From frosted sugar cookies to gingerbread men to thumbprint cookies filled with jam, Christmas cookies are as much of a holiday tradition as singing Christmas carols and wrapping presents to place under the tree.

In the United States we call them "cookies," but in England and Australia they're biscuits, my students from Latin America call them galletas, and in Germany Christmas cookies are Plätzchen.

The word cookie comes from the Dutch word koekje, meaning "small or little cake."

According to whatscookingamerica.net, culinary historians found the first cookies were used as test cakes. A small amount of cake batter was baked to test the oven temperature.

May your holiday season be filled with plenty of yummy goodies shared with family, friends and co-workers.



Sirupsnipper

Belinda Thorkildsen Sousa, Kristiansand, Norway

During the school year of 1989 to 1990, Belinda was a foreign exchange student at Carroll High School. I remember Belinda not only for her pretty face but also for her smile and cheerful attitude. Belinda stayed with Jeff and Sandy Cayler and Chico and Bev Kanne during her time in Carroll.

Belinda loved being in the Midwest and the small-town atmosphere. Belinda said, "We always see movies from NYC and LA so that's what I expected from the U.S. It was so much better, and I made friends for life."

Belinda was also pleased with the high level of achievement that many students showed already in high school. "In Norway this focus on the future normally only shows in students at university level," she explained.

Belinda is married and has a 12-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter. She studied hotel and tourism management in Switzerland and is now part-owner in a company dealing with cruise ships and tourism in Norway.

Dear Friends,

My year in Carroll has been a lifetime experience that I treasure highly, and it has influenced the choices I have taken later in life.



God Jul (Merry Christmas) from Norway

This is a recipe (some of the measurements use the metric system) for syrup cookies, one of the traditional seven cookies Norwegians bake at Christmas.

2 dl corn syrup

1/2 dl sugar

1/2 tsp pepper

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

400 gr plain baking flour

100 gr butter

peeled almonds (optional)

Mix syrup, sugar and butter in a pot over low heat. Let the mixture cool slightly and then sift in the dry ingredients. Mix lightly. Leave in the fridge overnight. Roll dough out to 2 mm and cut out dough into small diamond shapes. Place 1/2 peeled almond on each biscuit (optional). Bake at 180 degrees Celsius for 10 minutes or until golden brown. Store in cookie box.



Dipped Gingersnaps

Sonia Walsh, Carroll

My mom, Ann Wilson, is lucky to have Chuck and Sonia Walsh and their four kids, Haste, Zach, Samantha and Emersyn, as her neighbors. Not only are they good and helpful neighbors to have, Sonia is a great baker. Each year Sonia sends a plate of Christmas cookies over with her girls for my mom. The cookies always seem to arrive at my mom's house around the time I arrive from West Des Moines.

Sonia includes some of the same cookies on her cookie plate each year and also tries out something new to mix it up. My favorite cookies are the dipped gingersnaps, which Sonia found in a Taste of Home magazine years ago.

2 cups sugar

1 1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 eggs

1/2 cup molasses

4 cups flour

4 teaspoons baking soda

1 tablespoon ground ginger

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

additional sugar

2 pkgs vanilla baking chips

1/4 cup shortening

In a mixing bowl, combine sugar and oil; mix well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in molasses. Combine dry ingredients; gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well. Shape into 3/4 inch balls and roll in sugar (I use a cookie scoop for this so that the cookies will be uniform in size). Place 2 inches apart on cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until cookie springs back when touched lightly. Remove to wire racks to cool.

Melt chips with shortening in a small saucepan over low heat (I use the double boiler method or have found sometimes this can scorch. I don't have a double boiler, I just use a bowl that is slightly bigger than the saucepan and get that going with a rolling boil of water underneath and that melts everything nicely for dipping). Dip the cookies halfway; shake off excess. Place on waxed paper to harden.



Shortbread

Chris and Julie Knudsen, West Des Moines

There's nothing I love more than a plate of goodies delivered to my door. Julie (Paup) Knudsen was one of my very first friends. We met at Sunshine Preschool and I was fascinated by her long, pretty hair.

At Christmastime Julie and her husband, Chris, make shortbread and other treats to give to friends, and I have been fortunate enough to receive some as a holiday gift.

1 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy; gradually stir in flour until well blended. Spread or pat into an ungreased 13x9x2-inch baking pan. Bake at 300 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, until just lightly browned. Remove from oven and immediately pierce all over with a fork. Cut into bars. Cool completely before removing from pan.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

*Sometimes we bake the shortbread in a round baking pan and then cut it into skinny pie shaped slices



Instant Trifle

Janette Volz, Altoona

Janette, formerly of Carroll, has been making this holiday dessert since 1978, thanks to a holiday cooking issue of Better Homes & Gardens. She even saved the original magazine. Janette says the trifle is very easy and pretty knowing if it doesn't look good, no one will eat it!

2 Sara Lee pound cakes, thawed and cut into ½ inch thick slices

1/2 cup cream sherry

18 oz jar of raspberry preserves

2 (3¾ oz) packages of instant vanilla pudding mix

3 cups milk

2 cups whipping cream

2 tablespoons powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 cup sliced almonds

1/3 cup chopped candied fruit

Line bottom of 2-quart clear glass bowl (straight sided works best) with cake slices. Sprinkle with some of the sherry. Spread a thin layer of preserves over the cake layer. In bowl mix pudding, milk, and 1 cup of the cream; beat until smooth and thick. Spread some of the pudding over the preserves layer. Continue layering until almost to the top of the bowl, ending with pudding.

Beat remaining cream with sugar and vanilla until thick. Pipe cream rosettes around the outer edge of the bowl. Sprinkle cream with fruit and almonds. Chill several hours or overnight.