Holiday Cookie Time: Our expert baker shares fresh recipes for the season


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Bakers, start your ovens. The holiday baking season has begun.

And if you're worried you'll run out of gas in the race to finish your holiday baking, you might want to consider a winning formula -- a cookie swap.

"Cookie Swap" by Lauren Chattman (Workman, 2010, $14.95) has everything you need to know about planning a cookie swap party. First there are 71 cookie recipes for all holidays including Christmas, plus everything you need to know about planning and hosting a cookie swap, including invitations and decorations. There's a chapter full of tips on ingredients and baking equipment. And if you're baking ahead, there's a guide on how to freeze cookies titled "A Step Ahead."

While she was in town for a food show, I asked Ms. Chattman, a former pastry chef, for a few tips on how to make these cookie marathons easier. She said, "Gather all your ingredients before baking, clean as you go and label cookie dough before you freeze it, and always follow the recipe. And never use imitation extracts."

Another cookbook geared for cookie swaps is the "Good Housekeeping Great Cookie Swaps Cookbook." I was shopping at Kohl's when I spotted this book for $5 and I had to buy it. What's cool about this book is it features large-batch recipes. I'm talking 96 to 120 cookies per batch. Sure, you can double most recipes but this book does it for you.

For my family and friends, and for you, dear readers, I set out this fall to find and test some great holiday cookie recipes.

I also chose them from "The Gourmet Cookie Book: The Single Best Recipe From Each Year 1941-2009," and special holiday issues from Fine Cooking and Martha Stewart magazines. You'll find cookies for kids, cookies for adults only, easy cookies and some that are a little more difficult. If you have a great new recipe that you like this year, send it along and we'll share the best later this season.

Cookie photos by Post-Gazette staff photographer Larry Roberts


GINGERSNAP SNOWFLAKES

PG tested

These cookies are the essence of Christmas. Pastry bags, decorating tips and couplers, and dragees and meringue powder can be found at most cake and candy supply stores.

For the cookies
  • 13 1/2 ounces (3 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour; more for rolling (I weighed the floor; if you don't have a scale, fluff and lightly spoon into measuring cups)
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 3 ounces (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For decoration
  • 1/2 pound (2 cups plus 2 tablespoons) confectioners' sugar
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons meringue powder
  • Blue food coloring
  • Edible silver dragees

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, ginger, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves; set aside. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the brown sugar and butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the molasses, egg and vanilla until thoroughly combined, about 1 minute. On low speed, gradually add flour mixture until just combined.

Divide the dough; shape into 2 balls and wrap each in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 2 and up to 8 hours.

Position rack in center of oven; heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Working with 1 piece of dough at a time, roll it on a lightly floured piece of parchment paper until it's about 1/8 inch thick. Place parchment and dough onto a cookie sheet and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Cut out cookies with a 5-inch snowflake cookie cutter and place on prepared baking sheets, spacing them about 2 inches apart. You can gather and reroll the scraps up to 2 times. Bake 1 sheet at a time until the cookies begin to darken around the edges, 6 to 8 minutes. Let cool on the sheet on a rack about 15 minutes. Transfer the cookies directly to the rack and cool completely.

Decorate cookies: In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment mix the confectioners' sugar, meringue powder and 1/4 cup cold water on low speed until blended. Increase the speed to medium and beat until the icing holds thick, soft peaks, 3 to 4 minutes. Test the icing's consistency by piping a small amount through a piping bag fitted with a straight number 2 tip. If it's too thick, add a few drops of water to the mixture in the bowl. If the icing seems too runny, add confectioners' sugar 1 tablespoon at a time, beating on low speed to blend. Don't over beat, or the icing will stiffen and lose its gloss. Keep the icing covered with a damp cloth or plastic wrap until ready to use, and use the icing the same day it's made.

Put about 3/4 of the icing in a clean 1-quart container. Put the remaining icing in a small container and tint with the blue food coloring (Stir in the coloring a bit at a time until you reach the desired shade.)

Put a small amount of the white icing in a piping bag fitted with a straight number 2 tip and pipe the outline of the cookie.

Stir water, a few drops at a time, into the remaining white icing until the icing no longer stays peaked when piped but creates a smooth surface. To test, put a small amount in another piping bag with a number 2 tip (the icing with drip). Fill in the lines on each cookie, allowing the icing to spread and be careful not to overfill -- use a small paintbrush to help spread the icing if necessary. Let the cookies air dry until the icing is set, 2 to 3 hours.

When the white icing is completely dry, put the blue icing in a clean piping bag fitted with a number 2 tip and pipe branched lines connecting opposite tips of the snowflakes. Decorate with dragees while the blue icing is wet.

Makes about 24 cookies.

-- Fine Cooking Special Holiday Issue, 2010

CHOCOLATE MINT SANDWICH COOKIES

PG tested

If you like the combination of mint and chocolate, you're going to love these cookies. The dropped cookie dough can be frozen on the baking sheets, transferred to ziplock plastic freezer bags and stored in the freezer for up to 1 month. Transfer frozen dough to ungreased baking sheets and bake a minute or 2 longer than directed. I used a 2 1/4-inch fluted round cookie cutter to cut out the cookies.

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (scoop and level off)
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 32 mini York Peppermint Pattie candies (about 1 1/2-inch-round patties)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Place butter and sugar in a large bowl and beat together with an electric mixer on medium until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth. Beat in flour mixture on low until just combined.

Roll scant tablespoonfuls of dough between the palms of your hands to form small balls. Place them 3 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. (The dough can be frozen at this point.)

Bake cookies until they are dry on top, 10 to 12 minutes. Let them stand on the baking sheet for 3 to 4 minutes to cool slightly.

Working quickly, and while the cookies are still warm, sandwich a Peppermint Pattie between 2 cookies and transfer the sandwich to a wire rack to cool. Repeat with the remaining patties and cookies. Then while the cookies are still pretty soft, place each sandwich on a cutting board and use a 2-inch biscuit cutter to press down on it, cutting away the edges and sealing the Peppermint Pattie inside.

The cookies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for 3 to 4 days.

Makes about 32 sandwich cookies.

-- "Cookie Swap" by Lauren Chattman (Workman, 2010, $14.95)

WALNUT SANDWICHES WITH FIG FILLING

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Figs are a Christmas baking staple. You won't find any sparkles or icing on these cookies -- they don't need it. The fig filling stands alone.

For the cookies
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 3/4 cup sugar, divided
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for working the dough (scoop and level off)
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour (scoop and level off)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 large egg
For the filling
  • 8 ounces dried Calimyrna figs (about 12), tough stems removed and chopped
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 peel from an orange, preferably organic

Make cookies: Combine walnuts and 1/4 cup of the sugar in a food processor and process, pulsing 8 to 10 times, until the nuts are finely ground (the mixture should resemble very coarse sand). Transfer the mixture to a bowl and whisk in the flours and salt.

Place the butter and remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl and beat together with an electric mixer on medium-high until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.

Add egg and beat until incorporated. Add flour mixture and beat on low until the dough comes together in a ball.

Divide the dough in half and on a lightly floured surface with lightly floured hands, press it into 1/2-inch-thick disks. Wrap the disks in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days. (The dough can be frozen at this point.)

Make filling: Combine figs, sugar, orange peel and 1 cup of water in a medium saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until the figs are soft and have absorbed most of the liquid, about 20 minutes. Place the figs in a food processor and process until smooth. Set aside to cool completely.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Remove 1 of the dough disks from the refrigerator and knead it 4 or 5 times on a lightly floured work surface to soften it. With a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out the dough to a thickness of a scant 1/4 inch. Use a 2-inch round cookie cutter to cut out as many circles are you can. Place the cookies on the baking sheet about 1 inch apart. Wrap the scraps in plastic and refrigerate.

Bake the cookies until they are set and dry, 12 to 15 minutes. Slide the entire parchment sheet with the cookies onto a wire rack and let the cookies cool completely.

Repeat with remaining dough (and any scraps), using fresh parchment paper.

To assemble the cookies, use a small offset spatula to spread about 1/2 teaspoon of the fig mixture on half of the cookies. Top with the remaining cookies.

Cookies will keep at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

A Step Ahead: The dough disks can be wrapped in a double layer of plastic and then a layer of heavy-duty foil and frozen for up to 1 month. Defrost them in the refrigerator for at least 5 hours or overnight before proceeding.

Makes about 36 cookies.

-- "Cookie Swap" by Lauren Chattman (Workman, 2010, $14.95)

CHOCOLATE-DIPPED IRISH CREAM MACAROONS

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These are strictly adults-only, perfect for a Christmas party.

  • 14 ounces baked flaked coconut (about 4 cups)
  • 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 tablespoon Irish cream liqueur or pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted

Mix coconut, condensed milk, liqueur and spice in a large bowl. Drop by heaping teaspoonfuls onto greased baking sheets

Bake in preheated 350-degree oven 10 to 12 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Immediately remove from baking sheets to wire racks. Cool completely.

Dip bottom of each cooled cookie in melted chocolate. Let stand on wax paper-lined tray until chocolate is set. Store in airtight container up to 1 week.

Makes about 32 cookies.

-- McCormick Spices

BEST LINZER COOKIES

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There's always a place on the cookie tray for a Linzer cookie.

  • 1 pound pecans
  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • 3 cups butter (6 sticks), softened
  • 2 2/3 cups confectioners' sugar,
  • divided (fluff and lightly spoon into measuring cups and level off)
  • 4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups seedless red raspberry jam

In food processor with knife blade, pulse pecans and cornstarch until finely ground.

In large bowl, with mixer at low speed, beat butter and 2 cups confectioners' sugar until blended. Increase speed to high; beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, occasionally scraping bowl with a rubber spatula. At medium speed, beat in vanilla, salt and eggs. Reduce speed to low, gradually beat in flour and pecan mixture just until blended, occasionally scraping bowl.

Divide dough in half then divide each half into 4 equal pieces; flatten each piece into a disk. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate until dough is firm enough to roll, 4 to 5 hours.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Remove 1 disk of dough from refrigerator; if necessary, let stand 10 to 15 minutes at room temperature for easier rolling. On lightly floured surface, with floured rolling pin, roll dough 1/8 inch thick. With a 21/4-inch fluted round, plain round or holiday-shaped cookie cutter, cut dough into as many cookies as possible. With floured 1- to 11/2-inch fluted round, plain round, or holiday-shaped cookie cutter, cut out center from half of the cookies. Wrap and refrigerate trimmings. With lightly floured spatula, carefully place cookies, 1 inch apart on ungreased large cookie sheets.

Baked cookies until edges are lightly browned, 17 to 20 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire rack to cool. Repeat with remaining dough and trimmings.

When cookies are cool, sprinkle remaining 2/3 cup confectioners' sugar through sieve over cookies with cut-out centers. In small bowl, stir jam with fork until smooth. Spread top of each whole cookie with scant measuring teaspoon of jam. Place cut-out cookies on top.

Makes about 96 cookies.

-- Good Housekeeping's "The Great Christmas Cookie Swap" (Hearst, 2009)

PISTACHIO SACRISTANS

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These puffy, twisted cookie sticks studded with pistachio nuts are so good. Show off these cookies by placing them in a box wrapped in colorful Christmas paper. Shaped cookies can be frozen on baking sheets for 1 hour, then transferred to a ziplock freezer bag and stored in the freezer for up to 2 weeks. Transfer the frozen cookies to parchment-lined sheets and bake as directed.

  • Unbleached all-purpose flour, for rolling the pastry
  • 2 sheets (about 8 ounces each) frozen puff pastry, thawed but still chilled
  • 1 cup turbinado sugar (raw sugar with a delicate molasses flavor)
  • 1 cup finely chopped pistachio nuts
  • 1 large egg

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. With a lightly floured rolling pin on a lightly floured surface, roll out 1 of the puff pastry sheets into a 12-inch square. Carefully slide the pastry onto a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Repeat with the remaining pastry sheet.

Combine the sugar and nuts in a medium bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and 2 tablespoons of water.

Remove one of the pastry sheets from the refrigerator. Brush the top with a quarter of the egg mixture and sprinkle with a quarter of the sugar mixture. Pat the pastry with your fingertips to make sure that the sugar and nuts adhere to it. Gently flip the pastry over, brush it with another quarter of the egg wash, and sprinkle it with another quarter of the sugar mixture.

Use a pastry wheel to cut the pastry sheet in half to form 2 12-by-6-inch rectangles. Cut each rectangle into twelve 1-inch-wide strips. Gently twist each strip 4 times and place on the parchment-lined baking sheets at least 11/2 inches apart. Place in the freezer for 15 minutes. (The shaped cookies can be frozen at this point.)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Bake the cookies until they are puffed and golden, about 15 minutes. Cool completely on baking sheets. Repeat with remaining dough.

Pistachio Sacristans will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Makes about 48 cookies.

-- "Cookie Swap" by Lauren Chattman (Workman, 2010, $14.95)

CHOCOLATE-DRIZZLED FLORENTINES

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These cookies are delicious. The cookies take some time to make but they're well worth it.

For the dough
  • 14 ounces (1 3/4 cups) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped lemon zest
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 pound, 5 ounce (42/3 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour (I weighed the flour. If you don't have a scale, fluff and spoon into measuring cups.)
For the topping
  • 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 7 ounces (14 tablespoons) unsalted butter, more for the pan
  • 3/4 cup honey
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons freshly granted orange zest
  • 17 ounces (4 cups) sliced blanched almonds, lightly toasted
  • 3/4 cup chopped candied citrus peel (optional)
  • 6 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted and kept warm

Beat butter, zest, sugar and salt until light and fluffy. Add egg and beat it in well; add vanilla extract. Stir in the flour (in 3 additions) until blended. Spread dough out, about an inch thick, on a sheet pan, cover with plastic wrap, and chill until firm. (You can refrigerate the dough, wrapped well, for up to a week.)

Lightly butter another half sheet pan (a sided pan that measures 11 1/2 by 16 1/2 inches) and line with parchment paper, set aside.

Roll dough between 2 pieces of parchment paper into a rectangle until it's between 1/8 and 1/4 inches thick. Remove the top piece of parchment paper and flip the dough onto the prepared pan so that it fits along the bottom and up the sides completely. If the dough cracks a bit, just press it back together. Press into the sides of the pan, don't leave any gaps. Cut off any excess dough by running a rolling pin along the edges of the pan. Chill until firm.

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat oven to 350 degrees. Place a sheet of foil or parchment paper over the dough and weight it with dried beans or pie weights. Bake until the edges are golden, about 20 minutes. Remove the weights and the foil or parchment paper and continue to bake until completely set, about 10 minutes. Cool.

While the crust is cooling, make topping.

In a large heavy saucepan combine the sugar, corn syrup and 3/4 cup water. Bring to a boil and cook until the mixture becomes amber in color (350 to 360 degrees on a candy thermometer). Immediately remove from heat. Carefully add butter and honey, return to heat and stir until dissolved. Bring the mixture back to a boil and carefully add the heavy cream and zest (the mixture will bubble up and may splatter). Boil the mixture until it reaches 250 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and stir in almonds (and citrus peel if using). Quickly pour the mixture over the baked sugar cookie shell before it cools, spreading evenly with a lightly greased spatula.

Bake until the topping begins to bubble, 18 to 20 minutes. Let cool completely in the pan. Cut along the edges of the pan to loosen the edges. Turn the Florentines out, upside down on to a clean cutting surface. Line 2 clean baking sheets with parchment.

To cut through these thick, chewy cookies without cracking the crust slice them in 2 stages. First, score the ragged edges of the cookie crust with a bread knife, cutting through the crust completely. With a large chef's knife, cut through the filling to cut off the ragged edges completely. Next, score 1 1/4-inch-wide horizontal bands top to bottom (again deeply, through the crust but not through the filling). To make the diamonds, score 1 1/4-inch strips starting at the top left corner and dividing that corner into 2 45-degree angles. Continue scoring at this width and this angle until all the cookies are scored. Follow the scoring lines with the chef's knife, using steady force to cut through the thick nut filling. (Each diamond should be about 1 1/4 inches long and about 1 inch wide.)

Turn each Florentine over and set on the clean sheet pans. Fill a pastry bag with a tiny tip, a heavy plastic bag with a corner cut off, or a paper cone with the melted chocolate (or use a fork dipped in the chocolate) and drizzle it on the diamonds. The cookies are best at room temperature but can be refrigerated if the kitchen is too warm for the chocolate to set.

Yields about 60, 1 1/4 inch-diamond-shaped cookies.

-- Fine Cooking Special Holiday Issue, 2010

DARK CHOCOLATE HEART CUTOUTS

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A good dark chocolate cookie plain and simple. I used a 2-inch star cookie cutter instead of a heart cookie cutter. When the cookies cooled I brushed a small amount of light corn syrup over the cookies then sprinkled the cookies with white sparkling sugar.

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (fluff and lightly spoon into measuring cup)
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Hershey's dark chocolate)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg

Whisk flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl. In a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, stir together chocolate, butter and brown sugar until partially melted. Remove from heat, and stir until completely melted and smooth; let cool slightly. Add egg to chocolate mixture. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed until well blended. Gradually stir in flour mixture (dough will form a ball). Divide dough in half; roll out each half on a piece of parchment paper to 1/4 inch thickness. Stack dough still on parchment paper on a baking sheet, chill about 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a 2-inch cookie cutter, cut out shapes from dough (if dough begins to soften, chill 5 minutes). Re-roll scraps and cut out more shapes. Transfer shapes to parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through until cookies are firm and fragrant, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 5 days.

Makes about 3 1/2 dozen.

-- "Martha Stewart Holiday Cookies" special issue 2010

CHERRY BOW TIES

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I found the recipe for Cherry Bow Ties in one of my old recipe boxes. It makes a cute addition to any cookie tray.

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (fluff and lightly spoon into measuring cups and level off)
  • 24 each green and red glace cherries, halved
  • 96 (about 1/4 cup) sliced blanched almonds, optional

In large bowl, beat butter, sugar, egg, almond extract and salt on medium speed until creamed, about 2 minutes. On low speed, gradually beat in flour just until combined. Wrap dough in plastic wrap (dough will be sticky). Refrigerate 1 hour. Divide dough in half, shaping halves into 6-inch logs. Wrap each half. Refrigerate 2 hours.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut dough into 1/2-inch-thick rounds. Place 1 inch apart on ungreased baking sheets. Pinch together top and bottom of each circle to make bow-tie shape. Decorate by pressing cherry half into center of each bow tie, and almonds on each side if desired.

Bake 14 to 16 minutes or until golden and set around edges. Cool on wire rack.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

-- Family Circle

COSMO COCKTAIL COOKIE BARS

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Another adults-only cookie. I couldn't find any information on how to measure the flour, so I used the fluff and lightly spoon method, which worked well.

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • 2/3 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1 tablespoon finely shredded lime zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) cold butter, cut into pieces
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 can (6 ounces) frozen cranberry juice concentrate, thawed
  • 1 teaspoon pure orange extract
  • 1 tablespoon vodka, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix 2 cups of the flour, confectioners' sugar, lime zest and salt in a large bowl. Cut in butter with pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Press evenly into greased foil-lined (the foil should extend over the sides of the pan) 9-by-13-inch pan. Bake 20 minutes or until edges of crust are golden brown.

Meanwhile, mix eggs, granulated sugar, cranberry juice, remaining 1/4 cup flour, extract and vodka in large bowl until well blended. Pour evenly over hot crust.

Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until filling is set. Cool in pan on wire rack. Sprinkle with additional confectioners' sugar and finely shredded lime zest. Remove from the pan by lifting the overhanging foil and place on a cutting board. Cut into 36 bars.

-- McCormick Spices

NUTTY BONBON POPS

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These are for the kids. Let them help with the decorating.

Any nut butter may be substituted -- almond, hazelnut or peanut butter. Bittersweet, milk or white chocolate may be substituted.

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups smooth cashew butter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 1 pound (16 ounces) semisweet chocolate, chopped or chips
  • Chopped nuts, cocoa nibs or sprinkles for garnish
  • Pretzel, wooden popsicle or lollypop sticks (optional)

In large bowl, combine butters, vanilla and salt using electric mixer. Add sifted confectioners' sugar 1 cup at a time, whipping to fully incorporate. Dough will be fluffy but firm; chill briefly if sticky.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Insert pretzel or stick 3/4s of the way into each ball; place on parchment-lined baking sheets; refrigerate at least one hour or overnight.

Place chocolate in small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave 30 seconds on high, stir and continue to microwave in 10- to 20-second intervals, stirring after each until chocolate is melted and smooth. Dip pops in melted chocolate up to the stick, allowing excess chocolate to drip off; sprinkle or dip bottom of pop in garnishes and return to parchment-lined baking sheet to allow chocolate to set or refrigerate pops briefly.

Store pops in airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

Makes about 50 1-inch pops.

-- Real Butter Holiday Recipe Collection from the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, Inc.

HERSHEY'S KISSES CANDY CANE BLOSSOMS

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The candy-cane Hershey's Kisses make the festive cookie stand out.

  • 48 Hershey's Kisses Candy Cane Mint Candies
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (fluff and lightly spoon and level off)
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • Red or green sugar crystals, granulated sugar or powdered

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove wrappers from candies.

Beat butter, sugar, egg and vanilla in large bowl until well blended. Stir together flour, baking soda and salt; add alternately with milk to butter mixture, beating until well blended.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll in red or green sugar crystals, granulated sugar or powdered sugar or a combination of any of the sugars. Place on ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are lightly browned and cookie is set. Remove from oven; cool 2 to 3 minutes. Press a candy piece into center of each cookie. Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely.

Makes 4 dozen cookies.

-- Hershey's

GLITTERING LEMON SANDWICH COOKIES

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The lemon filling and the sparkling sugar make these cookies not only pretty but tasty. Sanding sugar is a large-grain, edible crystal sugar that won't dissolve when subjected to heat. Find sanding sugar at most cake and candy supply stores. The sugared dough balls should be chilled for 30 minutes or frozen for 5 to 10 minutes to help preserve their round shape. Keep sandwiched cookies chilled. The un-sandwiched cookies keep in a metal cookie tin at a cool room temperature for up to 4 days.

For the cookies
  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour (fluff and lightly spoon into measuring cups and level off)
  • 2/3 cup cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks ( 1/2 pound) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • White and colored sanding sugars
For the filling
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar (fluff and lightly spoon into measuring cup and level off)
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened

Preheat oven to 350 degrees with rack in middle. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk together flour, cornstarch and salt.

Beat together butter and confectioners' sugar with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Beat in zest and vanilla. At low speed, mix in flour mixture just until a soft dough forms.

Put sanding sugars in different bowls. Roll a scant teaspoon of dough into a ball and drop into sugar, turning to coat. Reshape if necessary and transfer to a baking sheet. Repeat, spacing balls 3/4 inch apart, until baking sheet is filled.

Bake until tops are slightly cracked but still pale (bottoms will be pale golden), 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer cookies on parchment to a rack to cool completely. Form and bake more cookies on second baking sheet.

For the filling: Beat together all filling ingredients in large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until combined well. Transfer to sealable bag and snip off a corner. Turn over half of cookies and pipe abut 1/2 teaspoon filling on flat side of each. Sandwich with remaining cookies, pressing gently.

Makes about 4 dozen.

-- "The Gourmet Cookie Book: The Single Best Recipe from Each Year 1941-2009" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010, $18)

MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM BARS

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You wouldn't think a cookie with the name Midsummer Night's Dream Bars would fit in with the Christmas cookie theme. But these cookies are a dream made with semi-sweet and milk chocolate, almonds and coconut. The perfect fit for a holiday cookie tray.

To crush the graham crackers place them in a ziplock bag and roll a rolling pin over them until they're fine crumbs.

To freeze, remove the cooled, uncut bars from the pan by grasping the overhanging foil and pulling it up. Peel away the foil and wrap the bars in a double layer of plastic and then a layer of heavy duty foil. Freeze for up to 2 weeks. Defrost on the countertop for several hours before cutting into bars.

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 16 whole graham crackers, crushed
  • 2 cups whole almonds
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup milk chocolate chips
  • 3 cups sweetened flaked coconut
  • 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with heavy duty aluminum foil, making sure that the foil is tucked into all the corners and that there is at least 1 inch overhanging the top of the pan on all sides.

Combine the melted butter and crushed graham crackers in a medium bowl and stir until all the crumbs are moistened. Sprinkle the mixture across the bottom of the pan and press with your fingertips into an even layer.

Place the almonds in a food processor and pulse 3 to 5 times to coarsely chop.

Scatter the almonds evenly over the crumbs. Layer both chocolates over the almonds. Sprinkle the coconut over the chocolate chips and press with the back of a large spoon to compact the ingredients. Drizzle the sweetened condensed milk over the coconut.

Bake until the coconut is golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Let the bars cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. (The bars can be frozen at this point.)

Grasping the overhanging foil on either side of the pan, lift out the bars and place them on a cutting board. Cut them into 36 pieces and peel them from the foil. The bars will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

Makes about 36 bars.

-- "Cookie Swap" by Lauren Chattman (Workman, 2010, $14.95)


Arlene Burnett: aburnett@post-gazette.com .


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