The reason I host Christmas cookie decorating parties is that baking is an imprecise science (at least in my kitchen), and, occasionally, you need someone to take the fall. I also am not a fan of the cookie exchange parties, where everyone brings a container of cookies, tosses them on the table, and mixes and matches. There is always some anti-Julia Child who believes ripping open a bag of Oreos passes as holiday baking. At my parties, you earn the cookies you take home at the end of the night clasped in your sticky fingers.
Of course, any sugar-laden event can go awry. That’s why I offer these helpful tips to keep your holidays merry:
1. Provide regular food to offset the sugar high. Since my Christmas cookie decorators work hard and justifiably deserve nourishment, I tend to look the other way as they snarf down the product. To help them adjust their sugar levels, I always have real food to munch on throughout the evening. My two standards are cheese fondue, which makes me feel tres continental, and barbeque sandwiches from Scott Ja-Mama’s, a famed hole-in-the-wall joint for pulled pork in South Minneapolis.
2. Invite everyone to participate, but don’t expect everyone to do so. I have discovered that guys often have trouble getting in touch with their inner cookie-decorating child. You may have to lasso your husbands and boyfriends with your Wonder Woman lariat and drag them to the decorating table. Their style can best be described as minimalist. One gentleman, who is greatly interested in politics, decorated his snowflake simply with “Obama 2008.” I saved that cookie, wrapped it up, and sent it to him on President Obama’s inauguration day.
3. Make extra red frosting. This goes back to the likelihood of mishaps in the kitchen. You may be shocked to know that not all of your cookies will come out of the oven in pristine condition. Reindeer legs can be snapped off; snowflakes can lose arms; whole cookie families can suffer decapitation. It can be a precarious journey from baking sheet to kitchen counter. Yet, you never want to waste a cookie. So what do you do? You swipe red frosting on the injured area and tell the sad story of how Rudolph met up with a chainsaw or wood chipper (for Fargo fans), or how the cookie family met up with a sweet-deprived grizzly.
4. Buy oodles of decorating embellishments. Silver balls, miniature snowflakes, cinnamon buttons, sprinkles, you will need them all as a well-supplied patron of the arts.
5. Decorate with themes. How about: best Gingerbread Elvis, best bikini-clad reindeer (we do live in Minnesota with dreams of a February Caribbean vacation), or best Jackson Pollock star?
6. Stay cool. Inevitably, someone will decorate an anatomically correct cookie person. You can react, or you can ignore it and hit the punch bowl. If there are young children decorating with you, make the offender eat the cookie immediately after getting his or her jollies.
7. Lay on the llamas. It is my position that cookie decorating should be more about fun with frosting and friends than the pursuit of the perfectly frosted cookie. That’s why I do not just bake Christmas-themed cookies. I collect other cookie cutters, and one of my most popular is the llama. Everyone loves decorating the llamas. (I love llamas so much I put them in Down Dog Diary. Don’t worry, no llamas were harmed in the making of that book.)
So, for a great Christmas cookie party, don’t forget the llamas, keep the sugar flowing, and have plenty of milk (and wine) on hand.
Happy holidays and may all your cookies avoid the wood chipper.
What do you like to bake for the holidays and why? Leave a comment and share it with us.
For a short story in the tradition of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, check out “Christmas Unplugged.” And have a happy and well-lit holiday.