I love cookies. You love cookies. Everyone loves cookies - even the people who claim they don’t. They are just lying to themselves and will come around to our way of thinking sooner or later.
The prime season for programming… I mean, converting… those who resist is Christmas. What is more seductive than a beautiful platter of sweet edibles? On the holiday buffet, the lunchroom counter, heck - tucked underneath the holiday issue of your co-worker’s favorite “gentleman’s” magazine or snuck in on visitor’s day at the federal pen – the right cookie is bound to turn heads and make mouths water.
This year I settled on two cookies that are bound to make even the most ardent cookie hater come back for seconds.
The first is Pecan Tassies. Maybe these are a little on the plain side, but drizzle a little chocolate over the top and badda-bing - instant favorite! My most used recipe is from Rose's Christmas Cookies by Rose Levy Beranbaum. I love the use of Lyle’s Golden Syrup – it gives a deep, almost caramel undertone to the filling. Ms. Beranbaum was right on with this recipe – I am thinking of trying Lyle’s in my next pecan pie – yum yum!
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup (dip and sweep method) bleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt 1 (3-ounce) package cream cheese
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup golden refiner's syrup or dark corn syrup
1/3 cup (firmly packed) dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup pecan pieces or coarsely chopped pecans
2/3 (3-ounce) bar bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
2 teaspoons flavorless vegetable oil
mini muffin tins; cookie sheets; re-closable quart-size freezer bag
Cream Cheese Pastry
Food Processor Method
Cut the butter into 1-inch cubes, wrap them in plastic wrap, and refrigerate. In a food processor with the metal blade, process the flour and salt, just to mix them. Add the butter and cream cheese and pulse in until the dough starts to clump together.
Electric Mixer Method
Slightly soften the butter and cream cheese. In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and cream cheese until blended. On low speed, beat in the flour and salt just until incorporated.
For Both Methods
Scrape the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap and shape the dough into a smooth ball. Measure the dough into rounded teaspoons and roll them between the palms of your hands into balls. Place them in the mini muffin tins. If the dough becomes too soft to hold its shape, refrigerate it briefly. Use a floured index finger knuckle to press the dough against the sides of the tin. Be careful not to let the tin show through as the filling will stick to it. Set muffin tins on cookie sheets and refrigerate them while making the filling.
Place 1 oven rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat oven to 350°F. In a medium bowl, combine the filling ingredients except for the pecans and stir them together until well blended. Stir in the pecans. Spoon about 1 heaping teaspoon of filling into the pastry, filling it but not touching any exposed area of the tin. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until set but still soft in the centers. For even baking, rotate the cookie sheet from front to back halfway through the baking period. Allow the tassies to cool on the cookie sheets on wire racks. The tassies unmold more easily when cool.
Chocolate Lace Topping
Break the chocolate into squares and place them, together with the oil, in the top of a double boiler set over very hot water (but no hotter than 160°F.). The water must not simmer or touch the bottom of the double-boiler insert. Stir until the chocolate begins to melt. Return the pan to low heat if the water cools, but be careful that it does not get too hot. (The chocolate may be melted in a microwave oven stirred every 15 seconds.) Remove the chocolate from the heat source before it is fully melted and stir, using residual heat to complete the melting. Dry any moisture that formed on the bottom of the chocolate container. Pour the melted chocolate into a reclosable quart-size freezer bag, close it securely, and cut off a small piece from one corner of the bag. Let the chocolate mixture stand at room temperature until cooled and slightly thickened. Drizzle the chocolate over the tops of the cooled tassies.
Store: In an airtight container at room temperature. Keeps: 2 weeks at room temperature.
The second recipe is Spiced Cranberry Apricot Ice Box Cookies from The All-American Cookie Book by Nancy Baggett. I have friends who will not bake a recipe unless there is a picture so they can “see” if the recipe is going to taste good. I thought that was crazy talk I tell ya, crazy! Me – once I read over the recipe and saw it contained cardamom, orange, apricots and pistachios, I was sold. Hey, I figure they will “see” how good these are when I take these cookies into work tomorrow!
Spiced Cranberry Apricot Icebox Cookies
1 1/2 cups (about 6 ounces) dried sweetened cranberries, chopped
3/4 cup (about 3 3/4 ounces) dried Turkish apricots, chopped
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons orange juice
2 ¼ cups all-purpose white flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup (1 stick plus 2 2/3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, slightly softened
¼ corn oil or other flavorless vegetable oil
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 large egg
Generous 2 1/2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest (colored part of the skin)
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup (2 ounces) finely chopped unsalted (and undyed) pistachios
1 cup powdered sugar sifted after measuring, if lumpy
About 1 tablespoon orange juice
In a medium bowl, stir together the cranberries, apricots, and orange juice. Let stand for 30 minutes, or until the dried fruit is rehydrated. In a large bowl, thoroughly stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, and salt; set aside. In another bowl, with an electric mixer on low speed, beat together the butter, oil, and powdered sugar until well blended. Increase the speed to medium and beat until very fluffy and smooth. Add the egg, orange zest, and vanilla and beat until very smooth. Beat or stir in the flour mixture just until evenly incorporated. Fold in the dried-fruit mixture and pistachios.
Refrigerate the dough for 1 hour, or until firmed up slightly. Spoon half of the dough onto a sheet of wax paper, forming a rough log bout 8 inches long. Repeat with the second dough portion. Smooth the wax paper around the dough to help form the logs. Roll the logs up in sheets of plastic wrap, twisting the ends to keep the logs from unrolling. Freeze the logs until completely frozen, at least 3 hours. Bake immediately, or transfer to an airtight plastic bag and freeze for up to 2 months.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease several baking sheets or coat with nonstick spray. Carefully peel the wrap from a dough log. Using a large, serrated knife, cut the log in half lengthwise. Then, with the cut side down, cut each half crosswise into generous 3/4-inch-thick slices. (If the log is too hard to slice easily, let stand for a few minutes; don't let it thaw too much, or the dough will be more difficult to slice cleanly.)
Using a spatula, carefully transfer the slices to the baking sheets, spacing about 2 inches apart. If desired, repeat with the second log, or save it to bake another time. Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, in the upper third of the oven for 8 to 11 minutes, or until just slightly darker around the edges. Reverse the sheet from front to back halfway through baking to ensure even browning. Transfer the sheet to a wire rack and let stand until the cookies firm up slightly, 1 to 2 minutes. Using a spatula, transfer the cookies to wire racks. Let stand until cooled completely.
FOR THE ICING, IF USING In a small bowl, stir together the powdered sugar and enough orange juice to yield a thin icing. Spoon the icing into a paper cone or a small pastry bag fitted with a fine writing tip. (Or use a kitchen spoon for decorating, if necessary.) Set the wire racks with the cookies over wax paper to catch drips. Drizzle the icing back and forth across the cookies several times to produce decorative squiggles; the cookies should be only lightly iced. Let stand until the icing completely sets, about 45 minutes. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks or freeze for up to 1 1/2 months.
So there they are: my two entries in the Virtual Cookie Swap. I look forward to joining the rest of you in judging all the other entries and may the best bakers win! Bo-yah!