Today we are celebrating Nicholas, a wonderful man who was born in the third century in a village in what was then Greece, but is now Turkey. Nicholas was a kind and generous man who shared all of his possessions with the poor and needy, living his life modeled after Jesus. The custom of giving presents at Christmas comes from St. Nicholas! And the three wise men, of course.
Remember that favorite Christmas carol, Jolly Old St. Nicholas? On Dec. 6th, the feast day of St. Nicholas is celebrated in many places around the world, keeping alive the stories and legends of his goodness and generosity. There are about 2,000 churches in the world named after St. Nicholas, with over 400 in England alone!
There is an excellent website, St. Nicholas Center, that has many stories, songs, recipes, art work, crafts you can make such as ornaments, puppets, stockings, stand-up figures and many things, all about St. Nicholas. If you're looking for a way to put more emphasis on doing for others this Christmas, gather up some family members, children in the neighborhood, or friends at church and celebrate St. Nicholas!
Today at our house we are baking St. Nicholas cookies to take to church tomorrow for coffee hour. We're using a classic sugar cookie recipe from the Pioneer Woman that can be baked all year 'round at holidays, using different shaped cookie cutters. Here's the recipe:
2/3 cup shortening
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
4 teaspoons milk
2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Cream shortening, sugar, lemon zest, and vanilla thoroughly. Add in egg and beat until light and fluffy. Add in the milk and mix. Sift dry ingredients together, then stir into the creamed mixture. Divide the dough into halves or thirds if you have doubled or tripled the recipe, shape into balls and wrap in waxed paper. Refrigerate for at least an hour, or overnight.
It's much easier to work with cold cookie dough, so keep the other balls in the fridge and just roll out one ball at a time. Roll out dough on lightly floured surface and cut into shapes with cookie cutters. Transfer shapes to lightly greased cookie sheet and paint with colored egg yolk glaze, or bake plain at 375 degrees for approx. 6-8 or more minutes. Do not allow the cookies to become browned. Remove cookies to a wire rack to cool, then pipe with white icing using a pastry bag or Ziplock bag.
Egg Yolk Glaze
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon water
3-6 or more drops food coloring, depending on your preference
Mix together in a small dish with a fork. Use a soft brush, such as a watercolor brush, and paint the cookies before baking. This recipe will paint approx. two trays of cookies.
White Decorative Icing
1 1-pound box powdered sugar
few tablespoons of milk
Stir in the milk a bit at a time into half of the box of powdered sugar until frosting is the right consistency. It should be thick enough to hold its shape on the cookie. Decorate using a pastry bag or a Ziplock bag with a tiny piece of the corner snipped off. Let the cookies dry for awhile so the frosting will set.
The important ingredients
I am making a triple batch of cookies today, so you will see three times the amount of everything going into the bowl!
Add in the shortening (I used Crisco), and the sugar...
Next, grate some lemon peel which gives the cookies a delightful, subtle, lemony flavor...
Add in the lemon zest, vanilla, egg, and milk and mix with the mixer until creamed.
Sift the dry ingredients together, then blend into the creamed mixture.
Stir all together!
Divide dough into thirds, roll into balls, and wrap in waxed paper.
Place balls in fridge for at least an hour, or overnight if you wish. Freezing is an option as well. When it's time to roll out into cookies, take out only one ball and leave the others in the fridge to remain cold. It's much easier to work with cold dough!
Dust your surface and your rolling pin with flour. You are probably wondering what I am rolling out my dough on. Years ago I got this square plastic mat from Tupperware. It has dimensions for pie crust drawn on it which has been very helpful! Flour it well before you start rolling your dough and you will be able to lift up the cookies with a spatula. I ordered the cookie cutters from the St. Nicholas Center website, but you could draw your own pattern. Here I am using two Bishop shapes and a Bishop's hat shape (called a Miter).
Put an egg and 1 teaspoon of water in a small cup. Add several drops of red food coloring and beat with a fork until mixed. Add a drop or two more food coloring if you want the color darker.
Paint those cookies! Use a soft brush and apply the color liberally. No problem letting the finished ones wait while you complete the tray.
Bake cookies in the oven for 6-8 or a few more minutes, depending on your oven. Watch them carefully! You want the cookies to be only slightly, slightly browned, but done. It can be tricky, but if you pay careful attention to the oven and don't get distracted by the doorbell, the phone or the kids or the dogs, you'll be rewarded by some beautiful cookies!
Mix up half of a box of powdered sugar with a few tablespoons of milk, until icing is somewhat stiff but still workable. Snip a tiny corner off of a small Ziplock sandwhich bag, spoon in the icing, seal up the bag and begin decorating, putting a cross on each hat, filling in a beard and putting a crozier (the Bishop's staff like a shepherd would use) diagonally on the front, or a straight line to represent the Bishop's robe.
Here are your finished St. Nicholas cookies. Let them sit an hour or two so the icing will set and dry. Then set them out on a beautiful plate and celebrate! Don't forget to save some in the freezer to serve at Christmas.