Culinary Waves: by Chef Mary Beth Lawton Johnson
They only come once a year – the wonderful, glorious holidays when you can create memorable desserts. For some yachts, it’s a traditional white coconut cake or pumpkin pie. For others, it’s a smorgasbord of celebration, with each crew member contributing their own favorite holiday desserts.
Whether you are baking for charter guests or for your own private employer, or even having a crew bake-off get-together on board, don’t forget the Christmas cookies! The guests and crew will reach for cookies faster than they will for a slice of pie or cake.
I like to bake several different cookies for the holidays, such as pecan sandies (a favorite of mine since childhood) and frosted, decorated sugar cookies in the shapes of Santas and snowmen. If you are going to be serving Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinner or lunch on board, the meal will not be complete unless you offer a plate cookies. Just leave them out on the counter and watch them disappear.
Here’s a great tip for a Christmas gift: Go to an antique or secondhand store and purchase small plates and cookie cutters. Mix and match them, add cookies on top, and wrap it all up in cellophane with a bow. You might just encourage someone to start their own holiday tradition of making cookies.
If you are a super busy chef and think you don’t have time to make cookies, keep in mind that people remember the homemade efforts you put into your meals – so make those cookies anyway.
Here is a fail-proof recipe I have used over the holidays. Don’t forget the icing bags and tips. Maybe even gift those along with the cookies. Remember its a time for giving, not receiving. A plate of holiday cookies will bring joy to someone who might not have family nearby. Merry Christmas and happy holidays.
- 1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon vanilla (or cinnamon or almond flavoring)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- In a bowl, cream the butter and sugar, then add the vanilla (or other flavoring) and eggs, beating them into the butter mixture.
- In another bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Sift the flour mixture slowly into the butter mixture.
- Form into a ball and chill for 3 hours or overnight. When ready to use, roll out the dough and use cookie cutters to cut into various shapes.
- Brush the cookies with milk and bake at 350 F for 10-15 minutes.
- Once completely cooled, decorate with frosting and colored sugar (optional).
- 1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
- 3 tablespoons butter, softened
- 1 tablespoon vanilla, or flavoring of choice
- 1 tablespoon milk
- Food coloring and/or colored sugar
- Beat sugar, butter, vanilla (or other flavoring) and milk until creamy, adding more milk if needed to make it spreadable.
- Add 3 drops of food coloring of choice.
- If you are doing several different colors for one cookie, make up separate batches of frosting.
- Set aside the colored sugar to sprinkle last.
- Spread frosting on cooled cookies.
Don’t forget a piping bag and tips for each color!
To make a Santa Claus cookie, for example, you would use red food coloring for his clothing, black for his belt and eyes, and white for his beard and fur trim.
Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine, and has worked on yachts for more than 25 years. Comments are welcome below.