Christmas Cookie Party: Homemade Cookies with Global Flair
A portrait from Brooklyn and India
This time of year might just be the most jam-packed when it comes to traditions, rituals, food and special music, so you can bet Cultures Capsules has something special going on.
This is the story our our own family’s favorite tradition, told through lots of recipes, a great playlist, and a fun art project. Merry, Merry!!
This time of year, conversations naturally turn to traditions. No matter what you celebrate, the fact is that in most locations around the globe, school lets out, some offices shut down, and families and friends come together in some way, shape or form.
For us, it’s time for a tradition our family looks forward to year round: our annual Cookie, Cocktails and Ornament-making Party! It’s an open house to get the Christmas spirit flowing, with friends and family coming and going all day, sampling our holiday treats to sample, making ornaments, and spending time together.
If you know Cultures Capsules, you won’t be surprised that this event fun takes old traditions and spices them up with even more resonance and meaning for our own family. We are nearing two decades of this ever-evolving tradition and it just keeps getting to be more and more fun.
It started many years ago when I didn’t want to decorate my Christmas tree alone, and I also didn’t have a lot of ornaments (and didn’t want to just buy some meaningless ones). So called up some friends to help me make ornaments, decorate my tree, and fill my apartment with merry vibes.
I made them Christmas cookies from my childhood, which included the early versions of the famous Garam Masala Oatmeal Raisin cookies, played Christmas music, and my home did in fact overflow with Christmas cheer, so we continued to do it each year.
Over time we’ve had to adjust to accommodate children and lack of space in our small Brooklyn apartment, and even a last minute postponement to January due to flu, but we’ve never skipped it.
Fav Holiday tunes of course! Mostly all upbeat for a party, but gotta throw some slower classics on there, too. It’s nice and long already so just put it on shuffle repeat… and we’ll of course keep adding to it (particularly when I figure out how to add non-Spotify stuff! of rind an alternative to Spotify?!). Also check out the Christmas Tree playlist and the related post as well!
The 2018 menu was mostly classics, save for the Mochi as a nod to our family trip to Japan.
Finely chop 2 1/2 oz. (just a bit less less than 1/2 cup) chocolate and melt in small bowl set over small saucepan of barely simmering water, stirring until smooth. Remove bowl from heat and cool chocolate.
Finely chop remaining 3 1/2 oz. chocolate.
Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and cardamom.
Beat together butter and brown sugar with electric mixer at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes, then beat in egg and vanilla until combined well. Add flour mixture in batches and mix at medium speed until just combined, then beat in melted chocolate until incorporated. Stir in pistachios and chopped chocolate.
Divide dough into 6 equal portions and roll each piece into a 12-inch long log (3/4 inch thick). Wrap each log in plastic wrap and freeze until firm, at least 30 minutes.
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Slice 1/2-inch thick rounds from frozen logs and arrange about 1 inch apart on ungreased baking sheet, lined with parchment paper.
Cook for 7 minutes, or until tops have cracked. I prefer just barely cracked, but some may prefer a crisper cookie, so cook less or more according to your taste.
The Cookie Formerly Known as Christmas Twist (Almond-y Sugar Cookies with Saunf)
1cupsoftened salted butter (originally called for margarine but I rarely have it around)
2large eggs(originally called for egg yolks -no whites- but I stopped discarding the whites and it’s still yum/works)
saunf* or crushed candy cane, or rainbow sprinkles (optional)
Carefully soften butter in microwave (on defrost) if not very soft.
Mix butter and sugar on high until creamy.
Add eggs, vanilla and almond extract and beat on high until fluffy.
If using, add a few drops of food coloring to desired color (mindful that the flour will lighten it some).
Add baking powder and also flour (in 1/2 cup increments, while beating on medium low, just to combine.
Wrap dough in plastic wrap, and chill for at least an hour. This will help the dough and also make it easier to handle. Keep in the fridge for a few days, or roll into 1.5 inch diameter logs and freeze, for slice and bake!
When beginning to roll cookies, preheat oven to 350.
Roll: On lightly floured dish towel (tucking edges around and under a cutting boarroll out dough in sections to 1/3 inch thick and cut with desired cookie. Add any toppings, as desired.
Twist: The original recipe was a twist of 2 colors, by making thin logs (or snakeof each and then twisting them together). For this make 2 batches, and freeze any extra in logs for easy, small-batch slice and bake.
Cook on an ungreased cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. for mini-cookies, 6 minutes is probably more than enough. For twist cookies, you might need 1For large cookie cutters, maybe 7-You’ll need to check depending on cookie size and thickness. They will begin to crack on the top when done.
Cool on the pan for a few minutes, then transfer directly to a wire rack to stop the cooking.
You can find saunf at your local Indian or maybe Asian store, or on Amazon here.
A classic recipe that we love to make in mini, and skip the raisins in favor of sounf or red hot candies (for hearts. duh!).
Keywordcookies, Gingerbread, Red Hot Candies, sounf
parchment paper (recommended)
1/2cupsoftened butteror margerine
3/4cuppacked brown sugar
1 1/2baking soda
red hot candiesmake great hearts
sounfmakes nice buttons and crunch
Carefully soften butter in microwave (on defrost) if not very soft.
In a mixer, beat butter and sugar on high until creamy.
Add eggs and molasses and beat on high until fluffy.
Add baking soda, salt and spices, and then add flour in 1/2 cup increments, while beating on medium low, just until combined.
Wrap dough in plastic wrap, and chill for at least an hour. This will help the dough and also make it easier to handle. Keep in the fridge for a few days, or roll into 1 1/2 inch diameter logs and freeze, for slice and bake!
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350F and line cookie sheets with parchment paper (or leave ungreased). Roll out the dough to 1/4 inch thick. Cut dough into shapes using cookie cutters of your choice, careful to fit as many in (like a puzzle) to limit touching working the dough. Add raisins, red hots or sounf, as desired.
Cook until they they just baerly begin to crack on the top (about 5 minutes for mini cookies, but ovens vary, and it depends on the thickness of your cookie!).
Cool on the pan for a few minutes, then transfer directly to a wire rack to continue to cool completely before storing.
You can find saunf (candied fennel) at your local Indian or maybe Asian store, or on Amazon here.
I almost never have the exact amount of one of the ingredients so I’ve been fudging it each time, but it’s generally aligned with this recipe. Haven’t’ found a foolproof so I wont share a definitive, but I will share lessons learned.
Be ready to burn your fingertips. The exact moment that the temperature of the mixture is good to drop onto the wax paper in neat, pretty little piles is when it’s thickened up but also still very hot. If it cools too much, it won’t have that smooth sheen. It will still taste good though! Yes, I’ve tried with spoons but I find a spoon and a finger easiest.
You know your microwave best: I end up nuking it longer than recipes say because our microwave is so crappy.
While it’s cooling, don’t walk away cuz you’ll forget and it will harden too much and you’ll be really annoyed.
Trial & error – The first time I made it I rushed things and the mixture was too runny. The good news is that you only need to try one little pile to know if the mixture is at the right temp / has been nuked enough. If it’s spreading a ton, nuke it a few more minutes. If it’s hardened too much, add a tad of cream and nuke it, but it’s better not to get to that point.
Each year we also love to challenge ourselves to add something each year that tips our hat to recent family travels. For 2017, that meant that we tried our hand at Matcha Mochi to remember our trip to Japan. Matcha Mochi with Anko was a way to recall the formal Matcha tea service we participated in a Tokyo tea house, but in a fun, party-friendly way.
I used a combo of this recipe for the sticky rice coating, and a different recipe for the Anko (red bean paste) filling the bean paste, but I can’t find that in my notes. At any rate, it was tasty, but our version needs more tweaking before I share it confidently.
Candy Cane Kulfi
Last, but definitely not least is our annual favorite: candy cane kulfi! While I can’t exactly claim to have invented it, I know that years ago, my recipe was the only thing that came up when I googled “candy cane kulfi.”
Candy Cane Kulfi
2, 12oz cans condensed milk
6candy canes (3 melted in and 3 crunched up)
small silicone molds(we like these mini-cupcake molds because they also make it easy to eat: just pop it out and use the mold as a way to hold it and catch melting drips.)
Open cans and pour milk into a saucepan. Add cardamom pods, and 3 candy canes into the milk.
Cook over low heat for 10 minutes, taking care not to let it boil, and scraping sides and bottom of pain continuously.
Turn off the heat and let it cool, and remove the cardamom pods. Continue to stir it intermittently to help it cool.
While cooling, arrange silicone molds in a sturdy and level box/platter, and sprinkle 1/2 of the remaining crushed candy cane in the bottoms.
When cool, stir in the heavy cream. Using a lipped ladle (save yourself the cleanup), carefully pour the milk into the molds, and put in freezer.
When they begin to solidify in about 2 hours (depending on your freezer), add the last of the candy cane atop the kulfi.
Let them freeze overnight (unless your freezer is a lot better than mine, in which case 4-5 hours might actually work.
Serve topped with crushed candy cane for extra flavor and crunch. ENJOY!!
At first glance this might appear to be quite boring or simple, but there are three reasons this type of ornament making is what I return to:
They suit people of all artistic levels,
All faiths can get behind peace doves, candy canes and mittens,
I LOVE the idea that all of us can take one small thing and all create something SO UNIQUE out of them.
We’ve done a few different shapes over the years but my favorites are the mitten, bulb, candy cane, tree, and new this year: the dove. Download this and cut out the shapes. Then use the cutouts to trace shapes into whatever color paper you want. Of course, cardstock or at least thicker paper will last longer (both in terms of the template and the ornaments), but use what you have and it will be great.
When provided template is printed as possible on an 8.5 x 11 inch paper, then each individual shape will fit at least twice 2 on Paper Source’s A7 cardstock paper (some need some playing with tilting but they fit! Less waste!). For this project, we usually use their Chartreuse, Red, shimmery white Star dream?), sometimes Royal Blue, and next year, Shimmery Gold.
Poke a hole and use a traditional ornament hook, or use ribbon or string. We also like to hang all of ours up using tiny clothespins, which is a holdover from the mittens year.
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