The acceleration of the Christmas season is annoying, from the retailers who can't wait until Halloween is over to start dragging out the red and green decorations to the radio stations that switch to all holiday-fare in mid-November.
But Thanksgiving is past and leftovers are gone. So it's not too early to start thinking about Christmas cookies.
Those cookies serve several purposes. They provide taste memories that can date back to childhood. They are the fuel for bonding rituals, whether it's family members gathering in kitchens to bake them or the tray of treats that family and friends gather around to tell old stories and create new ones. And they add to those extra pounds packed on at the holidays that help inspire those New Year's resolutions come January.
Peppermint sugar cookies and peanut butter chocolate chip cookies await the arrival of Santa Claus.
I help out some, but the Christmas cookie making in the Gray household primarily is done by my wife. I'm better at the eating. Some years we make more than others and there's usually a new recipe that one of us will see and add to the repertoire.
However, certain cookies are perennials, ones we have to make or everyone in the house will miss them.
Here are a few suggestions from the Gray family. Maybe one of them will make it onto your cookie tray this year.
Swedish Tea Cookies
1 cup butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup light cream or nonfat plain yogurt
1/4 cup butter
1 1/4 cup sifted powdered sugar up to 2 1/2 cups
3 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Red and/or green food coloring
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a mixing bowl at slow speed, mix butter and flour together until the mixture resembles cornmeal. Stir in cream.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut the dough using a two-inch round cookie cutter or small seasonal cookie cutter. Place cut dough on ungreased cookie sheet and sprinkle with sugar. Prick the surface with the tines of a fork and bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until the bottoms are light brown.
Cool on wire racks.
To prepare the filling, beat 1/4 cup of butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add 1 1/4 cups sifted powdered sugar, beating well. Beat in the milk and vanilla. Gradually beat in enough sugar (up to another 1 1/4 cups) until spreadable. Tint with food coloring.
Spread filling (about 1 rounded teaspoon) on the bottom of the cookie and top with another cookie, sugar-side up.
Makes about 36 cookies.
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup sugar
1 large egg, beaten
3/4 cup chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Combine the first three ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir well with a wooden spoon until smooth.
Mix in the chocolate chips.
Form dough into balls, each about a heaping tablespoon.
Place the balls of dough about an inch apart on ungreased baking sheets. Using the tines of a fork, flatten each cookie, creating crosshatch pattern.
Bake until the cookies rise and turn lightly brown, about 10 minutes.
Let cool on a wire rack.
Makes about 24 cookies.
1 cup (two sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 large egg yolk
2 large egg whites
2 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup finely crushed candy canes or hard peppermint candies
Additional powdered sugar
Mix butter and 3/4 cup of sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add yolk and mix until blended. Add egg whites and beat well (the mixture will look wet and a little grainy). Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl and gradually beat the dry ingredients into the butter mixture. Stir in the crushed candy canes. Form the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic and chill for one hour.
Put rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Butter two large baking sheets. Form dough into 1-inch balls. Roll in additional powdered sugar and place on the sheets about 2 inches apart. Using the tines of a fork, flatten each cookie, creating crosshatch pattern.
Bake until cookies are golden on bottom, about 20 minutes. Transfer to racks and let cool completely.
Makes about 30 cookies.
Swedish Tea Cookies
This may be my favorite Christmas cookie that my wife makes. The original recipe came from a 1990 issue of Midwest Living magazine, the year after we got married, and she's probably made these cookies every year.
The cookies are as pretty as they are tasty, and the cookie doesn't have to be limited to the holiday season. She used a heart-shaped cookie cutter earlier this year to make them for a wedding reception cookie table, and she tinted the frosting to match the wedding colors.
What is more Christmas-y than a candy cane? This traditional sugar cookie adds crushed up candy canes to the dough, making it perfect for the season.
This also is a cookie that freezes well for those who want to get a jump on their cookie-making and thaw them out closer to the holiday festivities.
I always thought this cookie would be good with a dark chocolate ganache drizzled on top, but I don't think we've ever tried that.
This really isn't a Christmas cookie, but one of the best parts of Christmas baking rituals is bringing families together, not only to eat them but to make them. This is a cookie that the youngest members of the family can help make and feel a sense of accomplishment.
The recipe is adapted from Emeril Lagasse's ''There's a Chef in My Soup! Recipes for the Kid in Everyone," which is the first cookbook my younger daughter, Ali, received nearly a decade ago. She's been making this cookie ever since.
The ingredients couldn't be simpler. Frankly, the first time I saw the recipe, I figured it had to be a mistake. I couldn't understand how just peanut butter, sugar and an egg could turn into a cookie, but it delivers a big peanut butter taste.
Ali added chocolate chips to the original recipe, which makes them even more decadent. We use large Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips but any will do. Or leave them out for pure peanut-buttery goodness.