The Christmas cookie crazy train went off the rails at the Fixin’ Leaks and Leeks headquarters where, after drinking a glass of wine from a bottle that was roughly the size of a small cannon, I announced: I’m making just cookies for my blog for the entire month of December. I don’t flippin’ care. It’s on! I’m bringing it! Butter and sugar are just going to rain down from the sky, and we’re going to be swimming in it well past New Year’s Day, so pull that buckle across your lap, insert the metal end, and pull that strap tight—‘cause we’re starting with some whacky, swirly pinwheel cookies.
Whacky, swirly pinwheel cookies were a Christmas classic when I was growing up. These cookies are delightful to look at, and they hold high hopes of delicious promises. Grammy introduced me to these cookies when she would visit from Florida when I was a child. She’d arrive sometime at night in the middle of December, and I’d wake up the next morning to see the batter already made and refrigerated. I had no idea how she did this. Either she kept the dough in a cooler on the plane somehow, or she got up in the middle of the night and messed around the kitchen.
In any case, the chocolate and vanilla batter for the pinwheel cookies is just. . . amazing. All by itself. I would stuff myself when Grammy wasn’t looking. I would just eat myself sick—the batter was that good. Then, when the pinwheels would come hot out of the oven, they were still really, really good. And then, after just a few hours, when they would cool down, they would taste kind of “meh.” Kind of like when your Grammy visits from Florida with chocolate cookie dough batter and lots of presents, but you open the presents and they’re slippers. The pinwheel cookie is the “slipper” cookie of Christmas, I guess, but I was feeling nostalgic, so I made these—and I’m glad I did.
Now, Grammy always came to our house with her handwritten recipe cards, so I thought she was using a recipe that was passed down through the generations—all of the way from Italy. Years later, at my bridal shower, she gave me some of these recipe cards, in her whacky pinwheel writing—and with notes at the top like, “This one is good for company.” Grammy passed away many years ago, but I still have those recipe cards, so I looked through them to find the pinwheel recipe. I was disappointed to discover that I did not have the pinwheel cookie recipe, but when I looked more carefully at the cards, I noticed recipes for mayonnaise-based chicken salads and fruit cocktail snacking cakes—the likes of which I’d seen in Better Homes and Gardens magazines. And then, I came across another recipe card for chicken marsala—and the notes at the top read: “Got the recipe from The Olive Garden because they have the best chicken marsala.” I can only imagine how she got this recipe. Did she barge into an Olive Garden kitchen and demand that the chef hand over the recipe? I’ll bet the chef thought that was precious and gave her a standard recipe for chicken marsala. Another note at the bottom of the card from Grammy reads: “Marsala makes for a great dessert wine after dinner.”
So, I’m guessing that Grammy’s pinwheel recipe may have come from a magazine, a neighbor, or perhaps she barged into a bakery and demanded the recipe. Nowadays, we have the internet, so I ransacked it and found a recipe from Taste of Home: “Basic Chocolate Pinwheel Cookies.” (Follow the link here: Basic Chocolate Pinwheel Cookies.)
I followed the recipe exactly—except for rolling the dough out into rectangles. I cannot make rectangles. I can make ovals with ragged edges. That’s it. So, if you can’t make rectangles out of dough, don’t panic. The recipe will turn out just fine.
The one thing I noticed about this recipe was the massive amounts of ingredients: 2 cups of sugar + ½ cup of packed brown sugar; three entire teaspoons of vanilla extract; 3 ¾ cup of flour—but just one cup of butter and two eggs to hold all of this together—and it works. The recipe does recommend using a mixer, but I usually mix by hand, and when things get tough, I ask Nate and Alex to help out, but they had purposely left the kitchen or something.
To get that swirl effect, you divide the batters in half. One half gets cocoa powder; the other does not. Once they’ve been rolled out between pieces of waxed paper and left in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, you can place a chocolate section over a plain section and roll it up jelly-roll style. Refrigerate the rolls for a few more hours. Then, just slice and bake.
–Christmas confession: I licked the spoon (after everything was baked). The batter is still good, but the CDC does not recommend eating raw cookie dough. I suppose wearing a mask while cooking could be a good safety measure to take because there is no way that chunks of raw cookie dough will get through.
–When the cookies come fresh out of the oven. They are still really, really good.
–You have a window of about 1-2 minutes before the pinwheel cookies go from “amazing” to “meh.” After that, you could maybe put scoops of vanilla, chocolate, or peppermint ice cream in between to make ice-cream-cookie sandwiches. Or, you could dunk them in some kind of dessert wine or liquor. Grammy might recommend marsala, perhaps—after a wild night of harassing chefs at the Olive Garden.
Your Turn: What’s your favorite seasonal cookie?