Christmas cookies: From simple to spectacular

Make beautiful cookies even if you don't have time to fuss
KAREN SHINTO AND AMY TRAVERSO

Recipes:


Everyone is pressed for time during the holidays, but that shouldn't stop you from making a lovely batch of Christmas cookies. Our treats look great whether unadorned or dressed to the nines, so you can tailor them to suit your interest (and schedule). They're all made with the same sugar cookie dough and frosting, so you can mix and match. And even the most basic versions are pretty enough to decorate a tree or window.

You'll find sources for the special equipment and decorations, plus packaging ideas. Or try different cookie cutters and add your favorite colors and decorations. Just get baking!

Ornaments
1. With a floured cookie cutter, cut ornament shapes from cookie dough (recipe at left).

2. Make an imprint in the center of each cookie by lightly pressing a star-shape cookie cutter into dough, making sure not to cut all the way through.

3. Use a drinking straw to poke a hole in each cookie. Transfer to baking sheets lined with cooking parchment.

4. Bake in a 300° oven until golden, about 15 minutes. Transfer cookies to racks to cool.

5. Serve when cool, or thread a ribbon through each hole, tie, and hang from a tree or in a window.

To make them special: Prepare cookies as above, but skip step 2. With a small offset spatula, spread a thin layer of tinted icing on each ornament.

To make them spectacular: Follow directions above for special version; let icing dry. With a pastry bag fitted with a #2 plain tip and filled with icing, create raised accents. Sprinkle sanding sugar over the still-wet piping, then tilt and tap cookie to remove excess. Add dragées.

 

Wreaths
1. With a floured 3- to 4-inch fluted-edge cookie cutter, cut out large circles from cookie dough. With a floured 1- to 2-inch cutter, cut out a circle in each cookie. Transfer cookies to baking sheets lined with cooking parchment. Gather scraps, reroll, and cut out more wreaths.

2. Bake in a 300° oven until golden, about 15 minutes. Transfer cookies to racks to cool.

3. Serve when cool, or thread a ribbon through each wreath and hang from a tree or in a window.

To make them special: With a pastry bag fitted with a #2 plain tip and filled with green icing, pipe "branches" onto the wreath. Or with a small offset spatula, spread a thin layer of tinted icing on each wreath.

To make them spectacular: Follow directions for special version; with a pastry bag fitted with a #2 plain tip and filled with red icing, apply "berries" to each wreath. Sprinkle sanding sugar over the still-wet icing, then tilt and tap cookie to remove excess.

Cutout Cookies
1. With a floured square cookie cutter with a fluted edge, cut out 20 cookies from cookie dough. Transfer to baking sheets lined with cooking parchment.

2. With smaller floured cookie cutters (we used a pear shape), cut out 20 top pieces from dough. If necessary, gather scraps, reroll, and cut out more top pieces.

3. Brush the back of each top piece with a little water and press gently onto squares.

4. Bake in a 300° oven until golden, about 15 minutes. Transfer cookies to racks to cool.

To make them special: With a small offset spatula, spread a thin layer of tinted icing on each top piece.

To make them spectacular: Follow directions for special version; use a pastry bag fitted with a #2 plain tip and filled with icing to create dots and leaves. If desired, apply a bit of gold leaf while icing is still moist.

 

Everything you need to make holiday treats

You don't need many tools to make our Christmas cookies―just cookie cutters, a pastry bag, a straw, a small spatula, and some ribbon. You'll find the following decorative sugars and candies at gourmet specialty markets, but you can also make substitutions: Use granulated sugar instead of sanding sugar, and swap in cinnamon Red Hots or nonpareils for the dragées.

Assorted cookie cutters. We used a piece of cardboard as a template for the ornament, but the fluted-edge round and square cutters for the wreath and cutout cookies can be found on Amazon.com. A similar mini pear cookie cutter is available from the Cookie Cutter Factory  (866/255-9194).  Pinocchio Productions sells an eight-point star cookie cutter. CopperGifts.com  (620/421-0654) has a vast selection, including many star shapes, as do Michaels craft stores (800/642-4235 for store locations).

Decorative sparkle. We used a combination of dragées (dra-zhays), edible gold, matte red decoratifs, and sanding sugar. (Silver dragées are for decoration only; avoid eating them.) Look for nonmetallic dragées and sanding sugar in gourmet supermarkets, kitchen stores, Michaels, at ChefShop.com  (877/337-2491), or on Amazon.com. Fancy Flours  (406/522-8887) sells decoratifs, sanding sugar, and dragées. Edible gold is available at Sur La Table  ($35 for 150 mg; 800/243-0852).

A pastry bag fitted with a #2 plain tip. Fill it with icing to create fine lines for making branches on the wreath cookies and adding stripes and dots to the ornament and cutout cookies. You'll find bags and tips at kitchen stores such as Sur La Table as well as at craft stores like Michaels.

Ribbon. A thin one passes easily through a hole and turns even a basic cookie into a worthy ornament.

A simple drinking straw. The perfect tool for making holes in ornament cookies.

A small offset spatula. The angled blade helps you apply frosting in an even layer. Look for the tool at kitchen stores such as Sur La Table, or buy one on Amazon.com.