03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Rose's Christmas Cookies Is the Bible for Holiday Bakers

I can tell the holidays are coming because cookie baking has commenced. Right now we're in the experimental mode. I've just sampled chocolate cookies with chocolate-covered espresso beans, and although they seemed fine to me, they were unceremoniously trashed -- not up to the standards of the establishment, I was informed.

My wife isn't a cookie snob. It's just that she takes holiday cookies seriously. And so, I might add, do the recipients of her baking, who look forward to Chinese take-out boxes that contain a dozen or so cookies, all different, all outrageously tasty.

My wife's recipes come from all over, but year in and year out, many come from Rose Levy Beranbaum's classic, Rose's Christmas Cookies. (If you bake at all, Rose's name is familiar to you. She's also the author of The Cake Bible and The Bread Bible.)

The 60 cookie recipes in the Christmas book are models of clarity -- and diversity. There's a full-color, full-page picture of every cookie. Rose's instructions are idiot-proof. She tells you how to mix dough in a food processor or a mixer. She proposes smart alternatives (instead of brown sugar, just add molasses to granulated sugar).

Best of all, there are cookies for beginners and cookies for masters. New to baking, or want to bake with kids? Rose offers a brace of simple recipes. Making cookies to hang on a tree? She's there for you. Party cookies? Rose can do fancy. And if you feel compelled to create a gingerbread cathedral, she's your architect.

Good feeling suffuses this book. "Sometimes we forget, but when all is said and done, it is love that we all want most," she writes. "The reason that the spirit of Christmas is most magical is because it is about loving and giving. ... Nothing represents the spirit of loving, nurturing and giving more than a homemade cookie. It is made and given from the heart. It is small and pretty, sweet and comforting. It is something friends and family can make together."

Making it easier is a Silpat 11-5/8-by-16-1/2-Inch Nonstick Silicone Baking Mat. Martha Stewart raved about these mats, and my wife took prompt action, and now it's her turn to rave about this French-made, silicone/fiberglass mat that allows you to make cookies without having to prepare the pan: "No grease, no burning, no sticking. Good for everything -- not just cookies. An invaluable product."

This year, our child has expressed interest in baking with her mother. We'd like this to be a good experience, so she'll be starting off with a classic -- the sugar cookie that's both easy to make and a total crowd-pleaser. Here you go:

Makes about 4 dozen 2 and 1/2 inch cookies

2 1/4 cups bleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 large egg
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a small bowl, whisk the flour with the salt. Put the sugar in a food processor and process until very fine. Add the pieces of butter and process until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Add the egg, lemon zest and vanilla, and process until smooth. Add the flour mixture and pulse just until a dough forms.
Transfer the dough to a sheet of plastic wrap and pat it into a disk 1 inch thick. Chill until firm, about 1 1/2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
On a lightly floured surface [or an unfloured Silpat], roll out the dough 1/8 inch thick. Stamp out shapes, cutting the cookies as close together as possible. Transfer the cookies to nonstick or greased baking sheets [or an ungreased Silpat], leaving 1 inch between them. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until lightly browned around the edges. Transfer the cookies to racks and let cool.

The cookies can be stored in an airtight container between sheets of wax paper for 1 month.

[Cross-posted from ]