Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmas Cookie Central

Jenean and I have been making a bunch of different kinds of cookies and sweet treats these days, getting ready for various holiday events, and thought we'd share our favorite recipes with you, our two dear readers.

Clockwise from the top around the outside of the plate we have:
A Gingerbread Man, English Toffee,  Cranberry White Chocolate Pecan Cookies, Chocolate Mint Cookies, Black-Bottom Coconut Bites (located at 6 o'clock just above the Chocolate Mint Cookies), Frosted Sugar Cookies, and Dorie Greenspan's Beurre and Sel Jammers.

Gingerbread Cookies:
I make these every year, and I think I make them from a different recipe every year.  This year, I tried the recipe posted on facebook by James Norton, aka's Supertaster.  It's his grandmother's recipe, and I really like it!  Straightforward, very tasty!  He gives baking time in a range from 5-15 minutes - 5 will get you a nice soft and chewy cookie (my preference), 10 was mostly crisp with a little remaining chewiness in the middle, and 15 would be good only for making gingerbread houses, or for a crumble to stir into pumpkin ice cream (i.e. too crispy for eating on their own, in my opinion).  The only change I made was to add more of all the spices, subbing allspice for cloves, and also I added freshly grated nutmeg.  This made two big plastic wrapped rounds that will make more than enough gingerbread for several parties and gift platters (maybe 20-30 men?).  I tried a royal icing recipe this year, but that helped me figure out that I really prefer to just add milk a little at a time to a bunch of powdered sugar until I get the consistency I want - it turns out (and I should probably have known this) royal icing is crazy stiff, best for gluing together gingerbread houses, not so much for using on cookies you want to eat.  I thinned the royal icing with milk, and then it worked fine.

English Toffee:
I got this wonderfully delicious and easy recipe from my friend Emily, who got it from the blog Girls Gone Child.  Scroll down - the toffee recipe appears after a great-looking Yorkshire Pudding recipe.  I made no change to this, except I used more like a heaping 1/2 cup of each kind of nut... I might even use slightly more next time (2/3 cup).  What I love the most about the recipe (aside from how easy and addictively delicious it is, just like Almond Roca!) is how the raw almonds go in with the melted sugar and butter, and the process of caramelization toasts the almonds till they're lovely golden brown inside.

Cranberry White Chocolate Pecan Cookies:
Jenean got these from Bon Appetit, and substituted pecans for the macadamia nuts called for.  I thought it was a lovely change.  These were buttery and not too sweet, with a little tang from the cranberry.  Find the recipe here.

Chocolate Mint Cookies:
Like a super classy girl scout thin mint!  Jenean got these from Bon Appetit as well.  Unlike their version which has only a chocolate drizzle, Jenean really racheted up the festive-factor with a sprinkle of crushed candy canes!  SO delicious, and small enough that you can eat two without feeling bad about it!  It's the kind of dough you roll into logs and slice, which is so nice to have around, for baking up when you need cookies.  Well wrapped, there's no reason the dough can't sit in the fridge for a week, or in the freezer even longer, before slicing and baking.

Black-Bottom Coconut Bites:
Jenean got these from Martha Stewart, where they are Black-Bottom Coconut Bars... she baked them in standard muffin tins to make individual servings.  With a brownie base, and a tender cakey coconut topping, they are remarkably good - moist and chewy, not alarmingly sweet, with a deep chocolatey flavor to balance the coconut.  I had one for breakfast, one for a pre lunch snack, and one as a part of my multi-cookie dessert.  I loved these, if you haven't figured it out yet.

Frosted Sugar Cookies:
I can't resist making a half ton of frosted sugar cookies every Christmas season.  I love all the funny shapes, and coloring them in every which way, and how the frosting seals itself onto the cookie (you have to let the frosting dry a couple hours before you let anyone eat them) and keeps it wonderfully delicious for days (even a week or two, if they last that long!).  The frosting and the cookie together equal far more than the sum of their parts.  I ran out of red food coloring, so I stuck with trees and starts...  I like to use Martha Stewart's simple sugar cookie recipe, and I usually add, in addition to vanilla extract, some finely grated lemon zest.  I used that thinned down royal icing from the gingerbread men for these, but you can make an easy frosting by mixing powdered sugar (start with 2 cups) with tiny amounts of milk slowly until you have a stirrable but not too thin consistency (go 1 teaspoon at a time, because you don't really need much and it's easy to go overboard... but if you do go overboard, fix it by adding more sugar till you like the consistency - not too runny, not too thick.  You'll know it's too thin if it dribbles right off the cookie, and it's too thick if you can't spread it around smoothly).  Add a little vanilla too if you like, though it's not necessary.  Then I divide up the white among a bunch of small bowls and dye each bowl a different color with food coloring.  I use toothpicks to spread the icing onto the cookies - I got this method from my friend Emily's mom, Alice.  It works great, very easy to shape the icing using the tip of the toothpick.

Beurre and Sel Jammers:
These are also from Bon Appetit's cookie slideshow.  From pastry chef Dorie Greenspan, the Beurre and Sel Jammers are 1) super delicious and 2) kind of a lot of steps, and ever so slightly fussy (rolling out the dough for the base of each cookie and freezing the rolled out dough for 2-3 hours seemed like more chilling than truly necessary, especially since you freeze them again after completing construction).  But I got to use my favorite organic raspberry spread in half of them, and my homemade orange marmalade in the other half.  Except for shortening the chill times a bit, I pretty much followed it exactly, and they are delightful.  The crumble firms up on top of the cookie round, and melds with the jam/marmalade in a really nice way, and all the steps seem pretty worth it after all.  They don't keep for very long, maybe a day or two.

That's it for what we've made so far!  Some more treats we like to make at Christmas but haven't gotten around to (yet): Rum Balls and a version of my sugar cookies that ends up similar to Mexican Wedding Cookies - I add chopped walnuts to part of my sugar cookie dough along with orange zest and some orange juice, roll it into balls, bake, and roll in powdered sugar.  I also plan (before the season is out) to try a recipe for classic shortbread given to me by my friend Nina.  What are your favorite holiday treat recipes?

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