Do you remember looking at the sky on Christmas Eve hoping to spy Santa and his sleigh heading for your house? Did you lie in bed and listen for the sound of sleigh bells while falling to sleep? Is there anything more exciting to a small child than waking before the break of dawn on Christmas morning, anxious to see whether Santa made his annual visit? Just the memory of creeping softly down the stairs and checking the cookie plate to see if Santa ate his cookies before spying the pile of presents that Santa left beneath the tree takes me back to my childhood! He came! He came! It was almost a sure thing, even though there was that last bit of doubt the night before because I didn't always do as I was told, or clean my room like I was supposed to do. But Santa came—every year for eight seemingly long years, until that day when I learned that Santa was not a real person at all.
As a parent, I remember watching from around the corner, or another room to see the looks of wonder on my children's and later, my grandchildren's faces when they spied the abundance of treasures carefully placed under the tree. Once again Santa visited our home, and the magic lived on. Regardless of your personal view concerning the commercialization of the holiday, there is nothing like the look of amazement on the face of a child Christmas morning. It's just too bad that myth eventually comes to an end in every child's life. I specifically remember where I was when I learned that Santa Claus didn't really exist. I believe that is one memory that stayed with me because of its shock effect. At least it was a shock to me.
Every Saturday during the fall and spring my oldest Sister and I, together with one of her friends, attended the "Little Women's Club" at our local YMCA. The program ran from about 9 a.m. until about 2 p.m. and was for "little women." I was eight at the time and my Sister was 11, so it was probably intended for girls 8-12. There were many activities included in that several hour period, including gymnastics, swimming, lunch, an indoor sport like basketball, kickball, or 4-square, and cooking. Because my family only had one vehicle at the time, we walked from our home to the Y in the morning, and walked to my Grandparents' home after the program. My Grandfather always took us home from there. We went to my Grandparents' home each week because they lived half a mile from the Y, and our home was two and a half miles away. At the end of all the activity of the day, we were exhausted by the time we finished, and walking that half a mile on some of those Saturdays was a big enough struggle.
On this particular day, I can remember walking on the sidewalk, trying not to step on the cracks (or I'd break my Mother's back!), and my Sister and her friend were in front of me talking lowly to each other like they always did. There was only room for two across on the sidewalk, so I was relegated as usual to bringing up the rear. The sun was shining brightly, the sky was a clear bright blue, and the air was cool. Fall had arrived a few weeks earlier, and it was a typical beautiful Indian summer day in Northwest Ohio. I was kind of off in my own world, probably thinking about what pastries Grandma would have for us when we arrived (it was Saturday after all, Grandma Lasak's baking day). I was also half eavesdropping on my Sister's conversation, which I usually did, a little irritated as I was that I was always left out of the conversation. My Sister's friend asked her what my Parents were getting her for Christmas. My Sister turned around swiftly and caught my eyes then looked back at her friend and shook her head. "She doesn't still believe in Santa Claus does she?" my Sister's friend asked incredulously in a stage-whisper. I felt like I'd been punched in the stomach. The way she asked the question made it sound like I was a moron. Or worse yet, still a baby. Trying to maintain some sense of dignity, I quickly answered, "No! I know Santa Claus isn't real!" And that was it. I can't remember the conversation for the remainder of the walk. I just remember the feeling of having lost something. A little piece of innocence, perhaps? It made me wonder how many other things that I believed existed, really didn't.
The great part about this story is that every year Santa still visits my home, albeit a few days before his usual Christmas Eve arrival, and in the form of a cookie. Children get almost as excited about these cookies as about Santa himself. They have been an anticipated part of my holiday baking repertoire since the first year I made them with my Mother-in-Law, Alma. Alma had the special cookie cutters that these cookies require in order to achieve the 3-dimensional figure that makes them unique. (See Fig. 2) The cookie cutters are available at http://www.grammascutters.com/index.php/aunt-chicks-merry-xmas-cookie-cutter-set and are worth purchasing if you plan to make these on a regular basis. You can buy Santa individually or as part of a 4-cutter set (also includes a 3-dimensional star, stocking, and tree as seen in Fig. 3; and no, I am NOT receiving any remuneration for recommending them). The dough is pressed into the cutter and is "molded" providing the cookie with depth and dimension. (See Fig. 2) I took them to my sons' school Christmas parties every year; and the next year I was asked by the teachers whether the boys would be bringing them again. They are more work than your basic decorated sugar cookie, but they’re well worth it. The Santa is decorated in several stages, beginning with placing halved raisins in the eyes before baking, then painting and sugaring the hat red, cheeks and mouth. The moustache, beard, and eyebrows are iced with white icing, and finally coconut is added to the beard and eyebrows, if desired.
Since making these for the first time in 1972, this recipe has become my cut-out sugar cookie of choice. They can be mixed together in just a few minutes with a stand mixer, and they are very easy to roll and cut. Try this recipe for any occasion where cut-out sugar cookies are called for, such as Halloween, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, or Easter. It is a delicious cookie simply sprinkled with colored sugars, glazed or iced and decorated.² When my boys were little they loved to help in the making and decorating of these cookies, as my Grandchildren love to today. At Christmastime every year, my Grandchildren look forward to baking and decorating these cookies. It is a wonderful holiday project that brings forth the artist in even the most cynical of Scrooges! You can use them as Hostess gifts, gifts for your children's teachers, or hang them like ornaments on the tree. No matter how old your children are today, they will still love these cookies. In fact, my 40-year old Son just asked me last week when I was going to make the "Santa Claus" cookies. Bring Santa back into your holiday treats. You won't be sorry! Merry Christmas!
©2012, 2013 Here Comes Santa Claus Sugar Cookies by Kathy Striggow
This article may not be reproduced or reprinted in whole or in part without the express written permission of the author.
Alma's Santa Claus Sugar Cookies
Yield:3 dozen cookies
Prep Time:20 minutes + chilling (at least 4 hours)
Bake Time:8-10 minutes
Decorating Time: Varies
1 cup butter
1-1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs (make sure they're LARGE or it may alter the resulting dough)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. almond extract
4-1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
Raisins, snipped in half for the eyes (if desired)
1. Cream together the butter and sugar until it becomes light and fluffy.
2. Add eggs one at a time, blending well after each addition.
3. Add extracts and blend to incorporate.
4. Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt and slowly add to the butter and egg mixture.
5. Mix just until all the flour is incorporated
6. Remove from bowl and shape into a log.Wrap the log in waxed paper and refrigerate 4 hours to overnight.
7. Heat oven to 350° F.
8. On a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin, roll the dough out to ¼ to 3/8 inch thickness.
9. Flour the inside of the cutter¹ and place the cutter on the dough, pressing down firmly with your fingers.Make sure all the edges are cut.
10. Gently pick up the cutter with cut dough, or if it you are having trouble lifting the cutter and dough, run a thin spatula under the dough and lift.
11. Using your thumb, on the back of the cutter roll the edges of the dough toward the center and firmly press the dough into the nooks and crannies of the cutter to capture the 3-dimensional features of the cutter.
12. Tap the cutter in your hand or on a table (gently) and the dough will release from the cutter.If the dough does not release easily, you have not floured the cutter enough.
13. Place the cookie on ungreased cookie sheets and flour the cutter again before you cut out another cookie.
14. Leave at least an inch between each cookie on the baking sheet as they will spread just a little during the baking process.
15. Place the halved raisins in each crease for the eyes and press in gently.
16. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until a light brown. You don't want them to get too brown, but you want them done, so monitor your baking time on the first few batches. You will know they are done by the way they smell (you will see what I mean once you have baked a few batches).
17. Remove cookies from baking sheets onto cooling racks. Cool cookies completely before icing and decorating.In the meantime, prepare the decorations.
Icing and Decorating
8 Tbsp. (1 stick) Butter
4 cups Confectioners' Sugar
4 Tbsp. Water, or enough to make icing easy to spread, but not runny
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract OR Almond Extract, OR a combination of both
Red Food Coloring (if using egg white/water mixture for "glue")
Egg White mixed with a few drops of water & food coloring of choice OR clear corn syrup to be used as "glue" to hold the colored sugar in place
Red Decorating Sugar
Fine tip paint brush (used only for cookies)
Small paint brushes (used only for cookies)
Coconut for beard
1. Make sure the cookies are cooled completely before beginning the icing and decorating process.
2. Place a small bowl of clear corn syrup or the egg white/water mixture at your decorating area. Pour the red colored sugar into a small bowl.
3. Using a fine tip paint brush, "paint" the chosen form of "glue" in circles on the cheeks, the nose and the crease of the mouth.
4. Hold the cookie over the bowl and spoon the sugar over the facial features to which you have just applied the glue. Holding the cookie face down, gently tap the back of the cookie face to remove the excess sugar. You can also use a DRY paintbrush (children's small art brushes that are only used for cookies) to brush off any remaining sugar crystals.
5. Repeat with the remaining Santa cookies. Keep the cookies in the oven with the light on to maintain their crispness and to dry them between the applying the sugar and the icing. While they are drying, make the icing.
6.Mix together the butter, confectioners' sugar, almond extract and enough water to make a spreadable, not runny icing.
7. When the sugar and glue have dried completely, ice the whiskers and eyebrows and moustache with white icing. (If the glue and sugar have not completely dried, you will get red sugar in the icing resulting in pink whiskers & beard!)
8. Apply fresh coconut to the still-moist icing for Santa's beard and eyebrows, if desired.
9. Cool completely before storing loosely between doubled layers of waxed paper to prevent squashing the cookies.³
¹If you very lightly sift flour on top of the rolled cookie dough before you begin cutting, you will reduce the number of times the cutter has to be floured.
² If you are decorating the other cookies make from the 4-cutter set, choose various colored sugars for the different features of the cookie and place each color in a separate bowl .Use separate glue for each color as well. Complete each sugar color and dry in the oven before another color. Use the same method, i.e., holding the cookie over the bowl and spooning sugar over the area to be covered. Then remove the excess by gently taping the back of the cookie face to remove the excess sugar. You can also use a DRY paintbrush (children's small art brushes that are only used for cookies) to brush off any remaining sugar crystals.
³ If you find that I've forgotten to add something about either the recipe, the cutters, or the decorations, just leave me a message in the Comments section of this post, and I'll reply!
©2012, 2013 Alma's Santa Claus Sugar Cookies by Kathy Striggow