Hello, and welcome to lucky Episode 13 of Life On the Brink!
I so hope you are enjoying your holiday season, even though it undoubtedly looks different this year. Even though we're not able to celebrate in the same ways this Christmas, I've been enjoying personal traditions. One of which that is still part of my holiday routine this year is BAKING!
I feel like a lot of people, even if you're not a "baker", like to bake during Christmas time. It's a time of celebration when we all take the time to make little sweet things that we might not enjoy during the rest of the year. So today we're talking about Christmas baking and, in particular, Christmas cookies.
I feel like this is the year for cookies, as opposed to cakes or more involved pastry. Cookies are portable and giftable, and all-around lovely. They don't have to be showy, just tasty.
Today I'm sharing some of my favorite cookies to make at Christmastime, some fun facts on cookie popularity, and lots of cookies inspiration.
First, though, let's start with a bit of history. I love looking into this kind of thing, and now we can all become Christmas cookie scholars.
LET'S HIT THE BOOKS
A little history:
It turns out that people have been celebrating and feasting around the winter solstice for centuries, and once Christmas became established during the Middle Ages, the feasts continued. Of course, we need a little something sweet at the end of a celebratory dinner, and since butter, lard, and sugar were hard to come by, sweets cookies would have been something to be savored only at special occasions.
I found this great article on the history of the Christmas cookie, and loved this little quote from it.
“Christmas flavors like cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger...those are exactly the same spices medieval cooks would have used in their cookies ages ago. Gingerbread is a classic Christmas cookie, and yet it’s also a cookie that would have tasted strikingly similar back in the Middle Ages. Ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and mace combine to make a snappy, spicy taste, just like they would have back then. And gingerbread uses molasses as a sweetener, something that medieval cooks would appreciate as refined sugar was so expensive. These cooks would not have made gingerbread men, however. The first person to try that was none other than Queen Elizabeth I of England, who had the cookie molded into the shapes of her favorite courtiers.”
That is so extra and I love it.
Around the world:
These are a few of my favorites and where they come from...
-Italy: pizzelle (this one is also made at Easter)
-Austria: linzer cookie (originally the linzertorte)
-Russian tea cakes: this one is a bit of an oddball. It turns out that no one really knows where this cookie came from, though it's become a tradition in many places. Mexican wedding cakes, Italian wedding cookies, butterballs, meltaways, etc. They're all basically the same thing.
I found several different articles polling the United States population, and across the board, these 5 were in the top results no matter what:
-Chocolate chip (this is my favorite recipe these days)
-Snickerdoodles (been wanting to try this recipe)
-Fudge (idk if that counts but ok)
**If you want to look at all the stats, check out these articles:
MY GO-TO CHRISTMAS COOKIES
-Lemon cookies: This recipe is a bit of an original. It was developed from a Land-O-Lakes magazine recipe called "Lemon Pecan Snowdrops" (I think), and has become a signature sweet of mine. They're super simple, so here's a little breakdown recipe for you:
-2 sticks butter, softened
-1/2 c sugar
-2 c flour
-zest of 1 lemon
(if the dough is too dry, add just a splash of milk)
-juice from 1 lemon
-cream the butter and sugar together, then mix in the flour in batches until incorporated. Mix in the lemon zest. Add a splash of milk if the dough is too dry to stay together
-roll dough into 1" balls and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 325 degrees for 20 minutes. They'll be a little brown on the bottom, but pretty pale on top.
-transfer to drying rack and let cool.
-to make the glaze, start with 1 cup confectioners sugar and add a few tablespoons of lemon juice. Whisk together until it forms a sticky glaze. Feel free to add more sugar or lemon juice until you've got enough and it's the right consistency.
-when the cookies are cool, dip the tops of the cookies in the glaze and let set on a drying rack.
(makes about 3 dozen cookies, or thereabouts)
-Biscotti: It means "twice baked" in Italian, and they're wonderful. You can usually find biscotti in bookstores or coffee shops, but homemade are so much better. If it's rock hard, it's not right; biscotti are delightfully crunchy. Apparently they're perfect with coffee, and this year I plan to test that theory. I love these chai spice biscotti, personally, they're crisp and light and cozy.
-Scones: I know this doesn't really count as a cookie, but they're in the same realm and are super great for little impromptu holiday gatherings (or by yourself). Scones are great because they're not too sweet, and they're literally made for tea. I made these apple cinnamon scones recently and they're so so good. Set some scones next to a little jam, make a little tea, light a candle and you're set.
In case you need a little more inspiration...
-Even if you can't bake for events this year (social gatherings are limited to 10 people here in Virginia), cookies are always such a great gift. I like getting those cute little cellophane bags and adding a little ribbon, it's so sweet. I've found that something homemade is always appreciated, and if you ever bake something special for someone with an allergy or dietary restriction, it shows you care in a very sweet way.
-Of course, you could always take it to the next level and make a whole cookie box. Do the whole postage thing and everything. Tieghan over at Half Baked Harvest (never won't talk about her now) does a new box each year and wow, does this look amazing. I think this would also be great as like a care package situation, maybe for loved ones that you can't see this year.
-For tons of inspiration, I highly HIGHLY recommend The Great British Bake Off, but the holiday specials. There's a separate collection on Netflix, and each episode not only inspires me with the flavor combinations, but is just so warm and lovely that it just makes me so happy. Even if you know what you're going to bake, still watch these!
This Week's Little Joy: My family has a consistent tradition of going to Busch Gardens during their Christmastown event, so when we couldn't go this year we decided to DIY the whole experience ourselves. We had smoked turkey legs, waffle fries, green beans, wassail punch, hot chocolate, cookies (I baked, of course), and watched walk-throughs on Youtube of the various and light displays, and watched recordings of our favorite shows. We reminisced on past years and really did feel like we captured the magic of that tradition. I loved it, and I know we'll remember it for years and years. We're still able to celebrate this year!
What I'm Listening To: This is the playlist I made for that little gathering. If you've ever been to Christmastown, it'll be a lovely atmospheric holiday trip. If not, no worries, it's still a cute little collections of European Christmas carols, American vintage classics, and amazing movie soundtrack instrumentals. Some of these recordings are just so incredibly beautiful.
I highly recommend listening on shuffle, it's like soundtrack popcorn.
Thank you so much for tuning in this week. If you'd like, leave a comment linking your favorite Christmas cookie recipe.
Or go ahead and rate or review the podcast wherever you're listening!
Until next time, friends, I wish you a very merry week!