Sugar Cookies, Gingerbread Cookies, Vanilla Cream Filling. Oh my!

A few years ago I got it into my head that I really wanted to bake cookies and other treats for all of my friends rather than just buy a piece of jewelry and be another shopper falling for the commercialism of Christmas.  I went to the Container Store and bought all manner of well, containers, and ribbons and anything else that screamed homemade! And love! And the spirit of the season! I decided on caramel covered pretzels and chocolate covered Oreos and some other type of cookie madness.  It was seriously one of the worst ideas ever.  Not only did it cost a small fortune (likely the price of a nice piece of jewelry) to get all of the containers and then mail them, but all of the baking and wrapping and standing in line at the post office was just shy of torture.  I’m not exactly sure where things went wrong—somewhere between melting the caramel and filling the sugar cookies with lemon curd that wouldn’t set no matter how much I begged—but in the end, I was miserable and I’m sure the recipients took one look at their not-even-close-to-Martha Stewart-Christmas basket and wished I’d made a donation (of cash) to a local food bank in their name and saved them having to lie to me about how much they loved it.

I haven’t made holiday cookies since (except for the chocolate covered Oreos—recipe to follow!), but I guess that I’ve recovered from the trauma of Christmas’ past, because I’ve had visions of gingerbread stars and sugary snowmen dancing in my head for weeks.  Luckily, I have a few friends who wanted to learn to bake and I figured that I could test out some recipes on them and if things went awry, the fact that we’d be drinking mimosas while we baked would make up for it. 

And, it must of have been an early Christmas miracle, because everything turned out much better than expected (and infinitely better than the crazy that came out of my kitchen a few years ago).  We rolled the dough for the sugar cookies out a little thicker than recommended so the cookies were more cake like and decorated them with this very happy premade icing. 

For the gingerbread, we filled them with a super easy and ridiculously delicious vanilla cream that tastes like Oreo filling and really could be eaten with a spoon on any given Wednesday. 

I can’t say that someone would prefer to get these cookies rather than a nice bracelet from Cartier, but you’ll definitely earn some points with Santa if these are left out…

Sugar Cookies, Gingerbread Cookies and Vanilla Cream Filling…

Sugar Cookies (from “How to Cook Everything” by Mark Bittman)

  • ½  pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, plus some for greasing the baking sheets
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3 cups (about 14 ounces) all purpose flour, plus some for dusting the work surface
  • pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking power
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Use an electric mixer to cream the butter and sugar together until light; beat in egg.

Combine the flour, salt and baking powder in a bowl.  Mix the dry ingredients into the butter-sugar mixture, adding a little milk at a time as necessary.  Stir in the vanilla.

Shape the dough into a disk (for rolled cookies) or a log (for sliced cookies) and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or as long as 2 days (or wrap very well and freeze indefinitely).

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Cut the dough disk in half.  Lightly flour a work surface and a rolling pin and roll gently until about 1/8 inch thick, adding flour as necessary and turning the dough to prevent sticking.  Cut with a cookie cutter.

Bake on lightly greased baking sheets until the edges are lightly brown and the center set, 6-10 minutes.  Let rest on sheets for a minute before removing with a spatula and cooling on a rack.   Decorate with icing.  Store in a covered container at room temperature for no more than a day or two.

Gingerbread Cookies (from “Holiday Baking” by Sarah Perry)

  •  2 ¼ cups all purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ cup vegetable shortening
  • ¼ cup firmly packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup light or dark molasses

Into a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, then lightly whisk and set aside.

In a stand mixer set on medium speed, beat the shortening until creamy, about 30 seconds.  On medium speed, beat in the brown sugar until light and lump free.  Beat in the egg until well blended, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as necessary.  Beat in the molasses until blended.  Turn off the mixer, add half of the flour mixture, and beat on low speed until blended.  Add the remaining flour and beat until blended.

Using light floured hands, gather the sticky dough into a ball.  Divide the ball in half and flatten each portion into a 6-8 inch disk.  Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours or until firm.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or grease it lightly and set aside.

Remove the dough from refrigerator and, if needed, soften slightly for easier handling.  Roll it out 1/8 inch thick on a lightly floured board, between 2 sheets of parchment paper.

Lightly dip cookie cutters in flour, then firmly press it straight down into the dough.  Repeat, cutting the cookies close together to avoid rerolling.

Bake until cookies are lightly browned, 9-11 minutes.  Let cookies firm and cool slightly on the baking sheet before transferring to a rack to cool completely.

Vanilla Cream Filling

  • ¼ cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ¼ cup vegetable shortening
  • 2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Place butter and shortening in a mixing bowl, and at low speed, gradually beat in the sugar and vanilla.  Turn the mixer on high and beat for 2-3 minutes until filling is light and fluffy.


2 Responses to Sugar Cookies, Gingerbread Cookies, Vanilla Cream Filling. Oh my!

  1. This is excellent! Im going to print it out and use it! I too have this crazy notion that making cookies will be a great gift. But I hadn’t thought as far as containers/presentation, etc. so you’ve saved me! Invite me to the cookie making party next year. I’m there!

  2. Pingback: Christmas Treats « Pestle Mortar

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