Swapping sweet recipes

Bring some Christmas cookies to the Oak Bluffs library for a cookie exchange.

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Via Wikimedia Commons

As December approaches, magazines full of cookie recipes appear on grocery store racks. Online recipe sites spam me with lists of cookie recipes, each more tempting than the last, and let’s not even talk about Pinterest. There aren’t enough hours in the day, or days in the month, to bake all of these cookies, even if you really, really want to. Fortunately, there’s a way to get some of that variety without spending all of December in the kitchen: the cookie swap.
A few years ago, I was invited to my first (and possibly last) private cookie-swap party, where I managed to commit a major faux pas. I tasted all the cookies. Slowly, I noticed that the other women at the party had no cookies in their hands, no crumbs on their chins. Oops. It turns out that a cookie swap is not about eating, but about getting a variety of cookies to carry home, where you will lay them out in an elegant and impressive display for your holiday guests. Who knew? Apparently everyone but me.
The Oak Bluffs library is hosting its first-ever cookie swap. “This is the manifestation of 10 years of working in libraries and having a deep need for some kind of community sharing event in the library,” says library director Allyson Malik. “The holiday season is about creating and sharing with others. So many people are so busy, and yet still doing so much for others, and I thought this would be a good way to be more efficient about your holiday baking.” Instead of trying out a dozen recipes, you can just choose one that you really like, then benefit from whatever the other participants bring to the table. The goal is to come away with a variety of cookies for your guests.
If you come, bring copies of the recipe or an ingredient list, in case your fellow cookie swappers have allergies — or want to imitate your genius. Each person should bring four dozen cookies. “They don’t have to be big,” Malik says. “These are more like tasting cookies.” She will be making lemon cardamom ginger cookies, which she plans to make with help from her 3-year-old, Owen. A few bakers have already lined up to ensure the swap’s success. “The ringer is e.l. edwards, library friend, and volunteer extraordinaire,” Malik says. If you would like to participate, sign up by calling 508-693-9433, or sign up at the Oak Bluffs library’s circulation desk. The Cookie Swap is Saturday, Dec. 21, at 2 pm.

Christmas Sugar Cookies

This has become my go-to recipe for what I consider “Christmas cookies,” the kind you roll out, cut with cookie cutters, and decorate. They are adaptable for any holiday, with appropriate cutting and decoration. The decoration is always the slowest stage of the process, but also the most fun. These are softer than the ones I used to make, possibly because of the sour cream and/or using sugar instead of flour at the rolling-out stage, which means that they’re more fragile. If I only made one type of cookie this month, it would probably be this one.

Whisk together in a small bowl:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt

Beat together thoroughly in a mixer:
1 cup (2 sticks) softened unsalted butter
1 cup sugar

Add and beat in for 1 minute:
1 large egg
2 Tbsp. sour cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Add the flour mixture in two batches, beating in slowly until just blended. When the dough is mixed, divide it into two balls, flatten into disks, and stick them in the refrigerator for an hour or so. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or nonstick mats.
After chilling the dough, sprinkle sugar on a clean rolling surface and remove one disk of dough from the fridge. Plop the chilled disk onto the sugared surface, then flip it over so that there is some sugar on the top side too. Roll with a rolling pin to ¼-inch thickness, and cut into shapes with cookie cutters, moving them onto the cookie sheet as you go. Mush dough scraps into a ball and roll out again. Repeat with the second half of the dough. Chill cookies for 15 minutes to an hour before baking. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Bake cookies until light golden at edges, about 12 minutes. Cool completely before decorating.

For the icing, whisk together until smooth and spreadable:
4 cups (or more) sifted powdered sugar
3 Tbsp. (or more) whole milk
½ tsp. vanilla extract

Divide icing into smaller bowls if you want different colors, and add food coloring until you get the desired shades. We usually do green, red, and yellow. Alternately, you can leave the icing white and do all of the coloring and decoration with assorted sprinkles, dragées, etc., or paint designs on with colored food markers after the icing has dried.
These only stay soft for a couple of days, but can be frozen for a week or two if you need to keep them longer.

Adapted from Bon Appétit, December 2003, via bit.ly/EpicuriousVersion and bit.ly/TopWithCinnamonVersion.