It's pretty easy to get caught up in the hustle of the holidays. Between getting all your shopping done, going to Christmas parties and, oh yeah, that little thing called work, the entire month of December tends to just fly by. Even after I put up the tree this year and mailed out my Christmas cards (yes, snail-mail ones), it still didn't feel quite like Christmas.
Maybe it's because I'm so far from home and family and all of the traditions that come along with the season. I know that there won't be any of my mom's chocolate-covered peanut butter balls or rum cake, or my grandmother's Christmas Eve seafood chowder, or the big Boxing Day get-together that sees one side of my family (aunts, uncles, cousins, their kids and spouses) crammed into my grandmother's house for an incredible potluck spread.
But there's one thing that never fails to get me in the holiday spirit: baking Christmas cookies. Yep, I plug in the lights on the tree, crank some Christmas tunes (Shaw digital cable has an unbelievably lame selection of holiday music on their digital music channels) and bust out my baking sheets. Don't judge me.
I whipped up my first batch of butter cookies (kinda like simple sugar cookies) last week, painstakingly kneading the dough, rolling it out and stamping snowflake shapes. I popped them in the oven, filling the whole house with the yummy aroma of freshly baked cookies, and packed them up to decorate later (after sampling one or two, of course). Yes, it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas!
That batch was just the first of many that will come out of my kitchen this winter. I also plan to make the aforementioned chocolate peanut butter balls (which are so good that a friend with peanut allergies actually ate three before he realized what was in them and we had to call an ambulance to the Christmas party - true story) and gingerbread people, of course! But I still haven't quite decided which I'll be bringing to the Pique 's annual cookie exchange.
We started the inter-office cookie exchange back in 2008, recruiting bakers and non-bakers alike to whip up a few dozen of their favourite cookies to swap for the others. Now, the traditional "cookie exchange" model usually involves about eight people (like busy moms) who bake five to six dozen cookies of one type, then trade them so they don't have to do any additional baking over the holidays. But in our office, there are probably more non-bakers than bakers, so asking people to churn out 72 unburnt cookies is a bit unrealistic. By scaling down the number and inviting more people, we always end up with a delicious tin-full of goodies, though you probably only get two or three of each kind.
Somehow, our festive and friendly "exchange" has morphed into a "bake-off" - I guess we're a pretty competitive bunch here at Pique - and people take a lot of pride in their cookie creations. I'm thinking we may need to institute some sort of prize; perhaps a trophy? Anyone know where I can get my hands on a cookie-shaped trophy?
Anyways, last year, we had a pretty impressive spread: think rum balls, white chocolate macadamia nut, gingersnaps, chocolate pecan slices and many more sweet treats. There are absolutely no store-boughts permitted (that rule was instituted after a few unnamed male staffers decided to take the lazy way out and buy a package of Dad's oatmeal cookies on the way to work). But the real trick is to make sure that there are no duplicates - only one person can bring gingerbread, etc... - so everyone takes home an awesome assortment of cookies.
I'm leaning towards the sugar cookie cutouts I brought last year, but that seems a bit boring and safe. So I've dug out my handy copy of Better Homes and Gardens: Ultimate Cookies and after leafing through pages of drool-inducing photos and recipes, I think I've narrowed it down to mini milk chocolate cookie sandwiches, bocca di nonna with earl grey ganache, or mocha wands - sumptuous sticks that look just perfect for stirring up a latte, biscotti-style. Who knows, maybe I'll have to make all three...
Throw in a few glasses of eggnog to accompany the cookie feast, and we'll be well on our way to a pre-Christmas sugar coma. I'll drink to that! Happy holidays!