Sunday, December 12, 2010

C is for Christmas Cookies: this year's fabulous four

Our 2009 Favorite Cookie - Chocolate Candy Cane
Growing up, we made cookies for Christmas, shared them with friends and consumed many ourselves.  Ours were very simple although we wanted to make those cutout decorated cookies that we saw pictures of on magazine covers at the grocery store checkout -  perfect creations with icing painted as if suited for the Louvre.  When we made them they didn't look like that.   Rudolph's legs broke.  Santa looked either emaciated or way too fat.  The colors never looked right or stayed in place: Santa's white beard was pink and the ornaments on the Christmas tree bled into the green.  So we covered them with colored sugar and simply ate them; ugly ones tasted the same as pretty ones (a lesson in itself).

I have discovered a source for cutout cookies at a local bakery, Milan Bakery and Miss Donut in Falls Church, VA. They sell simply decorated cutout and sugar cookies that both look good and taste great.  They are not fancy but they melt in your mouth.  The simple meringue icing tastes good, doesn't detract from the delicious cookie taste, and looks better than anything I could make.

As we have all aged, the cookie creations have been more about taste than decorating, and I have preferred to limit imbibing of Red no. 6 and other colors not found naturally in baked goods and focus instead on delectables that tickle the palate best.

First of all, I must confess that I use only butter in my cookie-making.  So assume high fat content is the norm.  If the recipe calls for vegetable oil, I melt butter and use that instead.  It tastes better and you don't cut corners on taste when it comes to the serious business of cookie-making.

This morning one son, who is visiting for the weekend, awoke to chocolate crackles baking in the oven - the first batch out in time to have with his third sip of coffee.  This prompted a comment something like "you are the best, Mom...cookies for breakfast!"

Cookies have a way of prompting such outbursts and reflect motherly yearnings for affirmation of worth and all that goes along with nurturing your progeny, be they young or adults.


Favorite #1 - Chocolate Crackles
This year the Chocolate Crackles are the new addition to the cookie repertoire, discovered in The Washington Post and credited to Michelle Poteaux, co-owner and pastry chef at Bastille in Alexandria, Virginia.  They are wonderful and I substituted the vegetable oil in the recipe with butter and used pecans instead of walnuts.  The cookies are soft with a crackly top, dusted with powdered sugar.  They are pretty and rich and delicious - something like a crusty, nutty chocolate mousse.
Favorite #2 - Snowball Cookies
Snowball cookies are an annual favorite.  They are also known as Mexican Wedding Cookies.   My recipe is very simple and comes from the Christmas Memories Cookbook produced by the Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut.  I have never been the this museum but about fifteen years ago borrowed the cookbook from my friend Holly, forgot to return it and have had it ever since.  When she came to visit two years ago, I confessed my sin, offered it back to her, dogeared and stained from heavy use, and she suggested that I just keep it.  It is used every Christmas and I enjoy reading through the delicious recipes, using a few, and making the snowballs that melt in your mouth and disappear when you put them out for company.  They freeze well and look great.  I have already made two batches this season!
Cookie #3 - Turtle Bars
Also from the Christmas Memories Cookbook are turtle bars.  Similar to the chocolate and pecan goodies known as turtles that we sold for a band fundraiser in high school, these bar cookies are more delicious than the stale chocolates we pawned off on parents and friends in order to be able to take trips with our flutes, trombones and trumpets and spread our cacophany across the state of Florida in the 1970's.  These toffee, pecan and chocolate cookies with a shortbread bottom are simply delicious and gooey and every bite is guilt-inducing.
Cookie #4 - Nancy's Orange Ginger Cookies
Finally, the perennial favorite - Nancy's Orange Ginger Cookies.  My Mother made these cookies and I have such fond memories of walking in the front door after school and smelling the spices and orange wafting through the house.  Filled with orange peel, cinnamon, cloves and ginger, these cookies make you want to brew a pot of tea and sit a while, contemplating nothing at all but their aromatic, flavorful wonderfulness.  They are especially easy to make because you roll the dough in logs, refrigerate, slice and bake.  They make the house smell positively Christmassy.   Try the recipe below.  And share them with love, just like my Mother did for me, and I do for my children.

C is for Christmas Cookies and Cheer.  Enjoy and Merry Christmas!

Nancy's Orange Ginger Cookies

1 C butter
1 1/2 C sugar
1 egg
2 Tablespoons corn syrup
3 C flour
2 teaspoon baking sode
2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 Tablespoon grated orange peel

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.

Cream butter and sugar.  Add egg and syrup.  Add remaining ingredients and thoroughly mix.  Shape into 2 rolls.   Wrap in waxed paper and chill.

Slice about 1/8 inch thick.  Place on ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes.

Yield:  4 dozen