Thirty-something years ago, my best friend's mom started hosting annual cookie decorating parties. Every year, at the beginning of winter break, she'd pull out her wonderful collection of cookie cutters and spend a morning baking dozens of sugar cookies.
She always made three or four other kinds of cookies and often chocolate fudge as well; this last always struck me as a semi-magical skill. These days, of course, I'm more impressed that she voluntarily filled her house with a dozen sugar-crazed children.
She made bowls of icing in bright primary colors, and set out shakers of sprinkles and nonpareils, sparkling sugar and red-hot candies. As the cookies cooled, our friends would arrive, and we'd spend the afternoon decorating cookies, usually with more enthusiasm than artistry.
After the decorating, we played hide-and-go-seek and charades and sardines while she tidied up the mess we'd left. Being a clever and sensible woman, she always covered the dining table with layers of newspaper; if the floor hadn't been moppable I imagine a tarp would have gone down as well.
At the end of the day, we each took a plate of assorted cookies and fudge, added a pile of our decorated masterpieces, and went home to our parents just before the sugar crash hit.
We're grown up now, my best friend and I, and more years than not, we still gather in her mom's kitchen to decorate holiday cookies with a few friends. These days we're drinking beer or irish coffees instead of milk, and talking work and travel plans instead of playing hide-and-go-seek, but but we still have favorite decorations — red hots for her, multicolored nonpareils for me.
|Squirrel in a holiday sweater|
Connie's Christmas Cutout cookies
3 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
Sift flour, baking powder and salt together. In another bowl, cream shortening & sugar together. Mix in eggs. Add vanilla and almond extract. Add flour and stir to combine. Chill dough. Roll out to 1/4" thick and cut out. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet for 8-10 minutes at 375°.
1/4 cup water
2 Tbsp butter
3 cups powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
Heat water and butter. Remove from heat, add vanilla, and gradually stir in sifted powdered sugar. Beat well. (Can be kept covered in refrigerator until needed.) Divide into bowls and add a few drops food coloring to each; stir until smooth. Add milk to thin, if necessary.