From Arlene's oven: Our expert baker's annual roundup of holiday cookie recipes

A baker's dozen -- try them all!


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Every Thanksgiving, even before the leftover turkey and trimmings are gone, I begin to think about the types of cookies I will be baking for Christmas.

My things-to-do list starts with making room in the freezer for the cookie dough and finished cookies. I've found that freezing the cookies allows me to concentrate on other holiday chores such as shopping and decorating.

Next on my list is deciding which cookies to bake. I stick with some of the family's favorites, of course, but I still have fun perusing new magazines and cookbooks to see if anything new catches my eye. While paging through a stack of promising new baking books, I knew I was going to have a tough time choosing. But I picked a baker's dozen cookie recipes that I hope you find interesting enough to give them a try.

Happy baking!


More about cookies
Most cookies or cookie dough can be frozen. The trick is how to wrap the cookies. I place baked cookies on top of a large sheet of foil then make three layers of cookies with plastic wrap between each layer. I wrap the foil over the cookies then wrap the foil-covered cookies with freezer paper. I label each pack of cookies with the date and the name of the cookie. I do not layer delicate cookies or freeze frosted cookies. I frost the cookies when I remove them from the freezer.
About measuring flour: The way flour is measured can make a big difference in baking. Not enough flour can make a flat and gooey cookie. If too much flour is added, cookies can turn out dry and hard. Most cookie recipes direct how to measure the flour. I found the most accurate way to measure flour is to weigh or lightly spoon the flour into a dry measuring cup, then level off.
If you're into extreme cookie decorating, you may want to check out "Ultimate Cookies" by Julia M. Usher (Gibbs Smith, 2011, $24.99) or the "Biscuiteer's Book of Iced Cookies" by Harriet Hastings and Sarah Moore (Kyle, 2010, $18.95). Both are loaded with all the information you need to bake and decorate cookies.
- Arlene Burnett

CARAMEL-COFFEE TASSIES

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These cookies hit the spot on a cold winter's night. You will need a 2-inch mini-muffin pan for this recipe. Once the tassies are removed from the oven, set the pan on a wire rack to cool for about 5 minutes. Then gently remove the tassies from the pan to another rack to cool completely.

  • 1 stick ( 1/2 cup) butter, softened
  • 3-ounce package cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 14-ounce package caramels
  • 1/4 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coffee liqueur or brewed coffee
  • Frosting (recipe follows)

Beat butter and cream cheese together until well blended; stir in flour. Form dough into a ball; chill 1 hour or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll pieces of dough into 1/2-inch balls; press balls into ungreased mini-muffin pan. Bake 10 to 15 minutes or until golden. Let cool.

Combine caramels and evaporated milk in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently until melted. Remove from heat; stir in liqueur or coffee. Spoon filling into shells. Cool completely before piping frosting onto caramel filling.

Makes about 2 dozen.

For the frosting
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup evaporated milk, chilled
  • 1/2 teaspoon coffee liqueur or brewed coffee

Blend shortening and sugar until fluffy; add evaporated milk and liqueur or coffee. Beat on medium-high speed with an electric mixer for 7 to 10 minutes until fluffy.

-- "Big Book of Home Cooking" by Goose Berry Patch (Oxmoor House, 2011, $29.95)



DRIED CRANBERRY AND CHOCOLATE COOKIES

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Cranberries and chocolate make a tasty pairing for a holiday cookie.

  • 2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1 large egg yolk, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup quick cooking or old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips (semi-sweet or white chocolate)
  • 1 1/2 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Place butter and sugars in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle; beat until smooth and creamy. Add egg, egg yolk and vanilla, 1 at a time, beating well between additions. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Place flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl; mix well. Add to butter mixture; beat until everything is well incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add chocolate chips and cranberries, beat again.

Drop dough by heaping teaspoons about 2 inches apart on the cookie sheet. Bake until the cookies begin to brown at the edges, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on cookie sheet. Transfer to wire rack; repeat with remaining dough.

Makes 3 to 4 dozen.

-- "Cookies For Kids' Cancer: Best Bake Sale Cookbook" by Gretchen Holt-Witt (Wiley, 2011, $19.99)



SCRUMPTIOUS ORANGE BITES

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It was the name -- Scrumptious Orange Bites -- that got my attention. But it was the ingredients of dates, orange zest, butterscotch chips and pecans that made me want to try this cookie and I'm glad I did.

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups pitted whole dates, chopped
  • 1 stick ( 1/2 cup) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fresh orange zest plus 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup butterscotch chips
  • 1 cup pecans, chopped
  • Confectioners' sugar for dusting

Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour, salt and baking soda together.

Bring dates, butter, brown sugar, orange zest and orange juice to simmer in a saucepan and cook until mixture has thickened slightly and measures 2 cups, about 5 minutes. Transfer mixture to large bowl and let cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.

Whisk eggs into cooled date mixture, 1 at a time, until combined. Fold in flour mixture until just combined, then fold in butterscotch chips and pecans. Drop generous tablespoon-size portions of dough onto baking sheets, spaced about 2 inches apart. Bake until edges are set and beginning to brown, but centers are still soft and puffy, about 10 minutes, switching and rotating sheets halfway through baking.

Let cookies cool on sheets 10 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough using cooled, freshly lined baking sheets. Lightly dust cooled cookies with confectioners' sugar before serving.

Makes about 4 dozen.

-- "From Our Grandmothers' Kitchens: A Treasure of Lost Recipes Too Good to Forget" (Editors of Cook's Country Magazine, 2011, $29.95)



BUTTER ROSETTES

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If there's 1 cookie you have to save room for on the cookie tray, it's the butter cookie. These cookies are delicate and buttery. The cookies are piped onto the baking pan or you can use a cookie press.

  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, very soft
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (spoon into a dry-measure cup and level off)
  • 2 cookie sheets or jelly roll pans lined with parchment paper or foil.

Set racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

Combine butter, sugar and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed until just combined.

Stop mixer, add egg and scrape down bowl and beater. Beat again on medium speed until smooth.

Stop and scrape again, then beat in flour on lowest speed. Remove bowl from mixer and use a large rubber spatula to give a final mixing to the dough.

Pipe dough onto prepared pans using a 1/2-inch star tip, leaving about 1 inch between cookies in all directions.

Bake until cookies are light golden, about 10 to 12 minutes. The best test is to turn 1 of the cookies upside down; if it is light golden on the bottom, too, they're ready. It's not necessary to change racks midway through baking, but stack 2 pans together for the bottom rack to prevent cookies from burning if you know your oven gives strong bottom heat.

Makes 30 to 40 cookies depending on size.

Storage: Keep cookies between sheets of wax paper in a tin or plastic container with a tight fitting lid. These last for a week or so, after which the buttery flavor starts to go stale. Freeze for longer storage.

Variations

Lightl y dust the cookies with cocoa powder before baking. Sprinkle the top of the cookies with some crushed almonds or plain or multicolored chocolate sprinkles.

Place a chocolate chip flat side up or a quarter of a candied cherry in the center of each cookie.

To pipe a rosette

Start with the tube about 1/4 inch above the pan and at a 60-degree angle. Begin squeezing and when the dough touches the pan, keep the pressure steady and curl around to the left as if writing a cursive letter C. Stop squeezing and pull away parallel to the pan instead of lifting the bag straight up, which would leave a point.

-- "Bake! Essential Techniques for Perfect Baking" by Nick Malgieri (Kyle, 2010. $29.95)



INDIVIDUAL COCONUT CAKES

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These coconut cakes taste more like candy than cake. The recipe calls for a mini muffin pan, but it doesn't specify what size. I used 2-inch mini pans.

  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour (spoon into a dry-measure cup and level off)
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened dried coconut
  • 4 large egg whites, room temperature
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 stick ( 1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • 2 tablespoons sweetened shredded coconut, or unsweetened ground or shredded coconut, for topping
  • 2 12-cavity mini muffin pans, buttered and floured

Set rack in the middle of oven and preheat to 375 degrees.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine sugar, flour and unsweetened dried coconut. Set aside.

In another bowl, whisk egg whites with the salt until smooth. Whisk in the lemon zest and butter. Whisk in about half the dry ingredients, then use a rubber spatula to fold in the remainder.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pans, filling them about 2/3 full. Sprinkle top of each cake with a pinch of shredded coconut.

Bake until well risen and deep golden and the cakes are firm when pressed with a fingertip, about 15 minutes. Invert cakes to a rack, then immediately turn cakes right side up. Let them cool completely.

Store the cakes loosely covered with plastic wrap on the day they are made. Arrange them in a tin or plastic container with a tight fitting lid in 1 layer and refrigerate for long storage. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Variations: Substitute ground blanched almonds or a combination of ground hazelnuts and ground almonds for the coconut. Before baking, sprinkle the top of each cake with a pinch of chopped almonds or hazelnuts.

Makes 24 mini cakes.

-- "Bake! Essential Techniques for Perfect Baking" by Nick Malgieri (Kyle, 2010, $29.95)



CINNAMON-SCENTED FIG AND WALNUT BISCOTTI

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Biscotti might not be the prettiest cookie on the cookie tray but it holds up well and will last a long time if kept in a cookie tin. That said, these biscotti are outstanding. Laced with cinnamon, figs and walnuts, they're a winner anytime of the year.

  • 1 cup walnut halves
  • 8 dried figs, finely chopped ( 3/4 cup)
  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (scooped, not spooned)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar, plus extra for the counter
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Grated zest of 1 large orange
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder (the recipe calls for 1 envelope Italian baking powder or 1 teaspoon baking powder)
  • 1/8 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 half-sheet pans (jelly roll pan about 12-by-17 inches) with parchment paper (I used 18-by-13 inch pans).

Coarsely chop walnuts in a food processor. Do not overprocess; the walnuts should be the size of large peas. (If they are ground rather than chopped, the batter will be too dry and will require additional eggs to come together.) Turn the walnuts out into a large bowl. Add figs, flour, sugar, cinnamon, orange zest, baking powder and salt. Mix well to combine.

In a small bowl, beat eggs with vanilla. Pour egg mixture into flour mixture and stir with a fork until the dough just starts to come together. Gather dough with your hands, squeezing and kneading it firmly to help it form a solid mass.

Turn the dough out onto a counter, gather into a tight ball and cut into 4 equal pieces. (If the dough sticks to the counter, sprinkle the counter with a bit of sugar, not flour.) Shape each piece into a 1-inch-wide log, and place the logs, 2 inches apart, on the prepared pans. Bake 25 minutes, and cut on the diagonal into 1/4-inch-thick slices.

Arrange slices in a single layer on the same parchment-lined pans. Return to the oven and bake for 8 minutes or until golden. The biscotti will not be fully crisp. Cool on a rack and serve.

Makes about 48 cookies.

-- "One Sweet Cookie: Celebrated Chefs Share Favorite Recipes" by Tracey Zabar (Rizzoli, 2011, $30)



CHOCOLATE MINT COOKIE SANDWICHES

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Who can resist a chocolate cookie with a chocolate mint center?

  • 2 sticks (1 cup) butter, softened
  • Scant 3/4 cup superfine sugar
  • 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup candied cherries, finely chopped
  • 12 chocolate mint candies (such as Andes)
For the chocolate coating
  • 4 ounces semisweet chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 2 ounces white chocolate, broken into pieces

Put the butter and sugar into a bowl and mix well with a wooden spoon (I used an electric mixer). Beat in the egg yolk and vanilla extract. Sift together flour, cocoa and salt into the butter mixture, add cherries and stir. Halve the dough, shape into balls, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 30 to 60 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll dough between 2 sheets of parchment paper to a little more than 1/4 inch thick. Use a 21/2-inch square cookie cutter to cut the dough in squares. Place cookies on prepared cookie sheets spaced well apart (2 inches or more). Bake 10 to 15 minutes, or until firm. Remove cookies from the pan and place on a cooling rack. Place a chocolate mint on top of half the cookies, then cover with remaining cookies. Press down gently and let cool.

For the chocolate coating, melt the semisweet chocolate in a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Remove from heat and let cool. Put a sheet of parchment paper under the cooling rack. Spoon the melted chocolate over cookies, then tap the rack to level the surface. Allow chocolate to set. Melt the white chocolate, remove from heat and cool. Pipe or drizzle over cookies. Allow cookies to set before storing.

Makes about 15 cookies.

-- "The Cookie Jar Cookbook: An Irresistible Collection of 80 Cookie Recipes to Bake at Home (Parragon, 2011, $9.95)



PEANUT BUTTER THUMBPRINTS WITH PEANUT CARAMEL

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Peanut butter cookies are always a favorite. The caramel filling adds an extra punch to these cookies. You will have more peanut caramel sauce than you need for this recipe. Store the extra sauce in the fridge to use as an ice cream topping.

For the dough
  • 1 stick ( 1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup creamy salted peanut butter, room temperature
  • 1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
For the Peanut Caramel
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped roasted salted peanuts
  • 4 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped and melted (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and position 2 oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of oven. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Place butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium speed until smooth and blended, about 2 minutes (if using a hand mixer you may have to beat a little longer). Scrape down the bowl with a spatula. Add egg and vanilla and blend well. Scrape down the bowl again. Add peanut butter, beat until well blended, and scrape down the bowl once more.

Whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. Add to the butter mixture all at once. Turn the mixer to the lowest speed and blend slowly, just until there are no patches of flour. Scrape down the bowl. Stir gently a few times with the spatula to make sure there are no patches of unincorporated flour or butter near the bottom of the bowl.

Use a 1-inch cookie scoop to make tablespoon-size mounds (or use a tablespoon and roll the dough by hand) onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing the cookies about 11/2 inches apart, about 20 cookies per sheet. Use the end of a wooden spoon to make an indentation in the center of each cookie.

Bake the cookies, switching the sheets between the racks and rotating each front to back halfway through, 13 to 16 minutes, until they are light golden brown all over and a bit darker at the edges. Transfer to cooling rack. Reinforce the indentation in each cookie. Cool completely.

For the Peanut Caramel Filling

Microwave the cream just until hot (about 35 seconds) and set aside. Place water in a medium saucepan; add sugar, corn syrup and salt. Cook sugar mixture over medium heat, stirring occasionally with a heatproof spatula, until the sugar dissolves. Set the hot cream on the counter next to the stovetop. Turn heat to high and cook sugar mixture, occasionally swirling the pan (not stirring) so that the sugar cooks evenly, until it turns a golden brown. Immediately turn off the heat and whisk in the cream, adding it in a slow, steady stream. Whisk to blend well. Pour into a bowl. Allow to cool until warm and pourable (if it becomes cold and thick, reheat in the microwave until it is fluid again). Stir in the peanuts.

Spoon filling into the indentations of each cookie. Allow the filling to cool and set for an hour before finishing with the chocolate if using.

Melt the chocolate. Place in a small re-sealable plastic bag. Snip a small hole in the corner of the bag and stripe the chocolate over the top of the cookies. Allow the chocolate to cool and harden completely before transferring to a storage container.

Makes about 50 cookies.

-- "So Sweet!," Sur la Table (Andrews McMeel, 2011, $15)



SABLES WITH LEMON ZEST

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These cookies are light and buttery with just a hint of lemon.

  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Scant 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 2 egg yolks, room temperature (place whites in the fridge)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup coarse sugar or sanding sugar, for decorating

Beat butter until smooth and creamy. Add sugar, salt and lemon zest and mix for another minute, until thoroughly combined. Mix in the egg yolks.

Gradually add flour and beat until the dough looks moist. Divide the dough in half and roll each half into an 8-inch log. Wrap logs in parchment paper and refrigerate overnight.

When you're ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a few cookie sheets or line them with parchment paper. Pull the dough from the fridge and brush the egg white all over the logs. Sprinkle the sanding sugar all over the log, rolling it around a bit to be sure the sugar sticks (this helps the crystals of sanding sugar stick onto the dough).

Using a sharp knife, cut the log into 1/4-inch thick slices then place on cookie sheets about 1 inch apart.

Bake 12 to 15 minutes, until the cookies are browned around the edges.

Place on cooling racks.

Makes about 21/2 dozen cookies.

Hints from the cookbook

For perfectly light and crumbly sables, chill logs of dough overnight or up to 3 days before baking. Save the whites in the fridge if baking the same day. Brushed onto cookies before baking, they help crystals of sanding sugar stick onto the dough.

-- "The Cookiepedia: Mixing, Baking, and Reinventing the Classics" by Stacy Adimando, (Quirk, 2011, $18.95)



PETITS FOURS DE NOEL

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These are tasty little cookies. And the egg wash givaes the cookies a shiny coating. I used 21/2-inch star cookie cutter.

  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, plus more for buttering the pastry sheet, room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3 ounces candied orange peel (optional)
  • 8 ounces ground almonds
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 small eggs (if you don't have small eggs on hand, substitute 2 large eggs)
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted, plus more for flouring the work surface and dusting the pastry sheet
  • 1 small egg beaten with a little cold water

In a bowl, with a wooden spoon, work the butter until it is a soft paste. Add sugar and work it in for a few minutes until smooth.

Add cinnamon, candied orange peel, almonds, lemon zest and the 3 eggs, mix thoroughly with a spatula. Add flour and knead the mixture on a floured surface, or in the bowl, with your fingers, until you have a smooth paste.

Form the dough into a roll and enclose it in plastic wrap. Let this rest in the refrigerator overnight or up to 3 days.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Butter pastry sheet and dust it with flour.

On a floured surface, roll out dough to a sheet 1/4 inch thick. With cookie cutters, cut the dough into various shapes. Combine remaining dough into a ball, and roll it out again on the floured work surface to a sheet 1/4 inch thick. Cut again with cookie cutters. Repeat until all the dough is used.

Arrange cookies on the baking sheet. Brush with the beaten egg. Bake until cookies are golden brown, about 10 minutes. Cool completely on wire racks.

Makes about 100 small cookies.

-- "One Sweet Cookie: Celebrated Chefs Share Favorite Recipes" by Tracey Zaba (Rizzoli, 2011, $30)



OATMEAL CARMELITAS

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Everyone will love these bars. The pecans are optional, but they do make these bars extra good.

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 cup quick-cooking oats
  • 14-ounce bag Kraft soft caramel candies, unwrapped (about 50)
  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup chopped pecans (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish (or use nonstick baking spray). Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside. Place butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until creamy. Slowly add flour mixture and blend until incorporated. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to fold in the oats. The mixture with be crumbly. Transfer half (about 3 cups) of the mixture to the baking dish. Use you fingers to gently press and spread the mixture evenly on the bottom of the baking dish. Bake 10 minutes to set.

While the first layer is baking, place the caramels and milk in a small saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the caramels are melted. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.

Remove crust from the oven. Sprinkle the chocolate chips and pecans (if desired) evenly over the top. Carefully pour the caramel mixture on top of the chocolate chips and nuts, and spread evenly. Sprinkle the remaining crumb mixture over the top. Bake 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature. Then refrigerate at least 2 hours, or until the bars are set. Cut into 2-inch squares.

Makes about 2 dozen 2-inch squares.

-- "Sugar, Sugar: Every Recipe Has a Story" by Kimberly "Momma" Reiner and Jenna Sanz-Agero (Andrews McMeel, 2011, $29.95.)



GINGERBREAD COOKIES

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You can't have a Christmas cookie tray without gingerbread cookies. This dough was super easy to work with. I used a star cookie cutter and decorated the cookies with sanding sugar and dragees or edible pearls.

  • 2 1/4 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1 large egg white, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup (2 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup (2 1/4 ounces) light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl. Set aside. Combine egg and egg white in a small bowl, whisking to blend. Set aside.

Put butter in the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with a paddle. Begin beating on low speed. Increase speed to medium and beat about 3 minutes, or until light and creamy.

Add granulated sugar and brown sugar along with molasses, ginger and cinnamon, and continue to beat for 3 minutes.

Reduce speed to low and add egg mixture, then flour, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. When dough is well-blended, remove bowl and scrape paddle clean.

Divide dough in half and form each piece into a disk. Cover each disk tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours, or up to 24 hours to chill thoroughly.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line 2 baking sheets with nonstick silicone baking mats or parchment paper (or use nonstick baking sheets or lightly butter conventional baking sheets). Set aside.

Lightly flour a clean, flat work surface.

Remove 1 piece of dough from the fridge. Unwrap and place it on the floured surface.

Roll dough out to about 1/4 inch thick. Cut out the cookies using cutters or other forms. Using an offset spatula, place the cut-out cookies, about 1 inch apart, on the prepared baking sheets.

When all of the cookies are formed, transfer to refrigerator to chill about 15 minutes before baking. This final chill helps the cookies keep their shape during baking.

Remove from refrigerator and place in the oven. Bake about 15 minutes, or just until slightly colored around the edges.

Remove from oven, and using a metal spatula, transfer cookies to wire racks to cool. Store, airtight, at room temperature for up to a week.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

Note : If you want a high sheen on the cookies, lightly coat them with egg wash before baking. Egg wash: vigorously whisk 1 whole egg with 1 tablespoon water, milk or cream.

-- "Milk and Cookies: 89 Heirloom Recipes From New York's Milk & Cookies Bakery" by Tina Casaceli (Chronicle, 2011, $24.95)



DECORATED CUT-OUT COOKIES

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It wouldn't be Christmas without cut-out sugar cookies. The sugar cookie dough and the royal icing recipes are easy to make -- it's decorating the cookies that takes time. To make your own superfine sugar, process regular sugar in a food processor until powdery.

For the sugar cookie base dough
  • 3 cups (12 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) superfine sugar
  • 2 large egg yolks, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/8 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar

Combine flour, salt, baking soda and cream of tartar in a mixing bowl. Set aside.

Put butter in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle. Begin beating on low speed. Increase speed to medium and beat about 3 minutes, or until very light and smooth.

Add the superfine sugar, 1/4 cup at a time. When all of the sugar has been added, beat 2 minutes.

Add egg yolks, 1 at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula after each addition. Add vanilla and continue to beat for 1 minute. With the motor running, add half of the flour mixture, followed by the milk. When blended, add the remaining flour and beat to just barely blended. While dough is still streaky, remove bowl from mixer and scrape paddle clean. Lightly flour a clean flat work surface.

Scrape dough onto floured surface. Lightly flour your hands and finish mixing the dough by using a gentle kneading motion, working until dough is just blended. Do not overwork the dough; you want to be certain that all the ingredients are just blended together. Form the dough into a disk and cover tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour (or up to 3 days) or until firm.

Line 2 baking sheets with nonstick silicone baking mats or parchment paper (alternately use nonstick baking sheets or lightly butter conventional baking sheets). Set aside.

Remove dough from refrigerator and unwrap.

Lightly flour a clean, flat work surface. Place dough in the center of floured surface. Roll dough out into a piece about 1/4 inch thick. Using cookie cutters, cut the dough into desired shapes.

At this point, if not using icing, the cookies may be decorated with sanding sugar or candies, if desired.

Place cookies about 2 inches apart on the baking sheets. Place baking sheets in refrigerator to set for 1 hour before baking.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake cookies about 8 minutes, or just until barely brown around the edges.

Remove from the oven and using a metal spatula, transfer cookies to wire racks to cool.

If using Royal Icing (recipe below), let cookies cool completely, decorate with the icing, sugar and/or candies as desired.

Store, airtight, at room temperature up to 1 week or in the freezer up to a month.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

Royal Icing

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Meringue powder can be purchased at cake and candy supply stores and some craft stores.

  • 5 tablespoons meringue powder
  • 1/2 cup minus 2 tablespoons water
  • 4 1/2 cups (1 pound) confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • Food coloring (optional)

Combine meringue powder, water and confectioners' sugar in bowl of standing mixer fitted with paddle. Begin mixing on low speed to combine. When blended, increase speed to medium and continue to beat about 5 minutes, or until icing begins to form stiff peaks. If desired, divide icing into small amounts and stir a different shade of food coloring into each. (If not using immediately, cover bowl with a damp, clean kitchen towel to prevent it from drying out.)

By adding more or less confectioners' sugar, the icing can be adjusted for different decorating needs. If you want the icing runny enough to easily cover the entire top of the cookie, use less confectioners' sugar. If you wish to use a pastry bag to pipe outlines or other fine details, add a little more confectioners' sugar to thicken the icing so that the details will be stiff enough to hold their shape.

Makes about 21/2 or more cups.

-- "Milk and Cookies: 89 Heirloom Recipes From New York's Milk & Cookies Bakery" by Tina Casaceli (Chronicle, 2011, $24.95)


Arlene Burnett writes the Kitchen Mailbox column: aburnett@post-gazette.com . First Published December 1, 2011 5:00 AM


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