I don’t know if it is the great New England guilt instilled in me during my childhood, but it seems as if it is cheating and self-indulgent to buy Christmas cookies. It is fine fifty weeks out of the year to pick up a crackly package of Oreos, or Pepperidge Farm Milanos to have around as the little bit of a sweet after dinner. And it is good for your soul and the spirit of Juliette Gordon Low to buy from those cute, yet oh, so extortionist Girl Scouts peddling Thin Mints from wobbly card tables in front of the grocery store. (Although soon you are going to be able to stock up on Girl Scout cookies online. Waistbands will be let out and Fitbits will find themselves stashed in drawers!)
At the holidays we can exude all the confidence and patience of leisurely home bakers, who know their way around pastry bags and macarons, who can bake with cool expertise, with a keen eye for decorations and original flavor combinations. Cardamon anyone? But we don’t have to have Martha’s skills, or her penchant for perfection. We are welcoming the children home, with open arms. Home-baked cookies smell like home. At the end of a long day of work, after dinner and between loads of laundry and Scandal, we can start to lay in a temporary supply of the childhoods that shot out the door, faster than any of us expected. All these memories distilled into a few batches of slightly irregularly-shaped and sketchily decorated cookies, to show everyone how much we love them.
And then you must consider your gluten-free guests and newly significant others, and those who are swearing off chocolate, and those allergic to nuts, the sugar-free vegans and the merely sensible. I bought two pounds of butter yesterday in anticipation of baking, when there are just two human beings living in this house right now. Somehow the ratio just doesn’t seem right. We must bake for the approaching locust swarm.
We will be entertaining a houseful of young folk, thank goodness, who have been surviving on their own marginal cooking skills, with a generous side of cheap take out. I am hoping most of the fattening baking will be Hoovered up, if not appreciated and savored, with glancing thoughts of the second grade, and rolling cookie dough on the kitchen counter, learning to sift, learning to use cookie cutters. And the fine art of sprinkles!
Perhaps we will even be asked for recipes! I am definitely going to try those Bacon Fat Ginger Cookies I mentioned last week, as well as some old favorites. There is something very satisfying about a sheet of warm, crumbly shortbread. We might dandy it up this year by dipping some in melted chocolate, and indulging in a smackeral of dragées and aforementioned sprinkles.
I am also going to try some of Nigella’s Intense Chocolate cookies. They sound divine, and look divinely simple to prepare, too. Simple is key, especially when you suddenly veer from comfortably cooking for two, to preparing fuel for the endless maw that defines several recent college graduates and a couple of sleep-deprived new parents.
I have been watching some episodes of The Great British Bakeoff which I cannot recommend too highly – it will start here on PBS under an Americanized name on Sunday, December 28, so do look for it. I have never been a reality show fan, but this has seized my attention and grabbed me by the lapels. It has gotten me thinking about balance. So instead of just sweet, over-the-top cookies, I will also be baking some savoury biscuits, to use the proper toffee-nosed parlance. Cocktails will be served, and crisp cheese biscuits are never amiss in my drawing room.
Simon Hopkinson’s Easy Cheesy Biscuits
Here are all sorts of Christmas cookie possibilities for your own Christmas bakeoff: http://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/desserts/slideshow/cookies-cookies-cookies/?slide=1
Bacon Fat Ginger Cookies
“They were almond cookies, although they could have been made of spinach and shoes for all I cared. I ate eleven of them, right in a row. It is rude to take the last cookie.”
― Lemony Snicket, Who Could That Be at This Hour?