Eating well


Cookie fests could be the key to the holidays

By Bev Bennett

The lure of cookies is irresistible during the holidays. Whether it's menorah-shaped Hanukkah cookies or red-glazed Christmas cookies. Butter and sugar bring friends and families together.

To make cookies part of your holiday ritual, participate in a cookie exchange, host a cookie-decorating party or squeeze a bit of baking into your hectic schedule.

Jennifer Moran and her friends enjoy a cookie exchange each year. Children get to share the goodies, but are not invited to the cookiefest.

"We get to talk, have a little wine, eat like crazy and exchange the cookies," says Moran, an Evanston mother of three. Every guest bakes 10 dozen cookies, which are divided so everyone goes home with an assortment. It's not competitive but there are standards.

"One woman brought Tollhouse cookies after she had a baby, and that was acceptable, but not the norm," says Moran. "People bake cookies that reflect their heritage. We have something like a rugalach [a rolled, filled crescent-shaped cookie in the Jewish culinary tradition]."

Children are guests the second Saturday morning of every month at Kim's Kitchen to listen to a storyteller, frost cookies and melt into sugar bliss. How does owner Kim Garza handle the young crowd of 20 to 40 children?

"The key to do this successfully is knowing what kids can handle at various ages," says Garza, owner of the bakery and catering shop at 815 Noyes St., Evanston. "Young children have an attention span of five to seven minutes; older children will micromanage the project," Garza says.

To accommodate both, she sets out baked sugar cookies, individual cups of sprinkles and soft frosting that even young children can use. Older children can make elaborate decorations; young children may just stick their fingers in the sugar.

If you'd like to host your own cookie-frosting marathon, start with the sugar cookie recipe below and use Garza's tips:

• Place decorations in individual cups so children don't fight.

• Make frosting or buy a commercial product. Add enough milk to make the frosting easy to spread.

• Place frosting in individual cups with butter knives for spreading, or pack frosting into small sealable plastic bags. Snip one end off the bag and squeeze the frosting onto a cookie.

As long as you can open a package of refrigerated cookie dough, you can have fun.

"Cookie doughs are great when you're working with kids. You can quickly get to the fun part, which is the rolling and shaping. And it's not messy. You don't have flour flying," says Marlene Johnson, a spokesperson for General Mills.

She suggests adding a festive touch to refrigerator dough cookies:

• Bake chocolate chip cookie dough. Drizzle with melted white chocolate chips. Or mix equal portions of vanilla or chocolate frosting and peanut butter to fill cookie sandwiches.

• Press a Hershey's Kiss into the center of peanut butter or chocolate chip cookies.

• Roll sugar cookie dough in colored sugar before slicing and baking.


Sugar Cookies 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature 1/2 cup granulated sugar 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar 1 egg 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg 1/4 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon salt 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour Place butter, granulated sugar and confectioner's sugar in bowl of electric mixer. Beat at medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Scrape down. Add egg, vanilla extract and nutmeg and beat to blend.

Stir together baking powder, salt and flour in a bowl. Beat the flour mixture into the butter, ¼ cup at a time. Form dough into 2 logs, each 2 inches in diameter. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate up to 1 day.

Using a sharp knife slice the dough ¼-inch thick. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Arrange the cookies 1-inch apart on the sheet. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool on cookie sheet 2 to 3 minutes. Remove to wire rack to cool completely. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.


Bev Bennett is the mother of two and the author of 30 Minute Meals for Dummies (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2003).

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