Homemade cookies are a treat at any time of year, but at Christmas time it seems that more and more people turn to baking things for seasonal sweets. Old standards like chocolate chip or peanut butter still make the rounds. Sugar cookies that are cut into shapes and decorated with colored icing or tinted sugar seem to adopt their own festive feeling. Even the supermarket shelves are laden with goods from the bakery, or readymade dough in the refrigerated section. Goods bought from the store are adequate, but homemade seems to be so much more meaningful, especially at this time of year.

Homemade cookies don't need to be complex to appear gourmet. Many a simple recipe can be found in some of the older, vintage cookery books. With a bit of tweaking, they can become modern standards, and family traditions passed down from generation to generation.

The humble sugar cookie is probably the first treat that springs to mind when contemplating Christmas cookies. These seem to have gone out of vogue in recent years, but the young and the young at heart still enjoy making them, and eating them. Start with a favorite, simple sugar dough recipe. This can then be rolled into sheets and cut and baked in the usual way. For a very easy yet festive treat, make two batches, and add cocoa or a few drops of food coloring to one of the batches, Roll the dough out separately, into sheets of symmetric sizes. Brush a bit of milk or sugar water onto the first sheet, and add the second sheet onto it. Brush the top of that with a bit more milk or sugar water. Trim one side so that it is tidy, and then slowly and carefully start to roll it, similar to a jelly roll, or Swiss roll. Roll to the end, trimming the end straight before finishing.  Refrigerate for about three hours, and when firm, cut into slices about half an inch thick. Bake as per the recipe. The cookies will make charming pinwheels that look and taste great, and with very little effort!

The gingerbread man is one step up from the sugar cookie. Decorating gingerbread men, women, and houses can be great fun for the entire family. Very few tools are needed to make edible works of art. Any favorite family recipe can be used, but the dough does need to be chilled before it can be handled. A gingerbread cookie cutter is used to cut the dough. These cookie cutters come in many different styles and sizes and their selection is just a matter of choice. Family heirlooms can also be used, thus passing on the traditions. Once the gingerbread dough has been cut, the characters can be dressed. Us a scalloped edge to put frills on the girls by gently pressing it in the dough to mark it, but taking care not to cut it. Leftover dough can also be cut and shaped to make skirts, pants, and shoes. The gingerbread can also be baked blind, and dressed with either fondant or piped icing, to dress the figures. The figures can be finished in any way, so let your imagination run loose on them. That's half the fun!

With a bit of effort any cookie recipe can be turned into a Christmas cookie recipe. Holes can be cut in the dough and filled with hard candies. These can then be baked on a piece of parchment paper (to avoid sticking), and when they are cooled, 'stained glass' cookies appear.  They can be wrapped in clear food-safe plastic and hung on the tree as decorations-if they are not eaten first!

Family favorites seem to take on new meaning when they are made during the holiday season. Time-honored recipes as well as new ones can be packaged festively and adorned with ribbons or bows to give the goods they produce a seasonal treat. There are many inexpensive boxes and bows in the shops for just this purpose, often with a Christmas theme. Taking the time to bake for someone shows that they are cherished, and that they are important enough to warrant the love put into culinary cookie treats.



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