Holiday cookie exchanges are the new book clubs – no one is really interested in the cookies or the book. Most of the ladies just want an excuse to get together and get buzzed on wine and snacks. Just a little note about cookie exchange etiquette: To the people who pick up a plastic clamshell of cookies from the grocery store on the way to the party, you’re the worst. Don’t look me in the eye as you circle the table, filling your tin with everyone else’s hard work and traditions. You disgust me. Decline the invitation, or go to the party sans crappy cookies, and don’t exchange. No one wants your store-bought cookies.
I participated in a cookie exchange at work today, an event that my friend referred to as “The Olympics of Cookie Exchanges.” I guess Wilton does carry a certain stigma…
I got burnt out on cookie decorating during my very first industry job at Alliance Bakery, where we did a lot of crazy custom orders as well as regular decorated cookies for the display case. I’m talking hundreds, and sometimes thousands of decorated cookies every week. That’s a whole lot of repetition, my friends, and when you’re straining your neck to trace a corporate logo or graphic perfectly onto a 4-inch cookie 300 or 400 times in a row, you’re allowed to get a little irritable and swear off of the royal icing for good.
Luckily, these days my cookie decorating is much less, and I do everything I can to keep it that way, but that doesn’t mean I can show up with boring, plain cookies for the work cookie exchange. After all, I have a reputation to uphold. When I came across a Martha Stewart recipe for Spiced Cardamom Cookies, it wasn’t the flavor profile that immediately jumped out at me, but the unique wood grain impression that was embossed onto each cookie. They’re truly gorgeous.
So, I started with Martha’s basic recipe, because Martha knows best, and then I tweaked it to suit my own tastes. I subbed molasses for her dark corn syrup, because really, who wants to knowingly eat corn syrup? I upped the flour a little bit to compensate for the slightly more viscous molasses. I increased some of the spices ever-so-slightly to make sure these cookies had a great flavor, and I made sure that my spices were still fully fragrant and fresh, as nothing is worse that going to the trouble of baking a ton of cookies, only to find that the flavor falls flat due to 3-year-old ground cloves. Finally, I changed the “decorating” to use things I already had on hand. Instead of using Martha’s Christmas tree template and cutting out 60 cookies by hand (uuggghh that sounds so horrible), I gently bent a couple of regular Christmas tree cookie cutters into thinner, more elongated shapes. Rather than buying the faux-bois mats* that she recommends, I used a cooling grid to make a linear design on half of my cookies, and the Graceful Vines Imprint Mat on the other half. Both designs turned out really cool, and with very little effort, my cookies were “decorated,” without ever having to touch a bag of royal icing.
Now…I have 5 dozen assorted cookies over here, and I’m only one woman, and I have another cookie exchange to attend this Saturday (look for that blog post shortly thereafter). Who’s going to eat all these things?
Cardamom Molasses Cookies
Adapted from Martha Stewart’s Spiced Cardamom Cookies
Makes between 4-6 dozen, depending on the size of your cutters
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1-1/4 teaspoons ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened
1 cup dark-brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup heavy cream, room temperature
1 large egg, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste, or 1-1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract