‘Round the Table: ‘Tis the Season for Cookies and Friends

The hustle and bustle of the holidays are upon us; from shopping for gifts, decorating the tree and scheduling holiday parties, you totally deserve a cookie break, not to mention a pat on the back.

But I know that spending all your time in the kitchen whipping up batch after batch of Christmas cookies is not how you’d like to spend your spare time this season.  So why not make things a little easier on yourself by hosting a cookie swap or exchange. It’s an exciting way to get together with friends, sample a few new cookies and (best of all) leave with an assortment of delicious cookies, new recipes and wonderful memories.

Holiday entertaining doesn’t get any easier or more efficient than a cookie swap.

Here are a few ideas and recipes that will help you pull off the most delicious cookie fête and make sure everyone goes home with good tidings to spare.

Calendars are jam-packed during December, so send out invitations as early as possible. When setting the date, remember that evenings and weekends are booked months in advance; luckily a cookie soiree works nicely on a Sunday afternoon or weeknight, so be flexible.

Limit the number of bakers; usually 10 to 15 people works best and allows everyone to take home wide variety of cookies. Ask guests to RSVP as soon as possible and provide information about the type of cookie they plan to bring; a cookie swap with 3 batches of sugar cookies is not much fun. If you plan on creating a recipe booklet, ask guests to provide the recipe so you will have plenty of time to assemble a memorable booklet. Ask guests to bring a container large enough to take cookies home, as well as a printed recipe if you are not creating a recipe booklet in advance. Ask guests to make a half-dozen cookies per person in attendance, plus a few extra for sampling at the party.

When the party day arrives, throw on your ugliest Christmas sweater, prepare the Christmas playlist and make sure there are plenty of non-cookie eats and drinks available. Hot coffee is always welcome, add to that hot cider, egg nog or even cold milk. If you are lucky enough to host a mid-morning cookie swap, consider making it brunch and serve mini-muffin tin frittatas or mini-quiches along with finger sandwiches.

Remember that the season of festivity and joy is not joyful for all and consider asking guests to join together and make a charitable group gift this holiday season.

My cookie recipes this year all have a Louisiana accent. I choose a decadent praline cookie as well as a plainer, more traditional Boutons (Button Cookies). Both lean heavy on pecans and butter, and both have been listed (1956, 1985, 1997 and 2011) on Santa’s Top 10 Favorite Cookie List, published by the North Pole Press every year.

Praline Cookies

Yield: about 24

For the cookies:

  • 1 stick of salted butter, softened
  • ¾ cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tablespoon of orange juice
  • ½ to 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • pinch of salt

For the filling:

  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • ½ cup packed light brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 to 4 Tablespoons sour cream

For the cookie dough: cream the butter and brown sugar in a bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.  Add the egg and mix well.  Beat in the orange juice, orange zest and vanilla extract. Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt; add to the creamed mixture, ½ cup at a time, mixing until just blended after each addition.  Cover and chill the dough for at least 45 minutes.

Short on time and pan space? Shape cookies and arrange on sheets of parchment paper; then slide the parchment paper onto available cookie sheets.

For the filling: combine the pecans, brown sugar, cinnamon and vanilla in a bowl and mix well.  Add enough of the sour cream to moisten the filling. You may not use all of the sour cream.

To make the cookies: Preheat the oven to 350°F; line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Shape the cookie dough into 22 to 26 balls and place on the prepared baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Make an indention in each dough all with the back of a spoon and fill each indention with ½ teaspoon of the filling.

Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the cookies are golden brown.  Cool on the baking sheets for 1 to 2 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Boutons

Yield: 2 to 3 dozen

  • 2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup of chopped pecans
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Granulated sugar for coating

Sift together the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer cream the brown sugar and butter until light and fluffy.  Beat in the egg until blended .Add the dry ingredients, ½ cup at a time and beat until just blended. Fold in the nuts and vanilla. Cover and chill the dough for at least 1 hour.

Be sure to let the praline cookies cool on the baking sheets for at least two minutes; they are soft an gooey and you’ll lose some of the praline filling if you move them too quickly.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Place about ¼ cup of granulated sugar in a bowl. Shape spoonfuls of the dough into balls (buttons) and roll in the sugar. Arrange the balls about 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets and bake for 8-10 minutes or until light brown.  Cool on the baking sheet for 2 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Yield and baking times will vary according to the size buttons you make.

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