The holidays are a time for family, friends and food—cookies to be exact. These yummy treats are a common part of holiday traditions and are the key to a sweet winter season. Although nobody will complain about having a cookie platter at their holiday party, one may wonder where this custom came from. When did baking cookies or receiving them as gifts become a normal part of the holiday tradition?
According to the History Channel, holiday food exchanges originated during the Middle Ages. During this period, winter solstice celebrations were held across the world. These festivals included feasts to celebrate the harvest. Popular spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger were introduced at this time and were in high demand. Although widely available, they were expensive and used mostly on special occasions.
Cookies were much simpler to make and distribute to family and friends than most desserts, as they were usually baked in large amounts and shared amongst big groups. By the beginning of the 16th century, cookies—especially of the gingerbread variety—had become more popular in Europe, and they still remain as one of the most frequently baked cookies today.
Although many cookies have since gotten modern upgrades, gingerbread has stayed true to its original form. And though not all have been cut into the shapes of little men, the strong and prominently spiced flavor remains. Fun fact: the first person to shape a gingerbread cookie into a man was Queen Elizabeth I of England, because she wanted to sculpt the treat into the shape of one of her courtiers.
There’s no denying that one of the best parts about baking cookies for the holidays is the potential for personalization. Cookie cutters are an awesome way to do this, and they even contributed to the widespread popularity of holiday cookies in the 17th century. Before these utensils, cookies were shaped into squares or rounds, but cookie cutters changed the game. They started to gain exposure when import laws in America shifted, making them easier to access in the marketplace. Over the years, many cookbooks started mentioning them as tools that could be used to enhance the average cookie, and the trend stuck. The shapes of cookie cutters have evolved and now come in any mold imaginable, allowing bakers the creativity to craft customized festive desserts.
Using the classic holiday red and green, these pistachio-cranberry treats are a delicious twist on the classic almond biscotti. These holiday cookies are the ideal complement for a cup of coffee or a glass of milk. You’ll fall in love with their crisp texture and sweet taste. They’re twice baked to achieve the perfect golden-brown texture and extremely easy to customize. If you want more pistachios than cranberries, or if you want to add a dash of chocolate chips, just throw them into the dough and pop the treats in the oven. You can even coat them in melted chocolate for a more decadent twist.
6 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tbsp. grated orange rind
1 ½ tsp. orange extract
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 cup orange-flavored sweetened dried cranberries
¾ cup shelled natural salted pistachio nuts, chopped
Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl at medium speed with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, beating well; beat in orange rind and extract.
Combine flour, baking powder and salt; add to butter mixture, beating at low speed until blended. Stir in cranberries and pistachios.
Divide dough in half. Using lightly floured hands, shape each portion into a 14 inch x 2 inch log. Place both logs 3 inches apart on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Bake at 325°F for 26 minutes or until firm to the touch. Cool logs on baking sheet 10 minutes.
Cut each log into ½ inch-thick diagonal slices with a serrated knife using a gentle sawing motion. Place slices, cut side down, on baking sheet. Bake 9 minutes, turn cookies over, and bake 12 more minutes. Transfer biscotti to wire racks to cool completely.
Feeling nostalgic? Here’s a recipe for classic gingerbread cookies. With their soft texture and light spice, each bite will have you begging for more. Although simple, the fusion of spices will dance across your tongue and is sure to put you in the holiday spirit. Don’t forget to top off your cookies with creamy icing and candy for a festive finishing touch!
1 cup butter, softened
1 ½ cups firmly packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
⅔ cup molasses
⅓ cup fresh lemon juice
6 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
⅛ tsp. salt
2 ½ tsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. ground cloves
¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy; gradually add brown sugar, beating well. Add eggs, molasses and lemon juice; beat well.
Combine 2 cups flour, baking powder and next 6 ingredients; Stilwell. Add to butter mixture, beating at low speed until blended. Gradually add enough remaining flour to make a stiff dough, mixing well. Shape dough into 2 balls. Cover and chill at least one hour.
Roll 1 portion of dough to ¼ inch thick cut out gingerbread men. Any extra dough between baking should be placed in wax paper and chilled until needed.
Bake at 350°F for 10-14 minutes until golden. Cool 1 minute on cookie sheet. Decorate when cooled.
Red Velvet Crinkle Cookies
This recipe makes a super moist and fudgy red velvet cookie. There is one unusual ingredient gives them an amazing texture!
2 ¼ cups flour
⅓ cup cocoa powder
1 ½ tsps. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
2 oz cream cheese, softened
1 ½ cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsps. red food color
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¾ cup powdered sugar
In a medium bowl, whisk flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
In a large bowl, mix butter and cream cheese with an electric mixer. Add sugar and mix until light and fluffy; a couple of minutes. Add eggs, food color, and vanilla extract and mix until well combined. Gently fold half the flour and cocoa mixture to the egg mixture until just incorporated, then fold in second half the same way. Place dough in the fridge for at least 4 hours.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Form dough into 1 ½ tbsp. balls. Roll dough balls in powdered sugar and place on Silpat lined cookie sheets.
Bake cookies in preheated oven for approximately 10 minutes. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheets for approximately 15 minutes then transfer to wire racks and cool completely.
This article is featured in Distraction Magazine’s winter 2019 issue.
words_samantha velez photo_gianna sanchez recipes_elizabeth pozzuoli