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Web Exclusive: The Cookie Crunch

Our guide to a festive (and budget-friendly) cookie-decorating party.

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Downtown twinkles with lights, and the presents are tucked away. The only thing left to do is bake the holiday cookies and connect with close friends before family officially lays claim to your time. But don’t compromise here. Simply combine the two for a festive afternoon (or evening) of mingling and cookie decorating. (You make the cookies and invite your friends over to decorate.) No need to wring your hands planning this shindig. The invites, recipes, decorations, music, snacks, and cocktails have all been selected for you—with a tight budget in mind. All that’s left to do is pick a date.

The Cookies:
Make all of these inventive cookie recipes up to two days in advance. But wait to prepare the finishing touches—icing and sprinkles—until about an hour before your guests arrive. (See each recipe for pre-party and day-of instructions.)

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Hot Cocoa Swizzle Sticks
Eggnog Sandwich Cookies
Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies
Holiday Wreath Jumbles

The Menu:
With cookies and frostings galore, guests won’t have room for a huge meal. Instead, serve a few sweet and savory appetizers—plus festive cocktails to really get the creative juices flowing.

Orange Pecans
Gruyère Puffs
Pomegranate Sparklers
Chai Eggnog with Rum

Tip: If you want to serve dinner, consider a simple soup, like butternut squash, with a side of crusty French bread. Make it yourself, or (even easier) put a call in to Platt Park’s Pajama Baking Company (1595 S. Pearl St., 303-733-3622). With a few days notice, the shop will whip up a tasty order for pick-up.

The Invitations:
E-vites are so passé. Send invitations by post for a personal touch. Scribbles stationery store in Lower Highland (2368 15th St., 303-477-1677) sells invitations that are perfectly themed for this occasion ($1.60 each, pictured).

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Tip: Look for an invitation—like those at Scribbles—with a detachable recipe card. Ask each guest, prior to the party, to fill out the card with a favorite cookie recipe. Make a dozen photocopies. At the cookie bash, set up a separate table, or “recipe station,” with the copied recipes, a hole punch, and a selection of holiday ribbon. Guests can grab the recipes they like and put together a take-home recipe book.

The Decorations:
A traditional cookie party wouldn’t be complete without an old-fashioned gingerbread house as a centerpiece. But no need to make it yourself. Place an order with the acclaimed Elegant Bakery (3278 S. Wadsworth Blvd., Unit 3, Lakewood, 303-322-7708) for a sugary structure that’s made to order and sure to please.

The Party Favors:
In this case, the cookies themselves are the favors. But don’t just wrap them up in plain-old tinfoil. These treats deserve more love than last night’s dinner. The Container Store (2500 E. First Ave., 303-336-0909) has a plethora of holiday-fabulous boxes, tins, tubes, and gadgets for packaging the cookies. Our favorite is the vintage-inspired Deer & Snowflakes tin ($6.99). For a special touch, buy one for each guest and personalize it with a name. At the end of the party, guests can fill the tins with their favorites.

The Playlist:
An upbeat mix of holiday classics and sugar-themed oldies will get everyone in the cookie-decorating spirit.

Sugar by Louis Armstrong
Linus and Lucy from A Charlie Brown Christmas
A Holly Jolly Christmas by Burl Ives
Sugar, Sugar by The Archies
Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow! by Harry Connick, Jr.
Santa Claus is Back in Town by Elvis Presley
It’s Beginning to Look Like Christmas by Perry Como
Sugar by Stevie Wonder
White Christmas by Bing Crosby
Brown Sugar by The Rolling Stones

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Party Tips:

Hot Cocoa Swizzle Sticks
(Adapted from Christmastime Treats, by Sara Perry)
Makes 12 sticks

Heat chocolate and oil in a double boiler, stirring until melted. (You can do this step in the microwave. Just be sure to stir frequently, so the chocolate doesn’t burn.) Dip about one inch of the noncurved end of the candy cane into the chocolate. Don’t worry if chocolate is slightly lumpy. Coat chocolate thoroughly with sprinkles. Hang candy cane from a wine glass while chocolate hardens. Swizzle sticks are best when stirred into hot chocolate.

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Eggnog Sandwich Cookies
(Adapted from The Good Cookie, by Tish Boyle)
Makes about 30 cookies

Pre-party bake the cookies and whip the filling. When your guests arrive, lay out the fixings and let them fill these sandwich cookies.

Cookies

Cream Filling

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar at medium speed until just combined, about 1 minute. Add yolk, vanilla, nutmeg, and salt, and mix. At low speed, add the flour and beat until dough pulls together. Pat dough into a rectangle, and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill for at least one hour.

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Adjust oven racks to the center, and preheat oven to 350�. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or foil.

Place dough on a floured work surface, and roll out until it’s 1/8 inch thick. Using a fluted 1 �-inch square or circular cookie cutter, shape dough into cookies. (If there is extra dough after cutting the cookies, pat it together and return to the refrigerator for 15 minutes before rolling out again.) Take half the cookies, and using a smaller, �-inch cookie cutter cut out the center. Place cookies on prepared sheets, sprinkle with sugar in the raw, and bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until lightly browned on the bottom. Transfer to wire racks and let cool.

For the filling, beat the butter in an electric mixer at medium speed until creamy, about 30 seconds. Gradually add powdered sugar, brandy, milk, and vanilla. Beat until blended. Increase speed to high, and mix until filling is creamy, about 2 minutes.

Assemble the cookies, by spreading ½ teaspoon filling onto the bottom of one of the whole cookies. Top with a cutout cookie, and sprinkle with nutmeg. Repeat with remaining cookies. Note: The small, center cookies can be served separately with tea.

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Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies
(Adapted from The Good Cookie, by Tish Boyle)
Makes about 64 cookies

Prepare the cookies before the company arrives, so your guests only decorate.

Cookies

Icing

Possible decorations

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In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and salt. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer, combine butter and sugars, beating until light in texture, about 3 minutes. Add egg.

In a small bowl, stir together the hot water, molasses, and baking soda, until the soda has dissolved. Gradually, add the soda mixture to the butter mixture. Blend well. At low speed, add the dry ingredients in several additions. Mix until just combined, and form dough into disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (or up to 3 days).

Adjust oven racks to middle, and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two baking sheets.

Divide chilled dough into quarters. Working with one quarter at a time, lay dough on floured surface, and roll out until 1/8 inch thick. Using holiday-themed cookie cutters, shape as many cookies as possible from the dough. Gather scraps, form into ball, and let chill for 30 minutes before rerolling.

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Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, until the tops are set, 8 to 10 minutes. Allow cookies to cool before decorating. Repeat with remaining dough.

For icing, whisk together the sugar and water, until consistency is smooth, adding more water if necessary. Add food coloring as desired. Consider using blue food coloring for Hanukkah cookies.

Finish cookies with icing and optional decorations.

Holiday Wreath Jumbles
(Adapted from The All-American Cookie Book, by Nancy Baggett)
Makes about 30 cookies

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These old-fashioned cookies store well, so make them a day or two before the party, and bring them out so your guests can add the final decorative touches during the festivities.

Cookies

Icing

Adjust oven rack to upper third, and preheat oven to 350�. Grease two baking sheets.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, nutmeg, and salt. Set aside. Using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar at medium speed until well blended, about 3 minutes. Beat in egg and egg yolk until evenly incorporated. Stir in flour. The dough will be soft. If it is too soft, let sit for 10 minutes.

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Sprinkle work surface with sugar. With slightly greased hands, pull off walnut-sized pieces of dough. Roll each piece back and forth between your hands to form an evenly thick, 2-inch-long rope. Lay rope on work surface and roll back and forth until 5 inches long. Bring ends of rope together and press to form a ring.

Bake cookies 10 to 14 minutes, reversing the sheet halfway through, until lightly browned at edges. Allow cookies to cool before decorating.

For icing, whisk together sugar and water, until smooth, adding water to adjust consistency. Transfer two tablespoons icing to a small cup. Stir red food coloring into this small amount, and green into the remaining icing.

To decorate, spoon each icing into a paper cone or a small pastry bag fitted with a writing tip. Zigzag the green frosting over the cookie to look like a wreath. Dot with red frosting to resemble berries. Let set 1 hour.

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Orange Pecans
Makes 8 cups

Line two baking sheets with foil. In medium saucepan, bring juice, sugar, and zest to a boil, stirring constantly. Cook for one minute and remove from heat. Add pecans, coating thoroughly. Pour mixture onto the baking sheets, spacing evenly. Let sit until firm, about 20 minutes. Break into pieces before serving.

Gruyère Puffs
Makes 24 pieces

Adjust oven rack to center, and preheat oven to 400º.

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In a medium saucepan, heat water and butter over medium heat until butter melts. Add salt and flour, and stir until dough no longer sticks to sides of pan. Remove from heat, and working quickly, whisk in eggs, one at a time. Stir in cheese. Use a tablespoon to drop balls onto ungreased baking sheet. Bake until golden, about 25-30 minutes.

Pomegranate Sparklers
Makes 8 cocktails

Fill a champagne flute with Prosecco, and drop in a large pinch of pomegranate seeds.

Chai Eggnog
Makes one cocktail

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In a double boiler pot, over high heat, mix chai tea and eggnog. Stir until creamy and hot, 6 to 8 minutes. Pour into mugs. Add one shot of rum to each. Stir and serve.

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