Were you starting to wonder if I’ve been baking lately? Since my last few two posts were a little more about me, myself and I, and not exactly recipe-filled, you might be wondering what the heck I’ve been up to in this kitchen of mine. I’m here, I promise. The holiday season has definitely sprung, and I’m a little stressed–I won’t lie. It’s all that good, you know, hustle and bustle holiday-type stress, but sometimes (and by “sometimes” you know I mean “always”) I take on just a little too much. Do you ever do that? Always? So because of that little tendency of mine, I decided to choose a few special baking projects this year, rather than crank out endless varieties, although, technically, there is still time for that . . . kidding. Sort of. For the last two years, I’ve had this “hand cookie” idea bookmarked in the 2009 Martha Stewart Holiday magazine, and this year I knew I couldn’t resist making them.
My girls, ages 2 and 4, have embraced their creative sides, and so I thought this would be a great way to tie that into the holidays. When Reese wakes up, she literally runs for the crayons, markers and paper and immediately starts to create, and as soon as she’s aware of the holiday season, all she wants to do is make Christmas Cards. For everyone, literally. The mailman, the cat, every neighbour for miles and more. Don’t be surprised if you get one too — this girl can seriously create, and fast. She reminds me so much of the me when I was a little girl (memories of my tireless childhood rug-hooking fascination come to mind), and I love that she’s so enthusiastic. Neve does too, but because she’s just 2, she enjoys it for a few moments and then moves onto something else.
That’s actually why this project worked so well, because there was a little bit of baking, a bit of colouring and more. To create the template for their hands, I traced their hands onto cardstock and cut them out–so simple, yet the girls thought this was so fun. For some reason, I had it in my head that this would be a really crazy super time-consuming project, but, actually, with such a simple decorating approach, it was probably the quickest sugar cookie project I’ve ever done. Perfect!
We did these over the course of a few days (which seems to be the best way to approach this type of thing with 2 small kids, I’m finding), and the day the photos took place, Reese was at school, but Neve was ready to ham it up, as always. Since we just put up Christmas Tree, started listening to holiday music and were holiday baking and crafting, we were suddenly immersed in holiday-ness. Funny how that can give us all the boost we need sometimes–young or old. It’s been kind of grey around here for the past few weeks, in typical Canadian winter fashion, I suppose, but, this cookie project lifted us all quite a bit. That and decorating (and redecorating) the tree. The girls have rearranged it so many times, but I think they’ve got it just “so” now.
After around the 1,330, 330th time “telling” the girls to “stop touching the balls (ahem)!” I lauged out loud and then let it go. Crash! Bang! Crash! And . . . it’s offically Christmas. This is all new to Neve, since last year she was only 1 and likely has no recollection of Christmas, so I just don’t have the heart to keep her away from the tree. It just wouldn’t be Christmas around here without a little bit of heartwarming chaos (with a hint of just plain chaos, of course).
I love that the hands don’t expand when baked (which is why it’s so important to follow the prebaking chilling steps), since puffed up, oversized baby hand cookies may be a little weird. I compared the template to the baked cookie, and it was almost exact. Yay! We decided that we’d go ahead and package up each cookie, complete with name cards and handmade Christmas greetings and that we’ll give them to family, Reese’s teacher, etc. I gave the girls a stack of 6″ squares of white cardstock and a box of markers and told them to create-away. I also gave them some 6″ strips of cardstock for their names, which I left Reese in charge of writing both (soon enough Neve will be able to write her own, I’m sure!).
Sentiment aside, this is my favourite sugar cookie recipe (as you probably remember in this previous post), as they are so scrumptious and traditional. Because they are so crisp, buttery and classic, I personally love eating them this way, with no icing. Next time I make these, or any other unfrosted variation, I will likely add some vanilla bean to add to the already lovely and old-fashioned taste, but if you use a good quality pure vanilla extract, that alone does give it a beautiful flavour. It’s just never a bad idea to add vanilla bean, right?
I’ll be back soon to share some holiday cakes that I’m really excited about making, and more. Until then, Happy Holiday Baking!
- 6 cups (750 g) all-purpose flour, sifted
- 1 teaspoon (8 g) salt
- 2 cups (454 g) unsalted butter, softened for about 20 minutes at room temperature
- 2 cups (400 g) sugar
- 2 large eggs, cold
- 2 teaspoons (10 mL) pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon (1.25 mL) pure lemon extract
- In large bowl, sift together flour and salt. Set aside.
- In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until fluffy and pale, about 5 minutes. Beat in eggs.
- Add flour mixture and mix on low speed until thoroughly combined. Add vanilla and lemon extract and blend.
- Remove 1/2 of dough from bowl, make a ball, and place on a large piece of plastic wrap on counter.Wrap the sides of wrap over the ball, then press down with the palm of your hand and make a disc about 2" thick. Finish wrapping the disc with the plastic wrap. Repeat with 2nd half of dough. Chill both discs of dough for about 45 minutes.
- Remove one disc and remove plastic wrap. Place on top of a large piece of parchment paper (I use a silicone rolling mat underneath to ensure it doesn't slip while rolling, but you can even dampen counter so the parchment sticks a bit.), then place two 1/4" wooden dowels on either side of your dough, then another sheet of parchment paper.
- Roll dough (this will require a bit of elbow grease for the first few minutes until it softens up a bit) so it's flush with dowels--they will ensure that your dough is even thickness.
- Preheat your oven to 350° F. Slide your parchment paper and dough onto a board, then place in refrigerator for about 15 minutes.
- Remove from fridge, and cut your shapes using the cutters of your choice, placing them on a baker's half sheet lined with a silicone baking mat (or parchment), with 2" clearance around each one and the edge of sheet. Place sheet with cookies into freezer for 15 minutes before baking. Bake 12-14 minutes, or until edges are golden brown.
- Cool sheets on wire racks for 10 minutes, then gently remove cookies and place on wire racks to finish cooling.
*If you follow the pre-baking chilling steps, you will find that your baked cookies end up the same size as your hand template, with no expansion (that could be kind of weird).
**May be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. They also freeze well.
***Package as desired.
1. For packaging, I used a 6″ wide x 9″ crystal clear bag and cut a 6″ square piece of patterned scrapbooking paper and 6″ square piece of wax paper (regular wax paper) overlay to place on top. I highly recommend using the wax paper overlay, otherwise the cookie will leave buttery marks on your pretty paper.
2. I cut additional 6″ squares of white cardstock so the girls could write Christmas Card messages and then I slid them into the bag, facing out (the back of the bag) then cut small white strips for their names to slide into the front of the bag. In our case, with two little girls I wanted the recipients to be able to easily identify each girl’s cookie, but if you’re using only one “little hand,” you could skip this step.
3. To seal bag, I folded the excess bag over the front and then, using a single hole punch, created 2 holes a few inches apart (see photo), then tied with ribbon (I used a Celadon colour).
Good luck & enjoy!