It was the day after Thanksgiving and we were still stuffed with turkey and all the traditional side dishes that must be eaten with the big bird.
Several pounds of butter were laid out on the kitchen counter. Ten-pound bags of flour were piled one on top of the other. Powdered sugar, brown sugar, pure vanilla extract and dozens of eggs were lined up ready to go. It was time to start mixing, baking and frosting some of the holiday cookies.
I mixed, my daughter-in-law and granddaughters rolled dough, baked and frosted the cookies. The holiday baking had begun.
With memories of my mom and I baking Christmas cookies together, I mixed some of the same dough that she and I would make together each year. These were special cookies, the recipes coming out of the tightly-packed index-card file box only once a year.
This year I’ll share some of those recipes with you.
This year’s first day of holiday cookie-baking produced a couple kinds of cookies.
Praline Cookies are relatively new to our family Christmas cookie platter. It’s a recipe that I first tried about 10 years ago and it’s become a family favorite. I discovered the recipe in a supplemental homebaking insert to the St. Paul Pioneer Press that my mom had saved. It was the best baking ideas of the year from the 11th Grand National Pillsbury Bake-Off and the year was 1960. The recipe had been a $1,000 winner for 14-year-old Cheryl Dean Matthews of Charlotte, North Carolina.
Matthews’ recipe has definitely lived on. A few years ago I saw Martha Stewart prepare these cookies on television. She didn’t give credit to Ms. Matthews, though.
The butter and brown sugar-rich cookies are crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. They can easily stand deliciously on their own, but put some pecan pieces on top and cover them with a spoonful of praline frosting and they become truly decadent. The frosting tastes like a praline candy right from a New Orleans candy counter.
I’ve made a tiny adjustment to the original recipe. I toast the pecan halves that will be broken into smaller pieces over the top of each cookie. And, I use heavy whipping cream in the Praline Frosting rather than the regular cream listed in the original recipe.
When it comes to Christmas cookies, I only use the best quality ingredients — pure vanilla extract, the freshest nuts I can find, and really good butter. My daughter-in-law and I make 3 batches which yields between 140 and 150 cookies. The baked cookies freeze well. The dough can be mixed a day or two before baking day and stored in the refrigerator.
Be ready to work quickly with the frosting, spooning the hot topping over each cookie. If it starts to thicken before you’ve used it all up, stir in a little more cream.
So, gather your ingredients and let the baking begin!
- 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup pecan halves, toasted
Sift flour, baking powder and salt together and set aside. Cream butter with electric mixer. Add brown sugar gradually, creaming well. Add egg and vanilla and blend well. Stir in dry ingredients. At this point, dough can be refrigerated and baked later.
When ready to bake cookies, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
I use a #100 portion scooper to lift dough from bowl and then roll each portion into a ball. This guarantees that allo the cookies will be the same size. If you don’t have a portion scooper, drop dough by rounded teaspoon and roll into a ball. Place dough balls on parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake cookies in preheated 350-degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to waxed paper-lined countertop to cool.
Break each pecan half into 4 or 5 pieces and place the pieces on the cookies. Drizzle Praline Frosting over the top of each cookie. Makes 3 1/2 to 4 dozen cookies.
Combine 1 cup firmly-packed brown sugar and 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream in small, heavy saucepot. Bring to a boil. Boil and stir for 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Blend in 1 cup sifted powdered sugar, adding it all at once. Beat by hand until it is smooth. If frosting thickens, add more cream.