If you do an internet search, you will no doubt find tons of links to similar recipes, but I am including this on my blog today because it works wonderfully for all kinds of last minute situations that seem to come up all too often in this holiday season. Just when your otherwise orderly life seems to have spun completely out of control, you discover you are only hours away from having to provide a dessert for a meeting, potluck, cookie exchange or whatever.
Oh, it's tempting to stop by the bakery department and pick up a tray of those pre-decorated goodies, but the cost is high and they will never really match up to "homemade". Instead of going the pre-baked route, try out this recipe. It's quick, budget friendly (especially if you pick up a box or two of cake mix whenever it is on sale), and fun.
Oh, and one other great use: As the directions note, the consistency of the dough is very similar to play dough, so you can make these with your kids, rolling and cutting and building memories without having to assemble tons of ingredients.
Never Fail Cookies
1 cake mix, standard two layer size, any flavor
2 to 3 T softened butter
1 T water
1. Stir all the ingredients together, using your hands to finish blending for best results.
2. Choose the style of cookie desired and prepare accordingly. (Except for the refrigerator variation, the dough does not need to be refrigerated before forming.) With all of these methods, allow space between the cookies on the baking sheets, as they do spread while baking.
Molded: Take small, walnut sized pieces and roll into balls. Place on a slightly oiled baking sheet and press down evenly, using a small glass dipped in sugar. (If desired, use colored sugars for this step.) Bake at 375 for 5 to 8 minutes.
Rolled: Form about one half of the dough into a ball and roll out on a surface that has been dusted with a mixture--about half and half--of flour and powdered sugar. If rolled to an eighth inch or so, the cookies will be quite crispy. Rolled to a quarter inch, the cookies will be softer. Cut with your desired cutters and re-roll the scraps with the remaining part of the dough. Bake at 375 for 5 to 8 minutes, depending on the thickness of the cookies.
Cookie pizza crust: Choose a cake mix flavor that will blend well with your choice of toppings--a chocolate variation with the candy/chocolate toppings, a white, yellow or lemon with the fruit toppings.
Lightly oil a large pizza pan. Press the dough evenly across the pan, leaving a slightly thicker amount of dough along the edges. Bake at 350 for 10 to 12 minutes. To test for doneness, press lightly on the center of the crust. If it does not spring back, allow to bake for another minute or so. (Use three round cake pans for smaller pizzas and adjust the time accordingly.)
When the crust is cool, spread with a thin layer of basic powdered sugar icing and then add toppings--chocolate chips, nuts, M and Ms or other candies, bits of dried fruit, whatever suits your fancy. A "healthier" option would be to artfully arrange rows of strawberry or kiwi slices alternating with blueberries, halved grapes, mandarin orange pieces etc.
Refrigerator cookies: Tear off a piece of waxed paper about a 16 to 18 inches long. Form the dough into a log on the waxed paper, rolling it into shape with the edges of the paper. Wrap the log with the waxed paper and chill at least 3 to 4 hours. (If desired, the roll of dough, waxed paper intact, can be put in a freezer bag and frozen for up to a month.) When ready to bake, slice into 1/4 inch slices and arrange on a slightly oiled baking sheet. If desired, sprinkle with colored sugars or sprinkles. Press the sprinkles lightly into the cookies so they don't fall off while baking. Bake at 375 degrees 5 to 8 minutes.
Peanut butter cookies: Substitute 3 to 4 T peanut butter for the butter in the master recipe and add 1/2 to 1 c coarsely chopped dry roasted peanuts to the dough. Roll into balls and press in a criss cross pattern with a fork. Bake at 375 for 5 to 7 minutes.
Chocolate chip cookies: Add about 1 c chocolate chips to the basic batter before making molded or refrigerator cookies.
(NOTES on photos--these were made from a pink lemonade cake mix that a friend had gotten on clearance. I formed them into the refrigerator cookie roll but then squeezed a few into bell shapes as I put them on the pan. As you can see in the final picture, the cookies expanded enough that most of the bells really didn't end up very bell-shaped. The round cookies turned out so very round because I also shaped those as I put them on the trays. Like I said, the dough is very pliable, so it was pretty easy to make these adjustments.)
And finally, for an interesting look at the background of how we Americans seem to have developed such an overwhelming craving for cookies at Christmas, check out Minnesota roots of Christmas cookie craving