Joy, Love & Connection: Christmas Cookies for 2020
I’ve been doing a lot of presentations this week related to my own family traditions around the holidays. One of which is the tradition of Christmas cookies. I have many fond memories of large family gatherings with LOTS of cookies. One of my aunts makes a rice krispie treat-esque wreath every year. It’s so fun and so delicious. Other family members are known for their toffee, cardamom bars, or, my favorites, cream wafers. We have a lot of classics within my extended family and it doesn’t feel as festive without them!
Last year I only made cut outs. This year, maybe because of this blog or maybe because I have more time on my hands, I went hard. I did a mix of family favorites and totally new recipes and was reminded, as if I’d forgotten, why I love baking and sharing food. I hope you find something you’d like to try too.
I spend a lot of time scouring the internet for new recipes. It is definitely one of my latest hobbies. And while there are tons of beautiful looking cookies out there, it has to be the right balance of challenge and simplicity. I like projects, but don’t like unnecessarily complicated things that require a special instrument or ingredient that doesn’t feel practical. There were quite a few cookies that I clicked on, only to read the ingredient list and pass. I loved looking at all these cookies, but ultimately realized my definition of ‘insanely easy’ doesn’t match hers.
All that is to say…the process brings me joy. Finding and trying new recipes is exciting. I approach recipes with a new lens now that I’ve started developing my own and have a new appreciation for the blogs that I love to follow. So here are some things I tried. I hope they bring you joy!
Easy Homemade Toffee
I just made this and am quite happy with the results! I felt nervous to try it because of all the comments I read on other recipes about the sugar and oil separating. It seems the trick is not letting it get too hot. I ended up cooking my toffee for almost 30 minutes before it turned the right color. Once it started change color, it changed fast. So it does need your constant attention. I was drawn to this recipe because she said a thermometer wasn’t necessary and it is poured over almonds, which gives it a little more substance. I chopped the almonds slightly so they weren’t whole. This recipe is from Damn Delicious. Her recipes are always simple and accessible for anyone. Find it here!
Almond Thumbprint Cookies
This is one of my favorite blogs. I’ve listened to a few podcasts with them as guests and find that I really jive with their values. They are focused on whole foods, but certainly appreciate flavor and simplicity as well. In their version of this classic cookie, they make their own jam from scratch. I ended up making quiiiite a few changes- enough that I figured would warrant adapting the recipe for my own. But for now I’ll tell you here: I used store-bought raspberry jam and subbed the regular flour for whole wheat. I made it twice, once with maple syrup and once with half maple syrup and half honey. They did brown quicker with the honey, so watch the cook time if you make that sub too. I didn’t notice any change in the flavor and since maple syrup is sooo expensive here, I thought I’d give it a try. The cookies are great as is, so I skipped the glaze. Although if I were going for aesthetics, I think it would be a nice addition! Find the recipe here.
Chocolate Dipped Churro Shortbread Cookies
Or basically chocolate cinnamon cookies, but I guess her name sounds better. This was one of those cookies that got me for the aesthetics. I loved the photography on her blog post and imagined how cool these were going to look. Mine did not turn out like hers did, but my mom’s did when she made them! After a bit of research I think my problems were based on only having one sheet pan. Putting shortbread on an already hot pan makes it spread and changes the texture completely. Lesson learned! So they just ended up being my own variation. I’m glad I bailed on the rectangle shape…see evidence below:
I’m starting to find more and more recipes that I like on this blog. Find the recipe here.
It was an adventure to find the molasses and I went to four different places with no luck. I asked the teachers I work with and one of them sent me an email that night, telling me she found a place.
My coworkers have made my time here so much better. They have helped me find an inexpensive poinsettia, loaned me a bike seat, driven me to a seafood market (that I never would have found on my own), and called a friend to find out where I could buy molasses.
These small acts are in no way small to me. There are so many days when living in Spain is rewarding. Every experience is an adventure and not many things feel mundane. The flip side of that is that every experience is an adventure and sometimes I’m just not as up for an adventure. The way they jump in to help and support me are acts of love. I am grateful.
With that molasses, I made gingerbread cookies for the first time. These are going to become regulars for me because I absolutely fell in love. They are spicy in a good way and are the perfect flavor changer after a meal or with a cup of tea. The first ones I put in for 10-12 minutes and they were super crispy! I did the second batch for 8-9 minutes and they stayed softer. It’s totally your preference, but I preferred the latter. Give these gingerbread people (no need for gendered cookies amirite?!) a try.
This year is different than other years and that puts a strain on people in different ways. Jackson and I are finding ways to be festive and make our own Christmas special. The Christmas lights in Spain are beautiful and we’re adopting some Spanish traditions as our own…like a seafood dinner on Christmas Eve (not a hard one for us to adopt). My current favorite is our socks hanging by our heater being held up by plants. It cracks me up and is both sketchy and festive.
Food has always been a way to connect with family and when we can’t get together or see family in the traditional way it’s a good reminder of those memories.
I made several things from my family cookbook- cut-outs, cardamom bars, and cream wafers. Cream wafers are not for the faint of heart. They are a lot of work. But, having grown up with them, they hit the spot and taste like Christmas. My variation this year was using beet powder as a way to naturally color the icing. It didn’t change the flavor at all and made it a lovely pink!
I hope you find ways to bring joy, love and connection into your life and the lives of others.
Remember: Small things can be big things, there can be joy in the process, and connection is about both reaching out and reaching in.
Cuídate mucho y felices fiestas!