A last minute informal invite was sent to a few family and friends to gather on a Sunday afternoon to decorate Christmas cookies, listen to Christmas tunes, nibble on some snacks, and sip Vin Chaud (mulled wine) and eggnog.
Since the group would be small, it gave me the opportunity to use some of my collected sterling silver and vintage (looking) ornaments in the decor that added an elegant charm reminiscent of photos in the stacks of back issues I have of Victoria magazine.
With less than a week to plan, I searched throughout my home and Christmas boxes for things I may have forgotten I had to use for this quickly pulled together gathering. I also tried to imagine how I would set up the table comfortably for everyone to have room to eat while decorating their cookies.
I found my retro Santa mug that my mother made in her ceramics class in 1968. When my daughter’s family comes to stay with me over the Christmas holiday, we’ve used the mug to leave cookies and milk for Santa. I thought it would make a cute centerpiece container to hold culinary tweezers and some brushes for edible gold powder. The mug, surrounded by small bowls with various sprinkles and dragees were placed on a clear plastic lazy susan for easier access to everyone. Two layers of inexpensive plastic red tablecloths were used to protect the table.
I baked one per guest of three different cookie shapes, a gingerbread person, a snowflake and a detailed back view of a vintage car. I didn’t want all of the cookies to be too difficult since this was a first attempt at decorating for most of my group. However while the open freestyle cookie would seem the easier version, it took some coaxing to get everyone to tackle them. I shared photos of different snowflake cookies from instagram for inspiration.
The car cookie is very detailed, but provides exactly what you need to do. Simply coloring in the spots like a coloring book with crayons. Time consuming, but already thought out. The task of these three cookies provided just the right amount of time for a little gathering.
I used the scraps of cookie dough to cut out small stars, and place a drop of icing on each for a sample taste.
In lieu of pastry bags and mixing and coloring icing, I’ve always used the Betty Crocker or generic Walmart icings with one pointed tip that is snipped off with a pair of scissors. When I first started decorating cookies with my grandchildren, these icing tubes were only $1.98 each. They gradually moved up to $2.98 and this year they had increased to $5.00 each. I was thrilled when I found the white, red and green at a nearby Dollar General for $3.00.
While at the Dollar General (this was only my second visit there in nine years), I found these reindeer socks and luckily there were 6 – exactly enough to give as favors. So I rolled each one up and tied with some green garland ties (Michaels) and a jiggle bell (pack of 9 from Dollar Tree). I also made with jingle bell necklaces with some narrow ribbon.
I placed a copper bowl at each end of the table and filled each with one red, green, white and lavender (that I had left over from Halloween) tube of icing. On the side I had another bowl with one tube of chocolate, and other leftover Halloween colors of black and orange to share. I also found a box with four very small tubes that included yellow and blue for $3 at Dollar General that included in the share bowl.
I purchased a bouquet of evergreen branches at the grocer and laid those in the center of the table. I then nestled the bowls of icing and lazy susan over the evergreens. I used a string of battery powered snowflake bulbs to drape around the center.
Happy with the table, I moved on to the flowers and food, that were displayed on my kitchen island.
Referencing a couple of cute ideas from instagram, I made stacked Christmas tree turkey sandwiches with black truffle mayo.
Adapted from Gretchen’s post “She Keeps a Lovely Home” – I found water crackers in the pantry, purchased cherry tomatoes sliced in half), a yellow bell pepper (for small ornament tops); Boursin caramelized onion and herb spreadable cheese, and a few sprigs of dill to make these little festive small bites.
Icebox pecan and blue cheese crackers (a Martha Stewart recipe I’ve used for years), usually rolled into a log and sliced – updated by rolling out and cutting with a cookie cutter shapes of stars and small snowflakes to add to the cheese board. The stars are sprinkled with a little crushed pink peppercorn. (Must be made ahead and refrigerated for 24 hours before baking so prepare!)
An easy small bite of mini cocktail sausages, wrapped in store bought pie dough (cut into strips with a pastry cutter with scalloped edges), brushed with egg wash and sprinkled with everything bagel seasoning (or sesame seeds would also work). Baked at 450 degrees (f) for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden.
I also made a quick batch of sweet and spicy pecans the day before. The cheese board had raisin rosemary crackers from Trader Joe’s, my pecan blue cheese homemade crackers, a cranberry cheese from England, a Black truffle sheep cheese, a honey goat cheese rolled in chopped dried cranberries and crystalized ginger and a small bunch of black seedless grapes.
For dessert, I found this Flourless Chocolate Chestnut cake. Regrettably, I’ve never eaten chestnuts. I was in New York just before the holidays on two occasions and didn’t grab the chance to try roasted chestnuts! A mistake I will not make again. This cake was light while also being rich with a truffle like texture and not too sweet. It was very lovely and everyone was a fan.
My Vin Chaud was so well liked that I was making a second batch while the others were decorating cookies! Toss in a few fresh cranberries for garnish. (Note to self- make a double batch next year!)
Before departing with their wrapped up cookies, we did a small toast to the holidays and a festive day with a chilled glass of eggnog topped with a fresh grating of nutmeg!
None of us, including me, are professional bakers. Our decorated cookies prove to be homemade and we could not be prouder of them. They represent an afternoon well spent, a first attempt by some who may have been previously intimidated by the idea of decorating cookies and a lot of fun. (I think this will become a new annual tradition).
P. S. My 89 year old mother-in-law REALLY loved the cake and left with some to take home … and the star cookie samples. Happy Holidays!