Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Ugly Truth of Holiday Baking

I give in to that urge this time of year to drool over pretty pictures of Christmas Cookies hand-wrapped and packaged for thoughtful gifts. Earlier this month, with a stack of recipes in hand and a freshly stocked kitchen full of sugar, butter, flour and eggs, I set out to make those lovely treat boxes I like to hand out as "winter gifts" to my co-workers at this time of year.

In looking at the recipes with their simple mixtures of basics, shaped and formed into magical treats, I fooled myself into thinking - "home-made cookies - easy - no problem." By the end of two straight nights of baking past midnight, I understood why most folks resort to charity gifts or non-descript gift cards as professional gifts. Not as personal or awe inspiring, but it leaves you with a clean kitchen, a full night of sleep and no need to apologize for getting the spice levels wrong. With that, here is my Christmas Eve list of holiday cookies that made it out of my kitchen alive:

Macadamia Butter Cookies with Dried Cranberries - These turn our nice, light and airy and are not at all as dense as a traditional peanut butter cookie. Do not over cook - just get them barely brown.

Spicy Baby Button Cookies - You can add your own seasonings to the powdered sugar at the end to give these cookies your own flair (or spice in my case). I over spiced mine with chipotle chile powder, so I suggest you only use cinnamon if you want some spice added. Give the cookies lots of room on the sheet - they do spread a bit.

Anise Tea Crescents - I've never cooked with Anise as I'm not a licorice fan (which is the predominant flavor in Anise) but these cookies have a sophisticated undercurrent of flavor that allow them to be well received.

Cocoa Hazelnut Gooey Butter Cakes - My adaptation of a Paula Deen dessert, these cream cheese brownies on steroids have 2 sticks of butter stuffed in 'em, but boy are they good!

Date-Nut Pinwheels - These are from a recipe J the BF's mom gave me for her infamous rich well spiced cookies stuffed with dates, walnuts and lemon zest. The trick to these is ensuring your cookie dough is chilled before rolling them out, your filling is at room temp and that you chill the rolls again before you slice and bake them. She left that last piece of advice off the recipe so my pinwheel ended up being date-nut blobs - tasty though!

Date Nut Pinwheels

Cookies Dough:

2 cup Flour

1 1/2 t Baking Powder

1/2 t Salt

1/2 t Ginger

1/2 t Nutmeg

2/3 c Butter

1 Cup Sugar

1 Egg

1 t Vanilla


8oz Pitted Chopped Dates

1/2 Cup Sugar

2 t lemon peel grated

1/2 Cup finely chopped walnuts

1) Combine dry dough ingredients and spices
2) Combine sugar and butter with a stand mixer on medium - add egg and vanilla
3) Add dry ingredients to butter mixture until combined. Chill dough for at least 1 hour
4) Combine filling ingredients (except walnuts) along with 1/2 Cup watter in small heavy saucepan.
5) Heat filling on medium high until thinkened (about 8 minutes) - add Walnuts. Chill to room temperature
6) Divide dough in 1/2 - roll each half into rectangle 8" X 10". Spread with 1/2 each of cooled filling
7) Roll long side of cookies up gently to form logs. Wrap and chill for at least 1 hour
8) Slice logs into 1/2 " cookies - bake at 375 until cookies are golden (about 10 minutes)
9) Cool on wire rack or consume as soon as you can handle the cookies without serious burns.

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