"The Christmas Cookie Book," by Lou Seibert Pappas

Pros: Delicious; plenty of old favorites; lovely photos
Cons: Slightly confusing layout; some mildly sub-optimal directions
Rating: 4 out of 5

One of the easiest foods to prepare for all those holiday parties is, of course, cookies. Piles and piles of cookies. Sometimes it’s nice to have something other than the standard chocolate chip cookies that everyone makes (even if yours are super-awesome), and sometimes it’s nice to play around with special Christmas recipes. In this spirit, Chronicle books and Lou Seibert Pappas present “The Christmas Cookie Book.”

This is a comparatively small book, but the presentation is beautiful and the photos are elegant and lovely. Certainly it’ll help to get you in the mood for holiday cooking. The only problem with the layout is that the name and description for each recipe is presented between the ingredient list and the directions. Because of this my brain keeps trying to associate each set of directions with the following list of ingredients rather than the preceding list; the only thing that keeps this from resulting in a ton of recipe mishaps is the fact that the book starts each recipe on a new page.

The book includes a wonderful array of fairly traditional recipes from all over the place, although Pappas often puts her own touch on them: Springerle cookies, Lebkuchen, gingerbread, Viennese marzipan bells, sugar cookies, frosty snowmen, pecan snowdrops, gingersnaps, Florentines, Norwegian lace cookies, macadamia-white chocolate brownies, and plenty more. It also includes some helpful cookie-baking hints regarding storage, ingredients, equipment, decorating, gift-wrapping, and mailing. Most of these tips are helpful but familiar to long-time cooks: don’t confuse baking powder with baking soda; when beating egg whites make sure there’s no yolk in them; etc. The tips regarding decorating, storage, and mailing are a bit more in-depth and educational.

For the most part these recipes are pretty simple and easy; cookies don’t usually take a lot of work. I only had problems with one of the recipes we tried: the embossed macadamia cookies. The dough is very dry (vanilla and butter are the only non-dry ingredients), and for a while I wondered if the dough was even going to come together as a dough; a little warning that this would be the case might have been nice. Also, the directions for flattening and decorating the cookies really didn’t work very well. They said to “dip a dampened cookie press… into the bowl of sugar, then press a ball to flatten….” The idea is that it leaves behind a pattern in the dough and decorating sugar. Instead, the dampened press made the bowl of sugar clump up and stick to itself, and the sugar rarely stayed behind on the cookies. It ended up working a lot better to use the dampened press to flatten the cookies, then sprinkle colored sugar overtop. It might not have made the nice designs from the photo, but it looked better than what we started with by following the directions!

The flavors worked out better than the directions. Those macadamia cookies are extremely delicious–although I have to admit, I have difficulty tasting the macadamia in them, and they mostly seem like a very good shortbread cookie. The macadamia white chocolate brownies are quite good, but not the best brownies I’ve had. The Norwegian lace cookies, on the other hand, were the star of the show. They came out perfectly–thin, lacy, caramelized, and absolutely to-die-for. Hmm, I think I’m going to have to go get a cookie when I’m done with this review!

This might not be a 100% perfect cookbook, but it’s a beautiful and inspiring source of Christmas cookies, and if that’s what you’re looking for I think you’ll enjoy it!

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