Of all the wonderful treats that surround us at this time of year, the ones that really slay me are homemade Christmas cookies. The truth is most of the time a good cookie is something I find impossible to resist. So when people ask me what I miss most about the bakery I had in what seems like another lifetime, my answer is always the same: our holiday cookie platters.
Like our customers, I would so delight in having an assortment of a dozen or so different varieties of scrumptious miniature cookies all at my fingertips. Unlike most bakeries, we made our cookies small so that one could easily indulge in several flavors at once. With an assortment so varied there was something for everyone. A twist was put on the classics like powdery white snow balls made with browned butter, hazelnut shortbread shaped into small candy canes – a drizzle of raspberry liqueur glaze provided the requisite stripes.
There were pinky finger-sized slices of cranberry-pistachio biscotti, toasty meringues drops splashed with bittersweet chocolate and all of the past year’s cake mistakes came out of the box in the bottom of our freezer to be toasted, crumbled, soaked and rolled into balls of boozy, chocolaty bliss.
But what really made each and every platter uniquely wonderful was that it came with its own assortment of hand-decorated sugar cookies. Each one a colorful, edible piece of art designed by one of our many creative barristas during the afternoon lull. There were no rules and no two were alike.
Cooking rituals are deeply satisfying and I think perhaps some of the richest – both in experience and in output – are those that occur during the holiday season. While I rarely make cookies anymore, the tradition lives on with our kids whose grandmother began an annual ritual of creating artful platters of buttery cookies one weekend in December when our oldest was just 3-years-old.
Orange-scented sugar cookies, made from our old bakery recipe, are not only cut into the typical holiday trees and wreaths, but other shapes the kids have since deigned traditional — like the Christmas turtle or the delicate fleur de lis. Each lovingly decorated with a lot of brilliantly colored frosting to become whatever sparks their imagination. Stars become sea stars, round ornaments smiley faces or jelly fish and the gingerbread man whose arm breaks off may get a gush of red frosting at the point of injury.
We’ve seen television characters from Pokémon, Sponge Bob and Saturday Night Live (remember Mr. Bill?) all proudly unveiled on those colorful platters of sweets. As much as I might yearn for the varieties of cookie platters past, the truth is I only have a few ultimate favorites. I’m happy our kids cover one of those with their butter cookie collection and chances are I will make one of my other two — snowballs or bourbon balls — for my own sweet, ritualistic pleasure.
Try this recipe for Orange-Scented Sugar Cookies with Buttercream Frosting!
Looking for more great recipes? Get a free copy of our winter holiday eCookbook – A Winter Feast to Remember!