Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Christmas Nativity Cookie Boxes

Making our Christmas Nativity Cookie Boxes is a bit of a tradition around here. You see, being a bi-cultural family we're bound to be influenced from both cultures. In America there is a lot of baking that happens around Christmas time, and my family, like thousands of others, took part in massive amounts of baking.

Especially cookies. Just the smell of anise makes me think of Christmas and cookies. Hours spent rolling and decorating cookies. Laughter over mixing the last few colors of frosting together only to discover we'd come up with some nauseating color of green that many military men are forced to wear.

When we go to the local Honey Farm, I race for the anise honey while everyone else makes bee lines for chocolates and fruited honeys. While the boys might fight over Vanilla and Raspberry honey I'm left with an entire bottle of blissful anise honey to enjoy all for myself.

We always made roll-out cookies at Christmas time sometimes using a family recipe and when it couldn't be found reverting to the one in Mom's old Betty Crocker cookbook. The orange one that wasn't falling apart nearly as badly as the spiral bound one, which was always my personal favorite. We'd substitute anise seed for vanilla and we'd carry on with business as usual.

There are some traditions that one must carry on even when they are all grown up and don't live at home anymore. Each of us have them, and in our house one such tradition is making cookies at Christmas. Then one year, I decided to take a new twist on the whole idea. I thought I'd be really creative and make a cookie for each participant in the Nativity story. The immediate participants, that is. Only, being the mother of 7 month old and a 2.5 year old things didn't go exactly as planned. I managed to make many of the ones I'd planned, but the end results didn't look anything like I'd planned, and several bits were missing. My family didn't mind and accepted their boxes of goodies with open arms and smiled when I attempted to explain what I'd tried to create.

The next year I was feeling a bit wiser and I spent many months working on the cookies. The easier ones I'd have the boys help with, as much as a 12 month old and 3 year old can help. The tougher things were made during nap times. All of it was tucked into the freezer, and come Christmas morning we pulled it all out and assembled our various buckets and boxes. We delivered some to our neighbors and some to family. That year, I really was much wiser and had even prepared a little card to go with the cookies that explained the "story" behind them.

And so the tradition has stayed. So much so that now the day to make the cookies are designated throughout December and we find them hidden in our Reindeer Countdown Calendar. The boys are older now too and can help more. Morgan is even capable of mixing up an entire batch of cookies on his own as long as I keep my hovering to a minimal. You know, just verifying that he only uses a half teaspoon of salt and not a half cup, simple things like that. We've even perfected making most of these sweet treats sugar-free, which makes them all that much sweeter because we can fully enjoy an entire box of cookies ourselves!

Interested in making some to share with your own friends and family? I promise they are really easy and you don't need a set of Nativity Cookie Cutters, all though I'd seriously love to snatch this set up this year. All you need is a few of your own trusty, normal, cookie recipes, or you can use mine.

Each year the cookies are boxed up in simple tins, gift boxes, or buckets. We line that container with tissue paper and use muffin liners to separate the cookies. We usually aim to give a half dozen to a dozen or so cookies to each family based on how many people are in a family. We don't want to inundate a small family with gobs of cookies, nor do we want to leave a large family wishing they had enough to go around! We also include a fun little tag/card with our cookies (printable coming soon) that tells the story and describes the cookies.

Angel -- "Behold I bring you good tidings of great joy." -- Mexican Wedding Cake (aka Russian Tea cake)

Donkey -- Seven Layer Bars (to make these sugar free use homemade chocolate, graham crackers, & homemade condensed milk)

Mary -- "thou art highly favoured.. blessed is thee among women."  -- Milk Chocolate Fudge (use homemade chocolate & homemade condensed milk to make this sugar free; we prefer to add chopped dried cherries and marshmallows over nuts to this fudge.)

Joseph -- "being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord bidden him." -- Oatmeal Raisin Cookies (to make these sugar free use coconut sugar, maple sugar, or date sugar; we prefer to do 1/2 c butter & 1/2 c coconut oil)

Baby Jesus -- "and she brought forth her first born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes - For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." -- Buried Cherry Cookies (to make these sugar free use homemade chocolate, homemade condensed milk, & pick a low sugar cherries or sugar-free bottled cherry)

Manger -- "and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn." -- HayStacks (to make these sugar free use double the amount of [homemade] chocolate called for and omit the butterscotch. I have never used the peanuts in this recipe as I never recall doing so as a kid.)

Shepherds -- "And there were.. shepherds.. keeping watch over their flocks by night." -- Chocolate dipped mini Candy Canes or Pretzel Rods (we brake the big chocolate rods in half and dip their broken ends in chocolate. Either way only dip the item halfway up in chocolate. you can then roll them in crushed peppermint, nuts, or sprinkles. To make sugar-free use homemade chocolate & sugar free peppermint candies)

Herod -- ".. Herod the king.. was troubled." -- Peanut Butter Cookies (to make sugar free use coconut sugar, date sugar, or maple sugar; also use a natural peanut butter with no sugar in it)

Wisemen -- "they presented unto him gifts of frankincense, myrrh, and gold." -- Gingerbread Camels with Marmalade (to make sugar free use coconut sugar and don't bother to sprinkle the tops with sugar. Roll out and cut with a camel cookie cutter. Make an indent in the middle of the camel with your thumb and add a dallop of all fruit or low sugar marmalade, sprinkle with chopped crystallised ginger if desired. We use coconut oil in place of shortening.)

Star -- "for we have seen his star in the east.. when they saw the star they rejoiced." -- Sugar Cookies or Peppermint Starburst Candy (we shape the cookies in a star and then make a yellow tinted icing to glaze the tops with. We also add a teaspoon or two of anise extract to our dough. You could also make traditional Butter cookies. To make sugar free use coconut sugar.)

Why we chose these cookies:

The recipe for the Angels is handwritten in my Great-Grandmother's cooking notebook, it's always a favorite and the idea for using that recipe came to me due to the fact that it was white. It's also one of the most favorite cookies in the box.  

Mary is chocolate fudge because the way we saw it chocolate (and fudge) is one of the first goodies people go for, especially when it's only served once a year. I like to add the white marshmallows for Mary's purity.

While the Donkey isn't honestly mentioned in the Christmas story, it's something we're use to seeing or associating with the it and so 7 Layer bars sprung to mind because honestly they reminded me of the goat and horse feed we use to use on the farm.

We chose an Oatmeal Cookie for Joseph because we figured oatmeal cookies are pretty ordinary in the world of cookies, but they can have extraordinary surprises in them, like bits of chocolate or dried cranberries. We figure Joseph was just an ordinary man given an extra ordinary job.

The cookie for Jesus was also an easy one. Buried Cherry cookies have a sweet cherry hidden inside of them. The name and the hidden cherry made us think of the burial and resurrection of Christ. Not to mention the dark chocolate of the cookies reminds us of our sins while the cherry inside reminds of the price paid to redeem us from them.

Then there's the manger. We use to make Haystacks quite often when I was little. I remember melting the butterscotch and chocolate over the double boiler before or after church and then waiting, impatiently, for the cookies to cool. The name alone really drew me to the cookie for representing the manger.

The pretzels use to be our ideal item for representing the Shepherds. In America you can buy thick long pretzel rods and we use to break them in half and dip them in chocolate. Chocolate coated pretzels are quite yummy and made us think of a walking stick. Here, such pretzels have yet to be found so we've started using candy canes, and sometimes we don't even dip them in chocolate as the little ones are usually individually wrapped. The hook of the candy cane reminded us of a shepherd's crook.

Herod. Wow, what can I say. The man was certainly troubled, to put it lightly. The way we figure it he was also a whole lotta nutty! And when we thought about it that way, well, peanut butter cookies really did fit the bill to represent him.

The wisemen came bearing gifts of spices and gold, and they rode on camels. So this was another simple one to figure out. Gingerbread cookies are a pretty typical Christmas cookie in America so instead of making the beloved "boy" shape (which Morgan truly adores) we shaped ours like camels. There's a lot of sweet smelling spices in those cookies, and we let the marmalade represent the gold.

The star cookie really speaks for itself doesn't it? There have been times when we've shaped all our yummy anise cookies into other things with our fun stash of cookie cutters and when this happens we use a peppermint candy for the star. We just make sure to buy the ones that said "starburst" on them. Not that it truly looks like a star to us, but we let the name do the talking. I'm also a wee bit wiser and remember to make a double batch of these so we can make our stars and the kids can go wild with the other cutters!

And that's it. We tend to make the 7 layer bars last, as I've never frozen them and have no idea how they'd do in the freezer. The fudge is also made closer to the giving away day and hidden in the back of the fridge so sticky fingers don't pinch too much of it. Everything else is frozen. We do freeze the gingerbread camels with their marmalade on them. We do not freeze the stars pre-iced. We do those when we pull them out if we ice them at all. We don't always. Last year we got fancy with it, and I forgot to add the anise to the cookie dough so I felt the lacked huge flavor and thus needed a pinch of icing on top.

I don't have a picture of any of our packed boxes as it's usually quite the scramble to pack them all up before the chocolate melts in the summer heat, or the children attempt to pinch too many of their favorite ones. Then there's the equally mad scramble to find room in the fridge for a half dozen to a dozen boxes of cookies as they await handing out the following day!

You can see what our boxes looked like HERE and grab the free printable card that goes with them HERE.


Katrina said...

This is such a wonderful idea and a great way to share Jesus birth with neighbors and friends. Thank you so much for sharing.

Gae said...

Dear Kendra,
A beautiful tradition.
I may try to queeze this one in to add to our own.
Great Idea

Andrea said...

Kendra- you are awesome! Just what I was looking for!

JEssie said...

Have you posted the printable tag yet??