This is a tale of four reader recipes, three variations of them ... and madness.
What can I say? You readers have such great ideas, and I have such fun with them.
It started Friday morning, when I pulled up the Nov. 9 Let's Talk Food where I'd asked readers for cookie swap ideas to nail down which I'd bake and add ingredients to my shopping list on Ziplist. I had in mind that I wanted to make White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies, which a reader named Krystine had posted in the comments. They struck me as delicious-sounding and festive without requiring decorating — which fit nicely in my request for keeping it simple as I wrangled a toddler.
But then, I spotted the recipe a reader named Jennifer had emailed in for Cranberry Walnut Oatmeal Cookies. I liked the idea of cranberries shining through like little Christmas bulbs (though they didn't quite meet my vision; next time, I'd probably be more deliberate with their placement), plus a-HA! This could be a good use-up for the cranberries I had leftover from making Aunt Bev's Pillsbury Bake-Off contender cookies. So I decided to do those, too.
Then I noticed faithful Let's Talk Food reader Randi had posted a recipe PERFECT for keeping it simple: Scotch Shortbread. Now, you'd think this would be the point where I'd realize I was overcomplicating things and make a course correction. Instead, I thought, "Ooh, these are such a border collie christmas cards slate that I could easily goose them up with dashes of food coloring (dabbled in lightly, not mixed thoroughly) and peppermint extract" for a Peppermint Shortbread. (Later, when my friend Eric — he of the "microwave" stir-fry, and my baking expert at work — tried them, he said, "I don't usually like mint-flavored stuff, but this was very light and rather tasty." Yay!)
So, wanting to also keep the snow-white original, I added two versions of shortbread to the plan.
Now there was no good earthly reason I added reader Carole's Molasses Sugar Cookies to the plan. I just got sucked in by her enthusiasm for them, and the cookies "smelling like the holidays coming out of the oven" (as she wrote).
So that's five cookies (counting two versions of shortbread). But then ...
When I went to bake the Cranberry Walnut Almond Cookies, I realized I only had a 1/2 cup of the cranberries where the recipe called for a cup, plus a cup of walnuts. SO I decided to split the dough in half before adding the cranberries and walnuts; in the second half, I replaced those with a cup of shredded unsweetened coconut (which I thought would look kind of like snow), also leftover from making Aunt Bev's cookies. I mixed a 1/2 cup of coconut in to the second half of the dough, and then sweetened the coconut slightly to roll those cookies in to coat, dubbing them Angel Snow Cookies.
When I was done with that, I still had some coconut left. So, liking the match of coconut and macadamia nuts, I divided the White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies and mixed the rest of the coconut into half of them for a Coconut White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookie. SO — that made variation No. 3, for a grand total of seven cookies.
I love to bake, but man did I set myself up for a colossal task on a day when we also were getting our Christmas card family picture shot, were supposed to decorate the house, and oh yeah, the baby was unusually fussy and clingy. I definitely freaked out midday Saturday. (My husband, chuckling during one of his passes through the kitchen on his way to put up lights outside: "You are the queen of biting off more than you can chew.")
Also it's possible I lost track not just of my original goal to keep it simple, but the fundamental nature of the event for which I was baking. (My husband's second quote of the weekend, Sunday morning as he surveyed the seven cookies arranged on five different platters: "You know the point of a cookie swap is everyone only has to make one recipe, right?")
Well, sure ... if you want to be all sane about it and such.
And the truth is, though I was bedraggled and crabby when it was over, I had a lot of fun connecting with these reader recipes.
Interestingly, I most enjoyed making Carole's Molasses Sugar Cookie, the one least justified (that's the problem with sticking to sane choices — you might miss the surprises on the paths not taken!). When I leaned in to breathe deep of them, I got whisked back to being a fifth grader in Augusta, Maine, when my brother Bill and I would tromp home from school in the snow to find Mom had made gingerbread men, something Mom and I had just been reminiscing about the day before. That scent connection was a remarkably touching gift. And my husband loved these.
Anyway, in the end, every one of the cookies I took to the swap disappeared, traded for fun thumbprint cookies from my curmudgeonly friend, peanut butter balls, delectable chocolate bars and other goodies.
Remember, if you want to try any of these, click here for the recipes. Now, to try to dial down the crazy a little, and look for another opportunity to clean and decorate the house ...Have you ever gone a little nuts overdoing your holiday baking or some other event? We'd love to hear about it in the comments below. You need a Facebook account to add comments, but they're easy to sign up for, and free. Over the next few days, Detroit News Food Editor Maureen Tisdale will respond to comments or questions. You also can follow her on Twitter @reentiz. Join the discussion!