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2005 Christmas cookie report - reeeally long

  • s

Thanks to the transit strike I had a bit more time for baking cookies... and here's what I made & how it worked.

By way of introduction I have to say that I don't make the same cookies ear after year, but there are certain favorites which certain people demand, so I feel obligated to deliver them. This year's batch has some novelties, not all were 100% successful but overall I am pleased.

By the way, where I'm from the nine kinds of cookies I've made so far is considered rather unimpressive. When I was growing up my mom and grandma typically made in excess of 20 kinds (and it really was 20 different kinds of dough, not "variations on a theme"); this year, after protesting that she is NOT going to bake "at all, or almost at all", my mom made 12 kinds in 1 weekend. That was two weeks ago and she's added more since then.

1. Honey gingerbread cookies (no molasses). This is a Czech recipe I used for the first time, but similar to dozens of others. They have just flour, eggs, butter, spices, and honey, plus baking soda and baking powder (no nuts). They turned out good but not great - I doubled the spices but they are still not very spicy - Czechs just kind of love bland food, I guess. (They do smell nice.) However, I spend FOREVER decorating these little suckers, so they are really for looking as much as for eating, and they *are* quite good; I still have to decorate half.

2. "Cibébky" - again, a traditional Czech recipe I learned to make when I was about 7 (the recipe is very very old; no baking powder or soda); essentially ground walnuts, egg, sugar, minced raisins, and flour. All the oil comes from the nuts. NO spices! These are always delicious, toasty, nutty and subtly sweet but HARD - they need to sit in a tin to soften, but they never soften much. Since that's what I expect and my dentures are still holding up (hehe), I don't see the need to alter the recipe to make them softer. It's the crescent-shaped cookie.

3. Speculoos - well, sorta. I have these darling little cookie molds/stamps, bought from www.houseonthehill.net, and for years have been trying to identify a recipe for a tasty cookie that would hold its relief while baking - the ones from the recipe booklet I got weren't very good. This is the tastiest recipe yet, but unfortunately the shapes don't hold brilliantly. They are still discernible, but much of the lovely detail is lost. The molds I have were probably intended for springerle, the white anisey cookies that hold their shape outstandingly, but I don't like them - they are so deathly white, not nicely golden or brown like REAL cookies. Anyway, the speculoos recipe is from Martha Stewart, and on my own initiative I've added a bit of almond paste. The (improvised) spicing is good this time - used a whole bunch of Chinese five-spice powder, plus extra ginger, a bit of orange oil (good idea), and a dash of allspice - it's delicious. Too bad the design is much less distinct than it was before baking.

4. The Gourmet magazine (Dec. issue) spoon cookies with brown butter. They are good, but I can't honestly say I am as taken with them as the author of the article. I used little circular molds instead of the spoon method, and am happy I did - the cookies look like cute little buttons. They are tasty but frankly I thought the dough tasted better raw. But then again I often feel that way. It's the small round buttony one.

5. Cream cheese dough sandwich cookies. My mom makes sandwiched linzer cookies but I prefer these, with their clean tang, sandwiched with raspberry preserves. Delicious, not too sweet, a little tangy. Joy of cooking recipe for cream cheeses refrigerator cookies. I make these every year.

6. Chocolate sandwich cookies with butterscotch cream. A recipe from the Food & Wine archives. Delicious! This was a new recipe, and I love it. The cookies are very chocolatey, crisp, thin disks, and the butterscotch filling (with a shot of bourbon) is fantastic. Highly recommended. I can paraphrase the recipe if you're still interested. This is the dark brown cookie.

7. The poofy crackled chocolate cookies from Clauda Fleming's The Last Course. I believe the recipe is on Epicurious. A pain to make (I don't have a stand mixer and holding a hand mixer going at top speed for 15 minutes is NOT fun. However, the cookies ara amazing. I always screw up about half due to my oven's inconsistent temperature, but damnmit, they are still worth the effort.

8. My favorite, simplest Slovak recipe, donno how traditional it is, but it's EASY and good, ideal for people who don't have much of a sweet tooth. I'll paraphrase:
1/2 lb all purpose flour, cool room temp
1/2 lb butter, at cool room temp (not soft but not straight out of the fridge
)5 spoonfuls white wine

Mix all ingredients at once and work until a dough comes together; it will be very sticky at first but will come together eventually. (Add a bit of flour if necessary.)
Roll out, cut diamond shapes and bake in a well preheated oven (359) untill puffed and pink around the edges. Toss in vanilla-scented powedered sugar while still warm. After a few days, a delicious buttery taste will come through; this cookie is very subtle and to me, "adult". This is the diamond-shaped one.

9. Vanilla crescents. A traditional Central European cookie with ground nuts, rolled in vanilla sugar (called Vanillenkipferln in Austria). A family recipe, delicious, rich and simple, though time-consuming due to the necessity to shape the crescents by hand and toss them in he sugar VERY CAREFULLY. This is the sugared flat crescent cookie.

I'm still toying with the idea of making either florentines tomorrow (have ton of beautiful dried fruit, including delicious sour cherries), or a citrusy shortbread... or rugelach. I've never made rugelach but LOVE it, and the dough contains cream cheese, of which I have a ton in the fridge.

Anyhoo, good luck with your baking, if you're still doing any! & do post if you have some AMAZING recipe utilizing dried fruit - but the resulting cookie has to look nice, not sloppy or messy. (Sorry - I am that way. Controlling & obsessive.)

Image: http://static.flickr.com/42/76472365_...

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  1. Your elephant's saddle is beautiful! I tried finding the chocolate crackle cookie recipe on epicurious but I don't think theirs is yours as they have each cookie made of two discrete balls of dough separated by sugar and your lovely cookie doesn't look that way. Would love the recipe for the chocolate crackle cookie in your picture. Thanks.

    1 Reply
    1. h
      Hungry All the Time

      Thanks so much for the post! Your cookies look beautiful...

      Good Luck on the other cookies. Keep us posted!

      1. Oh my, those are really gorgeous cookies, Sir G. Visual *cookie plate* appeal and what a nice range of flavors. The cookies I baked today are ALL sloppy, beige, and crisp (see below): New Mexican Bizcochitos (w/pork lard for crumbliness and anise & cinn for spice), Swedish butter (with potato flour for lightness), spicy ginger snaps, and walnut. Like you I have to switch around the selection each year. After seeing your group, I really need to add something chocolate/chewy and something fruity/jammy.

        I'm particularly interested in your Czech and Slovak cookies, thanks for the details. I bake my Czech grandma's cookies every year (walnuts, butter, br. sugar, eggs, cream of tartar and baking soda-really crispy when I slice them correctly). THe mighty walnut and its oil! Your Slovak cookies are REALLY minimalist and the wine is an interesting addition.

        Your hard cookie comment reminds me of last year when I tried to find a decent Moravian spice cookie on the internet. Didn't realize that molasses could contribute to such an evil, rock-like baked good. Tossed out the whole batch. This year I switched to Sherry Yard's (of Spago) ginger snap. Much better with more butter, some molasses, lots of ginger and a touch of white pepper. It's funny how judging from the spicy scent you think they'll taste phenomenal but they're only *very good*.

        Love the molded cookie-it looks like a monkey. I'm a big fan of the springerle embossed rolling pins. THat's funny about the white springerle- they always look like inedible grout to me!

        Great post, great photo. Your mom sounds wonderful btw! I'm wondering if there's a carp swimming around your bath tub ;-)

        Image: http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v22...

        13 Replies
        1. re: petradish

          The Orange-Apricot Shortbread Bars on Epicurious (from December's Bon Appetit) are very good.

          1. re: petradish

            Please please, can you rephrase the recipe for the ginger snaps? It seems that there's a market for them in the household. They sound awesome, as do your other cookies - intrigued by the Swedisgh butter cookies especially. And I like how thin the ginger snaps are.

            Your cookies are NOT sloppy AT ALL. Sloppy cookies are the big thick American drop cookies, three to a plate (choc chip, macadamia, oatmeal, etc.) - I usually love the taste but can't bring myself to abandon all aesthetic aspirations; it's my mother's fault...

            Re. classic springerle = inedible grout - EXACTLY! By the way that "monkey" is supposed to be a dog... :-D

            1. re: Sir Gawain

              Oh yeah, I see the snout now-lol. The gingersnaps can be made without a machine- a big wooden spoon and some muscle will do.

              Gingersnaps (from the Secrets of Baking by Sherry Yard)

              makes 3 dozen 3 inch cookies

              2 1/2 c all purpose flour
              1/2 t baking soda
              1/2 lb (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
              1/2 c sugar, plus 1 c for coating
              1/2 c packed light brown sugar
              1 T ground ginger
              1/2 t ground allspice
              1/2 t ground cinnamon
              1/4 t ground white pepper
              1/4 t salt
              1 large egg, at room temperature
              1/4 c unsulfured blackstrap molasses

              Variations:

              for GOOEY cookies, add an extra 1/4 c molasses and replace the granular sugar with brown sugar. This version is spicier. Decrease the molasses if too extreme for your tastes.

              for CRISP cookies, bake at 325 for 15-20 minutes.

              1. In a medium bowl, sift flour and baking soda together. Put aside.

              2. In a large bowl (or standing mixer bowl fitted with paddle attachment, or hand mixer), cream butter until pale yellow (2 minutes). Scrape down the sides of the bowl and paddle. Add 1/2 c of the sugar, brown sugar, spices, and salt. Cream until smooth and free of lumps, 1 minute. Scrape down the bowl again.

              3. Add egg and molasses. Beat until fully mixed, 15 seconds. Don't overbeat. Scrape down bowl.

              4. Add flour mixture (on low if using a machine). Beat 15-30 seconds until dry ingredients are fully mixed. Scrape down bowl. Remove dough and wrap in plastic. Chill for at least 30 minutes. The dough can be held in the fridge for 1 week or the freezer for a month at this point.

              5. Preheat oven at 350. Place rack at the lower third of oven. Use parchment (or silpat) to line 2 baking sheets.

              6. In a medium bowl, place remaining 1 c of sugar. Once the dough is chilled, roll into 1 inch balls. Coat each ball with sugar and place on prepared baking sheets, 1 inch apart.

              7. Bake one sheet at a time- about 12-15 minutes, until they feel firm and look dry. Halfway thru baking time, turn sheet from front to back. Take out of oven and carefully slide parchment onto a flat surface. Allow to sit 5 minutes before serving or 20 minutes before storing in airtight containers.

              1. re: petradish

                Thank you! I'll make them tonight.

                By the way, below is a sloppy cookie. Does look tasty though!

                And sorry to say, I don't have a live carp in our bathtub; we're having striped bass instead, but the potato salad is de rigueur.

                Image: http://photo.bldesign.org/photos/misc...

                1. re: Sir Gawain

                  Hope you like the gingersnaps. Please post dinner photos, details, odes to vanocka...whatever you care to share!

                  Okay, I get the sloppy reference now. My cookies just suffer from exuberant splashes of sugar and cinnamon and some rough edges. Cheers.

            2. re: petradish

              I just pulled my abstemious Slovak walnut crescent rolls (grandma recipe) out of the oven. I loooooove the dry barely sweet nature of these things, giving way to the powdered sugar just a little.

              And prompted by an earlier thread on sour cream dough, I used some of this very tender dough for a rugelach variation - with raisins plumped in red wine, apricot jam, and walnuts.

              But they are messy cookies! I am in awe of that elephant...

              Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/56808247...

              1. re: pitu

                I fear I'll never get the hang of photo posting . . . here's a flckr link

                [happy christmas everybody]

                Link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/56808247...

                1. re: pitu

                  Gorgeous. Love the shape!!

                  1. re: pitu

                    Very pretty, I love powdered sugar dusted nut cookies. Sir G's vanilla crescents look scrumptious too. Happy holidays all.

                2. re: petradish

                  Gee, I'd be happy to receive some of your "sloppy" cookies. They look great and crispy. Love the jeweled effect of those large sugar crystals! Thanks for the post and photo.

                  1. re: Carb Lover

                    Aw thanks. No cookie is safe when I've got sanding sugar in the house. Happy & delicious holidays CL.

                  2. re: petradish

                    How do you post the photos, by the way? I will say that I'd like to post the photos of my chocolate and caramel-covered pretzels that I made last night, and hope that the Powers That Be don't pull this post.

                    Maybe if I mention that I used a ganache variation to coat the pretzels, that is Homecooking enough to get away with this post?

                    1. re: Dev

                      check the Site Talk board of this site -- I had the same question today . . .

                  3. Sir Gawain,
                    Thank you SO much for sharing your cookie experience and the pictures of your gorgeous cookies. The decoration of Honey Gingerbread cookie is gorgeous -- love that elephant!

                    Would you mind sharing the Honey Gingerbread recipe? My FIL is Czech and it would be nice to make cookies from his country the next time he comes for a visit. And what you say about Czechs loving bland food seems to be so true on his side of the family!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Dev

                      Czech honey gingerbread

                      350 g all-purpose flour
                      130 g confectioners‘ sugar
                      20 - 30 g butter
                      2 eggs
                      1/2 tsp baking soda
                      1 tsp cinnamon plus 1 tsp total of the following mixture of spices: allspice, cloves, and star anise (no ginger). You can also use good Chinese 5-spice powder plus extra cinnamon. Best freshly pounded in a mortar – you can add a sugar cube to help with pulverization. (Feel free to increase spices, but remember that the flavor will intensify with storage.)
                      3 spoonfuls full-flavored honey
                      1 lightly beaten egg, for brushing cookies

                      Cream sugar and eggs, add melted butter, honey and spices, half the flour and the baking soda and mix well. Add the remaining flour, turn out onto a floured board and make a dough; it should be neither stiff nor too sticky.

                      Let the dough rest for 24 hours (fridge or any other cool place). Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare cookie sheets – either greased or lined with parchment. Roll out the dough to 3-5 mm thickness (btw 1/8 and ¼ inch) and cut out shapes; place on sheets. Brush with egg and bake until puffed and golden. Remove from oven and brush again with egg.

                      Decorate with royal icing: 1 egg white plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice plus enough confectioners‘ sugar to make a thickish paste – about the consistency of toothpaste. (Optional: add a few drops of lemon oil for a more lemony flavor.) Pipe with small zip-loc bags with the corner cut off (be careful not to make the hole too big.)

                      Cookies have to be handled carefully once icing has dried; store in (as few as possible) layers separated by parchment or paper napkins.

                    2. Your crescents look exactly like the ones that we make in my (Jewish) family. This was always my favorite cookie as a child (we were all forced to declare a favorite at an early age). Do you use hazelnuts? I had a middle eastern version a few years back that was exactly the same as ours, but they used walnuts.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: butterfly

                        Yeah, Central/Eastern European and Ashkenazic foods have common roots - when I first came to NYC I found (to my friends' amusement) that many classic Jewish foods (smoked, cured or pickled fish, dill, all kinds of pickles, doughnuts, babka, anything with poppyseed, rugelach...) tasted very homey to me. Needless to say, sadly there were no Jews where I grew up, though once there had been many.

                        In my family we used to make these crescents with walnuts (of which we always had a glut and put them in just about everything), but later (when they became more readily available) we switched to almonds. I buy them pre-sliced, then toast them lightly in the oven, then grind them. More subtle than all walnuts. I'm sure they could be made with hazelnuts too (though it's not traditional) but I think that all-hazelnuts might be a bit too much. I am not a huge fan of hazelnuts and really love the delicate but nutty flavor of toasted almonds.

                        1. re: Sir Gawain

                          I've always suspected that the hazelnuts were my mother's adaptation (she doesn't believe in buying nuts out of the shell, and I think cracking all of those walnuts got to be too much work).

                          I think I'm going to try them this year with a mixture of hazelnuts and walnuts (skipping the almonds, because I live in Spain and I'm getting all of my almond needs met via marzipan, turron and the many other sweet almond-based snacks).