Thursday, December 16, 2010

Holiday Cooking Overseas: Christmas Cookies

There is nothing that smells like Christmas more than the smell of sugar cookies baking in the oven. I can remember this from my childhood. We'd help my dad string the lights on the tree while my mom baked up a batch of sugar cookie cut-outs in the kitchen.

Oh the memories the thought of that smell brings me now!

I'm one of those people that likes to carry on the traditions we had growing up, are you like that too? And it doesn't really matter that I live in Egypt now. I still like to put up the Christmas tree, decorate the house with poinsettias, and - of course - bake Christmas cookies.

And while the nostalgia of it all sometimes makes me a little more homesick than usual when December 25th comes around, but at the same time it just doesn't feel like Christmas without them.

As most of you know, I have a 1-year-old son. So this time last year, I did not make my usual hoard of Christmas cookies for gifts to family and friends because I'd just given birth to a beautiful baby boy.

Something about not getting a full night's sleep that just takes the baking urge right out of you!

But this year I've been dying to jump back into my Christmas baking. Unfortunately with said 1-year-old, I can only bake when he's taking a nap or in bed for the night. But I still managed to whip up a batch of sugar cookie dough earlier this week while he was sleeping.

The problem is that my tried-and-true recipe for sugar cookies makes 8 dozen cookies! Well, I have a solution for some of those... namely the tea time after church tomorrow, especially since it's Christmas and everyone's bringing cookies. But don't worry, I've got plans for that other 4-dozen sugar cookies that the other half of the dough will make.

Here's the recipe, in case you've been looking for a great recipe (especially if you'd like to share a few cookies with some friends because it makes A LOT):

Classic Sugar Cookies
Makes: 8 dozen cookies

3 cups powdered sugar
2 cups butter, softened (as in room temperature, not melted)
2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. almond extract
2 eggs
5 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. cream of tartar

In LARGE bowl, beat 3 cups powdered sugar, the butter, vanilla, almond extract, and eggs with electric mixer on medium speed (or with a spoon if you don't have a mixer). Stir in flour, baking soda, and cream of tartar. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours.

Heat oven to 375 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease cookie sheet (if you don't have a non-stick one). On lightly floured surface, roll each half 1/8 inch thick. Cut into desired shapes with 3-inch cookie cutters. Place about 2 inches apart on cookie sheet.

Bake 5-7 minutes or until edges are light brown. Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely about 30 minutes.

  • You don't want the dough to warm up too much so only take out enough to roll out cookies for one cookie sheet at a time. Then after you cut out the cookies, roll the scraps up into a ball and put back into the refrigerator to chill before reusing.
  • The thinner the cookies, the better they keep their shape. Something about the Cairo air makes my cookies spread like wildfire in the oven so I make them as thin as evenly possible (watch them if you do this because they may only need 4 minutes if they're really thin).
  • I usually split the dough in half and roll into long logs before wrapping them up in plastic wrap and refrigerating. I find the logs are easier to cut off just enough for one sheet of cookies than a big glob in a bowl.
  • My favorite way to decorate is using sprinkles and egg yolk paint BEFORE the cookies bake. This keeps the cookies simple and less sugary (Egyptians aren't used to really sweet cookies with icing).
  • Make sure you sift the powdered sugar in advance. A great makeshift sifter is a mesh strainer - I actually find this easier to use here because sometimes the powdered sugar in Egypt is really lumpy.

UPDATE - Sugar Cooking Icing Recipe: Combine 3 tbsp softened butter, 1 1/2 cups sifted powdered sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, and 1 1/2 tbsp milk until reaches a smooth consistency. You may want to add more milk if it's too thick for you. Add any color food coloring you like (start with 3-4 drops, then add more drops to darken the color). You can switch out the vanilla for almond extract, lemon juice, or any other flavoring for a different kind of cookie.

    Oh how I love cookies at Christmastime!

    So I'm sitting here now and contemplating if I can manage to make any more cookies. Because you have to understand that my usual Christmas cookie repertoire includes about 6 or 7 different kinds. So whether it's Buckeyes or Thumbprints or - my particular favorite - Christmas Casserole (these delightful little balls filled with dates, walnuts, and coconut) cookies, I am going to try to find the time to make something else as well. 

    What about you? Do you make Christmas cookies at Christmastime? Or do you have a favorite cookie you like to eat this time of year?

    And in case you live in Cairo and don't have the time or energy to make Christmas cookies yourself, you might check out the Sugar n' Spice shop (6 Brazil St, just around the corner from the Mobinil shop) in Zamalek.


    1. i would like to ask, where can you get cream of tartar in egypt?

    2. I have never seen Cream of Tarter in Egypt. Mine is from the States. I did look up some substitution options but it looks like you'd have to substitute baking powder for both the Cream of Tarter and baking soda.


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