Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Reach out this season with the gift of homemade Christmas cookies

One of my best friends in Mexico started a Christmas tradition in the tiny town north of Mazatlán where she lived and farmed. Every year, she would bake hundreds of cookies and give them to local families. She handed out oatmeal, chocolate chip, decorated sugar cookies and gingerbread people — all the classics, plus brownies and a few other bar cookies. Gail’s point was that not many Mexicans bake at home, especially cookies, instead buying them packaged or at the local panadería.

Her neighbors, many of whom were employees at her farm, restaurant and eco-resort, look forward to the sweet treats every year.

In that spirit, the column today is about making cookies — lots of them

I’m encouraging you to make gift boxes or bags to give to your friends and neighbors. There is no evidence that Covid-19 is spread by handling food or eating, and if you’re still on some sort of lockdown, baking festive cookies can certainly add to a happy holiday spirit.

Use your own favorite recipes or try some of mine that I’ve included here.

Dates are currently plentiful, so making these bars right now is a snap.
Dates are currently plentiful, so making these bars right now is a snap.

Date Bars

Dates, especially the big Medjool ones, are everywhere at this time of year. These bars are delicious and easy to make.

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. butter, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 Tbsp. water
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 cups chopped dates
  • ½ cup chopped pecans or walnuts
  • ¼ cup shredded unsweetened coconut
  • Optional: confectioners’ sugar (known in Mexico as azucar glas)

Preheat oven to 325 F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan. Combine brown sugar and butter. Add eggs, beat thoroughly. Add vanilla and water. Toss together the flour, baking powder, salt and spices, then add to the first mixture, beating well. Stir in dates, coconut and nuts.

Pour into prepared pan. Bake for about 25 minutes until firm and lightly browned. Cool for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a rack.

Cut into 1 x 2-inch bars while still slightly warm. If desired, sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar. Makes 32 bars.

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

These are crisp on the outside and soft and fudgy inside.

  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup cocoa
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil OR half coconut oil, half vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ½ cup confectioners’ sugar

Mix cocoa, sugar and oil. Beat in eggs one at a time, then add vanilla. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt; fold into egg mixture. Cover and chill at least two hours.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line cookie sheets with parchment. Roll dough into 1-inch balls, then roll in confectioner’s sugar.

Place on cookie sheet about 1 inch apart. Bake 10–12 minutes.

Make the glaze on this shortbread sweeter by cutting the lime juice.
Make the glaze on this shortbread sweeter by cutting the lime juice.

Cornmeal Lime Shortbread

  • 2–3 limes
  • 1½ cups flour
  • ⅔ cup cornmeal
  • ⅔ cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup cold unsalted butter, sliced into 1-inch chunks
  • ½ cup confectioners’ sugar

Heat oven to 325 F. Grate 1 teaspoon lime zest; place in a food processor. Add flour, cornmeal, sugar and salt. Pulse once or twice to combine.

Add butter. Pulse until mixture resembles fine crumbs. It should be somewhat crumbly and not form a ball. (Alternatively, mix in a bowl using two knives or a pastry cutter.)

Press dough into an even layer in an ungreased 9-inch pie pan. Prick dough with a fork. Bake until golden brown, 40–50 minutes. Cool somewhat, then cut into 12 wedges while still warm.

For the glaze: Halve the zested lime and squeeze 1 tablespoon juice into a small bowl. Whisk in confectioners’ sugar and more lime juice to taste. (More juice makes a thinner, more tart glaze; less juice yields a thicker, sweeter glaze.)

Drizzle over cooled shortbread, then zest remaining lime over icing before it sets. – NYT Cooking

Mexican Wedding Cookies

  • 16 Tbsp. butter
  • About 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ¾ cup chopped pecans or walnuts
  • 2¼ cups flour

Preheat oven to 400 F. In large bowl, combine butter and ½ cup confectioners’ sugar until smooth and creamy. Add vanilla, beat well, then add flour and salt. Stir in nuts.

Roll dough into bite-sized balls about 1 inch in diameter. Place about 1 inch apart on cookie sheet and bake for 10–12 minutes till the bottoms are light brown and the sides and tops are pale yellow.

Remove from oven and roll in confectioners’ sugar a few at a time. Set aside to cool.

When completely cooled, roll again in confectioners’ sugar.

Makes about 48 cookies.

They're called wedding cookies, but they make a great Christmas staple.
They’re called wedding cookies, but they make a great Christmas staple.

Gingerbread People

Molasses can be difficult to find in Mexico. Substitute more brown sugar or piloncillo for the closest flavor match, maybe adding more spices too.

  • 8 Tbsp. butter
  • ½ cup grated piloncillo or brown sugar
  • ½ cup molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 2½ cups flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 Tbsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • Frosting for decorating

Cream butter and sugar; beat in molasses and egg. In separate bowl, mix flour, baking soda, salt and spices. Add dry ingredients to first mixture and beat well. Cover and chill for 1 hour or longer.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 F. Grease cookie sheets. On lightly floured surface, roll dough to desired thickness, from 1 inch thick for soft chewy cookies to ¼ inch thick for crispier ones.

Cut out shapes with cookie cutters; transfer to baking sheets, about 1 inch apart. Bake about 7 minutes.

Remove from oven. Transfer to racks to cool. When completely cool, decorating can begin!

For the frosting:

  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tsp. milk
  • 2 tsp. corn syrup
  • Optional: food coloring

Mix together sugar and milk. Beat in corn syrup until smooth and glossy. Paint onto cookies or pipe with a pastry bag.

Janet Blaser has been a writer, editor and storyteller her entire life and feels fortunate to be able to write about great food, amazing places, fascinating people and unique events. Her first book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats, is available on Amazon. Contact Janet or read her blog at whyweleftamerica.com.

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