While every Christmas themed recipe book my mother has on her shelve suggests differently (and there are quite a few that do), the very best desserts in the whole world are the simplest: sugar cookies shaped like reindeer, pies that are topped with canned whipped cream, chocolate brownies with only pecans as an addition.
Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years are already more complicated than they need to be in more ways than in the kitchen. My neighbor spent hours constructing a peppermint tree which ended up causing her to miss her son’s soccer game in order to complete. My uncle’s closest friend shattered his shin bone trying to place a lit-Grinch ornament to the top of his house. (He is walking again, and back to his happy self after a few surgeries.)
This is an on-going theme. I already know that my mother, just as she has every year, will dedicate her entire pre-Thanksgiving night and morning baking a giant ham which needs an oven temperature change in three-hour intervals. She wakes up, puffy-eyed from the poor sleep from having to wake up periodically, and sets to making more dishes to eventually be taken to my grandmother’s house. She will make a series of desserts which will require extensive attention, milk scalding, and most likely an amount of butter that would be embarrassing if laid out in sticks by the end of the meal (the holidays are not a time to regret calories).
By doing all of this, my mother will miss the Thanksgiving parade that my siblings and I will gather around the television to comment on. She will not get to form her own opinions on her favorite bloats, and will certainly not be able to argue with her children on what they will (most likely) disagree on her assessment.
Though I love her iced pound cakes (truly love), I would prefer to have her in there with us for all of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and most of New Year’s (I am a college student, my mother would not enjoy spending the whole New Year’s day with me).
Although every magazine at the end of the grocery store isle—and each holiday recipe book, and those scattered chefs that can be found by simply mentioning aloud that cooking is a good hobby in public—are screaming to create holiday masterpieces that involve more work than the pyramids, the best holiday desserts are those that can be made together, and made without the dedication of the entire day. These staples are simple, and they are the ones first pictured when conjuring up images of a warm fire, family, and festive ornamentation. Pumpkin pies, chocolate-chip laced cakes, and seasoned ciders are wonderful—but only if time is left afterwards to enjoy them with the people they were created for.
Basic Sugar Cookie Recipe via marthastewart.com
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Assorted candies, sprinkles, or colored sugars, for decorating (optional)
- In large bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, and salt. With an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture; beat until combined. Divide dough in half; flatten into disks. Wrap each in plastic; freeze until firm, at least 20 minutes, or place in a resealable plastic bag, and freeze up to 3 months (thaw in refrigerator overnight).
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment. Remove one dough disk; let stand 5 to 10 minutes. Roll out 1/8 inch thick between two sheets of floured parchment, dusting dough with flour as needed. Cut shapes with cookie cutters. Using a spatula, transfer to prepared baking sheets. (If dough gets soft, chill 10 minutes.) Reroll scraps; cut shapes. Repeat with remaining dough.
- Bake, rotating halfway through, until edges are golden, 10 to 18 minutes (depending on size). Cool completely on wire racks. To ice cookies, spread with the back of a spoon. Let the icing harden, about 20 minutes. Decorate as desired.
Orange Spiced Apple Cider Recipe via foodnetwork.com
4 cups apple cider
1 medium orange, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
2 cinnamon sticks
2 teaspoons whole cloves
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
Combine the cider, orange slices, cinnamon sticks, cloves and peppercorns in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the cider is fragrant, about 20 minutes. Serve warm.
Recipe courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis