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CHRISTMAS COOKIES

cookies

I always wanted to be the sort of person who could make perfectly decorated cutout Christmas cookies. I’m not. I have come to grips with this and decided I can live a full life anyway. But I do like to make cookies and other sweets at Christmas, even though I don’t have the sweet tooth I used to – I just like to bake and then give the results away to presumably appreciative people.

On Tuesday my husband and I made some of our favorites to pack up and mail off to his family in Nevada.  None of these recipes is complicated. They aren’t fancy but they taste good and are quietly addictive.

About ingredients:

  • eggs are jumbo or extra-large
  • butter is unsalted
  • flour is pastry flour – all-purpose will work but I think pastry flour is superior for cookies
  • I used organic raw granulated sugar but ordinary granulated works fine
  • all extracts are pure (NOT imitation)
  • And always thoroughly preheat the oven.

From Mimi Sheraton’s Visions of Sugarplums  (a cookbook you really ought to have if you love Christmas foods – all about sweets served at Christmas around the world) is this classic recipe for Scottish shortbread. I use a wooden mold I got in Scotland to shape the cookies.

shortbread mold

But it isn’t necessary, just a fun touch.

SCOTS SHORTBREAD

  • 1 1/2 cups (3/4 pound; 3 sticks) butter
  • 1 1/4 cups powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup rice flour or cornstarch

Cream the butter and sugar together. Combine the two flours and cut into the butter mixture; mix as for pastry. Add just enough of the flour so that the dough forms a soft ball. Divide dough in half and pat each half into a round cake tin. Either press with a wooden mold, or use a knife to score the dough into wedges emanating from the center like sunrays. Prick the dough all over with the tines of a fork.

Bake at 350 until golden and lightly browned. The cookbook says 45 minutes to 1 hour; I have always found that to be far too long and usually it is done in about 15 -25 minutes. You can further cut the wedges when it is warm, or wait until it cools and break the shortbread apart.

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This second shortbread is from Mollie Katzen’s The Enchanted Broccoli Forest. It is quite a bit more delicate than the previous recipe but has a light caramel taste that is equally addictive. I like to toast the cashews in a dry frying pan before chopping them, but this is strictly optional.

CASHEW SHORTBREAD

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar (light or dark)
  • 1 cup chopped cashews
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Cream the butter and sugar. Add the nuts and mix well.  Combine the dry ingredients and work them into the butter with your fingers. The mixture will be crumbly.

Dust a work surface with flour. Divide the dough in half. Roll half at a time into a simple shape like a square or circle to about 1/4″ thickness. Cut with a knife into wedges or squares.  Place cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake 8-10 minutes at 375. These puff up and expand a little bit, so space them about 1/2″ apart. Let cool about 10 minutes on cookie sheet before carefully removing to a rack to finish cooling. These are fragile but get a little more firm as they cool.

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This is my go-to biscotti recipe, from Chez Panisse Desserts by Lindsey Remolif Shere (a comprehensive work on all kinds of basic desserts like tarts, basic cakes, ice creams, etc, with an excellent appendix). My husband’s elderly aunt loves these so I always make them for her.

BISCOTTI

  • 1/2 cup whole almonds
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons grappa (substitute brandy or cognac)
  • 1 teaspoon anise extract
  • 1 teaspoon aniseed
  • 2 cups + 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Toast the almonds in a dry frying pan until they start to smell nutty. Remove from pan and chop into 1/4″ pieces.

Cream the butter with the sugar. Beat in the eggs, grappa, anise extract, and aniseed and cream the mixture again. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt, and beat them in just until mixed. Stir in the almonds.

On a lightly floured board, make rolls of the dough about 1″ in diameter and lay them on a baking sheet about 2″ apart. Bake at 325 for 25 minutes.  Remove the cookie sheets from the oven and let cool a few minutes, then carefully slice the rolls into 1/2″ pieces on the diagonal. Place the slices on their side and bake another 5-8 minutes. Remove from baking sheet and cool completely on a rack. Store airtight. Serve these with a cup of coffee and a glass of grappa (or brandy or cognac, since grappa is a bit of an acquired taste, even for me).

Note: these can be flavored in many ways – omit the aniseed & anise flavoring and instead try grated lemon peel & lemon extract; orange peel and orange extract; Amaretto; hazelnuts in place of almonds with Frangelico, and so forth.

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This recipe is courtesy of my niece Aimee Rice Bennett. Even though I am not a huge sugary dessert fan, these are really special and taste like more; my husband, who is death on sugar, LOVES these. I tweaked the spices a bit from her recipe.

SOFT MOLASSES GINGER COOKIES

  •  

    ¾ cup butter, softened

  • 1 cup brown sugar (light or dark)
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup molasses
  • 2 ½ cup flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice

 Cream butter and sugar; add egg and molasses and cream again. Combine the dry ingredients and mix into the butter. Cover the bowl and refrigerate 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350.

Make a mixture of

  • ½ cup white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ginger
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  •  1 teaspoon cinnamon

Take your dough out of the fridge, roll it into little balls and roll them around in the sugar mixture, then place them on a greased cookie sheet about 2″ apart. Bake them for 9-10 minutes, until the tops of the cookies crack. Cool on the cookie sheet for a minute or two, then remove to a wire rack.

Note: I had leftover spiced sugar after rolling the cookies. I just tossed it into a date-nut bread batter rather than throw it out – delicious.

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Last but far from least are oatmeal cookies. This is the same recipe I have used for over 50 years and it is absolutely perfect; it is the recipe from the Quaker oatmeal box and cannot be improved upon. My husband has learned to make these and he cuts the sugar a bit; I leave it as is. He adds about 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon; I don’t. What we do agree on is no raisins, lots of walnuts, and the most important instruction: take the cookies out of the oven before they’re done.

QUAKER OATMEAL COOKIES

    • 3/4 cup butter, softened
    • 3/4 Cup firmly packed brown sugar
    • 1/2 Cup granulated sugar
    • 2 Eggs
    • 1 Teaspoon vanilla
    • 1-1/2 Cups flour
    • 1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
    • 1/2 Teaspoon salt
    • 3 cups old-fashioned oats (NOT instant or quick-cooking)
    • 1 cup chopped walnuts (or more)

Cream butter with sugars. Mix in the eggs and vanilla thoroughly. Combine flour, salt, and baking soda, and mix into the butter mixture. Mix in the oatmeal and the nuts.

Drop by tablespoons onto ungreased cookie sheets, spacing about 1 1/2″ apart. Bake at 350 degrees. Watch cookies carefully. When the edges start to set up and brown a little but the center is still wet, remove them from the oven. Let cool on cookie sheet a few minutes, then remove to cooling rack. You’ll thank me later.

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