Cookie recipes for Christmas or any day

This year, as a Christmas gift to my family, I scanned the pages from my Grammy's recipe folio and turned them into a spiral-bound cookbook with the help of The project took several months. But, through it, I feel like I was granted some extra time with the woman who was such an important part of my life. My Grammy is in that portfolio. The binder, held together with duct tape, has been around since my Dad and uncles were in high school. She typed the pages on her old typewriter and fixed the errors with correction fluid. She wrote notes into the margins—reminders about which recipes are best, what substitutions you could make, and what the measurements should be if you want to half or double the recipe. Looking at the recipes she chose to keep around, I see her. For instance, my Grammy was the kind of woman who collected no fewer than three recipes for spinach and bacon salads. 

More seriously, the mix of recipes in this cookbook remind me that my Grammy was first, and foremost, a baker. Of the 315 pages, 106 of them are just bread recipes. If you look at all the baked goods, you've probably accounted for a good 2/3 of the cookbook. This is interesting to me, because while I love cooking, I am still at a level of baking that usually involves opening a box and adding an egg. 

So I've set myself a challenge. Over the next year, I'm going to learn how to bake. And I'm going to learn from my Grammy. I haven't decided exactly how thoroughly I'm going to publicly document this process, but, suffice to say, a few of the recipes that work out particularly well are definitely going to end up here on BoingBoing. To kick things off, I'm starting with three cookie recipes that I baked for the first time yesterday and today—Cowboy Cookies (oatmeal-nut-chocolate chip cookies); Pumpkin-Nut Cookies; and Jam Thumbprint Tarts. 

If those seem like weird selections for Christmas cookies, allow me to provide some context. In the Koerth family, Christmas cookies really meant "everybody's favorite cookies." Grammy knew which cookie each person liked the best. So, at Christmas, there would be as many as 10 different kinds of cookies, each flavor chosen to match a person. You could eat all the different kinds, but Grammy would also have a separate bag of your personal favorite set aside, ready to be sent home with you. My favorite are the Jam Tarts. My Dad loves the Cowboy Cookies. My husband didn't really have a personal favorite staked out yet, but through careful deduction, I've matched him to the Pumpkin-Nut. Grammy did make traditional Christmas sugar cookies—pine trees decorated with green sprinkle needles and Red Hot "lights". But only because my those are my Uncle Richard's favorite. 

So these cookies may not match what you have in mind for the holidays. But that's okay. It just means you can make them anytime. 

Cowboy Cookies 

Cowboy Cookies are cookies for strong, silent loners who either have nobody around to judge them for eating a cookie that is made with two sticks of butter and two cups of sugar, or simply do not care. 



Pumpkin nut cookies

For my own tastes, and those of my husband, I subtracted the raisins and added half a bag of white chocolate chips. You could add more. If you follow the substitutions suggested by Grammy here, you'll end up with something even vaguely sort of healthy. If that's what you're into. 

Notes: The instructions here are pretty self-explanatory. There's only one thing I need to point out. When you mix together the wet and dry ingredients you will end up with a dough that is very different from standard cookie dough. It will be more like a cake or a bread when baked. There's a spongy poofiness to the dough that almost makes it seem like there's yeast in there. Which, to me, begs a question: What the hell is baking powder and what does it do? 

As Wikipedia explains it, baking powder is sort of alterna-yeast. It's what you use to make baked goods a little more poofy and risen when you don't want to have the fermenty flavor that comes with yeast-based leavening. It works because baking powder is really just a combination of an acid and a base, cut with an inert starch. Get the powder wet, and the acid and base react, producing carbon dioxide. Bubbles of carbon dioxide create volume in the dough. Yada, yada, yada ... your Pumpkin-Nut cookies become something akin to individual hand-cakes. 

Also: Because these cookies rise, rather than spread, you can pack them closer together on the baking sheet without fear of them oozing into one another. In the photo below, you can see how closely I baked these extra-large pumpkin-nut cookies. The distance between the cookies didn't change much at all between raw and baked.


Jam Thumbprint Tarts

Here is what I learned from making Jam Thumbprint Tarts: I am an asshole. Specifically, I am the kind of asshole who really, really loves deceptively simple cookies that are, in reality, kind of finicky and obnoxious. Sorry, Grammy. 


Make your primary dent shallow. Otherwise the dough will start to break apart. A soft press of the thumb will do it. Don't worry if this isn't big enough to hold jam. You'll widen and deepen it later. 
This is what the second denting should look like. If you've ever made a clay pinch pot, it's a lot like that. You don't want to leave the bottom too thin ... widen the hole, don't just deepen it. It's okay if there's cracks on the edges of the cookies. They do that. 
Apply jam immediately after removing from the oven. You want the cookies nice and warm so the jam can sort of melt into them a little. Once they're filled though, leave them alone for a while until they've cooled down completely. You really, really want to give them every opportunity to firm up. It helps the structural integrity. Here's the half batch of cookies made from non-chilled dough, filled with apricot preserves.