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I have a secret to confess.
For the past 10 years, I’ve hosted a holiday cookie party. Not for me and my friends, but for my 12-year-old and her friends.
I’ve watched them pile cookies with everything from Red Hots to M&Ms in lime green icing, throw spiced gumdrops and butterscotch morsels into butter cookie batter, and cover bell-shaped gingerbread cookies with enough sugar and sprinkles to light the Chattahoochee on fire.
Let’s just say subtlety isn’t a strong point with the pre-teen set.
Every year, I fight the strong urge to take all the cookies and decorate them myself. Oh, how I dream of delicately dipping each little mitten-shaped morsel into beautiful white flow icing, drizzling it ever-so-precisely with red icing and “pulling” the icing back and forth with a toothpick to make a woven design.
Or piping a delicate design of dots on the smooth, white background of that star-shaped butter cookie. How adorable my gingerbread man would be, with his red buttons and white cap.
Where’s my party?
It’s right here! This year, cookie parties are for grown-ups. And here are the season’s best tips on how to throw one, from a one-dough-does-it-all cookie dough to the cheese ball and wine to accompany. Get your friends together and decorate to your heart’s delight, the grown-up way.
Limit the number of guests at your party to how much space you have in your kitchen. Usually a space at the kitchen table, plus a chair, is all one person needs for decorating. I like to set up work — make that play — stations for each guest, with a festive, wipeable placemat for each person to work on. Give guests a set of four to five paper cone-shaped piping bags, plus a spoon and knife (with no serrated edge) for spreading icing. Provide a cookie tin or decorative bag for each guest to put their finished cookies in, then print the recipe for your cookie dough and you’ve just given each friend a great gift for the season.
In the center of the table, place the needed ingredients and tools. I always fill festive bowls with things that make great cookie toppers: edible glitter, colorful sprinkles, nonpareils, jimmies and colored sugars all make for beautiful, grown-up-looking cookies. It’s also great to have two or three of the following:
● Bags of colored icing prepared with star, leaf and round tips for piping that everyone can share.
● Large and small decorating spatulas.
● Small bowls of extra icing for spreading and refilling piping bags.
Have a separate “station” set up in your kitchen for rolling out cookies. Most people like to roll out and cut cookies, too. Make sure it’s neat and easily accessible with extra flour, a rolling pin and lots of cookie cutters. A bench scraper and off-set (angled) spatula will help with keeping the surface area free of sticky dough and for loosening dough after it’s been rolled out.
It’s also fun to have bowls of ingredients such as chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, nuts, coconut and candy pieces available to add to ready-made doughs. I make extra cookie dough, but you can buy your dough and mix goodies in, too. Make sure the dough is soft enough for hand-mixing, so that you won’t need a mixer unless you just happen to want to have one out.
Guests can drop these cookies on to prepared cookie sheets or roll logs of cookies into sprinkles or sugar and bake away. If you don’t have lots of cookie sheets, borrow, buy, or use disposable aluminum baking sheets (just remember to recycle them!).
To make sure drop cookies are uniform in size, use a mini ice cream scoop for scooping them onto cookie sheets. I use Silpat silicone mats to line my cookie sheets for baking, but parchment paper works, too. A timer helps to remind guests of when to take cookies out of the oven. To remove cookies from baking sheets, have an angled spatula at the ready — and don’t forget to have a place near the oven for placing baked cookies to cool.
Have white and red wines for guests to sip (or cocktails), and a few savory nibbles on hand elsewhere in the kitchen. Unlike preteens, adults aren’t going to want to nosh all afternoon on a bowl of gumdrops. I’ve included a recipe for an easy-to-make cheese ball — throw on some crackers and dig in.
Before the party, make extra dough and freeze it, then thaw the morning of the party. Clear out lots of space in your fridge and freezer for extra dough. Roll, cut and bake at least two dozen cookies, so guests can start decorating as soon as they arrive. Have a few batches of royal icing, in holiday colors, ready for use. During the party, keep guests rotating from decorating, to rolling out, to dropping and baking — that way you’ll have an even flow of activity and everyone will leave with a variety of cookies.
For decorating tips, see the recipes, below. Looking for the cookie baking supplies mentioned above? Try the Baker’s Catalogue from King Arthur Flour (www.kingarthurflour.com ), head to an area Michael’s craft store or check out Cake Art PartyStore at 3744 Lawrenceville Highway in Tucker (770-493-1305, www.cakeart.com ).
One-Dough-Does-It-All Cookie Dough
Hands-on: 15 minutes Total time: varies with each cookie Serves: about 4 dozen cookies, depending on size
This buttery dough has a magical way of not spreading when used for rolled-and-cut cookies, and is perfect as a backdrop for drop cookies — add chips, nuts or other goodies to vary the kind of cookie you want. It’s taken from a Better Homes & Garden Christmas Cookie magazine I found on the shelf of my supermarket back in 2003, and I’ve been using it ever since.
½ cup unsalted butter
½ cup shortening
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 and ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
In a large bowl of an electric mixer beat butter and shortening until blended. Add sugar and cream until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and blend well. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the dry mixture in three steps, until combined. Do not over mix.
For drop cookies: Add ½ to 1 cup chocolate chips, nuts, etc. Scoop with a mini ice cream scoop onto Silpat-lined cookie sheets. Bake 8 to 12 minutes.
For roll-and-cut cookies: Chill the dough for at least three hours, or overnight. Heavily flour a smooth surface. Pat the dough into a 6-by-9-inch rectangle. Roll out, using a heavily floured rolling pin, to ¼-inch thickness. Use a large icing spatula to shimmy under the dough to loosen from the surface. Using floured cookie cutters, cut into shapes. Place immediately on cool cookie sheets. Note; if dough begins to spread during baking, chill the cut cookies for ten minutes prior to baking. Bake shaped cookies for ten minutes.
Hands-on: 10 minutes Total time: depends on the cookie Serves: Will ice approximately 4 dozen cookies
This icing is considered indispensable in the professional bake shop, used on everything from cookies to wedding cakes. Meringue powder (available at baking supply shops and some groceries) makes it stable and food safe. Keep the icing covered with a damp paper towel on its surface when not in use or a sugar crust will form on the surface.
1 one-pound box (approximately 4 cups) 10X confectioner’s sugar
3 level tablespoons meringue powder (I use Wilton)
6 tablespoons lukewarm water
In a large bowl of an electric mixer, whip together the sugar, meringue powder and water until blended. Continue whipping on low speed for seven to ten minutes, until the icing is light and fluffy. Note: Add more water, a teaspoon at a time, if the icing seems too stiff for piping or spreading. Color the icing with gel paste food colors (available at bakers’ supply stores) if desired. Keep the icing covered with a damp paper towel – touching the surface — to prevent a crust from forming.
For flow icing: This kind of icing is perfect for dipping cookie shapes, or spreading the icing with a paint brush. Add ½ cup warm water to the above recipe (omit the 6 tablespoons of water), until the icing barely drips from the end of the whip. Decorating tips: 1. Dip the top side of cookie and let sit for the icing to spread, then pipe a border of royal icing around the edge of your cookie. Or, you can pipe the border first, then fill in with a small paint brush. 2. Before the icing sets, pipe a colored icing of similar consistency in lines across the surface of the cookie, then “pull” the lines with a toothpick to create a woven look. 3. Let the icing dry completely and pipe designs with royal icing for a textured look. Just before the icing dries, dip the edges of the cookie into sugar, sprinkles or jimmies.
Hands-on: 15 minutes Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes Serves: 12
Cheese balls are back! This easy recipe is perfect for a keeping your cookie party guests happy – just add your favorite cracker.
8 ounces Belle Chevre brand (or other flavored goat cheese) pimento-flavored goat cheese
8 ounces cream cheese
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 cup minced herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, sage and oregano
1 cup dried cranberries
In a medium mixing bowl, mix together the goat cheese, cream cheese, shredded cheese, garlic and minced herbs. Form into a ball. Roll the ball in the dried cranberries. Cover and refrigerate one hour before serving.