I don’t know about you, but when the leaves fall from the trees, the birds fly south, the horse’s water bucket starts freezing over and the barn cat spends most of her time in the cat bed, it’s time to start baking for the holidays.
The cookie baking season seems earlier this year because of the weather, but I got a wake-up call when my neighbor (thanks, Barb!) dropped off an assortment of her cookie baking episode —it’s time to get a move on.
Now, I’m looking for sales on butter and confectioners’ sugar, nuts and diced fruit. I try to stock up during the year, but somehow that doesn’t always work and when the cookie baking list comes out this time of year, it can be a bit daunting.
The secret to holiday baking success, which is not such a secret anymore, because we seem to rush right through the fun holidays, like Halloween, and skip right over Thanksgiving as if it were just another Thursday, is to start your Christmas baking early.
Online reader Carol Johnson must have had this in mind because she called recently to ask for a reprinting of my rum ball recipe. This is an especially good choice to get going on as these rum balls not only taste better as they age, but they ship really well without too many precautions.
When I make these, I always reflect on the other reason for baking this time of year — in addition to baking up tasty treats, we reheat precious memories of Christmas past. The rum ball recipe comes from one of my husband’s guitar students who smelled the cookie baking one week and came back the next week with his mom’s favorite recipe. These became a favorite in my house in no time.
Gathering a friend or two or three to help with a cookie baking spree is another good way to enjoy the holidays — it’s really about the people we spend time with that makes the memories. And those memories will last a lot longer than the cookies.
Makes 6 dozen
4 cups vanilla wafers, crushed
2 cups pecans, finely ground
2 cups powdered sugar
4 Tbsps. cocoa powder
4 Tbsps. maple syrup or dark Karo syrup
2/3 cup dark rum
Extra 2 cups powdered sugar
In a bowl, combine crushed vanilla wafers, pecans, powdered sugar and cocoa. Stir in the maple syrup and dark rum to form a sticky mixture. Using a teaspoon, form 1-inch balls and roll them in the extra powdered sugar to coat. Store in a tightly sealed container for at least one week to develop flavor.
My granny’s favorite — she made these all year and you always could smell them before you even got your foot in the kitchen.
3/4 cup butter or margarine
3/4 cup margarine
1/2 cup molasses
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 large eggs
4 1/2 cups flour
4 tsps. baking soda
1 tsp. ginger
2 tsps. cinnamon
1 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. nutmeg
Additional sugar in small bowl
Cream together the butter, margarine, molasses, sugars and eggs. Sift together dry ingredients and stir in until well incorporated. Form into small balls about an inch in diameter. Roll each ball in sugar, flatten slightly and set about 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Freeze until ready to use. Bake at 350 F for about 10 minutes.
— My grandmother made a version of these with molasses while my granny always used sorghum.
Makes 6 dozen
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup molasses or sorghum
1 cup butter (two sticks), softened
1 cup sugar
2 tsps. ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
5 cups all-purpose flour
Measure molasses and stir in the baking soda. Set aside.
In large bowl, combine butter with sugar, ginger and salt until creamy. Beat in molasses mixture and egg. Gradually add flour. On lightly floured surface, knead dough until thoroughly mixed, kneading in remaining 1/4 cup flour if necessary.
On floured surface, with floured rolling pin, roll dough out to 1/4-inch thick. Use floured cookie cutters to get as many cookies as possible; reserve trimmings. Place cookies, 1/2 inch apart, on ungreased large cookie sheet. Reroll trimmings and cut out more cookies.
Bake cookies eight to 10 minutes, until edges begin to brown. Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool.
When cookies are cool, frost with prepared icing. Let dry completely before storing between layers of waxed paper in a tightly closed container.
— These were always my mom’s favorite cookie and I make them every year.
1 cup butter
2 cups brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
4 cups flour
1-1/2 cups dates, chopped
2/3 cup water
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup walnuts, finely chopped
Cream together butter, sugar and eggs. Sift dry ingredients together and add. Stir by hand until well-blended. Place dough in refrigerator to chill while you make the filling.
In a heavy stockpot, combine the dates, water and sugar and cook over low heat about 30 to 45 minutes or until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in nuts. Let chill.
Remove chilled dough from refrigerator and divide into fourths. Roll out each portion to a rectangle. Spread one-fourth of the filling on each rectangle and roll up from the short size making a log.
Stick each cookie log in the freezer until firm. You can freeze these if you wrap them up air-tight; remove as needed and proceed with recipe.
Remove a cookie log from freezer and slice into 1/4-inch thick circles.
Bake on a paper-lined cookie sheet in a preheated 325 F oven for about 10 to 15 minutes or until set and lightly browned.