Cookies mean Christmas to me. I’ve fond memories of my mother piping spritz cookies in the shapes of wreaths, crosses, and trees onto baking sheets. It was always a magical moment when Mom would sprinkle chocolate chips over hot toffee cookies and the heat would turn them gooey and shiny.
She’d roll out Kolachkys and spread them with apricot or poppy seed fillings, she’d dip irons coated with batter into hot oil to make the delicate rosettes, and roll sandcastle-fragile almond crescents in powdered sugar.
Any idea how hard it is to try to make Santa’s “nice” list by hunkering down to homework when those delicious sweet and buttery smells are wafting from the kitchen?
I’m grown now and Mom is half a continent away, so I’ve started my own Christmas patisserie tradition — the Cookie Painting Party. Last year was kind of a trial run, but this year ran like chocolate at a Hershey’s factory.
My day began at six when I pulled the dough I made the week before from the fridge and baked bread. It’s a mostly foolproof method and, although there’s a bit of prep at the onset, it’s easy and the results are fabulous.
Sail-charter captain Diane Hartmann (who is also my BFF and housemate) and I set up a table in the living room for my chili, bread, and the potluck goodies to come. I started rolling out and cutting cookie dough (which I made and refrigerated the night before) at one o’clock. Last year I waited until the guests arrived before starting, and that put me behind. I doubled the recipe (which follows) but, it turns out, didn’t need to. There was a lot of dough left over.
By two, when women from my Zumba classes, my ballroom group, the CSA I volunteer at, and lots of old friends started gathering in my kitchen, I had several baking sheets covered with cut-out cookie blanks ready for painting. The friends who were new to the process doubtfully eyed the brushes and small containers of “paint.” Really — applying egg yolk and food coloring onto raw cookie dough?
Besides my turkey chili and bread, the table in the living room began filling with such delectables as turkey soup with orzo, artichoke dip, hummus (naturally), and one of artist, landscaper, and cooking teacher Teresa Yuan’s yummy Asian noodle creations.
Cathy Nee — whom I’m considering elevating to best-pal status — brought gingerbread martinis. Because four of the six ingredients are liquor and we had a mission, we sipped. That took a lot of restraint.
The experienced and reluctant painters gathered around the dining room table, and began to work. Manipulating shared cookie sheets of raw dough blanks elicited laughter and conversation among women who’d only just met. Half-size cookie sheets (available at LeRoux) allowed some cookie artists to work solo.
Brenda Buck, a part-time pharmacist at the hospital, brought dough for Red & White Sugar Cookie Pinwheels. These were the first into the oven, and quickly devoured while still warm. Brenda substituted raspberry extract for the peppermint and used jimmies instead of sprinkles — and we all agreed the results were terrific.
Soon the first batch of adorned cookies was ready for the oven. When I took them out, I was redeemed. We oohed. We aahed.
By three, the neophyte cookie painters had mastered the art and fabulous creations were emerging from the oven. I was rolling and cutting like an elf on deadline now, and still couldn’t keep up with the demand. I would do one roll-out for each chunk of dough and tossed the scraps back into the fridge.
By four, we were hot, exhausted, fed, and fortified by martinis. I’d made a lot of small cookies for the learning curve, and we all got to taste some of the rejects. The painters picked out their masterpieces and we packaged them up for the trips home. There was a lot of dough left over, and, because I would be leaving the Island for a week and wouldn’t have time to use it, almost everyone took some.
At four-thirty a few women remained, sitting around the dining room table, indulging in the martinis, and admiring our work. I quickly rolled out one more tray, and, while enjoying the conversation, painted my own bunch.
So, the recipe follows. One batch makes about seven dozen 3-inch cookies. The dough can also be baked without the “paint,” and decorated with icing and fancy sugars when cooled. I’ve also included a meringue cookie recipe you can make with all the leftover egg whites.
I’ve not included the nutrition and calorie contents because you don’t want to know. It’s Christmas: indulge.
Painted Christmas Cutouts
2 cups butter, softened
1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
2 cups sugar
2 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla extract (The good stuff. Don’t cheap it out. Makes a difference.)
4-½ cups all-purpose flour
In a mixing bowl, cream butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add sugar, egg yolks and vanilla. Mix well. Gradually add flour. Make into disks (adding flour just as needed), wrap in plastic wrap and chill two hours or until firm (I do this the evening before I want to roll them out and refrigerate overnight).
Take out one disk at a time and let it sit at room temperature for a few minutes before rolling. Roll on a floured surface to ¼”. Cut with cookie cutters. I begin with small, simple ones so that the painters can get used to the brushes and techniques before tackling larger ones. Place on cookie sheets.
Using clean brushes, paint with egg yolk paint. Don’t cheap out on brushes: you don’t have to spend a lot, but if the brushes are ten for a dollar, you’re going to find brush hairs in your cookies.
Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes (cookies should be set and barely browned around the edges). Cool 5 to 10 minutes on cookie sheets, then remove to cooling racks.
Approximately seven drops of food coloring per color
1 egg yolk per color
Put egg yolks into small containers. Add the food coloring and stir until well-blended.
Mini Chip Meringues
Note: If possible, wait for a dry day to work with meringue. Humidity makes it very difficult to handle. Also, believe it or not, older egg whites work better than fresh.
4 large egg whites
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. cream of tartar
1 cup sugar
2 cups (16 oz.) Semi-sweet mini chocolate chips
Beat egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar in a small mixer bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar. Beat until stiff peaks form. Gently fold in the chocolate chips, a little at a time. Drop by level tablespoons (or pipe if you’re brave) onto greased baking sheets.
Bake at 300 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until the meringues are dry and crisp. Cool on sheets for two minutes then remove to wire racks to cool completely. Store in airtight containers.
Debra Gaines’s recipe for Gluten-free/dairy-free/sugar-free Christmas Cutout Cookies
2 ½ cups blanched almond flour
½ tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 egg (beaten)
½ cup coconut oil (melted)
3 tbs. agave syrup
3 tbs. honey
2 tbs. vanilla extract (bourbon)
½ tsp. orange zest
Mix almond flour, salt and baking soda in one bowl.
Mix beaten egg, agave, honey, vanilla, orange zest and the coconut oil (warm, not hot so as not to cook the egg) in another bowl.
Combine in one bowl or a food processor like I did to really mix the ingredients together.
Roll dough into one or two big balls, wrap each one in wax paper and chill until dough is firm and can be rolled out. (This step took a lot longer than I thought it would. In fact, I finally put it in the freezer. I recommend making this dough the night before you wish to use it; but the freezer did work!)
Roll dough out either between wax paper sheets or with a light gluten-free flour (such as rice flour). Cut out the shapes and place in a greased cookie sheet.
Add sprinkles if desired, or leave plain to frost later (coconut cream would be awesome).
Bake at 350 for 11–12 minutes.