A Little Yule Cheer, Day 8: Sweet Little Strawberry Shortbread Cookies

(One of the ideas I shared in yesterday’s post about creating holiday cheer was to make a favorite Christmas recipe. If you don’t have a favorite recipe or you’re looking for something a bit different from the standard Christmas offerings, you’ve come to the right place. I’m bringing out and dusting off another cookie recipe I posted for the first time 10 year ago (can that possibly be true?). These beauties are fussier than my normal cookie choices, but they are delicious and worth all the effort. So, put on some Christmas tunes, gather your ingredients, and whip up some Christmas deliciousness.)

Most of my cookies, regardless of the final result, begin with the same reassuring formula.  Combine dry ingredients and set aside.  Cream softened butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, along with the flavorings.  Gradually stir dry ingredients into the butter mixture until well incorporated.  Finally, fold in nuts, chips, fruit, etc.  To me, these are the simple, tried and true steps for cookie-making magic.

The other day I was yearning to bake some cookies.  My classes were finally finished for the semester and I had some time on my hands.  I considered all the standards I usually make this festive time of year – chocolate, snickerdoodles, molasses spice, peanut butter kiss, gingerbread, soft sugar.  Nothing inspired me.  My lack of enthusiasm for the usual led me on a hunt through the piles of books and magazines filled with cookie recipes I’ve been stockpiling over the years.  (I wonder, is recipe hoarding an illness?)

In the 2007 edition of Better Homes and Gardens Christmas Cookies publication, a shortbread recipe caught my eye.  I’d never made shortbread before and it seemed like it would be a fun challenge.  Besides, the cookies in the magazine photo looked so adorable, I couldn’t resist.  This recipe took me far from my comfort zone.  Freeze the butter?  No eggs??  Knead the dough???  I don’t need my Kitchenaid mixer?!  Very scary stuff, I’m telling you.  However, after taking the plunge, I can confidently say that there is more than one way to bake cookie magic in my kitchen.

These cookies are definitely worth the extra fussing.  Their subtle strawberry sweetness and tender shortbread texture make them pop-in-your-mouth yummy.  The bonus – they’re pretty enough for very special occasions.  At my house, a true test of a cookie’s deliciousness is how quickly it disappears.  All seventy some cookies were gone in less than 48 hours.  Now that is magic!

Strawberry Shortbread (originally printed in Better Homes and Gardens Christmas Cookies, 2007)

2 tablespoons strawberry preserves (I used my homemade strawberry jam)

1 cup butter, softened

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

2 2/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

Strawberry Glaze

Coarse sugar (optional)

1. Snip large pieces of fruit in the strawberry preserves.  Beat butter, preserves, and almond extract in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until well blended.  Transfer butter mixture to a sheet of plastic wrap; shape into a six-inch log.  Wrap and freeze for 1 to 2 hours or until firm.

2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Stir together flour, granulated sugar, and salt in a large bowl.  Add butter mixture. Cut butter into flour mixture with a pastry blender ubtil mixture starts to cling together.  Knead dough until smooth; form dough into a ball.

3. Divide dough in half.  Roll each portion of dough to 1/4-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface.  Cut out dough rounds with a scalloped 1 1/2 to 2-inch cookie cutter.  Place cut-outs 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets.

4. Bake in a pre-heated oven for 12 to 16 minutes or until edges just start to brown.  Transfer cookies to wire racks and cool completely.  Spread tops with Strawberry Glaze; if desired, sprinkle with coarse sugar.  Let stand until set.  Makes about 54 two-inch cookies or seventy-six 1 1/2-inch cookies.

Strawberry Glaze

Microwave 1 tablespoon of strawberry preserves in a medium microwave-safe bowl on 50 percent for 30 seconds or until melted; snip any large pieces in the preserves.  Stir in two cups of powdered sugar and 1 tablespoon of milk using a wire whisk.  Stir in additional milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, to make a smooth glaze of spreading consistency.  Makes about 2/3 cup.

I made a few changes to the original recipe when I baked up my batch.  Instead of the preserves, I used homemade strawberry freezer jam.  I also substituted vanilla extract for the almond variety – I’m not a big fan of almond flavoring.

The process of cutting in the butter and turning the mixture into a kneadable dough takes some time and muscle.  Just be patient and don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.  Whenever I wasn’t working with the dough, I kept it cold in the fridge.  I rolled each half of the dough out only twice to keep the cookies from getting tough.  With a 1.5 inch scalloped cookie cutter, I made about seventy-five cookies.  I’m sorry I don’t have an exact number; I began counting after I had already eaten several directly from the hot cookie sheets.  Finally, for the glaze, I used at least two tablespoons of milk to create the desired spreading consistency.  There was more then enough glaze to cover the entire batch – even the ones I ate right out of the oven, had they actually lasted that long.

A Little Yule Cheer, Day 7: Easy Ways to Bring Some Christmas Spirit Into Your December

In the midst of the craziness that is December 2021, it may be difficult to find any excitement or joy in the preparation for Christmas. We can get so caught up in the stresses of life and the busyness of the season that we forget to take time to enjoy the very things that make this time of year so special. Today, I’m offering a list of inexpensive and accessible activities and practices that encourage us to slow down and practice mindfulness, subsequently opening our eyes and our hearts to the magic of this Christmas season.

Listen to Christmas music throughout your day, in whatever style makes you happy. Classical or classic. Vintage or pop. Trans-Siberian Orchestra or Chris Botti. It doesn’t matter as long as it gets you in the Christmas spirit.

Engage in a daily advent meditation or take time to work through an advent calendar. Those few quiet minutes each day will give you an opportunity to reflect on what and why you are celebrating and will help to build anticipation for the arrival of Christmas day.

Watch a favorite Christmas movie/show or two or a Hallmark Christmas romance. At my house, must-see movies include White Christmas, A Muppet Christmas Carol, and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

Make some handmade decorations for your home or your tree. My kids enjoyed stringing popcorn, but there are so many fun crafts to consider. Make paper chains, cut out snowflakes, bake gingerbread ornaments. It doesn’t have be to time-consuming or expensive, just fun.

Take time to turn on the Christmas tree lights and enjoy the ambiance. December can be such a hectic time of year that we often forget to be still and live in the moment. Sitting beside a twinkling tree in the evening is a wonderful way to unwind. It’s even better if you get to do it with someone(s) you love.

Add a hot beverage to the above experience. The beverage of choice doesn’t matter – hot chocolate, London Fog, spiced cider, mulled wine, whatever – as long as you love it and you savor it.

Make a favorite Christmas recipe. Sharing the finished creation with others bumps this activity up a holiday cheer notch or two.

Take an evening walk and enjoy the neighbors’ Christmas lights. Free and healthy. It’s a win/win.

Light an aromatic candle. Or simmer fragrant fruits and spices on the stove. Scent is a powerful mood booster. Use your favorite Christmas scents to enhance your mood and enjoyment of this most wonderful time of the year.

Work on a Christmas themed puzzle. I realize puzzles aren’t for everyone. If you do enjoy puzzles, though, working on one with a Christmas scene is a relaxing way to focus on the holiday. My husband and I just completed a puzzle with sugar cookies decorated like Christmas sweaters as the theme. It was so much fun!

Read a Christmas novel, a compilation of short stories, or a non-fiction work. Any book with a Christmas focus or setting will do. Pick a genre you like to read and spend some quality time in someone else’s Christmas story.

Or, read some children’s Christmas books. I dare you to remain Scroogy after reading Claude the Dog: A Christmas Story or Who’s That Knocking on Christmas Eve or Who’s Coming to Our House?

Find a way to help others. Volunteer at a non-profit organization. Purchase toys for under-privileged children. Financially support your favorite charities. Nothing generates Christmas spirit like generously giving your time, talents and treasure to others.

Attend church services Sunday mornings in December. The songs and sermons will keep the focus on the reason we celebrate Christmas. You never know – you may learn something new about the Christmas story that could change your perspective on the holiday or on your life.

Attend a Christmas Eve service. Spending time focusing on the miraculous birth of Christ is the very best way to grow some Christmas spirit. The worship experience is also excellent preparation for the celebration of Christmas Day.

Try one suggestion. Or try them all. I’d love to know if anything worked for you. I’ve only touched on a sample of all the ways to enjoy this holiday season. If you have any other suggestions, please share those in the comments, too.

A Little Yule Cheer, Day 6: White Christmas sung by Morgan James

The weather in my neck of the woods has been unseasonably warm and very un-Christmasy. Tonight, I’m joining Morgan James in dreaming of a white Christmas. With her sultry voice and that Hammond B organ, I’m getting all the feels right in my soul. I’m also hoping, more than ever, to see a few snowflakes…

A Little Yule Cheer, Day 5: A Primer for A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

In October of 1843, Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol as a social commentary on the treatment of the poor, especially poor children, in industrialized England. It took him only six weeks to put the story on paper! Because his publishers, Chapman and Hall, were unwilling to risk the investment of publishing another novel after his Martin Chuzzlewit flop, Dickens paid for the production and printing of the novella out of his own pocket. The 6,000 published copies sold out in a week and 15,000 total copies were sold by the end of the year. A Christmas Carol has never been out of print since that time.

I read A Christmas Carol almost every year and always watch at least one movie version as part of my Christmas traditions. For today, I’m sharing some resources and opinions related to this iconic story. If you’re already a fan of this iconic story, I hope this post brings you some joy. If you aren’t very familiar with it, I hope you’ll discover something that makes you curious to dip your toes into one of the greatest Christmas tales of all time (outside of The Christmas Story, which is why we celebrate in the first place).

Introduction

To set the stage, Clickview offers an informative background video on Charles Dickens and A Christmas Carol. It’s brief (about 7 minutes) and adds dimension to the story, whether you are an aficionado or a beginner.

Experiencing the Story

There are many ways to experience A Christmas Carol. As an avid reader, I am always going to recommend reading the book first. It’s a small time investment; most books are under 120 pages. If you aren’t a reader, listening to an audiobook is another possibility. Again, the time investment is small, about 3.5 to 4 hours. Audible has versions narrated by some powerhouse actors including Tim Curry, Hugh Grant, Patrick Stewart, Orson Welles and Lionel Barrymore, and Lawrence Olivier. I also found a Audible Original version with a full cast including Sir Derek Jacobi and Brendan Coyle.

The third, and probably most accessible, way to experience A Christmas Carol is to watch a movie version. At my house, we like the whimsey of A Muppet Christmas Carol and the darkness of A Christmas Carol starring George C. Scott. There are so many versions to choose from. To find your own favorite(s,) check out the lists below:

Going Deeper

If you are already a fan of A Christmas Carol and want to try something new but related, here are a few suggestions:

Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva. This as a fictionalized account of the writing of a Christmas Carol. Very little is tied to historical facts but the story is well told with an atmosphere similar to A Christmas Carol. I enjoyed it.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11451071-jacob-t-marley?from_search=true&from_srp=true&qid=AjxwRrVEDt&rank=1

Jacob T. Marley by R. William Bennett. Jacob Marley is Scrooge’s former business partner and the ghost that warns Scrooge of his likely doom and chance for redemption through the three Christmas spirits. This is his story. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s Goodreads rating is 4.13 stars.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6225520/

The Man Who Invented Christmas. Obviously, this film focuses on the why and how behind Dickens’ masterpiece. I haven’t seen this movie yet but focuses on a Christmas Carol from a fresh perspective and stars Dan Stevens as Charles Dickens so it can’t be too bad.

A Christmas Carol is a beloved story that’s been told and retold for almost two centuries. Scrooge’s powerful redemption experience juxtaposed against the atmospheric backdrop of a Victorian Christmas setting has impacted generations of people. I wonder what Charles Dickens would say about it’s success?

I hope you discover something new to love about A Christmas Carol and find this quote to be true of yourself as it was of Ebenezer Scrooge:

“And it was said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless us, every one!”

A Little Yule Cheer, Day 4: Go Tell It On the Mountain by Zach Williams

There are so many really good new Christmas videos released this year. Today, let’s add some big energy to this countdown (count up?) with Zach Williams and his band. I love the bass, the horns, and the Motown feel of this version of the classic gospel song “Go Tell It On the Mountain”.