Well, that's not entirely accurate. The Cookie Monster seems to prefer chocolate chip cookies; at least the crumbs flying from his over-sized saucer of a mouth look like chocolate chip cookie crumbs. The Hurst Ladies Christmas Cookie Party may indeed sneak in a few chocolate chip cookies. But variety is the spice of life and cookies may appear on the gift plates that have never been made before (and perhaps won't be made again, depending on taste, appearance, and how they rank on the pain in the butt meter.)
Beginning in late October, or maybe early November, the cookie magazines appear at the checkout counter. We know what to look for and snatch them up with our gallons of milk and eggs. There's 'Better Homes and Gardens', 'Taste of Home', 'Martha' and finally, for sheer decadence 'Land 'o Lakes.' Each has its appeal. Probably 'Taste of Home' as the biggest variety and winds up with the most stained pages. There is always an inner debate with the 'Land o' Lakes' recipes....to butter or to stick with oleo. Martha's presentation and magazine paper are the most elegant, but several year's experience with attempting her desserts has engendered a certain skepticism and wariness about the likelihood that the dessert will 1) taste as good as it looks and 2) look as good as the photos. In other words, do not attempt unless you are a trained professional.
Process of elimination. First, nothing with pistachios. Or macadamia nuts. No elaborate cutouts; after all, we're talkin' dozens of cookies and about 8 square feet of counter space to roll out on. Drop cookies are good despite the longer cooking time. But they aren't sexy. Unless one takes advantage of good old American specialization. Chocolate chips are good? Then white chocolate is upscale; swirl chocolate chips are trendy; peanut butter and chocolate chips kill two birds with one stone; mini chocolate chips are cute; cinnamon or cherry chocolate chips must surely be the result of some focus group. The good folks at Hershey either came up with that idea or shamelessly copied it. Your average peanut butter blossom can be as multicultural as you can stand. Caramel swirl? Mint truffle? Stuffed with an almond? Looks like my cookie incarnation this year will be chocolate with chopped dried cherries and a "cordial cherry" Hershey embedded. I can't blame them; a peanut butter blossom is fool proof, instantly recognizable and will look as good after rearrangement on the plate as it does when cooled and hardened.
In past years, I've been sucker punched by the lovely layered cookies. No more. The three layers are pretty and the cookie really stands out on the plate. But one bite and you have to wonder why you spent all that time letting the dough chill, then fighting to roll the layers, then slicing....you catch my drift. Better some tasty crumbs than a high calorie artwork that tastes like nothing. My solution this year is the gingerbread sandwich cookie. Equally high labor, but when you bite into it, you have spice, chewiness, sweetness and piquancy in equal measure. Yum. And kids love sandwich cookies...two for one and you can disassemble them to boot.
Our bow to trendiness and beauty is the purchase of several jars of the fancy big granulated sugars. Just like a rime of frost. My cookie most likely to be ugly is the lemon cranberry pinwheel recipe I'm trying for the first time. And only because the cookie illustrated has those big crystals of granular sugar. It looks so pretty! My guess is that it will taste just fine, but unless my pinwheels turn out, I'll bet its not the first cookie off the plate. Ah well, its worth a try, but I won't make it the first recipe to stir up.
On the other hand, the bar cookie with the streusel topping will probably be yummy but fail the durability test. These cookies are getting ready to be jostled two or three times before reaching their recipients. I can just see all the streusel loose on the plate. Hmmmm....perhaps I should stick to the little poppyseed thumbprints with the raspberry jam. THEY look like they'd hold together and be recognizable.
The big cookie party gathers in current Hurst Ladies, past Hurst Ladies, and lots of women who are related to Hurst Ladies. There is chatter enough to inspire Meredith Wilson (pick a little, talk a little). The plates pile higher and higher, on the smaller front table as the tupperware, rubbermaid, cookie sheets, etc. empty on the big dining room table. Around and around we go, some picking cookies, some making labels, some bagging. Finally, we have used all the cookies and all the plates. We count plates; we snack on leftovers; we exchange recipes. Then big piles of cookie plates head off into the night to be distributed to friends, loved ones, coworkers, teachers, or maybe just folks who need a loving gesture and a treat during the holiday. Do you feel the need to bake, to warm the stove, flour the counter, spill sprinkles on the floor? O.D. on frosting? Then come on over and pretend to be a Hurst Lady. Barring that option, let us know and we'll be happy to share!!