Have a Merry Christmas cookie

Sue Marsula of Baldwin Borough loves making Christmas cookies, even if it means waking up at 6 a.m. and being on her feet until 11 p.m. to get 15 to 20 varieties done in two days. “During that time I ask my husband [Dan Marsula, art director at the Post-Gazette] and children to stay clear of the kitchen,” she says, laughing. Having done it for 30 years now, she has it down to a science. Her recipes, collected from magazines, cookbooks and websites, have taught her to transform sugar cookies into Elf Hats, elevate the elegance in Peppermint Pinwheels and Brown Sugar Holly Leaves, and amp up the layers of flavor in Neapolitans. With creations like these, who says that the season’s treats have to be cookie-cutter?

Elf Hats

PG tested
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1⁄8 teaspoon salt
3 cups flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
Food color

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar with a hand mixer at medium speed until creamy.

Add egg, vanilla and salt. Continue beating until well mixed. Add flour and baking soda. Beat until well mixed.

Divide dough into the number of colors you want, and knead the food coloring in until well-blended.

Layer dough in a 9-inch-by-5-inch loaf pan, alternating the colors

Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Slice dough into strips, and then cut strips into little triangles.

Place on a cookie sheet and bake for 7 to 10 minutes. Cool cookies on wire rack. Decorate as desired.

Makes 60 cookies.

Peppermint Pinwheels

PG tested
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
3 tablespoons milk
2½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon red food coloring
Powdered sugar, for rolling out dough
1 cup Nonpareils (sprinkles)

Cream butter and sugar together. Add egg, vanilla and peppermint extracts and milk. Beat until well-incorporated. Gradually add flour, salt and baking powder, beating until combined

Remove half the mixture from the bowl. Add red food coloring, beating until fully combined.

On a sheet of waxed paper, roll out red dough, dusted with powdered sugar, to form a large rectangle.

On another sheet of waxed paper, roll out white dough, dusted with powdered sugar, to form a large rectangle.

Then carefully slide the red dough on top of the white dough. Trim edges if uneven and patch if necessary.

Roll dough into a log, creating a swirl effect.

Now place a generous amount of sprinkles in a shallow dish and roll the cookie dough log firmly over the sprinkles until it is covered.

Wrap and chill for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Slice the dough into ½-inch slices and place on parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake for 10 to 15 minutes.

Makes 48 cookies.

Brown Sugar Holly Leaves

PG tested
1 cup butter
¾ cup brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
21⁄3 cups flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
Green sugar for decorating
Cinnamon candies for decorating

In a saucepan, melt butter over medium heat until lightly browned. Refrigerate until cold but not firm about 1½ hours.

In a large bowl, at medium speed, beat browned butter and sugars until creamy, occasionally scraping bowl with rubber spatula.

Add egg and vanilla, and beat until well mixed. Reduce speed and gradually beat in flour, baking soda and salt, until blended.

Divide dough into 3 equal portions. Between two sheets of waxed paper, roll dough 1⁄8-inch thick. Repeat with remaining 2 portions of dough.

Refrigerate dough 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Remove 1 portion of dough from refrigerator. Peel off top sheet of waxed paper. Then turn dough over and remove bottom sheet of waxed paper.

With a 3-inch holly leaf-shaped cookie cutter, cut out as many cookies as possible, reserving trimmings. Place cookies on ungreased large cookie sheet. Wrap and refrigerate trimmings to roll out more cookies.

Using back of paring knife, draw lines on cookies to resemble veins. Sprinkle green sugar along lines and press some cinnamon candies at one end to resemble holly berries.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes.

Repeat with remaining dough and trimmings.

Makes 30 to 36 cookies.

Linzer Cookies

PG tested
8 ounces pecans
½ cup cornstarch
1½ cups butter
11⁄3 cups powdered sugar, divided
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¾ teaspoon salt
1 egg
2¾ cups flour, plus extra for dusting surface
¾ cup seedless red raspberry jam

In a food processor with knife blade, pulse pecan and cornstarch until nuts are finely ground. Set aside.

In large bowl, mix on low speed, butter and 1 cup powdered sugar until mixed. Increase speed to high and beat 2 minutes, or until light and fluffy, occasionally scraping bowl with rubber spatula.

At medium speed, beat in vanilla, salt and egg. Reduce speed to low; gradually beat in flour and pecan mixture.

Divide dough into 4 equal portions. Flatten each into a dish, wrap and refrigerate 4 to 5 hours.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Remove 1 dish of dough. On a lightly floured surface with flour-coated rolling pin, roll dough 1⁄8- inch thick.

With floured 2¼-inch cookie cutter, cut into desired shape. Cut out centers of half.

Bake for 17 to 20 minutes until edges are lightly browned.

When cookies are cool, sprinkle remaining 1⁄3 cup powdered sugar through sieve over cookies with cutout centers.

Spread scant measuring teaspoon jam on top of whole cookies, place cutout cookie on top.

If cookies are stored in freezer, you might need to sprinkle powdered sugar again before serving.

Repeat process with other portions of dough.

Makes 48 cookies.


PG tested
2 cups butter
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon vanilla
5 1/3 cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
Sanding sugar for decoration

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Beat in eggs, and then stir in vanilla.

In another bowl, combine flour and salt. Stir flour mixture into the sugar mixture.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place dough into a spritz cookie press and press out dough onto ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes.

Sprinkle with sanding sugar.

Makes about 60 cookies.

Neapolitan Cookies

PG tested
1½ cups sugar
1 cup butter
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2½ cups flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon almond extract
5 drops red food color
1 square (1 ounce) unsweetened
½ cup chopped walnuts

With hand mixer on low speed, beat sugar, butter, egg, vanilla, flour, baking powder and salt until just mixed. Then beat at medium speed for 3 minutes.

Divide dough into 3 small bowls.

Add almond extract and red food color to one portion; stir until thoroughly mixed.

In 1-quart saucepan, melt chocolate over low heat. Mix melted chocolate into second portion.

Mix walnuts into third portion.

Line a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with waxed paper and spread almond dough evenly as the bottom layer.

Then spread walnut dough as second layer.

Finish with chocolate dough as top layer.

Cover layered dough with plastic wrap and refrigerator about 4 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Invert pan on a plate and peel off waxed paper.

With a sharp knife, cut dough lengthwise in half. Then slice each half of dough crosswise into ¼-inch slices.

Place slices on cookie sheet.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until light brown.

Makes 60 cookies.

Traditional Sugar Cookies

PG tested
¾ cup shortening (½ cup butter and ¼ cup
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2½ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Mix thoroughly shortening, sugar, eggs and vanilla.

Blend in flour, baking powder and salt.

Cover dough with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Roll dough 1⁄8-inch thick on lightly floured board. Cut into desired shapes. Place on ungreased baking sheet.

Bake for 6 to 8 minutes, or until very light brown.

Makes 60 cookies.

Vanilla-Butter Frosting

1⁄3 cup butter, melted
3 cups powdered sugar
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
About 2 tablespoons milk

Blend butter and sugar. Stir in vanilla and milk,

and beat until frosting is smooth and of spreading consistency.