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Holiday Cookie Ideas and Tips

Any busy holiday baker will find these cookies indispensable. The dough can be prepared up to three months ahead and stored in logs or bricks in the freezer until it's time to bake.
Martha Stewart Living, December/January 1997/1998

Making Holiday Cookies

For perfect, evenly shaped cookies every time, you can use a small ice-cream scoop to scoop chilled dough onto the baking sheets.

Gingerbread Cookies

This ubiquitous Christmas cookie has a split personality: a flat, crisp side -- ideal for decorating -- and a soft, chewy side.

  1. Basic Gingerbread Cookies

  2. Big Ginger Cookies

  3. Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies

Icebox Cookies

Any busy holiday baker will find these cookies indispensable. The dough can be prepared up to three months ahead and stored in logs or bricks in the freezer until it's time to bake.

  1. Orange Ginger Rounds

  2. Chocolate Wafers

  3. Lime Meltaways

  4. Sugar Cookies

Bar Cookies

These rich cookies, which are baked in a shallow pan and then cut into bars, provide an easy alternative to shaping and baking dozens of individual holiday cookies at a time.

  1. Basic Shortbread

  2. Pecan Squares

  3. Cranberry Lemon Squares

  4. Cheesecake Brownies

  5. Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars

  6. Congo Bars

Decorating and Techniques

Decorating cookies can be as simple as using icing dots to make a gingerbread man's face and buttons, or as challenging as flooding and flocking with bright royal icing and tinted sugar. Follow the techniques below for beautifully iced cookies.

EQUIPMENT
Pastry bag with coupler
#2 tip for piping
#3 tip for flooding small cookies
#5 tip for flooding large cookies

Icing

1. Royal Icing can be made several days ahead of time and stored in pastry bags -- at room temperature if made with meringue powder or in the refrigerator if made with egg whites.

2. The icing can be thickened or thinned by varying the amount of egg whites and sugar. A thinner icing (with more egg whites) is best for flooding, since it spreads more smoothly; a thicker icing (with more sugar) is best for piping.

3. If the colors start to separate, gently massage the bag to remix the icing.

4. To fill a pastry bag: Place the bag tip side down in a glass about 3 inches shorter than it; fold the top of the bag down over the edge of the glass to form a cuff. Using a large rubber spatula, scrape the icing into the bag, filing it to one-half to two-thirds full. Unfold cuff, and close bag with a twist tie.

5. To prevent the tip from clogging, either place a damp paper towel in the bottom of the drinking glass, or insert a toothpick in the tip, and remove it just before piping.

Flooding Cookies

This process coats the entire surface of a cookie with royal icing.

1. Outline half a cookie with piping (thicker) icing, using a #2 tip. Rotate cookie 180 degrees, and outline the other half. Let the icing set, 5 to 10 minutes.

2. With the flooding (thinner) icing, using a #5 tip, draw zigzags over the cookie's surface.

3. Using a small offset spatula, spread the flooding icing evenly within the piping outline. Let the cookie dry overnight at room temperature.

4. When the flooding is dry, use the #2 tip to pipe your chosen design.

Flocking Cookies

This process creates an effect like flocked velvet: Sparkly sanding sugar adds color and texture to the cookies.

1. While the icing is still soft, hold the cookie over a baking sheet, and sprinkle it liberally with sanding sugar -- a large-grain decorating sugar. Let the cookie sit for 30 minutes before shaking off excess sugar. Allow it to dry for several more hours before gently removing stray crystals with a soft pastry brush.

Packaging

Instead of consigning your thoughtfully shaped and baked goods to an old shoe box or used coffee can, try one of the following decorative ideas for storing and presenting them.

1. Pudding molds lined with parchment make excellent vessels for soft chocolate truffles.

2. Long, lidded bread pans, swathed in bright taffeta or velvet ribbon, are the perfect container for delicate cookies like biscotti.

3. A paint box, found in art-supply stores, displays a variety of different cookies in mini cupcake liners.

4. Heavy-duty square cake pans with notched corners are perfect for securing crisscrosses of ribbon or rickrack over parchment-paper lids.

5. Even clear plastic airtight containers make pretty packages when dressed up with lengths of ribbon.

Shipping Tips

Every gift you ship should have two basic lines of defense: It should be well packed in an inner gift box, then well packed in a second, outer gift box.

Choose a box that is appropriate in size to the cookie tin within. This will help keep the tins from shifting and the cookies from breaking.

The ideal cushion is 2 to 3 inches of packing material on all sides.

Reuse or recycle packing material like boxes, Bubble Wrap, and foam peanuts.

Packing Materials

These packing materials will help ensure that your cookies reach their destination in one piece.

Air Popped Popcorn
This inexpensive and environmentally sound material creates an ideal cushion. Toss a scoop or two of popcorn (air-popped, with no oil) at the bottom of the box. Set the cookie tin on top, and surround it with more popcorn.

Bubble Wrap
Line the inside of your cookie tin with two layers of Bubble Wrap, one underneath the cookies and one on top. Pack the tin in a box neatly lined with lengths of Bubble Wrap, then fold the Bubble Wrap back into the margins between the tin and box to form a double cushion.

Eco Foam
This is the environment-friendly cousin of foam peanuts. It is a biodegradable cornstarch product that provides excellent cushioning for fragile cookies. Its only drawback is that it melts when wet, so don't use it to pack any containers that may leak.