There is a woman here in town who, I have no doubt, would defeat Bobby Flay in a Christmas-cookie throw down. Her name is Kelly, and I met her this past summer at a lawn-games Olympics party. After one bite of her legendary cookies, I immediately enlisted her to make a batch for a similarly themed neighborhood gathering. The cookies were the hit of the evening. (Sorry Simone.)
I’ve never asked Kelly for her recipe — I sense it’s treasured — but at one point while we were talking, she let on that cream cheese was the secret. In preparation for holiday cookie season, I did a teensy, teensy bit of research online and found this recipe, and while they’re not quite as delicious (or beautiful) as Kelly’s, they do the job — they hold their shape when baked, they’re sweet, tender, and tasty, and most important, the children love them.
More to the point, the children love making them, which I confess do not. Rolling out dough to a precise thickness, tinting icing to an un-garish hue, piping of any sort — it’s just not in my wheelhouse.
Alas. One day I hope to embrace the challenge of Christmas-cookie baking. For now, I’ll continue a newfound tradition, which requires a neighborhood child at least nine years of age, preferably one named Jane with the most adorable freckles speckling her face. Last Thursday, I handed over the rolling and cutting and decorating reigns to Jane and did my best to stay out of the way.
There was flour everywhere. There were children sitting — standing! — on the table. Not a single cookie’s thickness matched another’s. It took every ounce of restraint not to intervene. I sipped my wine and occupied myself with the dishes and sweeping and tidying. “Let it go,” I kept telling myself, “let it go.” And I did. And the cookies — despite the varying thicknesses, the several decapitated snowmen, the many wingless angels — were delicious.
This dough, I find, is best divided into four portions. I let the children tackle three that evening, and during nap time today, I spent some time with the fourth. As noted, piping and tinting are not my thing, but I can handle a simple royal icing, and I do love festive, decorative sprinkles.
I hope you all had a wonderful weekend. I baked these cookies as part of a “calm and bright cookie night,” a virtual cookie exchange hosted by The Modern Proper.
- For the cookies:
- 16 tablespoons (8 ounces) unsalted butter
- 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 1 1/2 cup (330 g) granulated sugar
- 1 egg
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 3 1/2 (448 g) cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- For the icing:
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 1-3 tablespoons milk
- Sprinkles of your liking
- Combine butter and cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until fluffy. Add sugar; beat until even fluffier. Add egg and vanilla and mix well.
- In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add it to the butter and cream cheese mixture and beat until just combined. Transfer a quarter of the dough to the center of a piece of plastic wrap or wax paper. Pat into a disk, wrap tightly, and chill for at least an hour and up to three days.
- Preheat your oven to 325°F. Roll out your dough on a lightly floured surface or in between two sheets of parchment paper — I’m undecided on what method I prefer — to 1/2-inch thick. Cut out your cookies with cookie cutters of your choice — I like 2-inch circular cutters. Boring, I know. Gather scraps, reroll, and repeat process.
- Bake on parchment-lined cookie sheets for 15 to 18 minutes, or until the edges just begin to turn golden — cookies will be very pale. Remove them from the pan and transfer to a wire rack. Cool completely. Note: I don’t like baking more than one sheet of cookies at a time, but do as you like.
- Meanwhile, make the frosting: Stir together the powdered sugar with 1 tablespoon of the milk. Add more milk a tablespoon at a time to achieve a thick but pourable consistency. Spoon icing onto cookie, spreading to cover. Shower with sprinkles.