Probably the coolest thing I can think of to do in the winter is quit talking about it. Remain unflappable and resilient to the temptation to begin each conversation with “OMG it is so cold out.” If someone attempts to draw you in to their weather small talk, be prepared with an, “oh it’s negative ten? I hadn’t noticed,” comeback or just be super stubborn and let your wardrobe speak for itself (open-toed shoes, a light-weight stylish jacket, mittenless). Or you could embrace the climate and all of the activities it affords so you’re primed with some great conversation starters.
Sure there are countless things one could do outside to enjoy winter at the 45th parallel, but I’m going to stick with what I know – indoor activities. It’s no surprise Minneapolis and St. Paul have a ton of bakeries to choose from as our climate is conducive to baking and consuming these treats, particularly in the winter. Enter the cookie. Specifically the Christmas Sugar Cookie.
I have been making sugar cookies every Christmas since I was about 8 years old – it’s a tradition. My mom is quite the baker, but for this tough cookie, my aunt took me under her wing and schooled me on its art. Let’s just say after 3 decades or so of experience and with the help of new technology, I’ve got this down pat.
I’ve enlisted both kids’ help for this for several years now. My oldest at 7, Ava, is getting pretty adept at it. The recipe I use is pretty simple, but I’ve never questioned it. It makes about 8 dozen cookies, which used to take me days to complete – there were a lot of do-overs. Now I purposely break it into 3 parts: making the dough (20 min); rolling out, cutting and baking the cookies (1.5hrs); and decorating (1.5hrs). Perfect for a Fri – Sun activity on a winter weekend. With snow.
Day 1: We all chip in to make the dough – remembering to mix liquids and dry ingredients separately before combining them. Super important for baking. I remind the kids of the figure 8 fold-in motion, not straight-up stirring, so flour flying everywhere is reduced to a minimum. They sample way too much dough as usual – always trying to one-up the other. Calvin, my 5-year-old, notes it tastes a bit salty to him. It chills.
Day 2: I bring out the pastry mat (this is the technology I referred to earlier). This is year 3 using it. Makes all the difference in the world. The kids are pretty good with roll out duty, although it’s difficult for them to get a consistent thickness to it. I make some final adjustments and we’re ready to cut. The best cookie cutters are those not too fussy and those not too small or too big. We use stars, christmas trees, candy canes, holly, snowflakes, stockings and two exceptions to the prior rule: 2 detailed, large Santa cookies and a few mini-candy canes. We’re on a 400 degree oven with 6 minutes per cookie sheet, so we’re moving quickly. When it’s all done and cookies are cooled, we move them into two 10 x 10″ tupperware containers with wax sheets in between.
Day 3: I’ve tried making my own frosting and none is really worth the work compared to store-bought cream cheese frosting. I buy two containers and use about 1.5. I like frosting, but don’t like it overpowering my cookie. I microwave it just a bit and work quickly spreading the frosting, which is thinner because it’s been heated up. This is followed by Ava who is on sprinkle detail. To avoid spending lots of money on colored frosting in the tubes ($5 per tube), I change up the color of the frosting from the can with food coloring (7 colors) and stick to colored sprinkles and 2-3 writing tubes of frosting (red and green in this case).
We mix up the cookies when putting them back in the containers, so we can pull out a few over the holidays to take to parties and deserving neighbors. They go immediately into the freezer for safe-keeping. Ava helps me keep watch over them and has learned to scold others who try to eat more than their share. She is a quick study.
And there you have it. A Christmas cookie years in the making and a reminder that baking with kids equals messy fun and creativity. We laugh about the cookies that don’t look quite as perfect and have a Misfit Cookie and Tea Party on Day 3, humming “since there’s no place to go (due to huge snow drifts and freezing cold temps), let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.”
So sorry to those Floridian and Californian homemakers, trying so hard to create Christmas memories and traditions, baking away while their kids frolic in the outdoor pool, the Minnesotan cookie-baking experience may have you beat by about 20 parallels.