Thanksgiving is over and it’s time to talk seriously about Christmas cookies.
“But, Rex,” you say, rudely assuming we’re on a first-name basis. “I haven’t even finished my leftover turkey.”
SILENCE, PERSON I CREATED IN MY MIND! It’s never too soon to talk about Christmas cookies. Of all the holiday comestibles, none engender more passion than frosted sugar cookies in festive holiday shapes.
If you Google “Christmas cookies,” your laptop will explode. If you Google “best Christmas cookie recipe,” your phone will sprout an arm and slap you in the face.
Every publication in America is constitutionally required to hold an annual holiday cookie contest (it’s a lesser-known part of the First Amendment), and a full 75 percent of all internet content is now just lists titled “10 Great Christmas Cookie Hacks.”
So don’t you dare harrumph or accuse me of prematurely addressing this issue. It’s always relevant.
Now let’s get down to business. I will share the most amazing Christmas cookie recipe in the known world, but first we need to have an honest discussion about these delicacies.
For starters, nobody actually likes Christmas cookies. They are a marginally effective and slightly more couth tool for eating frosting, and they never come out looking the way we envision.
We see pictures of lovingly decorated holiday cookies, detailed with precisely placed sprinkles and different colors of frosting spread without a hint of smearing. Then we set out to make our own, sometimes with our children or other family members, and the resulting cookie array resembles a reindeer and snowman triage unit.
An attempt at a Grinch looks more like the titular character of the upcoming film “Shrek Barely Survives a Tragic Industrial Accident.” The angels’ wings keep breaking off, making them look like armless humans with inexplicable torso indentations.
It’s frustrating and moderately grotesque, yet we do it, in part because it’s tradition, but largely because we want to eat frosting. In an ideal world, we would just eat frosting on a spoon and forgo the cookies entirely, but for reasons I can’t understand, sitting around the fireplace spooning frosting from a jar has never been widely viewed as festive, or socially acceptable.
I read about the history of Christmas cookies on the History channel’s website. (I only trust television-network-based historical research.) Turns out Christmas cookies were created in the Middle Ages, and repressed frosting prudes of the time crafted a narrative that they are a delicious holiday tradition.
The History channel report said “ingredients like sugar, lard and butter” were expensive for medieval cooks: “Only on the most important holiday could families afford treats like these, which led to a baking bonanza to prepare for Christmas. And unlike pies or cakes, cookies could be easily shared and given to friends and neighbors.”
Which leads us to the next aspect of Christmas cookie culture we need to address. As much as each of us, deep down, dislikes Christmas cookies, there’s one thing we dislike even more: other people’s Christmas cookies.
The medieval sickos who came up with this whole racket made sure homemade cookies were “shared and given to friends and neighbors.” That’s likely because every recipe, without fail, makes approximately 34 million cookies.
So what happens is this: You make Christmas cookies. Your friends and neighbors also make Christmas cookies. They bring you some of their Christmas cookies under the guise of kindness, but really they’re just trying to offload baked goods so they can access their kitchen tables. You do the same to them. Even though you and your family secretly dislike your own Christmas cookies, you refuse to touch the ones from friends and neighbors because, and I quote, “They’re just not as good as the ones we make.”
It’s the circle of Christmas cookie life. Don’t blame me, blame those folks in the Middle Ages. They could’ve invented the hand-carved Yule Frosting Spoon and made a tradition out of families sitting around a vat of frosting, passing the spoon from oldest to youngest. But they went with thin, brittle sugar cookies.
What can we do? We’re stuck with this tradition, and resistance is futile.
So with that, I present to you THE most amazing Christmas cookie recipe in the known world:
1) Mix together whatever ingredients you want, mainly butter and sugar. It doesn’t really matter because in the end, it’s just going to taste like frosting on some kind of sweet-ish cracker thingy.
2) Coat countertop—and the floor, and quite possibly the dog or cat—with flour and begin rolling dough so it’s thin enough to be cut into shapes that will tear when you lift them onto a cookie sheet. Repeat this step 15,000 times or until all dough or patience is used up.
3) Bake cookies for either 6 minutes, at which point they’ll be undercooked, or 7 minutes, at which point they’ll be overcooked. Again, it doesn’t matter. These are frosting delivery vessels, nothing more.
4) While the cookies cool, go to the basement with a jar of frosting and a spoon, making sure to slip at least once on the flour that spilled on the floor. Discreetly consume spoonfuls of frostings.
5) Return to kitchen for “the fun part” and decorate the cookies with frosting, sprinkles, weird silver balls and colored sugar.
6) Laugh with your family at the atrocities you’ve created, comforted in the knowledge that the neighbors will be over soon with a tin full of something even worse.
And there you have it, folks. Tradition.
Enjoy your holiday frosting, via whatever delivery method you prefer.
Rex Huppke is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.