'Tis the season. I love to take in the sights that remind me that Christmas time is here. But there is no mistaking the sweet fragrances that capture the magical essence of Christmas. They awaken our senses, touch our soul and rekindle the memories of our childhood, keeping the spirit alive.
As I inhale the tantalizing scents that surround me, I realize that the holiday has finally arrived. The scent of pine filling the air from the evergreen tree and fresh cut boughs of holly; the pomander of orange infused with spices of cloves and cinnamon pine cones. The hot cocoa warming on the stove and the mulled cider with a touch of spice drifts through the kitchen. There is also the festive aroma of fresh-baked gingerbread.
As these scents fill my head, I am transported back to memories of family tradition. It's not visions of sugar plums that dance through my head, but an array of Christmas cookies and candies that tantalized me as a child. It has always been one of our family traditions to prepare a variety of cookies to plate on Christmas morning. There was always so much excitement in gathering together with my mother and my aunt to start the pre-holiday baking of various holiday treats. I can still capture the mixed fragrances of toasted pecans, sweet chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, spiced apple, pumpkin and peppermint, filtering through the kitchen, bringing warmth and comfort with them.
Classic Sugar Cookies, shown in both photos, are a great recipe to use at Christmas time or any other time of the year. You can use candy, colored sugar and frosting to decorate the cookies.
Tribune Chronicle photo / Debbie Wilson
There are many delicious cookies that are a part of our tradition that we make, year after year. Pecan tarts, chocolate crinkles, thumbprints, clothespin cookies and gingerbread cookies, just to name a few. But my favorite cookie has to be my classic sugar cookie recipe, which has been passed down through our family for generations. Making cut-out cookies with my mother was always part of the joy of the holiday. The sweet aroma of sugar cookies baking brings back special memories.
I prepared these cookies with my own children just this week. We were not just making Christmas cookies - we were making fond memories. We had so much fun cutting out different shapes. Reindeer, stars, trees, candy canes, snowmen and mittens were just part of the array that we prepared. We used colored frostings, sprinkles and even M&Ms to embellish them after they were baked.
The trick to good sugar cookies is to not overbake them. I do not bake these longer than eight minutes. When lightly touched, your finger should leave only a slight indentation. I like to use parchment paper to line my cookie sheet so that the cookies can be removed easily without breaking. The sugar cookies will be lightly browned on the bottom.
1 cup sugar
1 cup margarine, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 can Duncan Hines Whipped Frosting (Fluffy White)
Preheat oven to 400.
Combine sugar, margarine, vanilla and egg; blend well. Stir in remaining ingredients (except frosting); blend well. Chill dough about 15 minutes for easier handling. Take 1/3 of dough out of the refrigerator at a time. Roll dough out on floured surface to about 1/4 inch thick. Cut out with desired cookie cutters. Place 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet or a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for five to eight minutes. Cookies will be slightly brown on bottom. Immediately remove from cookie sheet and place on cooling rack. Allow to cool. Frost and decorate as desired.
Once frosted, these cookies soften even more. My favorite frosting to use is Duncan Hines Whipped Frosting: Fluffy White. It is quick and tastes delicious.
These fragrances of Christmas weave a spell of nostalgia and vividly bring back special moments with special people.
The world is a happy place on Christmas Day as love surrounds our hearts. Merry Christmas!