and then made a comment about "and of course after you cooled the filling. . ." Oops. So there was nothing pinwheel-y about the date pinwheels that year. They were a drop cookie.
The pink and green cookies are spritz. Other people make these a lot, too. They're basically a butter cookie and made with a cookie press. I like these two shapes the best. Some of the shapes don't hold up well when baking. These cookies burn quickly. I burn at least one tray each year. The boys love these crispy little ones.
The white ball. We call them Russian teacakes, but I've also heard them called Mexican wedding cakes or even choke balls. I have to recount the choke ball story. During the Christmas season one year, the Columbus Dispatch had readers write in with their favorite Christmas cookie story. One woman wrote about how when she was a newlywed, she made these cookies for her new husband. When he tasted them for the first time, he accidentally inhaled as he took a bite of the cookie. For those of you who have never inhaled powdered sugar, it's not a pleasant experience. So the poor newlywed man wheezed and choked and gasped for air because of the wife's cookie. From then on, in their family, this harmless little cookie was known as the choke ball. Declan just choked on one yesterday. But we still refer to them as Russian teacakes.
The last cookie is probably technically a thumbprint cookie, but we call them Norwegian holiday cookies. I wonder if they actually eat those in Norway? I'll have to Google that or look in our Christmas Around the World book. It's a brown sugar dough flavored with almond extract. It's my favorite dough to eat raw. Growing up my Mom used green and red candied cherries in the middle. I never liked those candied cherries and when I would take a cookie out of the cake taker, I'd leave the cherry behind. You could always tell exactly how many I'd eaten. So as a grown up, I followed Tara's lead and eschewed the nasty cherries for jam instead.
I also make two kinds of candy: cashew brittle and toffee. I don't have any pictures of these because they always go first. Declan took a liking to the brittle this year and we had some ugly moments battling for the last few pieces. I think I'll make a batch just for me and eat it while they're at school tomorrow.
We also made cutouts, but the boys ate all those lickety split. As a time saver this year I tried a Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix I saw at Costco. Big mistake. They were horrible. We had to do them again with Ann's Famous Cutout Cookie Recipe.
While I was writing this post I wandered over to take a picture of the cake taker. There were eight date pinwheels languishing in the taker. There aren't eight anymore.
PS: Last night I talked about the Smoking Santa. Here he is. I was too lazy to get up and take his picture last night. Or perhaps I was too bogged down by cookies.