With as much as I bake throughout the year, I do not typically make a lot of cookies for the holidays. Sure, I'll pull together a pumpkin cheesecake for an office potluck or whip up a chocolate pecan tart for a friend's end-of-the-year get-together, but I am generally immune to the December cookie bug. (I *am* big on holiday cards though. And up until this year, my parents lived in Alaska so I could send greetings postmarked from the North Pole.)
When I decided I would actually *do* it this year - I would jump on the holiday cookie bandwagon - I didn't know what cookies to make. Sugar cookies seemed an obvious choice (as did gingerbread, frankly)...but beyond that, who knows? Epicurious offers its 25 top Christmas cookies - billed as "a sweet treat for every day of December." Martha's holiday cookie photo gallery includes 50 recipes and her Web site even has a quiz about what Christmas cookie you are. (For the record, I am "undoubtedly molasses-gingerbread cookies" because I am "warm, spicy, and multifaceted.") FoodNetwork.com has a cool 100. The staggering number of cookie options reminded me of a story a friend sent me about a woman's quest to bake every single cookie recipe in Martha Stewart's holiday magazine by the end of the year...
I am a mere mortal, so I had to narrow the field. I eliminated everything but the most traditional cookies...and even though I really wanted to try my hand at rugelach, I decided it was overly ambitious and I should stick with sugar cookies and gingerbread. As I prepared to make two batches of each, I realized that there aren't a lot of changes necessary to make the recipes vegan and so if I was going to open a vegan bakery, I'd perhaps concentrate solely cookies.
The margarine I bought made me laugh because it said, "NO CHOLESTEROL" on the bars themselves, but made no mention (as far as I could tell) on the outside package. It seemed like some sort of giant marketing faux pas. Or like a secret reward for margarine-eaters? I was also perplexed that a box of tofu I had left over from November said it would expire in March 2009...but the boxes I bought for the cookies just a few weeks later won't expire until August.
My sugar cookie recipe also called for two tablespoons of brandy or milk...and as I read the ingredients out loud, my friend said that brandy was "sexier" and so that was that. I had to buy a small bottle for the occasion...much like I had to do for a Peeps pie for Easter. (My aunt loves Peeps and calls herself a "Peeps purist" because she won't eat anything but yellow chicks. She likes them so much, in fact, that her friend signed her up for the Peeps Fan Club. The friend then noticed that someone was using her credit card and, long story short, they traced it back to the Peeps Fan Club.) I only used four tablespoons, so I guess I'm all set for Easter next year, too.
There really was no difference between the butter/egg and the margarine/tofu editions of my sugar cookies through the initial mixing steps. The instructions in my cookie recipe said to then shape the dough into discs before refrigerating...and as a colleague had recently told me that her pie-baking sister explained how to make crust by saying that you have to pat the dough into a "UFO shape," I imagined myself making little spaceships. All packed away in the plastic wrap, I also noticed that the vegan dough was much softer.
I was unfortunately not able to retrieve the discs until a day after I was technically supposed to...so I feared they would be incredibly hard. Thankfully, they were fine...although each disc didn't seem to yield very many cookies (I felt like I was rolling out gingerbread forever and never ran out).
I just used a glass to shape the cookies this time - sort of like making buttermilk biscuits! - because I thought the round gingerbread cookies on Epicurious' site were really pretty after they were iced like ornaments.
In the end, I was quite happy with the butter/egg sugar cookies. They were chewy and tasted like the standard cookie you expect come holiday-time. The vegan dough, on the other hand, while quite pliable, didn't lend itself to rolling as much or it developed holes and I had to squish it back together. It also had a tendency to stick to the parchment more and the cookies themselves were less sweet and seemed to lack a certain je ne sais quoi. Although it is possible I'm being too hard on them...they look virtually identical. And I wonder if I didn't say anything if anyone would even notice.