Sunday, December 24, 2017

Grace's Last Minute Christmas Baking: Santa's Trash Cookies and Holiday Shortbread

Some tasty, last minute additions to any holiday gathering!

In the four years I’ve been doing this blog, there are only two holidays I’ve done a post for every year: VE Day, and Christmas. Sort of a weird pair, right? 

Considering how infrequently I’ve been able to post this past two years, I knew I didn’t want to break my streak, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do this year. The first few years I’ve had this blog, I tried to feature historical recipes for each character, and I’ve shared some of my family’s Christmas traditions in the past as well. I knew I wasn’t going to have time to do the former, and a lot of the latter had already been taken care of by my family members, so I was feeling a little stuck. 

Fortunately, the internet provided some awesome last minute suggestions that I was happy to break out. One didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped, but the other might just become a fan favorite. I know I sure liked them! 

Read on to find out how some simple additions can make any cookie nice and festive.

Cookies are a big part of my family’s holiday traditions. I talked about two of our favorites – Cookie Brittle and Elevator Lady Spice Cookies – at length two years ago, but we also like traditional sugar cookies, magic layer bars, pepparkakor, and these really problematically delicious sugar cookies my mom got from the Pioneer Woman’s blog. My sister’s boyfriend’s mom makes really tasty cinnamon chocolate chip strip cookies and anisettes, a traditional Italian favorite. The back counter in the sun room is always full of goodies, which is a real problem when you’re trying so hard to not completely gorge yourself. 

By the time I was heading home, most of the classics had already been made, so I found myself trying to think of something creative I could add to the spread that might be a little less traditional, but also weren’t going to be an enormous pain to make when there’s already a lot to do for Christmas. Picking recipes to try when I’m home can also be tricky because I have to preselect which doll I’m bringing down with me for photos and such. If I thought I wanted to make fudge with Samantha, but decided last minute that was going to be too much of an issue, I’d be blocked into doing something Edwardian anyway because I can’t just magic a doll from thin air. For that reason, I decided to bring Grace along with me, figuring I could definitely find something modern to spotlight and share with you guys. 

While doing some Googling in an airport terminal, I found two recipes that looked promising. Festive without being too unusual, they were also fun accompaniments to the cookies my family members had already made. 

The first recipe I tackled was one for Santa’s Trash Cookies. Sometimes called kitchen sink cookies or garbage cookies, these are so named because they include a couple of unusual ingredients, making it seem like you’re throwing in random bits of other stuff you otherwise might have thrown away. This particular version has crushed potato chips and pretzels in it, as well as colorful sprinkles to help make them a holiday recipe rather than just tasty cookies. 

To begin, you cream 3/4 of a cup of butter with 1/2 of a cup of sugar and 1/2 of a cup of brown sugar, light or dark at your preference. I ended up using a little of both because we were running out of dark brown sugar. After it’s light and fluffy, add in an egg and 2 teaspoons of vanilla and mix well. 2 1/4 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon of baking soda and 1/4 teaspoon of salt get slowly added until a thick dough forms. 

Next comes the fun ingredients: 1/3 of a cup each of crushed potato chips, crushed pretzels, and semi-sweet chocolate chips, along with 3 tablespoons of red and green sprinkles. Or blue and yellow sprinkles for Hanukkah, blue and white for a wintery look, black and orange for Halloween… the possibilities are pretty endless here! I ended up using red and lime green jimmies, because that’s what we could get our hands on so last minute. All the other holiday sprinkles had been sold out. The pictures in the original recipe show the cookies being made with a variety of sprinkles, so feel free to be creative here.

We also found the perfect sized pretzels to go into the cookies. They were exactly the right size for a fun doll prop.

The cookies get formed into tablespoon sized balls – or you can always use a melon baller or ice cream scoop, which is what I did – and have a little bit of sea salt sprinkled on top. I used fluer de sel, because that stuff is amazingly delicious. They get put in the oven at 350 degrees for about 7 to 8 minutes, although mine ended up needing to go a little longer because my mom’s oven is a little cooler than the one I have at my apartment, which I fortunately remembered this time around. 

As an aside, can I just say how nice it is to have a stand mixer again? Making cookie dough goes so much faster. I’m quietly super hoping we get one when I get married in 18ish months…

The cookies came out looking and smelling fabulous. The sprinkles definitely make these festive without being an obvious holiday cookie, and like I said above can totally be adapted to fit other holiday or seasonal party needs. 

Also, these are just darn good cookies. I’m never sure I can taste potato chips in garbage cookies, but the fluer de sel definitely brought the flavor, while the pretzels are really nice and crunchy. Be careful when you’re mixing to try and ensure each cookie gets a little bit of everything, which can be tricky, but is definitely worth it. The base of the cookie is nice and doughy, and is basically pretty similar to a standard chocolate chip cookie, which is hard to go wrong with. I’d definitely happily make these again, and my only real complaint is that they didn’t actually make that many cookies… meaning slightly more than two dozen, and we’ve already gone through quite a few of them, and it’s not even Christmas yet. You see the dilemma here?

My second experiment was an even more basic one: shortbread with sprinkles to help give them that same festive pop. I was a little dubious about this one from the get go, and I’ll say right off the bat that I don’t think these were half as successful as the garbage cookies. Although shortbread is an extremely standard cookie with a very long history, I don’t really have a favorite version of it I can just pull out at the drop of a hat, even though if memory serves, I did have a fun time making some way back in the early days of A Peek into the Pantry for an Emily themed afternoon tea. I probably should have just pulled out that recipe again, but I decided to go with the one that gave me the idea, which was also from Delish

It was a pretty simple recipe, and asked that you blend together all your ingredients at once: 1 1/4 cups of flour, 3 tablespoons of powdered sugar, 1/4 teaspoons of kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla and 1/2 of a cup of butter. Once this is well blended, fold in colored nonpareils. 

Almost immediately, I could tell there was going to be dye bleed, which I was kind of anticipating. I’ve obviously baked with nonpareils before, and they do have a tendency to leak their dye on dough. This was no different. I tried really hard not to overmix to try and stay the problem while I could, and got the dough out on wax paper. Rolling it flat with a rolling pin and trying to approximate a square, I tucked it in the freezer for 15 minutes so the butter could firm up again. This helps the cookies keep their shape when they bake.

After taking it out of the freezer, I used a large knife to cut it into squares, trimming off the other pieces as well. I had a bad feeling that the dough wasn’t chilled enough because it felt soft under my fingers sometimes, but in typical Gwen fashion started getting impatient and figured I might as well give it a shot. I was following the recipe, and if it didn’t work out, that was worth mentioning in this post. 

They baked on parchment paper in the oven at 325 degrees for about 20 minutes…

And came out looking a little bit like a hot mess. The dough really needed to be chilled a lot longer to prevent the butter from seeping out everywhere, making the edges of the squares pretty shaggy looking. The dye of the nonpareils also definitely bled, making the cookies a pale pink color. The end product looks a little more Easter than Christmas. Because the butter bled out, I also ended up having to cut a few of cookies off each other, as they did start expanding while they baked in the oven. 

Still, they didn’t come out looking completely awful, just a lot less polished than I had hoped. I’m glad these are only going to be shared among my family members, rather than brought to my office’s holiday cookie swap (I brought Kirsten’s pepparkakor to that!) 

I also wasn’t really impressed by the taste of this particular shortbread recipe. They were extremely buttery, and not very sweet. I think if I had used less sprinkles, they would have been even less sweet, and I’m not super sure that’s a good thing in my book. I like buttery shortbread, but there is definitely such thing as too much of a good thing. I think if I tried this again next year, I’d use the recipe I used for Emily’s tea party again. I remember those being a lot more of a standard shortbread flavor!

But overall, I’m happy with my two batches of cookies. It’s always fun to be able to bake again after a long dry spell, especially when you’re working in a much larger kitchen with better equipment! Not that I haven’t learned to work in my tiny apartment kitchen of course, it just really can’t compare to my parents’ house! I hope these suggestions on how to fancy up your holiday cookie spread with something nontraditional and a festive spin on a classic might come in handy for your holiday gatherings, or just for a fun day when you’re craving a good cookie. 

Next year, Christmas is going to be a little different. I’ll be all done with grad school, settled in to my awesome full time job, married (!!), and getting to start some new traditions with my wife. I’m hoping I might be able to get back in the routine of featuring recipes for historical characters I haven’t covered yet (Melody, Nanea, and maybe that 80’s character that’s been rumored all seem like they’d be fun to spotlight…), as well as maybe revisiting some older characters. People weren’t just eating sweet potato pudding for Christmas in the 1860’s after all! And hopefully some Australian traditions will get worked in as well. I know Jessi makes a mean pavlova, and I’m very excited to get to sample it myself sometime soon. 

Until then, happy holidays from all of us to you!

And we’ll see you in 2018 with more fun and exciting recipes!


  1. Merry Christmas to you and your blog! I really liked the garbage cookie, but alas have not sampled the shortbread. My bum nose and taste might make a real review difficult.

    1. I really don't think you'll be missing much unfortunately, the shortbread was definitely not my finest hour! But glad the garbage cookie has been such a hit. :)