Simple Gifts | B. Chase Wall

Christmas is just around the corner and time flies as the holiday draws near. Being a last-minute shopper has left me forgetting gifts for at least one or two people most years. A simple solution I’ve found is cookies. Christmas cookies traditionally include gingerbread cookies, sugar cookies, as well as peanut butter blossoms. In the 1930s, leaving cookies and milk for Santa took off as an American holiday tradition. During the Great Depression, parents wanted to teach their children to be thankful while also encouraging them to give to others. This tradition has continued through the years, morphing into friends and coworkers giving each other baked goods during the holiday.

Baking Christmas cookies for family members and friends has been an on-again, off-again tradition in my family for years. Some years, cookies were made from already prepared dough that just needed to be placed on a pan and baked. Yet, I believe this took something away from the holiday tradition. I prefer to bake from scratch because it adds an additional layer of sweetness to the gift of baked goods. It also provides hilarious stories of people covered in flour and sugar. By the time I am done baking, my clothes have turned white from the flour I’ve spilled and I have sugar on my face where I scratched an itch.  

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Peanut Butter Blossoms

Warning: make sure the recipient does not have a peanut allergy.

Preparation Time: Twenty-five minutes

Cook Time: Seven to ten minutes per batch

Servings: About four dozen

Oven: 350°

Items may need:

One large bowl, a measuring cup (that can measure at least to one cup), one spoon (I prefer using wooden spoons), an electric mixer (optional), a spatula, measuring spoons, and pans

Ingredients:

½ cup sugar

½ cup packed brown sugar

½ cup smooth peanut butter

½ cup butter (or shortening)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon baking soda

1 egg

2 tablespoons milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour

¼ cup sugar

Hershey Kisses

Step 1. Make sure you have all the ingredients. I always add this step to any recipe I plan to complete, after multiple experiences of finding myself half-way through a recipe to find I am missing at least one important ingredient.

Step 2. Mix the butter (or shortening) and peanut butter in a large bowl. This can be done with an electric mixer or by hand.

Step 3. Add the 1/2 cup sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, and baking soda. Mix until combined. Make sure to scrape the bowl (I tend to use a plastic spatula for this) after mixing the ingredients together.

Step 4. Add the milk, egg, and vanilla.

Step 5. Mix in the flour. I do this in three or four stages because mixing flour into the dough tends to be a more difficult task than the other steps. Trying to mix all the flour into the dough at once would result in very slow going, rough mixing that would mostly likely leave an incredible, white mess everywhere.

Step 6. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. I wait until I have completely mixed the dough before I turn my oven on, a habit I’ve picked up so I don’t leave my oven on for excessive amounts of time.

Step 7. Shape the dough into balls. Betty Crocker recommends one inch balls. I find this to be a tricky task to accomplish, so I tend to just make sure all my cookie dough balls are generally the same size and are a moderate size.

Step 8. Make sure to roll your cookie dough balls in the one-fourth cup of sugar before placing them on the pan. This is a step I tend to forget, so I make sure I put the sugar somewhere I will see before I accidentally bake the cookies first.

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Step 9. Place the cookie dough balls on the cookie sheets. Make sure to leave enough space between each ball to make sure they don’t all turn into one big pan cookie.

Step 10. Bake each batch ten to twelve minutes, six or seven for my fast cooking oven. All ovens tend to cook a little differently than others, so it is a good idea to keep an eye on the cookies when baking.

Step 11. Press a Hershey kiss onto the top of each cookie as soon as they come out of the oven. I find having Hershey kisses already unwrapped can make this step easier.

Now, I understand the peanut butter blossoms take some time; something people tend to run short on around the holidays. So, here is another Christmas cookie which takes less time to make and is equally delicious. A twist on an old family tradition that my mom rediscovered through one of her friends: the forgotten kisses. A simple meringue cookie with a Hershey kiss in the center.

Forgotten Kisses

Here is a similar recipe which shows the different steps.

Items may need:

One medium bowl, an electric mixer, measuring spoons, a measuring cup, and pans

Ingredients:

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup sugar

White of one large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla (optional)

Step 1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. For this recipe, the oven does need to be heated first.

Step 2. Mix the salt and egg white in a bowl. This will need to be done with an electric mixer. The desired effect is to mix the egg white and salt until they form a white: a mixture that should be mixed until it then forms stiff white peaks. I find that the trickiest part of this recipe is retrieving the white of an egg, therefore I recommend having more than one egg in case you have as much trouble as I do.

Step 3. Pour the sugar in slowly, a little bit at a time. Mix until the mixture has stiffened.

Step 4. Stir in Hershey kisses, making sure to cover them in the mixture as you do. I recommend you do this in steps, pouring in a few Hershey kisses, stirring them in, and pouring more Hershey kisses in if you find you can cover more in the white, frosting-like dough.

Step 5. Place on a pan, allotting one Hershey kiss per cookie. The cookies may come out in funny shapes, but if the Hershey kiss is covered, it is alright. These cookies do not need to be separated as much as other cookies because they will stay relatively the same size once cooked.

Step 6. Once the oven heats to 350 degrees, shut it off. Yes, shut the oven off.

Step 7. Place the cookies in the now-turned-off oven. I make these cookies at night and then leave them in the oven overnight. They are sensitive to air and moisture, so I make sure not to open the oven again until they are done.

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One warning for this recipe is to make sure other people who may use your oven know the cookies are there. They are flammable (their main ingredient is sugar— a flammable carbohydrate) as I found out one year when my mom forgot to tell anyone she had made these cookies and they were in the oven. I turned the oven on one morning, intending to make muffins. My inability to smell left me unaware of the burning cookies. My mom ran down the stairs yelling, causing my dad to race to the oven, and rapidly grab the pan of cookies from it. He threw the cookies, each individually on fire, outside and that was the death of that batch of cookies.

In the end, the hardest part of making cookies (to give as gifts) is making sure enough cookies survive to give to friends, family, and coworkers. It’s tough enough to keep my brother from eating all the uncooked cookie dough, but once they’ve come out of the oven all bets are off. Miraculously though, every year, enough cookies make it past my dad and brother to then be packaged into small, holiday-decorated boxes. The next and final step is to hand them out. Then, I enjoy the cookies I’ve left for myself. Because, what’s the fun in putting all the work into baking if you can’t enjoy at least a few cookies?