CHRISTMAS COOKIES

This past Christmas, for the first time since I had kids, I managed to bake Christmas cookies in sufficient quantities to share.  Usually I’d get one batch made, the family would eat them all, and that was the end of that.  I was so pleased with my cookie trays that I think I tore my rotator cuff patting myself on the back.

The cookies didn’t go quite as far as I’d planned, however, because we had a slight incident here.  The heater in our garage apartment had been acting up, and one day while I was out shopping I got a call from the police that our alarm company notified them that our smoke detector had gone off and the temperature in the garage apartment was 120 degrees.  I raced home to find 3 firemen and 2 policemen in my garage apartment, playing with my worthless watchdogs.  It really was 120 degrees — they said they’d never seen a room that hot that wasn’t on fire.  I think it was too hot even for hot yoga.   It turned out to be a broken heat relay (maybe) or thermostat (maybe) — we replaced both just in case.  Anyway, after shutting off the heater, we all came downstairs, and as I stood there in my kitchen surrounded by 5 very nice policemen and firemen, all I could think to do was offer them the Christmas cookies I’d been baking for the past two weeks, which to my delight, they gladly accepted.  So I packed them up a HUGE tin, and sent them off with profuse thanks and warm wishes.

Several of my cookies were recipes that I tried for the first time this year.  They were great, but in my opinion, they’re all keepers.  So, for posterity’s sake, and because cookies aren’t just for the holidays, here are my 2017 Christmas cookies with links to the recipes.

Clockwise from the top:  Favorite Ginger Cookies, Pistachio Cranberry Icebox Cookies, Split Seconds, Double Coconut Macaroons, Cinnamon Pinwheels, Chewy Double Chocolate Cookies, Cream Cheese Spritz, and Golden Pecan Balls in the center.

Favorite Ginger Cookies

Pistachio Cranberry Icebox Cookies

Split Seconds

Double Coconut Macaroons

Cinnamon Pinwheels

Chewy Double Chocolate Cookies

Cream Cheese Spritz

Golden Pecan Balls

CINNAMON PINWHEELS

These red and white pinwheel cookies were a pretty addition to my Christmas cookie trays.  The recipe is slightly modified from the Food Network’s Cinnamon Pinwheels.  This was the first time I made these, and mine were admittedly not as perfect as the Food Network’s — but they were still attractive and delicious, and disappeared quickly.  Next year they’ll be more pinwheel-y.  🙂

CINNAMON PINWHEELS
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Recipe type: Cookies
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1-1/2 sticks butter, softened
  • ⅔ cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
  • ¾ teaspoon red food coloring
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon coarse or sparkling sugar, plus extra for rolling dough in
Instructions
  1. Place butter and sugar in a large bowl and beat, using an electric mixer, until light and fluffy.
  2. Beat in egg and vanilla. On low speed, beat in flour, baking powder, and salt, until just combined.
  3. Remove half of the dough and wrap in plastic wrap. Add the cocoa powder and food coloring to the remaining dough, and beat until thoroughly combined. Wrap red dough in plastic wrap.
  4. Refrigerate both pieces of dough until firm, about 1 hour.
  5. Dust the dough lightly with flour and roll out each piece on parchment paper into a 10x11" rectangle. Flip the red dough on top of the plain dough, remove the top piece of parchment, and trim the edges. Sprinkle the cinnamon and coarse sugar on top. Starting from a short end, tightly roll up the dough, using the parchment to help. Roll the log in coarse sugar. Wrap the log in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 3 hours.
  6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice the log crosswise into ¼"-thick slices. Place on baking sheet 1-1/2" apart. Bake until slightly puffed and lightly golden on the bottom, approximately 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool briefly, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

 

CHEWY DOUBLE CHOCOLATE COOKIES

These intensely chocolate cookies with a chewy texture were a big hit.  Use good quality bittersweet chocolate for best results.

CHEWY DOUBLE CHOCOLATE COOKIES
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Author:
Ingredients
  • ½ cup dark corn syrup
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1-1/2 sticks butter, softened
  • ⅓ cup brown sugar, packed
  • ⅓ cup sugar, plus ½ cup extra for rolling cookies in
  • 1-1/2 cups flour
  • ¾ cup cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together corn syrup, egg white, and vanilla.
  3. Place the butter, brown sugar, and ⅓ cup sugar in a large bowl and beat using an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the corn syrup mixture and beat until combined. Add the flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt, and chocolate, and mix just until combined. Chill in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  4. Place ½ cup sugar in a shallow bowl. Roll dough into 1" balls, then roll in sugar to coat. Place on cookie sheet approximately 2" apart, and bake for approximately 10 minutes, until cookies are cracked but still look wet between cracks. Allow to cool briefly on sheets, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

SPLIT SECONDS

My Mom used to make jam-filled Split Seconds every year at the holidays.  These were one of her favorites because in addition to tasting good, you can bang out 4 dozen in no time.  When I looked up the recipe, I was surprised to see it was actually a Pillsbury Bake-Off recipe from 1954.  These added a little bit of nostalgia to my cookie trays this year.
SPLIT SECONDS
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Recipe type: Cookies
Author:
Ingredients
  • ⅔ cup sugar
  • ¾ cup butter, softened
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ cup jam or preserves
  • Optional glaze:
  • 1 cup confectioner's sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons milk
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Place sugar and butter in a large bowl, and beat using an electric beater until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla and egg until well blended. Add flour and baking powder, and beat on low speed until dough forms.
  3. Divide dough into 4 equal portions. On a lightly floured surface, shape each portion into 12x3/4-inch roll. Place rolls on cookie sheet. Using the handle of a wooden spoon or your finger, make an indentation lengthwise down the center of each roll approximately ½ inch wide and ¼ inch deep. Be careful not to press all the way through the dough. Fill the indentation in each roll with approximately 2 tablespoons preserves (it is easier to spoon preserves if you warm them slightly in microwave). Don't overfill indentations.
  4. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until light golden brown. Allow to cool before slicing diagonally into 12 cookies. If using optional glaze, do so before slicing the cookies. Make the glaze by whisking the confectioner's sugar together with enough milk to make a smooth drizzle, not too runny. Drizzle over cooled cookies. Allow glaze to set before slicing and storing.

Fill the indentations with your favorite jam

Allow to cool slightly before cutting on the diagonal

Drizzled with glaze

Especially nice with tea

PISTACHIO CRANBERRY ICEBOX COOKIES

With the red and green from the cranberries and pistachios, this is an obvious choice for Christmas cookies.  The dough is a little bit of a hassle to work with — very crumbly — but the end result is worth it because these are wonderful.  The recipe is slightly adapted from Liz The Chef, who in turn, adapted the recipe from Gourmet.

PISTACHIO CRANBERRY ICEBOX COOKIES
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Recipe type: Cookies
Author:
Ingredients
  • ¾ cup butter (1-1/2 sticks), softened
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1-1/2 cups flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup shelled pistachios, coarsely chopped
  • ½ cup sweetened dried cranberries, coarsely chopped
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • ½ cup coarse or sparkling sugar
Instructions
  1. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter, sugar, orange juice, and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add the flour and salt, and continue to beat on low speed until the dough comes together in clumps. Mix in pistachios and cranberries.
  2. Gather the dough together and divide into 2 pieces. Shape each piece into a log approximately 1-1/2 inches thick. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour the coarse or sparkling sugar onto a plate. Brush each log with the beaten egg, then roll in the sugar. Using a sharp knife, slice the dough into ¼-inch slices, and place on cookie sheet at least 1 inch apart. Bake until edges of the cookies are lightly golden, approximately 12-15 minutes. Remove to racks to cool.

CHINESE ALMOND COOKIES

Happy Chinese New Year!   Chinese year 4714 began on February 8, and is the Year of the Monkey.  The monkey is the ninth animal in the 12-year Chinese zodiac cycle (other monkey years include 1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, and  2004).

People born under the monkey sign are purportedly clever, and intelligent, especially in their careers and financial affairs.  “They are lively, flexible, quick-witted and versatile,” and “their gentleness and honesty bring them an everlasting love life.”  But they are also “jealous, suspicious, cunning, selfish, and arrogant.”  They are perfect matches for those born under the sign of the ox and rabbit and are bad matches with those born under the sign of the pig and tiger.  Check your compatibility with monkeys here.

To celebrate the Chinese New Year, I baked a batch of Chinese Almond Cookies.  I remember having these in Chinese restaurants as a kid growing up in New York, but I don’t see them anymore.  Give these a try — who knows, maybe your family will go ape for them.  🙂

CHINESE ALMOND COOKIES
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Recipe type: Cookies
Author:
Ingredients
  • 2-3/4 cup flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, slightly softened
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • ⅓ cup whole blanched almonds
  • 1 egg yolk mixed with 1 teaspoon water
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Place flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse briefly to combine. Cut butter into pieces and add to flour. Pulse until the mixture resembles cornmeal. Add the beaten egg and almond extract, and process until combined and dough forms. Transfer to a bowl.
  3. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet, flattening slightly. Press an almond on top of each cookie. Using a pastry brush, brush tops of cookies with egg yolk mixture. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until just beginning to brown. Remove to wire racks to cool.
  4. Makes approximately 2 dozen cookies.

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Ready for their egg wash

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The egg wash gives them a nice gloss

Beautifully golden and glossy

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I think they should start serving these in Chinese restaurants again

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Happy Year of the Monkey!

LIFE, LIBERTY, AND THE PURSUIT OF BISCOTTI

When in the course of blogging events, it becomes necessary to create a holiday dish, it’s fun to try to come up with something creative in order to form a more perfect celebration.  For this year’s 4th of July festivities, I’ll be making Red, White and Blue Biscotti, which hit all the high notes with my family.  (I’ve seen it suggested that Chicken Catch-a-Tory would be a good Independence Day party dish, but these colorful biscotti are so much more fun.)  There’s a few steps involved, but the end result is worth the extra time.

Begin with your favorite biscotti recipe, or use the one I’ve provided below.  Divide the dough into thirds, placing each third in a separate bowl.

To color the dough, it’s best to use gel food color, as opposed to liquid food color, for deeper colors:

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Be careful when using the food color, however, as it will stain your clothes, countertops, wooden spoons, fingers, dogs, etc.  Add enough food color to get the depth of color you desire, and mix it thoroughly into the dough (I find a metal fork works best for mixing the food color in):

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To shape the biscotti, cover your workspace with a sheet of waxed paper or parchment, and lightly flour the surface.  Place one portion of dough on the waxed paper, and using your bare arms (which is your right), knead the dough a few times and then roll into a log about 14 inches long.  Repeat with the remaining two portions of dough.  Lay the three logs side by side, and gently twist them to form a single log:

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Cut the log into two pieces and transfer to a baking sheet that has been lightly sprayed with cooking spray.  Shape logs into fat rectangles:

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Bake according to recipe directions, then remove from oven and allow to cool on baking sheet.  The dough will have puffed up considerably.

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When cool enough to handle comfortably, slice on the diagonal into 1/2-inch thick slices using a serrated knife.  Stand the slices up on the baking sheet.  (For some recipes, you lay the slices on their side and bake, then turn over and bake longer, but for this recipe, in order for the colors to stay sharp, you don’t want to brown the sides.)

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If you really want to gild the liberty bell, you can spread a little white chocolate on the tops of the biscotti and sprinkle with red, white and blue nonpareils:

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Peaceably assemble (which is your right) the biscotti in a decorative container, and stand back and receive full faith and credit for these crowd-pleasing treats.   If you bring these to a 4th of July picnic, it should be a self-evident truth that they will be a surefire hit.

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I tried to find a knock knock joke to post for the 4th of July, but apparently there aren’t any, because freedom rings.  Happy 4th of July!

PLAIN BISCOTTI
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Recipe type: Cookie
Author:
The beauty of this recipe is that it's a blank canvas -- you can doctor it up as you desire with nuts, flavorings, chocolate, etc. The butter keeps it from being tooth-breaking hard, but still crunchy enough for dunking.
Ingredients
  • 2½ cups flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray a baking sheet with cooking spray.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
  3. Place eggs, melted butter, and extracts in a large bowl, and beat together using an electric beater. Add the flour mixture to the bowl and stir until well combined, and a sticky dough is formed.
  4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently 5 or 6 times. (If making red, white, and blue biscotti, divide dough into thirds and color one third with red gel food color, one third with blue gel food color, and leave the last third uncolored. Form each third into a rope approximately 14 inches long. Lay the ropes side by side and gently twist to form a single rope.) Divide the log into two equal portions.
  5. Transfer the logs to a baking sheet, and using your hands, pat into fat rectangles. Bake until lightly browned and firm to the touch, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the logs from the oven and let stand until cool enough to handle.
  6. Reduce the oven temperature to 275 degrees. Transfer the cooled logs to a cutting board and slice them on the diagonal into ½-inch thick slices using a serrated knife. Stand the cookies up on the cookie sheet and bake again until the biscotti are dry, approximately 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.