Basic Cookie Dough

This recipe has endless variations: add cocoa for chocolate cookies, oatmeal for oatmeal cookies, pecans for pecan cookies, peanut butter for peanut butter cookies, and so on and so forth. Top with sugar frosting, glaze, sprinkles, chopped nuts, grated coconut, or shaved chocolate. Add food coloring to make them red, green, pink, or chartreuse. After rolling out to a half inch sheet, cut them into any shape. For true inspiration, make them with children at your elbows.

1 c. butter
1 c. brown sugar
1 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
3 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt

Cream butter with sugars; mix well. Add eggs, vanilla and then flour, sifted with salt and baking soda, a little at a time. Bake at 350 degrees on a flat, heavy baking sheet for 8 to 10 minutes. Cool thoroughly before frosting.

Ginger-Pecan Sandies

This recipe makes a rich and aromatic, soft and crumbly cookie or small cake that goes perfectly with a hot drink—coffee, tea, cocoa, even sweet mulled wine—and it’s so simple a child can make it. To make real sandies, you must use sanding sugar, which is slightly coarser than granulated.

Cream 1 stick butter with a cup of confectioner’s sugar, and a teaspoon each almond and vanilla extract. Blend in 2 cups plain flour sifted with a teaspoon of baking powder, a  half cup chopped pecans and a tablespoon ground ginger. (I have tried this recipe with freshly-grated ginger, and it simply does not work at all well at all with so much butter.) This mixture makes a soft, elastic dough that you have to work with flour-dusted hands to form into a ball. Refrigerate for a half hour. Pat or roll the dough ball out a half inch thick, sprinkle with sanding sugar, cut into rounds or squares, and bake at 350 middle rack until lightly browned. This recipe is easily doubled or tripled.

Red Currant Thumb Cookies

Use powdered sugar on your hands and the wax paper instead of flour; these cookies are floury enough. Make sure it is unsalted butter, and anything other than the red currant jelly is too sweet. Use a baby spoon or even better a grapefruit spoon to put the jelly in the depression. If you break it up some, it will be less likely to bubble up and spill over the cookie. Chill the dough overnight or all day. It will hold its shape better, and use parchment paper.

Take 3/4 cup softened unsalted butter, 1/2 cup sugar 1 egg yolk, and 1 1/2 cup cake flour. Cream butter well, add sugar and blend thoroughly. Add egg yolk, fold in flour, knead a little bit, wrap in wax paper and chill for several hours. Roll into 1/2 inch balls, and make a small depression in the middle. Fill with red currant jelly. Bake at 325 until golden.

Grinch Cookies

Forget those sissy elves, simpering Santas and ridiculous Rudolphs, here are the meanest Christmas cookies of all. These are fun, but they’re a mess to make, as you should expect; still, that’s all the more reason to get the kids involved in rolling the dough in the powdered sugar mixture, which is the sloppiest part. Put some Visqueen down and let ’em go.

Mix together one box vanilla cake mix—I use the French vanilla—two eggs, one stick softened butter (NOT margarine) a tablespoon of vegetable oil (NOT olive oil; can you believe I feel I have to say that?) and a little bottle of green food coloring: all of it. In another bowl, mix one cup corn starch with 1 cup powdered sugar. Using a large spoon, scoop up a lump of the (very stiff green) dough, shape it into a (ping-pong ball and roll it around in the starch/sugar mixture until coated. Place on a cookie sheet lined with lightly oiled parchment paper and bake at 375 for about 8-10 minutes. Keep an eye on them so that they’re baked through without any browning. Once done, remove from oven and let sit 2 minutes before placing on wire rack to cool completely.

For the hearts, mix a half cup each of flour, corn starch and powdered sugar mixed with a half stick soft butter, just enough cold water to make a stiff dough and plenty of red food coloring (eyeball it, but you want them really red, not pink) cut into heart shapes and bake on an oiled cookie sheet at 350 until crisp. Glue to the cookies with icing.

Serve wearing a Santa hat and a sneer.