If you have kids, you don’t need me to tell you that Christmas Eve is exactly 1 day, 14 hours, 23 minutes and 13 seconds away from now. Your kids probably already told you, and woke you up around 5am to do so. Hopefully by now you’ve finished your shopping (nope), wrapped all your gifts (negative, Ghostrider), baked piles of goodies (getting there) and all that’s left to do is drink some hot cocoa and wait for Santa to slide down that chimney with a bagful of presents.
When Christmas Eve gets here on Saturday, I’m hoping to check most of these things off of my list so I can spend my time with some very excited little boys who will no doubt be bouncing off the walls in anticipation of the big day. We don’t do large family gatherings or anything on Christmas Eve, but over the years we have established some sweet little traditions that I look forward to almost as much as Christmas itself.
My mom will be coming over for a nice dinner, even though she knows the free food will also mean a painfully early Christmas morning wake up call from her hyped-up grandchildren. This year, I’m serving Roasted Cornish Game Hens along with Sweet Potatoes topped with Pecans & Goat Cheese. One thing you should know about me, I love goat cheese more than almost anything in the world so if there is an opportunity to put it in a recipe, I’m doing it. If you’re still deciding on your holiday menu and had to be begrudgingly talked out of naming your first born Chèvre like I did, I highly suggest you give this recipe a try.
After dinner, we all decorate cookies to leave out for Santa to eat, and then feel guilty about later. Santa’s still trying to get rid of the last of the baby weight but they’re cookies and Santa’s willpower does not extend to baked goods. The ensuing piles of sprinkles mounded on the floor and glistening off of the dogs give me one more thing to clean up, but it’s lots of fun anyway. For the first couple of years, we decorated with tinted frosting, but have finally stepped into the big leagues and made the leap to royal icing. If you’ve never worked with royal icing before, here is a really great step by step tutorial to get you started.
For the cookies themselves, I try to bake them a day or two ahead of time because Christmas Eve day usually finds me home alone with the kids while my husband finally gets his shopping started. Have you ever been to a mall on Christmas Eve? Just a bunch of confused looking men wandering around, you know I’m right. Anyway, I’ve tried several recipes for the cookies, many with more seasonal spices, but I really like this one spiked with lemon and vanilla bean the best.
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
- 1 large egg
- 2½ tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
- Zest of half a lemon (or the zest of a whole lemon, if you love lemon)
- 2½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. salt
In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and confectioners’ sugar on medium-high speed until smooth, 1-2 minutes. Beat in the egg, vanilla extract, seeds scraped from the vanilla bean, and lemon zest until blended. Mix in the flour and salt on low speed just until incorporated. Form the dough into a ball and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until chilled and firm, at least 1-2 hours.
When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 375˚ F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll the dough out on a well floured work surface to about ¼-inch thickness. Cut with cookie cutters as desired and transfer to the prepared baking sheets. Bake 8-10 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through baking, until fully cooked but not at all browned. Allow to cool on the baking sheet 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Decorate as desired.
For the royal icing, I like to use this basic recipe and then I also add 2-3 tsps. lemon extract to complement the flavor of the cookies. This step is entirely optional but it does make them really good.
- 4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
- 2 tbsp. meringue powder
- 5 tbsp. water
Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the sheen has disappeared and the icing has a matte appearance (about 7-10 minutes). Transfer the contents of the mixing bowl to an air-tight container. This will be the stiffest consistency of the icing, and at this point it is still too stiff to use for decorating. Add water a very small amount at a time and stir by hand until fully incorporated. Continue until the icing has reached a consistency appropriate for piping.
So then after I get the kids all hyped up on sugar and promises of gifts, we watch Santa’s progress on the Norad Tracker, open their one gift (Pajamas, mom? Seriously?!), read “The Night Before Christmas” and it’s off to bed. Then my husband and I get to haul all the gifts out of hiding with ninja-like silence while doing duck and cover moves at every small sound we hear. I guess that’s one way to work off those cookies at least.
What are your Christmas Eve traditions? We’d love to hear about them!