In my mind, it’s not Christmas until the Christmas cookies of my childhood make an appearance. One of my earliest Christmas memories is helping my mom roll out the dough, pick out the cookie cutters and decorate the cookies. I don’t know about you, but up until I was in college, I thought that Christmas was always going to be celebrated in the exact same way — with the same traditions, the same family members around the table, and the same routine on Christmas morning. (Namely, waking up INSANELY early to open my stocking.) But then I grew up, I spent my first Christmas away from my family, and some years later, I met my husband and we started our own family. Traditions have changed, the population of our own little Christmas village has changed, and since I’m the one filling the stockings, there’s no need to wake up early to open them. (Being a grown-up stinks sometimes.)
One Christmas tradition I’ve taken over is the baking of the cookies. Guys, get a load of this cookbook.
Is that not the BEST THING YOU’VE EVER SEEN? It was published the same year I was born and it is chock full of throwback awesomeness. Though there are many entertaining pages, there’s only one I’ve ever used, page 118. The recipe for Almond Butter Cookies is like a silver thread straight to my six-year-old self, and I love making them with my whole heart. The recipe tells you how to make three variations with the dough, but I never do. I make the dough, chill it and roll it out into a thin, beautiful, buttery expanse.
I hunt down the cookie cutters that always seem to be hiding and then bake them up quick, frost them with a quick powdered sugar icing, sprinkle on some colored sugars and call it done. The cookies are crisp, light, and laced through with almond and cream cheese. Sweet, but not too sweet. And to me, they taste like home on the holidays.
Recipe adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens Treasury of Christmas Craft & Foods Cookbook, circa 1980.
First up, cream the sugar, butter, and cream cheese until light and fluffy. (PS – the butter and cream cheese being softened makes this step MUCH easier and gives you perfect cookies. I give the butter and cream cheese a couple hours on the counter before I get ready to make the dough.) Next, add the egg and mix until smooth. Then add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix until combined. Sift together the flour and baking powder in a bowl, and then add the flour to the sugar/butter/cream cheese mixture in three parts, starting your mixer slowly and mixing until the flour is incorporated each time. (This is the step where I curse the fact that I broke the mixer shield attachment to my KitchenAid a few years back — hello, flour flying EVERYWHERE.)
Now divide the dough in half. Wrap each portion in plastic wrap and chill 1 to 1 1/2 hours. (You can keep it all as one batch, but if you do, give the dough longer to chill.) Once chilled, roll the dough on a floured surface to 1/8 inch thickness. (I go a little crazy with the flour because the dough can get a little sticky, but I’ve learned to brush off excess flour before baking to avoid a mouthful of baked flour.) Cut into shapes with cookie cutters and bake at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes, or until edges are golden brown. (I like them slightly more done, so they’re super crispy, but not burned.) Place on rack to cool completely.
While cookies are cooling, beat together the powdered sugar, the butter and the almond extract. Slowly add the milk until the icing is of spreading consistency. Now ice the cookies and go to town with the decorations.