December 4th is National Cookie Day. Something that I didn’t know until a couple of weeks ago. I’m not sure that December needs a designated day to celebrate cookies since the whole month is about cookies.
Nonetheless, it’s a great time to start thinking about what holiday cookies you want to make with—and for—your friends and family this year. My favorite cookie of 2021 is no doubt, The Ten-Year Chocolate Chip Cookie created by my talented friend, Anthony Underwood. If you want to see him make the cookies himself, tune into GMA on December 15.
My next favorite cookie is one that is new to me. I discovered it the weekend before Thanksgiving during a visit to San Antonio, Texas, for a pre-holiday holiday. The city is fun, colorful and delicious.
The Mexican influence is everywhere—especially in the local food—as roughly 60% of the population is of Mexican descent. Among the fabulous food that we ate were the best-ever breakfast tacos from Pete’s Tako House. I chose bacon, egg, and cheese because that’s my standing order, but what made them outstanding were the tortillas. They were fresh made-from-scratch “Grandma’s Flour Tortillas” that were light and fluffy and not pasty—definitely the best flour tortillas that I have ever tasted.
After breakfast, a friend gave us big pink cookies. At first, I was a little skeptical of the thick pink cookie with a crackle crust. But then I took a bite, and it was dense and slightly chewy inside and crisp on the outside. It had just enough sugar to make it sweet, and every so often, a bit of salt to make you want to take another bite. Before I knew it, I wanted another cookie.
My tastebuds and my baking genes were curious. Now I needed to learn about these cookies, and make them for myself. The first person I asked knew exactly what the big pink cookie was as they are very popular in San Antonio, and as ubiquitous there as the sugar cookies that I grew up with. The pink cookies were Polvorones Rosas, or Mexican Pink Sugar Cookies.
I searched the web and read the recipes, and the cookies that seemed the most like what I had enjoyed in San Antonio came from Estaban Castillo’s blog, ChicanoEats.
The cookies are simple to make, and I had everything I needed on hand—even the gel food coloring which is the only ingredient that is not an everyday pantry item. I decided to make the traditional pink as well as red and green cookies in honor of the Christmas holiday. Dividing the dough and coloring it was fun; like baking and crafting all in one. Needless to say, these cookies would be great for baking with kids.
The cookies that I baked using Estaban’s recipe were even better than the ones I tasted in San Antonio. They are light and crispy on the outside and soft and airy inside like the cookie version of the best flaky biscuit. Lightly sweet, they are rolled in sugar before baking and need that extra bit of sugar on the outside to balance the dense vanilla cookie—plus it makes the cookies sparkle!
Some of the bakeries in San Antonio roll the cookies in cinnamon sugar, but I kept it plain like the recipe stated. The only substantial addition I made was adding a little almond extract to the dough because I like an almondy sugar cookie. As someone who is new to this cookie, I think that they would also be good with lemon or orange extract, but if you are a vanilla purist, or someone who loves the traditional Polvorones, you should omit the extra flavorings.
If you are not a baker, but still want to decorate cookies for the holidays, there are several companies that sell Christmas (and Chanukah) cookie decorating kits. I like the Holiday Cut-Out Decorating Kit by Cheryl’s Cookies which comes with individually wrapped vanilla-cake cookies, green and white buttercream icing, decorative pieces and a bottle of sprinkles. It’s a good base for decorating but you might want to add a few more bottles of colored sugar and/or sprinkles.
And if cookies aren’t your thing, Chicago-based Eli’s Cheesecake sells a DIY Winter Wonderland Cheesecake Cuties Kit –bite-sized squares of Eli’s cheesecake—to dip in Belgium chocolate and decorate with blue and white sprinkles that are perfect all winter long.
These Mexican Sugar Cookies are adapted from Esteban Castillo, founder of ChicanoEats.com. There are a couple of things that people may be tempted to substitute in the recipe such as butter instead of shortening, or liquid food coloring instead of gel color. Esteban cautions that the results won’t be the same and you won’t get the coveted cracked tops if you make these substitutions which increase the amount of liquid in the dough.
Makes 20-22 large cookies
4 1/3 cups All-Purpose Flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 3/4 cups vegetable shortening
1 1/2 cups white granulated sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond or lemon extract, optional
2 large eggs
Gel food coloring, your choice of color
1/2 cup granulated white sugar to roll cookies in
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment beat together the shortening, white granulated sugar, and vanilla extract for 2 full minutes on medium speed, until light and fluffy.
Add the eggs, one at a time, then turn the mixer to low and gradually add the flour mixture, one cup at a time, until it’s all fully combined.
At this point divide the dough into as many colors as you want, then add food coloring and mix with your hands or the stand mixer. Note: As someone who doesn’t use gel or liquid food coloring very often, I was surprised at how much gel I needed to color the dough and how much I had to mix it before it was consistently the same color. I wore nitrile gloves to mix the dough so that my hands wouldn’t become dyed.
Once the dough is dyed, wrap it in plastic and set it in the fridge to rest for an hour. While the dough is resting, preheat the oven to 350ºF and line a couple baking sheets with parchment paper.
When the dough has rested scoop out large balls of dough (Esteban Castillo recommends a standard ice cream scoop, or about ¼ cup) and roll them into a smooth ball before rolling in the sugar. Note: You can make the cookies smaller, but the tops won’t crack in the same way and you will need to shorten the baking time.
Place 6 balls of dough on a baking sheet and flatten slightly with the flat bottom of a glass or back of a measuring cup. Sprinkle a bit more sugar on each cookie then bake for 12-14 minutes one sheet at a time until the cookies have spread out and cracked but haven’t browned at all.
Remove the baking sheets from the oven and let the cookies cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely. Repeat the process with the rest of the dough until all the cookies are baked.
This Polvorones recipe is adapted from Esteban Castillo, ChicanoEats.com