Eat Christmas Cookies and Be Happy

I am happy to be participating in Eat Christmas Cookies 2 being hosted by Food Blogga. As you all know, this is the time of year when I pull out my collection of cookie cookbooks and plot the ruin of other peoples' diets. Yes - I am the evil little Christmas baker! I hide behind the bright smile of an chubby, middle-aged matron but, deep within my heart, I am plotting the expansion of your waistline. Muhahahhahhahahahhahaha!

Other than that, I just really like baking cookies. They are little packages of flavor with happiness and love hiding on the inside. (As far as you know!)

One thing that sets Christmas apart from the rest of the year is the opportunity to make lots of "fancy" cookies. The rest of the year it seems like you are making everyone else's favorites - usually involving chocolate chips, oatmeal and/or peanut butter. Not that I have anything against those types of cookies, but occasionally it just nice to stretch your culinary wings and make something else.

In past years, I've shared some of my "fancy" cookies. I tend to lean towards spice, nuts and fruit when I make my cookies.

Here are some of my past entries -

Pecan Tassies and Spiced Cranberry Apricot refrigerator cookies

Stroopwaffles - which I am preparing to make this afternoon

Lebkuken - from Gail's Heirloom recipe

This year I would like to feature a cookie I found in Great Cookies: Secrets to Sensational Sweets by Carole Walter . A quick word about this book - I love it. Not only do the recipes produce great cookies, Carole also spends the time classifying each cookie by type, but also by their characteristics - such as versatility or fragility. Plus - and a big plus for me - she gives you a shelf life for each recipe. An immense help when plotting the diet downfall of some distant relation.

Now introducing - Chocolate Snowcaps!
Everyone wants chocolate chocolate chip - so this appeases both my family and friends' desire PLUS I get to make a really pretty cookie. This will be the second year I am making these - the hard part has been finding the nonpareils. I eventually located a brand called Bazzini at my local Pepperidge Farm outlet store. (Yes there is one in Columbus - and they carry large boxes of puff pastry at a great price as well!) The outlet store only carries the Bazzini brand during the holidays - so if you want to beat me to them, you better hurry.

The other secret to this cookie is that you have to use the best ingredients. It's a simply cookie. If you use poor quality ingredients, it shows in the finished product. I once again indulged in a high fat cocoa powder - Ghiridelli this time. Be aware that high fat cocoa powder is likely to go rancid quickly - so store it in a cool dry place and test it before you use it. Even a "new" can from the store can be rancid if it has sat too long on the shelf or been mishandled in transit. The same is true of things like butter - please taste your butter before you use it. If it tastes of anything other than sweet creaminess - get another pound for this recipe.

Oh - and just in case you wanted to know - there cookies were deemed by Carole to be versatile, have a long shelf life and are temperature sensitive.

Chocolate Snowcaps

from Great Cookies: Secrets to Sensational Sweets by Carole Walter


These chocolate shortbread cookies are topped with disks of semi­sweet chocolate nonpareil candies. While nonpareils are available in most supermarkets, those purchased from a specialty candy store will be well worth the investment. Not only are these candies available in assorted flavors of semisweet, milk, and bittersweet chocolate, but some are covered with rainbow nonpareils.

Because these cookies are made with a shortbread-style dough, take care not to overwork the mixture, otherwise the dough will become too soft to handle.

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, spooned in and leveled

1/2 cup strained Dutch-processed cocoa powder, spooned in and leveled

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly firm

1 cup strained confectioners' sugar, spooned in and leveled

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons seedless raspberry preserves

48 semisweet chocolate nonpareil candies


1. Strain together the flour, cocoa, and salt. Set aside.

2. In the large bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the butter on low speed until smooth. Add the confectioners' sugar with the vanilla and mix just until blended.

3. Add half of the dry ingredients and mix briefly to incorporate. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the remaining dry ingredients by hand, working the mix­ture just until the dough is smooth. Do not overmix.

4. Scrape the dough onto a strip of plas­tic wrap, then shape it into a 6 x 8-inch rectangle. Wrap the dough in the plastic and refrigerate until firm, 45 to 60 minutes.


5. Position the racks in the lower and upper thirds of the oven. Heat the oven to 350°. Butter the cookie sheets well.

6. Using a pastry scraper, divide the dough into 48 I-inch squares. Roll each square into a ball and arrange about 2 inches apart on the cookie sheets. Place the granulated sugar in a shallow dish. Dip a flat-bottomed glass into the sugar, then press down on each ball to form a 2-inch disk. Using a small spat­ula, spread a dab of preserves on the bot­tom of a nonpareil and lightly press the candy, topside up, into the center of each disk.

7. Bake for 11 to 13 minutes or until the cookies feel set on top. Rotate the pans from top to bottom and front to back toward the end of baking time. Remove the cookies from the oven and let stand for I to 2 minutes before loosening with a metal spatula. They will harden as they cool. When firm enough to handle, transfer the cookies to cooling racks.

STORAGE Store in an airtight container, layered between strips of wax paper, for up to 3 weeks. These cookies may be frozen.

One last note - if you really want to see some other folks fantastic cookies, then check out the Eat Christmas Cookies round page. Don't forget - if you don't have enough time before the holidays to try them all, you can always come up with other excuses!


Cookie Confab 2008

I am sad to report that Debbie, Gail and I have decided that we would not have a cookie confab this year. We are heartbroken, but there was really nothing else to do. I now work the weekends. Debbie and Gail have weekends off. I work swing shift, Gail works second shift and Debbie works first shift. So even on my days off, it would be impossible for us to even squeeze in an evening of cookie making, much less a couple weekends like we have in past years. But we have made a pact to make cookies on our own and trade out some of our specialties to the others so that we can have the best of all worlds. (Oh God - I sound like Candide!)

Since I am not working with the other cookie ladies this year, my hubby has declared that I am allowed to break the rules. Actually just one rule - he wants chocolate chip cookies. And so do all his friends. They have actually been calling me asking when I will have the chocolate chip cookies ready! It's a conspiracy, I tell ya! They managed to separate me from the rest of the group and I am now their helpless cookie baking thrall.

I am always on the lookout for more cookie recipes - especially those that promise not to make my butt wider than the Grand Canyon.
If anyone has any other cookie suggestions, drop me a line. You know me - no cookie will go uneaten!

Here is a partial list of cookies I am going to start making this coming "weekend"

Stroopwaffels - I picked up a pizzell maker at New Uses this past spring for all of $10.00. True they will be HUGE cookies, but they will taste great. As part of my revenge, I plan on forcing Tony to sit at the kitchen table to make the cookies while I relax on the veranda (IE: play computer games).

Baby Fruitcakes - Specifically the recipe from The Cookie Lover's Cookie Book by Richard Sax . I used to love regular fruitcake. Olde fashioned fruitcake is awesome when an experienced cook (like my mom) makes it, but about fifteen years ago I got tired of having eight metric tons of fruitcake around the house after the holidays. So when I saw this recipe, I knew it was for me. The only bad thing is that they are not keepers unless you freeze them.

Chocolate on Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies
- This is a new one that I am trying from Maida Heatter's Brand New Book of Great Cookies. (I picked up both her older book of cookies and her newer book of cookies at Half-Price this past year. And yes - they are different.) The thing that really intrigues me about this recipe is that you make dough logs as in a typical refrigerator cookie recipe, then put chocolate between two slices of raw dough and bake it all together. I figure it will be a love 'em or hate 'em situation with the folks on the receiving end - but they should remember they are getting them as a present and if they bitch, I will put the smack down on them!

Pecan Diamonds - I lost my favorite recipe a few years back. Isn't that always the way? I had photocopied it out of a book and laminated it so I could reuse it in the kitchen. All that time and effort - POOF!! Gone! Of course that is the way it always works. I can't even remember the book they came out of, since it was over twenty years ago when I found it. (OMG - I just wrote that and felt sooooooooooo freakin' old.) This past year, Gail found me a recipe in an old magazine that she had used before and gave it to me. It is turned out pretty damn good. Here is the recipe in case you want to try them.

Pecan Diamonds

Prep: 25 min. Bake: 12 + 20 min.

1/3 cup butter, softened

1/4 cup granulated sugar 1/4 cup shortening 1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 cups chopped pecans
2 tablespoons whipping cream

1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 15 x 10 x 1inch baking pan with foil, extending foil over edges of pan; set aside. In large bowl, combine 1/3 cup butter, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, and the shortening; beat on medium speed until combined. Beat in egg, vanilla, baking powder, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Beat in as much of the flour as you can. Stir in any remaining flour. Pat dough evenly into prepared pan. Bake in preheated oven about 12 minutes or until top is set.

2. In saucepan, combine the 1/2 cup butter, the brown sugar, honey, and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar. Bring to boiling over medium heat; boil gently 3 minutes. Add nuts and cream.

3. Spread hot nut mixture onto crust. Bake 20 minutes; filling will still be soft but bubbly all over. Cool in pan on rack. Use foil to lift from pan. Place on cutting surface. Using sharp knife, cut lengthwise into six to eight strips, then cut diagonally to form diamonds. Makes about 40.

TO STORE: Layer between waxed paper in an airtight container; cover. Store at room temperature for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months.


You know what will get people riled up at Thanksgiving?

Stuffing Vs Dressing

I am betting Becke and I would come to harsh words over the whole thing. She, a tried and true stuffing gal, would never think of of anything other than cramming the cavity of her bird with bits of dried bread, diced veggies and buttery goodness. I, on the other hand, make an argument for baking the mixture in a separate bowl. I think that my turkey comes out so much better because I can control the cooking method.

In fact, this year we purchased a 23 pound bird from Kroger. Nothing fancy. I just can't bring myself to spending $35.00 on a Kosher bird when money is tight. My store brand bird cost me all of $7.50. Easy on the wallet - tasty in the tummy. I had the hubby butterfly out this big old bird. That way I could monitor the temperature of the white and dark meat separately and pull out pieces parts as they got done. No Normal Rockwell moments around my Thanksgiving table - the resultant bird looked like something Victor Frankenstein would have served. Not that my family would have been depicted anyway - when we eat it looks more like a scene from a show on Animal Planet. "The three predators are now moving in quickly - their prey no longer capable of resisting attack. Notice how the big male dismembers the large bird, making way for its mate and offspring to pick the choicest morsels before he too falls upon the helpless turkey."

So - let's return to this stuffing vs dressing debate. In my household growing up, we had both - mostly because there was never enough stuffing to go around. We would get a 16 pound turkey for six people and the cavity just wasn't big enough to hold the monumental amount of bread-y goodness for everyone. My dad got first shot at it - and then it was catch as catch can. I don't think my younger brother ever got any stuffing until he was old enough to fend off the other attackers. My mother was forced to supplement with a big bowl of dressing - usually oyster dressing.

I had two problems with this. 1) I hated getting pieces of shell. My mom would miss some of the tinier bits when she cleaned the oysters. and 2) It was dry as hell. The stuffing was always nice and moist and the dressing needed a ton of gravy to make it palatable.

It wasn't until I worked in a restaurant that I learned a good way to make stuffing. Delores had been cooking in restaurants for many years. She wasn't a chef, she was a cook. And there in nothing wrong with being a good cook. Chefs couldn't be chefs without competent people under them. Delores only worked three days a week - Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Wednesday she was responsible for making the daily special and all the regulars knew they had better show up early to get some. Italian wedding soup, stuffed green peppers, Swiss steak, roast pork - every single dish was good. And in the process of helping her between tables, I got to learn how to make a lot of her dishes.

Every year Delores would make a big batch of dressing for the owner to take to his family gathering. Cheating I know - but hey, he was a man who knew how to manager his resources. That meant I got to see how someone else made this required holiday dish. It was nothing like I had seen before, but it has been the technique I've used ever since. The technique is not revolutionary, but its more akin to a savory bread pudding than the dried out stuffing that my mom would make.

My recipe goes something like this.

2 loaves of quality white/wheat bread, cubed
4-5 stalks of celery, medium dice
2 medium onions, medium dice
1 medium carrot, medium dice (optional)
1/2 stick butter
4-6 cups of broth, warmed
herbs and spices
Salt and pepper
1 egg

1) Start the night before. Take the cubed bread and let it dry overnight. It should be fairly crumbly. If you don't have the time or inclination, you can also dry out the cubes in the oven set on low. The whole idea is to get out as much moisture from the bread as possible so it can soak up the broth and spices. When dry, put the bread in a really large pan or bowl. I usually have to break out a huge bowl I got from Tupperware.

2) In a large pot, melt the butter and saute the onions, celery and carrots until the onions are transparent. Add 4 cups of the stock, and allow to simmer. This is also where you add the dried herbs and spices. What I add varies depending on what I am serving this with and what I have on hand. For the Thanksgiving batch it went like this - 2 T of rubbed sage, 2 bay leaves, a little seasoned salt, pepper, 1/2 t of dried chipolte pepper, 1/2 t of Spanish smoked paprika, 1 t of Mural of Flavor (some new stuff from Penzey's), 1/2 t garlic powder and 1/2 t onion powder. The idea is to make the flavors very intense in the broth. Remember, this is getting mixed in with tons of really bland dried bread. If you have fresh herbs, then you would add then to the bread mixture just before you pour the hot broth/spice/veggies over top. You don't want to over cook them.

This is the right texture.
It's kinda hard to tell, but hey its a tactile thing not a visual thing.

3) Pour the veggie/spice/broth mixture over the dried bread. Mix. You want to distribute the broth evenly over the dried bread. Here is the tricky part. The bread should be fairly moist. Almost like a thick slurry of bread. If it isn't moist all the way through, then you might need to add a little more liquid. (Here are my thoughts on this: When you go to put the stuffing into the bird, you make it dry so that it will soak up the juices coming out of the meat. This means you need to compensate for that extra moisture. Also, when you are baking the dressing, some of the liquid will evaporate. So you have to make it just a bit more moist than you think it should be so that it will "dry out" just enough to make it tasty. Its a fine balance. I ruined a couple of batches before I got the knack of it.) When the texture is right, add one beaten egg and mix well. Pour into a greased oven proof bowl bowl. I use an old 4 qt Pyrex bowl I bought at a garage sale for $.25. It's ugly, but it works.

4) Bake at 350 degrees for about 30-40 minutes. You will know when its done because the top with be all brown and crusty and the inside should be set and moist.

My apologizes for the lack of photos. The final product was eaten rather quickly and pronounced to be "very good - the best you ever made" by the family.