Every year growing up, I looked forward to our Christmas cooking making tradition with a very old (preschool!) friend of mine, Courtney. Now that we both live in LA, we decided to revive our tradition with our own kids who are close in age. This is our second year doing it as adults and it’s such a fun special tradition. Courtney is the baker and cookie orchestrator. I host and provide grub and drinks (I also pre-make some of the dough). I hope you can learn how-to create your own holiday cooking tradition with your family and friends (even if you don’t bake)! You can use this step-by-step guide for any holiday, birthday party or snowy cookie day at home.
Courtney happened to be coming from a holiday party brunch and looked amazing. Cookie party muse!
These are tried and true recipes. They are simple and delicious. We try to make at least sugar and gingerbread cookies every year for some variety. This year, life felt too busy and we just made sugar cookies and it was fine!
You can make all of these recipes ahead of time, but the gingerbread dough is the only one that is actually easier make at least a couple hours ahead.
Sugar Cookies – The best part about this sugar cookie recipe is that you do not have to make it ahead of time and chill. A few add on tips to the recipe –
– Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and start working the dough. It’s hard to know if it’s the right consistency (and whether it needs a touch of water) unless you start to form it.
Gingerbread Cookies – This is the Cook’s Illustrated recipe for gingerbread cookies and it doesn’t disappoint.
Thumbprint Jelly Cookies – These are one of my favorites as a child with apricot jam. We haven’t made them as adults, but they’r e on my list.
Royal Icing – We love using royal icing for cookies. It is easy to make and work with. I love how simple it is for kids to spread. It also dries firm so the cookies can stack to take home and give as gifts. In contrast, buttercream frosting dries with only a thin hard layer, so you cannot stack items. If you didn’t pre-order the meringue powder, or grab it from Michael’s, you can always make buttercream frosting. TIP: Courtney recommends adding the juice of ½ lemon and a teaspoon of vanilla extract.
The Process – Cookie Organization
Pre-Make – Our collective four kids are aged seven and under so we pre-make and roll out the cookie dough and the frosting. As your kids get older, you can make the dough and frosting together. It involves more down time, but you can let the gingerbread cookie dough cool while starting on the sugar cookies. Let the kids play in between activities. Let them play while you pre-make the dough and frosting.
Divide the dough into balls about 1/8th of the finished dough. Roll out a sheet of dough for each child. After removing the cut cookies to be baked, let the kids re-roll and cut the remaining dough. Start baking right away so there is little down time before the frosting. Crack a window near the cookie racks to speed up the process.
Decorate cookies on individual plates to avoid decorations getting everywhere.
Parental involvement is key for a less messy and seamless process, especially when working with young kids. We use all hands on deck to supervise the frosting (especially if not using piping bottles/bags) and cookie decorations.
The good thing about getting into the practice of cookie making is that the majority of the below supplies can be used year after year. Please get all ingredients detailed in the above recipes. This is a high-level list of helpful kitchen items for cookie making.
- Standing or hand mixer for the cookie and frosting recipes (a quick tip for a standing mixer is to loosely cover your mixing bowl with a towel to avoid splatter)
- Meringue powder, unless you decide to make buttercream frosting
- Cookie decorations – Edible sprinkles and glitter glitter, chocolate chips, regular and mini M&M’s and/or dried coconut flakes. Michael’s has a good selection of fun sprinkles and small candies. These are everyone’s favorite.
- Cookie cutters – pick up a few every year and your collection slowly grows
- Cookie sheets
- For frosting application, you either need piping bags, squeezable bottles and/or small dishes and butter knives. The latter two are easiest for kids.
- Food coloring for frosting. Gel food coloring creates the most brilliant colors.
- Disposable table cloth
- Paper plates for icing the cookies
- Plastic bottles for piping (we forgot them this year and used butter knives)
- Rolling pins – you can always use a can or bottle
- Toothpicks for spreading frosting
- Parchment paper – pre-cut sheets are easiest. Key for non-burnt and evenly cooked cookies.
- Baking pans
- Cooling racks – not essential, but it helps with moving things along.
- Tins, decorative bags and boxes to store the cookies. Big Lots or the Dollar Store tend to have these. Kids often want to give the cookies to teachers and neighbors the next day. Stay ready.
Cheers to new holiday traditions with those we love!