By Carolyn Crawford
Over the years, I have been involved in many cookie exchanges. There have been many new favourites added to my recipe collection along the way. I have saved many magazines and cookbooks dedicated to Christmas bars and cookies. Some of the recipes I have were printed on package labels, picked up as a handout, or found in community cookbooks. However, in addition to those (I like to add something new every year!) I still make the ones that were passed down from family and shared by friends. Here are some of my favourite recipes.
More details may found on the Wilton website:
Makes 2 dozen
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp cloves
½ cup solid vegetable shortening
½ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup molasses
Royal Icing for decorating (optional)
Preheat the oven to 375 °F. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, and spices.
In a large saucepan, melt the shortening and cool slightly. Stir in sugar, molasses and egg and mix well.
Add two cups of flour mixture and mix well. Turn the mixture onto a lightly floured surface and knead in the remaining dry ingredients by hand. Add additional flour, if necessary, to make firm dough.
Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to 1⁄4'' thickness. Use cookie cutters of your choice and cut out the cookies from the dough.
Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet until lightly browned on edges for about 10-15 minutes.
Cool on a cookie sheet placed on a cooling rack for three minutes. Remove from the cookie sheet and cool completely on the rack.
Decorate with buttercream or royal icing.
4 cups icing sugar (1 lb)
5 tbsp warm water
4 tbsp meringue powder
Beat all ingredients together until icing forms peaks. Beat for about 7-10 minutes at low speed with a heavy-duty mixer or 10-12 minutes at high speed with a hand-held mixer.
At this point, check the consistency of your royal icing. If icing is too stiff, add more water 1 tsp at a time, until desired consistency is achieved. If icing is too thin, add icing sugar a little at a time until desired consistency is achieved.
Frying Pan Cookies
When my son was little, he used to like rolling these out for me.
1 ½ cup chopped dates
1 cup sugar
5 tbsp butter
2 eggs, slightly beaten
3 cups holiday crispy rice cereal
½ cup chopped nuts
1 tsp vanilla
Ground nuts or fine coconut
Combine dates, sugar, butter, and eggs in a skillet or heavy saucepan until thickened, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; add holiday crispy rice cereal, nuts, and vanilla. Cool enough to handle.
Roll a small cookie scoop’s worth into balls and then roll into ground nuts or coconut. Coconut may be tinted with red and/or green food colouring or left white for a snowball look.
Yield: 30 small balls.
No Bake Cherry Balls
(from Mum’s collection)
1 ½ cup icing sugar (sifted is easier for blending smoothly)
½ cup butter
1 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla extract or ¼ tsp almond extract
1 ½ cup shredded coconut
30-36 red and/or green maraschino cherries with stems if possible (green with stems are hard to find at the grocery store)
Finely crushed graham cracker crumbs or Oreo cookie crumbs
Blend sugar, butter, milk, and vanilla/almond extract together in a mixing bowl until smooth.
Stir in coconut.
Chill for about an hour.
While chilling coconut mixture, drain cherries (reserve juice for another use) and set to dry on a paper towel. Set out coconut mixture for a few minutes to soften for handling. Use a tablespoon sized scoop of coconut mixture and wrap it around each cherry leaving the stem and end exposed enough to see the top of the cherry but having enough to hold it onto the cherry when lifted by the stem. Dip the bottom 2/3 of the covered cherry in either of the crumbs.
Set on a cookie sheet and chill well in the refrigerator until firm.
Cookie Exchange Tips
● Choose an organizer. Have one or two people be the organizers of the group to answer questions or set boundaries. They can invite the participants, set up the space (supply tongs or lifters for picking up the cookies), provide backup supplies (e.g., bring extra containers for those that forget) and make sure (especially if at work) that the area where the ‘cookie walk’ is performed is cleaned up afterwards. Being proactive in preparation prevents any issues from developing.
● Be inclusive! Plan the date of your cookie exchange (at least 4-6 weeks ahead) to include everyone in your group and allow for time to bake during busy schedules. Share the names of the participants so that all can request a favourite or specialty made by those in the group. Keep in mind that not everyone is a star baker—if you do not want store or bakery purchased items make sure that you specify ahead of time that items are only to be homemade. If someone wants to participate but is not a baker, make sure the whole group knows that this is still okay. Set a budget, too. Not everyone can afford luxurious ingredients.
● If the required amount for the exchange is X dozen, make sure you send extras in case some break or fall. Let participants know how many of each they are to take. Providing extra means your group can always sample any leftovers on the spot when everyone has completed their cookie walk. If you are the organizer, make an extra batch that you can bring out at the end if someone is shorted the intended amount.
● Sharing is the name of the game at a cookie exchange! Make out enough copies of your recipe so that each participant has the opportunity to pick one up. Include your handwritten or printed recipe (a simple way is mounted on recycled Christmas cards with pinked edges) with your name, date and location shared on it and, if possible, something special about the recipe and where you got it. Is it historic? Handed down over generations? Have you tried something new? Why have you elected to share this particular one? Including the recipe and its source may be a fun, educational experience in addition to trying something new.
● Sharing the recipe also allows for discovery of any ingredients (eggs, wheat, nuts, coconut etc.) that someone may be allergic to. Be sure to ascertain whether anyone in your group has a food allergy or sensitivity! If someone does, be considerate and avoid those ingredients where possible e.g., using almond flavouring is a no-no. Upon discovery, the organizer or provider, on the day of the swap, should label anything suspicious and keep separate the items that arrive with those ingredients. People generally have the best of intentions but may forget or miss an important detail like this. Make sure the tongs, lifters, etc. stay with the same item to avoid cross contamination just to be on the safe side. If everyone is allergy free, go nuts! Sometimes the use of whole nuts vs. chopped is nice for presentation’s sake.
● Gooey things, while delicious, are difficult to handle. Provide a cookie or bar that is easy to pick up and place in a container or tray. For cookies or bars coated with icing sugar, cinnamon, cocoa etc. do so sparingly. Make any frosted cookies with a stiffer icing. Try piping icing on each individually cut pieces as opposed to spreading across the top of bars.
● Keep colour in mind. Grandma’s favourite chocolate chip cookies are nice, but they look pretty plain on a Christmas tray. Substituting red and green M&Ms for the chocolate chips will add colour to a tray. I have used Christmas sprinkles in plain shortbread to spruce it up. Use egg white and brush on the cookie so sprinkles will adhere to it better. For many cookies and bars, red and green glace or maraschino cherries are an easy colourful addition as is food colouring.
● Shapes-there are all kinds. Cut your bar cookies on the diagonal for an eye appealing look. Cookie cutters are available in many Christmas themes for rolled cookies. Use a cookie scoop to make uniform shaped drop cookies or for no bake round ball cookies. Sandwich style cookies can be cut into fingers. Sugar cookies (made small) can be triple layered with red and green filling.
● Make your entry freezable. That way, if the participants need to take a tray to a party, they can freeze the whole thing for a later date. Bring something (labelled with your name on it) to pick up your item with—tongs, a lifter, etc. Remember to bring an empty container with a lid to carry your treasures home. A freezable one is even better. If you do freeze it, label it with the date and for optimum freshness, use within 2 weeks.
● Most of all, have fun! You can choose a theme (Santas, Gingerbread Everything, Tropical), play music while collecting, or combine the cookie walk with a luncheon or other event. Serve hot apple cider or hot chocolate and enjoy! ◊