I packed up a big box of cookies and mailed them off to Milwaukee, Oregon today. Now just praying to the USPS gods that the Wang’s won’t end up with a big box of crumbs.
December is cookie land in my house. I tend to spend my days elbow deep in stickiness, racks of baked goods perched on every flat surface in the house, a fridge packed with butter, and a freezer filled with ziplock bags.
Growing up, we made the same Christmas treats year after year – chocolate shortbread, butter shortbread, thimble cookies, nanimo bars, and mince tarts. As sure as the tree, the stockings, and the lights, the baking was part of the whole cozy Christmas package.
Now though? I’m horribly fickle. I almost never make the same thing twice, which means I roll out an entirely new round of recipes every year. A.K.A masochism, cookie style. Nothing like testing a half a dozen new recipe when you’re up against the USPS deadline and baking for your closest friends and family. We’re talking high stakes, people. Good thing I have a wrapping-paper obsessed cocker spaniel to keep me company.
Last year’s cookie baking parade produced more disasters than I’d like to remember, but this year, thanks to a keep-it-simple-stupid mantra, I’ve managed to keep my head mostly screwed on straight.
Here’s what’s on the menu this year:
Cherry Pistachio Shortbread: Tender butter shortbread flecked with red and green. Pretty, delicious, and dead simple.
Sassy Molassies: Three kinds of ginger (fresh, ground, and crystallized), plus blackstrap molasses and fresh ground black pepper give these little guys some refreshing sass.
Ina Garten’s Honey Pecan Squares: I confess, these produced a minor kitchen disaster in the form of an oven coated in smoking caramel and a rather hazy house. BUT, they are damn good. Think pecan pie on top of a shortbread crust with less goo and real honey flavor.
Cardamom Crescents: Russian tea cake type cookies with the intoxicating combination of cardamom, cinnamon, and pecans. These will make your house smell like all of the above. Awful, as I’m sure you can imagine.
Chocolate Macaroons with Orange Spice Ganache: My attempt at pretty French macaroons (errr…fail), but they taste incredible. Almond + orange + chocolate + cloves + allspice = cookie bliss. They are soft and just chewy enough. I horrified John by painting them in edible silver and gold dust. It’s gotta be all natural, right?
And last but not least, Lace Cookies with Oatmeal and Chocolate: Wafer thin and crisp-caramelized cookies brushed in dark chocolate. Yes, please.
Merry Christmas Everyone. Wishing you all mugs of cocoa, cheesy carols, snowflakes, and some holiday magic. xx
Cherry Pistachio Shortbread
- 250g, 1 cup + 2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
- 100g, ½ cup granulated sugar + extra for sprinkling
- ¼ tsp salt
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 300g, 2 cups all purpose flour
- 65g, ½ cup finely chopped pistachios
- 75g, ½ cup roughly chopped dried cherries
Using a stand mixer or electric beaters, beat together the butter and sugar until well mixed, but not fluffy – about 2 minutes. Add the vanilla extract and salt and mix to combine. Add the flour and, with the mixer on low, slowly incorporate into the butter mixture. Stop mixing when the dough has no visible flour but looks crumbly and add the pistachios and dried cherries. Continue mixing until the dough comes together.
Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Once chilled, roll the dough to ¼ inch thickness on a well floured work surface. Cut using your favorite cookie cutter (I like to keep these on the small size.) Arrange the cookies 2 inches apart on parchment lined cookie sheets and sprinkle with granulated sugar. Bake 10-15 minutes (depending on size) until set and golden around the edges. Cool on wire racks. The shortbread keep well wrapped at room temperature up to 1 week, or frozen up to 1 month. Defrost at room temperature for 2 hours before serving.
Chewy Ginger Cookies
or “Sassy Molassies” as we called them at Clear Flour
from Bon Appétit, December 2011
- 2 ¼ cups all purpose flour
- 2 ½ tsp ground ginger
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- ¼ tsp finely ground fresh black pepper
- 1 ½ tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp salt
- ¾ cup dark brown sugar, packed
- ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
- ½ cup non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening (I has some organic Spectrum shortening on hand, which I used here. I rarely bake with shortening, and if you can’t find a good brand, I would go for all butter. The shortening, like any oil, will simply keep the cookies softer longer.)
- 1 large egg
- ½ cup blackstrap molasses
- 2 tsp peeled and finely grated fresh ginger
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ½ cup crystallized ginger, finely chopped
- 1 to 2 cups turbinado or sanding sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Sift together the flour, spices, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
Using a stand mixer or electric beaters, combine the brown sugar, butter, and shortening. Beat until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes. Add the egg and mix well, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Add the molasses, vanilla extract, and fresh ginger and mix well. Add the sifted dry ingredients and, with the mixer on low, mix until just incorporated. Scrape down the bowl and add the crystallized ginger, mixing to incorporate.
Spread the turbinado or sanding sugar sheet pan. Scoop the cookie dough using a 1 tablespoon measure and place it on the sugar. (The dough will be very sticky.) Using your hands, roll the dough in the sugar and form it into rounds. Place the rounds on parchment lined cookie sheets, spacing the rounds about 1 ½ inches apart. Bake 8-12 minutes. Transfer to wire racks to cool, and repeat with the remaining dough – this recipe makes about 48 small cookies, which for me took two rounds in the oven.
Cookies keep well wrapped at room temperature up to 3 days or frozen up to one month. Defrost at room temperature at least 2 hours before serving.
Ina Garten’s Honey Pecan Bars
For the Shortbread Crust:
- 1 ¼ lbs unsalted butter, at room temperature
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 4 ½ cups all purpose flour
- ½ tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp kosher salt
For the Pecan Caramel Topping:
- 1 lb unsalted butter
- 1 cup good honey
- 3 cups dark brown sugar
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- 1 lb 12 oz toasted pecans
Make the Shortbread Crust:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Have ready an ungreased 18 by 12 by 1 inch pan (half sheet pan.) Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or a handheld electric mixer, combine the butter and the sugar a beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each. Scrape down the bowl and add the flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix on low speed just until the dry ingredients are well incorporated into the butter mixture. Scoop the dough into your pan and sprinkle with a little flour. Using your hands, press the dough as evenly as possible to cover the bottom of the pan. Use more flour as necessary – the dough will be quite sticky.
Bake the crust 15 minutes until set but not browned. Remove from the oven and set aside.
Make the Pecan Caramel Topping:
While the crust bakes, prepare the caramel. Combine the butter, honey, brown sugar, and salt in a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat. Cook until the butter is melted and the sugar is dissolved; then boil an additional 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the heavy cream and pecans.
Bake the Bars:
Spread the pecan filling over the crust, using a spatula to distribute it evenly. Lay out two large pieces of tinfoil and center your pan over the foil. Fold the tin foil up around the pan to form a “moat.” Place the wrapped pan in the oven and set another pan under it (just incase.) Bake 35 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven and cool completely at room temperature, 2 to 3 hours. Then, using a sharp knife, cut the bars – I went with 8 across and 4 down to yield 32 bars, some of which I cut in half for gifts. You’ll want to also run your knife around the edge of the bars to loosen them.
The bars keep well wrapped at room temperature up to 1 week and can be frozen up to 2 months. Defrost at room temperature 1 to 2 hours before serving.
Adapted From Bon Appétit, December 2011
- 2 ½ cups all purpose flour
- 1 tsp ground cardamom
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 ½ cups powdered sugar, well sifted (divided)
- 1 cup toasted pecans
- 1 cup (1/2 pound or 2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Sift together the flour, spices and salt and set aside.
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the pecans with ½ a cup of powdered sugar until the nuts are well ground, but not a paste.
Using a stand or hand-held electric mixer, beat the butter and vanilla until soft and slightly fluffy – 1 to 2 minutes. Add the pecans and powdered sugar and mix well to combine, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Add the dry ingredients and mix until the dough begins to come together then stop the mixer and finish by kneading a few times by hand.
UPDATE: Round two I made these entirely in the food processor, which saves you from washing out the mixer. Start by combining the pecans and 1/2 cup of powdered sugar in the food processor, pulsing until the pecans are ground but not a paste. Then add the butter and vanilla and pulse to combine. Last, add the flour, spices, and salt and pulse until a dough forms.
Drop 1 tbsp rounds of cookies onto the prepared sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. Roll each cookie into a log about 1 ½ inches long and then bend to form a crescent, tapering the ends slightly.
Bake 12-15 minutes, rotating the sheets half way through. Cool slightly and then, working in batches, toss the warm cookies in the remaining 1 cup of powdered sugar. Cool completely and dust with more powdered sugar before serving.
Cookies keep well wrapped at room temperature up to 5 days and can be frozen up to 1 month.
Chocolate Macaroons with Orange Spice Ganache
Adapted from Bon Appétit, December 2011
This recipe calls for a precise measurement of egg whites, which helps ensure the macaroons have the right texture.
For the Macaroons
- 2 cups powdered sugar, divided
- 1 ¼ cup blanches slivered almonds
- 3 tsp cocoa powder (unsweetened)
- 1/3 cup plus 3 tbsp egg whites (from about 3 large eggs), at room temperature
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Pulse 1 cup powdered sugar and the almonds in a food processor until the nuts are finely ground, but not a paste. Add the cocoa powdered and remaining 1 cup powdered sugar and pulse to combine. Sift the mixture through a medium-mesh sifter, discarding any large pieces of almonds that remain – if more than 1 tbsp remains, pulse again and re-sift. (I used a mortar and pestle to finely grind the remaining nuts as my food processor wasn’t doing the job.)
Using a stand or hand-held electric mixer, beat the 1/3 cup of egg whites until frothy. Slowly add the granulated sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form. Fold the remaining 3 tbsp egg whites into the almond-sugar mixture as is, and then fold in the beaten egg whites in two additions.
Spoon the meringue batter into a piping bag fitted with a ¼ inch tip (or use a freezer bag and cut ¼ inch hole in one corner.) Pipe quarter-size rounds onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing one inch apart. Let stand until the tops are dry, about 10 minutes. Bake the macaroons, rotating half-way through, 14-16 minutes until puffed and dry. Cool on a wire rack and repeat with the remaining batter – be sure to use a cool baking tray.
For the Ganache
- 3 ½ ounces bittersweet chocolate (I used Sharfen Berger 62%), very finely chopped
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter, cold and cut into ½ inch cubes
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 1 tbsp finely grated orange zest
- ½ tsp ground cloves
- 1/8 tsp ground allspice
- 1/8 tsp salt
- Edible gold and/or silver dust for topping (bling optional)
Combine the chocolate and butter in a small mixing bowl. Heat the cream over medium heat until boiling, remove from the heat and stir in the orange zest, spices, and salt. Immediately pour the hot cream over the chocolate and butter and stir until smooth.
Refrigerate until firm enough to pipe, about 20 minutes.
To fill the macaroons, spoon the ganache into a pastry bag fitted with a ¼ inch tip (or again use a plastic freezer bag.) Pipe about 1 tsp ganache onto the flat side of one macaroon and top with a second macaroon, pressing slightly to seal. Decorate with gold or silver dust if desired. Macaroons keep well refrigerated up to 1 week, and are actually at their peak after a night in the fridge. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Lace Cookies with Oatmeal and Chocolate
Adapted from The Essence of Chocolate by John Sharfenberger and Robert Steinberg
I use melted chocolate chips to decorate these cookies because they keep their shine when melted and don’t need to be tempered. If you prefer regular chocolate, be sure to temper it beforehand – instructions can be found here.
- ½ cup all purpose flour
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- ¼ tsp baking powder
- Pinch of salt
- ½ cup rolled oats
- 1/3 cup (2 ½ ounces) unsalted butter, melted
- 2 tbsp heavy cream or half and half
- 2 tbsp lyle’s golden syrup or light corn syrup
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp dark rum or whisky
- 4 ounces good quality bittersweet chocolate chips, melted (like Ghiradelli) – I microwave the chocolate chips 20 seconds at a time, stirring between each interval. Alternatively, you can melt over a double boiler.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, and oats in a medium mixing bowl.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the butter, cream, golden syrup, vanilla, and rum. Add the butter mixture to the dry ingredients and mix to combine.
Drop by 1 tsp rounds onto the prepared baking sheets. Keep the cookies quite far apart as they spread considerably during baking – about 12 per sheet. Bake, rotating half-way though, 7 to 9 minutes until golden brown. Remove and cool on wire racks. Repeat with the remaining dough.
Once the cookies are cool, brush each with chocolate. Once this hardens, I like to stripe the cookies with more melted chocolate using a pastry bag fitted with a 1/8 inch tip or a plastic freezer bag with a small hole cut out of one corner.
Let the chocolate completely set and then store in a sealed container at room temperature up to one week or in the freezer up to one month.