Kitchen Focus

I've gotten into the habit of making at least five different kinds of cookies each year and sending a selection of each to my family members as a holiday gift. It's a great way to say that you care and while I might not hear much about gifts that I send at other times of the year, I get glowing smiles when cookies get passed around!

The key to keeping my sanity while hundreds of cookies get made is planning ahead. I usually put together my "menu" in late October or early November. Baking begins in November and is done by mid-December. I choose cookies that will freeze well or save those that don't for the last batches. I pack each kind of cookie in resealable freezer bags that are labeled and keep them together in my freezer. I keep track of everything I've made and often send along the recipes with the cookies.

I like to include one or two special holiday cookies that are either decorated or are closely associated with Christmas. I also like to include one or two "fancy" cookies that will get lots of oohs and aahs. I'm also a fan of good old fashioned types like oatmeal raisin, gingersnaps and chocolate chip ... they always go over well with everyone. I try to avoid sending the same ones year after year ... although sometimes I will repeat an especially requested cookie!

So, this year when you are thinking about rushing all over town trying to find the perfect gifts for your family, think about those that can be found in your kitchen.

Easy Chocolate Star Cookies

  • 1/4 c. butter-flavored shortening
  • 1 (18.25) pkg. chocolate fudge cake mix
  • 1 egg
  • 2 T. water
  • 1 c. finely chopped walnuts
  • 48 chocolate star candies

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, mix the shortening into the cake mix until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the egg and water until a soft dough forms.

Shape the dough into 1/2-inch balls and roll them in the walnuts, pressing the nuts into the dough. Place them 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake the cookies at 350 degrees for 12 minutes or until puffed and nearly set. Place the chocolate stars in the center of each cookie and bake for a minute more. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 3 minutes before removing them to a wire rack to cool completely.

  • Yields: 4 dozen cookies
  • Preparation Time: about 30 minutes

Stay-Soft Peanut Butter Cookies

  • 1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 1/2 c. butter-flavored shortening
  • 1/2 c. peanut butter
  • 1/2 c. maple syrup
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 1/2 c. flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. baking powder

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Combine the brown sugar, shortening and peanut butter in a large bowl and beat until light and fluffy. Add the maple syrup and egg yolk and beat well.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt and baking soda. Add to the wet ingredients and mix until a soft dough forms.

Using a small ice cream scoop, drop the dough in 1-inch balls placed 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Using a fork, flatten the balls in a crisscross pattern.

Bake the cookies at 350 degrees for 8 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 3 minutes before removing them to a wire rack to cool completely.

  • Yields: 4 dozen cookies
  • Preparation Time: about 30 minutes
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