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Is this the year you've decided to downsize your Christmas holiday routine? If so, you'll probably want to bake some cookies for family and friends rather than shop, wrap and give gifts that nobody really needs or wants.

If you've never baked before — or want to keep your baking simple and streamlined — we've got you covered. With help from local baking experts, we've gathered a group of foolproof recipes for Christmas cookies that are easy and accessible, yet elegant enough to give as gifts.

From classics like Chocolate Crinkles and Star Twinkles to trailblazers like Lemon Rosemary Shortbread and Gingerbread Biscotti, there's a cookie here for everyone on your list. So clear off those counters and check your cabinets for all the ingredients and equipment. And don't forget to crank up the Christmas tunes and invite over a close friend or two, to help roll and slice.

We asked baker Shelly Kaldunski of Santa Rosa to give a few pointers for those who want to avoid burning the cookies or pushing the panic button. Kaldunski's latest cookbook, "The Art of the Cookie," was just released by Weldon Owen Publishing and is available exclusively at Williams-Sonoma stores.

Here are 10 top tips from our local cookie expert:

1. Use a stand-up mixer, if possible.

"The cookie doughs are hard with the hand mixers," she said. "You can do it by hand, but it takes a little more muscle power to cream the butter and sugar."

2. Invest in some heavy-duty cookie sheets.

Most home chefs use thin baking sheets that warp really easily in the oven, making it hard to get cookies that are evenly browned.

Kaldunski suggests purchasing some heavy baking sheets from a restaurant supply store. "They're not very expensive," she noted.

3. Make sure you've got plenty of parchment paper.

"I'm a huge proponent of parchment paper," she said. "It's really important to bake cookies on it."

In addition, when you roll the dough into a log for slice-and-bake cookies, wrap the dough with parchment paper, twist the ends, then refrigerate it.

"It holds the texture of the cookie together better than plastic wrap," she said.

4. Make sure you get all the ingredients out and measured before you begin.

"Be real meticulous about getting all your ingredients in order before you start mixing," she said.

After all, you don't want to discover halfway through the process that you've run out of something crucial, like butter or eggs.

5. Remember to let the cookie dough chill out, especially for shaped cookies.

Most cookies need to be chilled before you bake them, or they will lose their shape, she said.

"A lot of recipes just say cut and bake — and they don't say to chill them," Kaldunski said. "Freeze them for 10 minutes or overnight. That way, your Santa will actually look like a Santa instead of a rock."

And don't be afraid to freeze your dough for baking later. Or if you run out of time, you can buy frozen cookie dough from a good bakery.

"The Downtown Bakery in Healdsburg is selling frozen dough," she said. "Almost every cookie dough freezes very well."

6. Don't be afraid to use a timer.

It's a shame to go to all that trouble and end up with burned cookies.

"I'm a big fan of the timer," Kaldunski said. "I always use it, because all it takes is a phone call to distract you from what's in the oven."

7. Rotate, rotate, rotate.

When you're baking cookies, always rotate your pans halfway through the baking time.

"Because everybody's oven is uneven, you should turn each pan 180 degrees," she said. "Also, switch the top sheet with the bottom sheet."

8. Don't forget the finishing touches.

For sprinkling, Kaldunski loves to use sanding sugar, available at baking stores such as Sur La Table.

"It's a coarse, sparkly sugar," she said. "It adds a little bit of sparkle that's festive."

9. Get crafty with the packaging.

When you're packaging up cookies, it's crucial to use an air-tight container.

"I love reycling any kind of tin," she said. "I've also covered oatmeal containers in beautiful paper, and it's nice and sturdy for delicate cookies."

For round, slice-and-bake cookies, she suggests wrapping them tightly in cellophane, then tying off the ends with a ribbon.

Also, try to provide a copy of the recipe for both gifts and cookie exchanges.

"I'm a collector of recipes," she said. "To walk away with cookies and a recipe is a nice bonus."

10. Keep it fresh.

If you've got a cookie-exchange party coming up, try to bake your cookies as close to the event as possible.

"Most things are best the day they are baked," she said.

Here are six, foolproof cookies for the holiday season:

Cathy Burgett, chef/instructor for the SRJC Culinary Arts Department, loves to give chocolate cookies at the holidays. During the past few years, she has started giving away logs of uncooked cookie dough with a recipe attached. That way, her gift keeps giving, months after the holidays have past.

"I put three logs of different kinds into one of those plastic holiday gift bags, along with a page of the recipes for the cookies in the bag," she wrotes. "I tie it with a red or green twist tie, and give that as a gift. That way, folks can keep them in the freezer until they are ready to bake them fresh."

Chocolate Crinkles

Makes about 5 dozen

12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, melted

2 cups brown sugar, firmly packed (15 ounces)

2/3 cup vegetable oil

4 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 cups flour (10 ounces)

2 teaspoons baking powder

? teaspoon salt

1 cup chopped walnuts

3/4 cup granulated sugar, for sprinkling (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl, combine the melted chocolate, brown sugar and oil, and beat well. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Sift together the dry ingredients and stir them into the chocolate mixture. Add the chopped walnuts, and stir just to blend. Chill the dough at least two hours or overnight. Roll walnut-size pieces of dough into balls. Drop them into a bowl of granulated sugar, turning to coat them. Place 2 inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until tops are slightly puffed, crackled and just set. Do not overbake or the cookie will be dry instead of moist and chewy.

Victoria Madrigal, the baker from Della Fattoria Cafe in Petaluma, shared this recipe for a Lemon Rosemary Shortbread Cookie.

"Shortbread is one of the easiest cookie there is (cream butter with sugar — add the dry ingredients," she writes. "The addition of lemon and rosemary is not only delicious, but it looks great. It's the sweet version of Della Fattoria's Lemon Rosemary Bread."

Lemon Rosemary Shortbread Cookie

Makes about 25 cookies

8 ounces butter (two sticks) at room temperature

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

1? teaspoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice (optional) ? teaspoon salt

1? cups all-purpose flour

? cup cornstarch

— Rosemary leaves and granulated sugar for garnish

Cream butter with sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until just incorporated, about 2 minutes. Add the rosemary, lemon zest, and juice and mix until combined.

In another bowl, sift the flour, cornstarch, and salt. Add flour mix to mixer and mix the dough until it comes together. Dump onto a lightly floured board and shape into a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Roll the dough ?-inch thick and cut with a 2-inch-round fluted cutter. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet, lightly press a couple of rosemary leaves on each cookie and sprinkle with granulated sugar. Bake for 15-18 minutes until the edges are a lightly golden color. Let cookies cool at room temperature.

This recipe is from "The Art of the Cookie" by Shelly Kaldunski of Santa Rosa. When topped with white Royal Icing and sanding sugar, they are called Twinkle Stars.

"Buttery and crisp, these sugar cookies have a delicate vanilla flavor that makes them delicious on their own," Kaldunski writes. "Transformed with icing and sanding sugar, they become even more appealing and festive."

Vanilla Sugar Cookies

Makes 30 cookies

3 cups (15 ounces) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

1 teaspoon baking powder

? teaspoon salt

1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1? cups (7 ounces) sugar

1 large egg

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 tablespoon heavy cream

— Royal icing, recipe follows

— Sanding sugar for sprinkling

In a bowl, whisk together the 3 cups flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla and beat on low speed until the egg is completely incorporated. Beating on low speed, slowly add the flour mixture and continue to beat until almost incorporated, add the cream and beat on low speed until just incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Press the dough into a flattened rectangle, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or up to overnight. (The dough can be wrapped well and frozen for up to 1 month.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper.

On a lightly floured work surface, using a floured rolling pin, roll out the chilled dough until about ? inch thick. Using a star cookie cutter, cut out as many shapes as possible. Use a metal spatula to transfer the cookies to the prepared sheets, spacing them 1 inch apart. Press the dough scraps together, roll out, and cut out additional shapes. Chill in the refrigerator or freezer until firm, about 15 minutes.

Bake until the cookies are lightly golden brown around the edges but the tops have not yet taken on any additional color, 12 to 15 minutes. (Smaller cookies should bake for only 10 to 12 minutes.) Let cool on the sheet for 5 minutes, then, using a metal spatula, transfer to a wire rack to cool completely, about 30 minutes.

Spoon the royal icing into a paper cone or pastry bag fitted with a ? inch round tip. Pipe the icing around the edge of each cookie to form a border. Then pipe the icing into the middle of the cookie, letting it run to the edges of the border. Gently tap the cookie twice to settle the icing and set aside to firm up at least two hours or overnight. While the icing is still wet, sprinkle with sanding sugar.

Store the cookies in an airtight container, layered between sheets of parchment paper, at room temperature for up to 3 days.

"Meringue powder is dehydrated egg whites which allow you to add uncooked egg white to a recipe without the health risks which this may pose," Kaldunski writes. "Meringue powder can be found at specialty cake decorating supply stores or online."

Royal Icing

Makes about 3 cups

4 cups (1 pound) confectioner's sugar

3 tablespoons meringue powder

? to 1 teaspoon extract flavoring such as vanilla or almond

In a large bowl, combine the sugar, the meringue powder, ? cup warm water, and the extract. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat until mixture is fluffy yet dense, 7-8 minutes.

To thin the icing, use a rubber spatula to stir in additional water 1 teaspoon at a time. To test the consistency, drizzle a spoonful of icing into the bowl; a ribbon should remain on the surface for about 5 seconds.

To color icing, use the tip of a toothpick adding gel based food color slowly, gradually mixing it in until the desired shade is reached.

Cover and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Stir vigorously just before using.

Denise "The Cookie Queen" Elliott, an instructor for the SRJC Culinary Arts Department, made these bar cookies fro 20 years at her former bakery, Celebration! Baking, in Petaluma.

"This recipe for Oatsies is simple and always brings rave reviews," she writes. "The original recipe came from "Betty Crocker's Cookie Book," still my favorite cookie cookbook."

Oatsies

Makes one 9 x 13 pan

5? cups rolled oats

1? cup brown sugar

1? cup butter

2/3 cup dark corn syrup

1? teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon vanilla

8 ounce dark chocolate, melted

? cup finely chopped walnuts (or any nut)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 9 x 13 pan with parchment.

Toss together oats and brown sugar to combine. Set aside.

Combine butter, dark corn syrup, salt, and vanilla in a saucepan and heat just until butter is melted. Stir this warm mixture into oats. Pat into parchment lined pan. Bake only until golden to center, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Cool completely. Spread with melted chocolate, and sprinkle with chopped nuts. Refrigerate until set. Cut into desired size and shape.

Jennifer McMurry, pastry chef and owner of Viola Pastry Boutique & Cafe in Montgomery Village, makes these biscotti every Christmas to give away as gifts. She puts them in cellophane bags, with a bow on top.

"They are one of those cookies you can make and hold onto," she said. "They're nice and delicate and perfect for dunking into a cup of coffee."

Viola Gingerbread Biscotti

Makes 50 cookies

12 ounces butter

2? cups brown sugar

1 cup + 3 tablespoons sugar

1? teaspoon ground ginger

? teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon clove

1/8 teaspoon allspice

— Pinch of ground nutmeg

4 eggs

? egg yolk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2? cups + 2 tablespoons almond flour

3? cups flour

1/3 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 cups crystalized ginger, chopped

? cup molasses

— Egg white, whipped

— Granulated sugar, for garnish

Cream sugars, butter and spices on medium speed until combined. Continue on low speed gradually add eggs, one at a time scraping down sides of bowl often. Then add molasses. low speed add dry ingredients. Add crystallized ginger.

Divide dough into four pieces & refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours. Roll dough into flat log and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush top with egg white & dust with sugar.

Bake at 325 for 30 to 40 minutes until baked all the way through. Let cool. (May be best to wait until the following day to cut.)

Slice biscotti about ?-inch thick and stand up on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. They can be fairly close together because they won't spread. Toast in a 300 degree oven for 20-25 minutes.

Russian Tea Cakes are a popular holiday treat, said Patrick Lum, owner of the Village Bakery in Santa Rosa, Sebastopol and Calistoga. Also known as Mexican Wedding Cakes and Noel Nut Balls, the cookies are dipped in powdered sugar after they cool, which provides a festive, white coating reminiscent of a snowball.

"You want to eat them with gloves, and don't talk with your mouth full," Lum said. "They won't last long because they're so cute ... but they are worth the mess."

Russian Tea Cakes

Makes 2 dozen cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

? cup powdered

1 teaspoon vanilla

2? cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup chopped walnuts

? teaspoon salt

1 cup powdered sugar, for garnish

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Beat the butter and the powdered sugar together on medium speed, in a stand-up or hand mixer, until pale and fluffy.

Add the vanilla. Add the flour and the walnuts and the salt into the butter mixture, on low speed, until just combined.

Chill dough for 2 hours in the refrigerator.

Scoop dough with a 1-inch diameter scoop and place dough on parchment-lined baking sheets, about 1? inches apart. Bake until gold around the edges, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Sift powdered sugar in a bowl. Place warm cookies in the bowl and roll around to cover. Let cool on a cookie rack. Store in an airtight container.

You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com.