Tracy Lee Karner

Old-fashioned cookies for Christmas–it's not too late!

DSC_0002Someone forgot, or didn’t have time, to bake the cookies? With a few minutes of set-up, we whipped up four batches of old-fashioned cookies (grandmother Ida’s recipes, b. 1903) in less than 3 hours.
Here’s the chef’s strategy for putting out a feast of impressive treats in a hurry.

  • Review the following recipes to make sure you have all the ingredients on hand. (You’ll need 2 pounds of butter to make all 4 recipes).
  • Measure all ingredients for each recipe, and prepare your set-up (the picture above will give you an idea of what set-up–also known in French as mise en place–looks like).

Make the recipes in this order:

  • prepare the dough for the Ginger Thins and freeze.
  • Preheat oven–250 Fahrenheit (yes, that low!)
  • Mix together the Bohemian dough, shape into balls, and pop in the oven on 2 sheet pans (these spread–leave 1-1/2 inches space around each dough ball). Set a timer for 20 minutes. (freeze any leftover dough for baking later)
  • When it dings, turn the pans around and place the lower pan on the top rack & vice versa to insure even baking. Set a timer for 20 minutes more.

Tracy Lee Karner

  • While the bohemians bake, roll the ginger thin dough into logs. Freeze.
  • As soon as you’re done with that, start mixing up the Scandinavians and rolling them in balls. Dip in egg white and roll in chopped pecans and divide between 2 sheets.
  • Timer dings, bohemians out of oven. Increase temperature to 350. When it’s hot, bake the Scandinavians for 10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, mix together the toffee square dough.
  • Scandinavians ding, pull them out and make an imprint (these are also called “Thumbprint cookies”,  but 350-degrees burns, so unless you’re trying to erase your thumbprint so you can lead a secret life as a burglar, do what we do–use the back of a teaspoon to make the depression) on each cookie. Bake five minutes longer.
  • While those are baking, spread toffee dough into its sheet pan. Ding–pull the Scandinavians out of the oven, pop the toffee dough in, timer for 18 minutes.
  • Pull the ginger dough out of the freezer and slice (leave one of the logs frozen, for baking at a later date, if you wish). Arrange on parchment-lined baking sheets and sprinkle with sugar (these don’t spread, you can put them fairly close together).
  • Toffee out of the oven, ginger in. Timer set (8 minutes). Melt the chocolate bars.
  • Spread the chocolate on the toffee dough and sprinkle with nuts. Cut into bars while still warm.
  • Ginger thins out of oven and onto cooling racks.

You have four kinds of cookies for your fest, in the time it takes most people to bake one batch. And now you know how a chef puts out hundreds of meals per night–by executing a strategic, time-saving strategy.
Here are the recipes:

Ginger Thins

makes 3 ½ dozen cookies

  • 6 tablespoons butter, softened
  • ½ cup  + 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 1 tablespoon cold strong brewed coffee
  • 1 – ¼ cups all purpose flour
  • ¾ teaspoon ground ginger 
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda 
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon ¼ teaspoon ground cloves 
  • ⅛  teaspoon salt
  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF.
  2. Cream butter and ½ cup sugar. Add molasses and coffee, mix well.
  3. Combine remaining ingredients; add to creamed mixture. Mix well
  4. Cover and freeze for 15 minutes.
  5. Shape dough into 7-inch roll; flatten to 1-inch thickness. Wrap in plastic wrap. Freeze 2 hours.
  6. Unwrap dough and cut into ⅛ – inch slices. Place slices 2 inches apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. Sprinkle with reserved 2 tablespoons sugar.
  7. Bake 8-10 minutes or until firm. Remove to wire rack to cool.

Bohemian Christmas Cookies

makes 5 dozen cookies

  • 1 cup butter
  • 6 ounces sweet milk chocolate, ground
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1- ¼ cups powdered sugar
  • 1- ¼ cups sifted flour
  • 1 cup ground walnuts
  1. Preheat oven to 250ºF. (Yes! That is the correct temperature.)
  2. Cream butter; gradually add sugar until light and fluffy. Add remaining ingredients and blend well.
  3. Chill the dough, then measure by rounded teaspoon and roll into balls. Put on cookie sheets and chill well before baking.
  4. Bake for about 40 minutes.

Tracy Lee Karner
Bohemian Christmas cookies, in the oven. Time-saving tip–use all the oven space!

Scandinavian Cookies
makes 2 dozen cookies

  • ½ cup butter
  • 1 egg, separated
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • pinch of salt
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup sifted flour
  • ¾ cup chopped nuts (we prefer pecans)
  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF.
  2. Cream butter; add sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add beaten egg yolk, salt vanilla and flour. Form into small balls about 1” in diameter.
  3. Dip balls in slightly beaten egg white, then in chopped nuts. Place on baking sheet about 3” apart.
  4. Bake in oven 10 minutes (do not over-bake). Take pan out of oven and with the tip of a teaspoon, make a slight depression on top of each cookie.
  5. Return to oven and bake about 5 minutes longer. (Again, don’t be tempted to over-bake these. They’ll turn out dry!). Remove cookies from oven and cool.
  6. Just before serving, place a small amount of jelly on top of each (we like red currant best).

Toffee Squares

  • 2 cups butter
  • 4 cups sifted flour
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 cup chopped nuts
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 16 ounces milk chocolate (not semi-sweet) chips
  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF.
  2. Cream butter and sugar until light. Add vanilla, flour and beaten egg.
  3. Spread thinly in jellyroll pan and bake for 15 – 20 minutes.
  4. Melt chocolate and spread on warm cookie surface. Sprinkle with nuts, and cut into bars while warm.

And there you have it–Merry Christmas!!
Christmas wouldn’t feel like itself, without these four varieties of cookies in our house. That explains why I don’t have any pictures of the baked cookies–they’ve all been eaten or gifted away.
Which  of your family Christmas traditions is important to you?  

16 thoughts on “Old-fashioned cookies for Christmas–it's not too late!”

  1. Great idea! I love the tip on how to make lots of cookies in little time.
    Cookies rank right up there for my favorite Christmas traditions. My mom always made superb frosted cut-out cookies. I just made my batch yesterday. A week ago I made peanut-butter blossoms (the candy kiss cookies). So I’m set!

    1. Peanut blossoms are the one cookie I could get addicted to. I never can eat just one. But frosted cut-outs–I think we had a poor recipe when I was growing up (but decorating them was the whole fun, anyway). They tasted like candied cardboard, leaving me no desire to re-create that tradition as an adult.
      But maybe next year, after things settle down, I’ll look for a good recipe–because they are so festive. We have an artist friend who decorates the most fabulous european gingerbread angels, wise men, St. Nicholas’s every year. I don’t know how hers taste because they’re way too beautiful to eat.

  2. Oh–and the other time-saving strategy is… there’s no need to wash the mixer bowl or paddle attachment between batches. You’re working so quickly, and every batch is the same basic thing–flour, egg, butter, sugar and a few add-ins.

  3. Im with Rachael. Christmas cut-outs are a family tradition of ours. Both my German grandmothers shared the same recipe. To avoid the cardboard taste, I use a little extra vanilla, use very thin rolled-out dough and bake until fairly brown around the edges. The browner the cookie, the tastier the cookie. I whip of a large bowl of icing, dividing it into green, pink, white and yellow. I add orange or lemon zest to the yellow for the stars!
    I just made my first recipe from the Food Network — Ina Garten’s Raspberry Crumble Bar. Very delicious, but rich. I would definitely make them again.

    1. I’ll bet we under-baked our when I was a kid–I don’t remember any brown, at all. Just pasty-white. I like the idea of adding zest to the icing.
      I often turn to the food network for recipes, because I trust them. I rarely have to tinker with them to make them better–they’re usually pretty great the first time.

  4. You rock, Tracy! My mom picked up baking Christmas cookies for the first time in six years because she wanted to send my brother (who is now studying in Leipzig) and me cookies. Best pre-Christmas gift ever. Merry Christmas to you and Ken!

      1. I have a strong dislike for lebkuchen and pfeffernuesse, never worked for me. I like zimtsterne, but they are no family tradition of ours. My mother made spitzbuben (Muerbeteig with a marmelade cover between two layers) and chocolate-hazelnut cookies. She also made rum balls, but did not mail them…

        1. I’m right with you on your likes and dislikes… I always wonder why people stand on “tradition” if tradition tastes scheusslich? But then, I’m still a big enough fan of “tradition” (have you seen Fiddler on the Roof?) that I”m always looking for a close, edible revision.
          But honestly, my German family didn’t have any real Christmas cookie tradition. Their Christmas tradition was carp (Karpfen). Pee-yew!

  5. Tracy, FYI, I’m the “anonymous contributor” who described the cut-out cookies. I thought I had filled out the information details correctly, but I must have omitted something. First time I’ve made a post — I’ll try to get it right this time. 🙂

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