Shortbread wreaths pleasing to the eye and the taste buds

shortbreadwreaths1

Bon Appetit had a gorgeous cover for their holiday edition. What at first appeared to be a wreath was actually a shortbread cookie beautifully decorated with freeze-dried flowers. The concept seemed pretty simple and, since I usually have shortbread on my platter, I thought it could be a more sophisticated offering for the adults in the group.

Staying with the mantra of always using what I have on hand, I used all regular flour instead of rice flour, as the original recipe called for. I also had no idea where to find freeze-dried flowers—I check the tea and produce aisles and came up short—so I made it easy and chopped up some dried cherries and apricots. Since I don’t like lavender, I used about a half teaspoon of rose water instead. It worked well.

I made one batch and used smaller cookie cutters, so it made nearly four dozen cookies, but they were the perfect size. I was pleasantly surprised at how gorgeous and tasty these ended up being, and my coworkers loved them, too. I can’t wait to see how they’re received on Christmas eve.

Glaze
3 large egg whites
4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, stir egg whites, powdered sugar, and cream of tartar in a medium bowl until a thick paste forms with no dry spots. Ideally, glaze should sit at least 12 hours for sugar to fully hydrate, but it can be used as soon as cookies have cooled. Or, you can cover and chill up to 1 week. Bring to room temperature before using.

Shortbread
2 1/2 + 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) plus 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon rose water
Freeze-dried and/or dried fruits, dried edible flowers, fresh and/or dried herbs (for decorating)
*Raw egg is not recommended for the elderly, pregnant women, children under 4, and people with weakened immune systems.

Whisk flour and salt together in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer on medium-high, beat butter, sugar, and rose water in a medium bowl until very pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Mix in dry ingredients on low until fully combined. Wrap in plastic and chill at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Roll out dough between 2 sheets of lightly floured parchment to 1/8-inch thick. Using large cutter, cut out 16 rounds, rerolling scraps. Using small cutter, punch out centers. Bake on parchment-lined baking sheets until edges are golden, 12–14 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack.

Working quickly, dip tops of cookies into glaze, letting excess drip off. Transfer to wire rack and decorate.

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Peppermint-powered cookies for the Christmas platter

peppermintbrowniecookies

If you were a reader of my blog last year, you’ll know that I get intense about Christmas cookies. I’m the designated baker for our extended family gathering on Christmas Eve, and each year I like to find new recipes to add to the enormous platter of cookies for my family to enjoy.

Last year, I found this recipe for Chocolate Peppermint Brownie Cookies in California Bountiful magazine. As you know by now, brownies are my favorite dessert. Adding peppermint and putting them in cookie form seemed like an acceptable idea, so that’s what I did. I liked that the inside was chewy and the outside got slightly flaky when bitten into, just like a perfectly baked brownie. I made them teaspoon-size like the recipe called for, and they were perfect little bites of deliciousness.

If you’re baking cookies for the holidays, try this one. It was a nice, flavor-packed addition to the assortment I made. If you’re looking for a more mellow chocolate cookie, try these totally adorable cocoa cookies instead.

Ingredients
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
2 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
1 tbsp. peppermint extract
1/2 tbsp. brewed espresso (see note)
7 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
3/4 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mix flour, baking powder and salt together. Set aside. Using an electric mixer, whip eggs for 1 minute. Add sugar, peppermint extract and espresso and whip on high speed for 15 minutes or until mixture is thick. While eggs are whipping, melt bittersweet chocolate and butter together in a bowl in a water bath.

Fold chocolate mixture into egg mixture until partially combined, as there should still be some visible streaks. Carefully fold flour mixture into batter, then add chocolate chips and almonds. If batter is runny, let it rest for about 5 minutes to thicken.

Scoop generous teaspoonfuls of batter onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 13 minutes or until cookies puff and are cracked on top. Allow cookies to cool before removing from baking sheet.

Note: In place of espresso, you may substitute an instant coffee extract (for example, 5:1 ratio of instant coffee to water).

Ginger cookies without the snap

chewy ginger snaps

For my last Christmas cookie post of the season, I give you the chewy ginger cookie.

Years ago, I picked up a small container of The Ginger People crystallized ginger at Williams-Sonoma. At the time, I was just playing around with baking and I liked to pick up ingredients I hadn’t used before so I could figure out a way to use them. The ginger had a recipe on the back for the World’s Best Chewy Ginger Snaps. I’ve never been fond of ginger snaps, mostly because of the snap, but the concept of a soft version had never occurred to me. I tried the recipe and I liked it quite a bit. The ginger flavor wasn’t overwhelming and I got the soft cookie I had anticipated.

I put these on the Christmas Eve plate for two years in a row, and my family enjoyed them. This year I have opted for the chai spice cookies instead of these, but will be keeping this recipe on hand.

However you spend your holiday, I hope you and your family have a Merry Christmas.

Ingredients
2 cups + 2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup dark molasses
1 egg
3.5 ounces crystallized ginger, chopped coarsely
1/4 cup sugar for rolling dough

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Sift dry ingredients together. Set aside. Combine softened butter, sugar, molasses and egg. Using a mixing, beat well. Stir in crystallized ginger. Sift dry ingredients together. Add dry ingredients to wet mixture. Mix well. Form 1-inch balls. Roll in course sugar. Place on greased cookie sheet, 2 inches apart. Bake 8-10 minutes. Makes 3 dozen cookies.

A fancy take on traditional thumbprint cookies

Chocolate Turtle Cookies

The 2010 edition of America’s Test Kitchen’s Holiday Cookies magazine was a good one. Not only was it filled with a variety of concoctions, but more than half of the 64 recipes were actually good. I hate it when I buy a magazine containing what look like promising recipes, only to have them turn out poorly or not how I had hoped or expected.

One of my favorite recipes from this edition was Chocolate Turtle Cookies. They take the idea of thumbprint cookies to a whole new level with their chocolate cookie base, nutty adornment and chocolate filling. They’re one of the most gorgeous cookies I’ve ever made. If you love chocolate, caramel and nuts, this is the recipe for you. The recipe calls for melting caramels for the filling but, if you’re feeling ambitious, as I usually am, you can make the caramel from scratch using your favorite recipe.

If you’re working on a cookie platter for the holidays, be sure to give this recipe the time it deserves. It’s worth the effort and will make a nice addition to any dessert tray or other array of holiday food. If you don’t like pecans substitute peanuts or another kind of nut. You really can’t go wrong.

By the way, this week I passed 1,000 hits on my blog since I started it nearly six months ago. Thanks for reading.

Ingredients
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1 large egg, separated, plus 1 egg white
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups pecans, chopped fine
14 soft caramel candies
3 tablespoons heavy cream

Combine flour, cocoa, and salt in bowl. With electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 2 minutes. Add egg yolk, milk, and vanilla and mix until incorporated. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture until just combined. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, 1 hour.

Adjust oven rack to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk egg whites in bowl until frothy. Place pecans in another bowl. Roll dough into 1-inch balls, dip in egg whites, then roll in pecans. Place balls 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Using 1/2 teaspoon, make indentation in center of each ball. Bake until set, about 12 minutes, switching and rotating sheets halfway through baking.

Microwave caramels and cream in bowl, stirring occasionally, until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Once cookies are removed from oven, gently re-press existing indentations. Fill each with 1/2 teaspoon caramel mixture. Cool 10 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

Get ready for holiday baking

pbblossoms

Thanksgiving is over and I’m already thinking about what to bake for the Christmas Eve cookie platter. For the past few years, I’ve been the designated baker for the annual holiday get-together at my grandma’s house. Every year on Christmas Eve, my mom’s side of the family gathers at my grandma’s house and exchanges gifts. There are typically about 30 people, so each person draws a name and buys something for that person. It keeps it manageable. Everyone gets a gift and no one feels bad for not getting something for everyone.

Each year I’ve spent weeks testing new recipes I’m considering before deciding what will make the tray. I like to change what I make each year, with the exception of sugar cookies. Over the years, thin mints, ginger snaps, window cookies, cranberry layer cookies, coal cookies, cinnamon swirls and others have found a place next to staples such as sugar cookies and peanut butter blossoms.

I’ve had several people ask me for my recipe for peanut butter blossoms. I use the recipe from the Better Homes & Gardens cookbook because it has the best flavor and holds together better than other recipes I’ve tried. The key is not to cook them too long. Take the cookies out when they’re puffy and lightly browned so they’re flexible enough to accommodate the kisses without crumbling. Let them sit long enough for the kisses to soften and the cookies to cool. It’s worth the wait.

For the next few weeks, I’ll be posting some of my go-to Christmas cookie recipes. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Ingredients
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup butter or shortening
54 milk chocolate kisses

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine butter (or shortening) and peanut butter. Beat with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add the 1/2 cup granulated sugar, brown sugar, baking powder and baking soda. Beat until combined, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally. Beat in egg, milk and vanilla until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Using a wooden spoon, stir in any remaining flour.

Place the 1/4 cup granulated sugar in a small bowl. Shape dough into 1-inch balls; roll balls in sugar to coat. Place 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Immediately press a chocolate kiss into the center of each cookie.

Transfer cookies to a wire rack; cool.