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Entries in christmas cookies (21)

Tuesday
Nov202012

Letter to the Editor: Thanksgiving Pies are Boring, Says Christmas Cookie

Dear "Cake Spy",

I need to state it directly: it is my firm belief that Thanksgiving pies are boring and overrated.

Don't get me wrong. They are entirely pleasant. They are worthy of respect. They have meaning, both historically and nostalgically. I can appreciate that. 

But seriously. Am I the only one that considers them the final barrier, a frumpy and dull diversion leading up to the real sweetness of the season: Christmas cookies?

Full disclosure: I say this with a bias, as I personally AM a Christmas cookie. A Snowball, in fact. Of course, you may know me as Mexican Wedding Cake or Russian Teacake or any number of names. You may know me by many names:

Let it Snow Confectioners' Sugar

But I have taken efforts to remove the personal connection to bring you a detailed laundry list of why each pie is overrated.

Let's start with Pumpkin pie. For one thing, it's entirely too virtuous. If you look at the classic Libby's recipe, there's something important missing from the recipe: BUTTER. Sure, you may argue, it's got sugar and milk and eggs and stuff, but I say it doesn't matter. Butter makes it better, and this pie is alarmingly devoid. Add to the fact that it can often be gummy and tastes more like spice than anything else, and you've really just got a vehicle for the whipped cream topping and crust, which should have butter. Or lard. 

The First Pumpkin Pie of the Season

And don't even get me started on Sweet Potato Pie. Talk about a pie with no personality other than that of the spices which impart flavor and a texture that is just downright weird for a dessert. Sweet potato ought to be relegated to side dish material only. It's way too healthy to be a pie, unless it's a breakfast pie. 

Apples Vs Pie

Apple pie, that symbol of hearth and home, needs to stop pretending to be dessert. What Apple Pie is, is health food. Apples are too virtuous to be considered dessert, and your butter and sugar would be better used in a batch of cookies. With apple pie,  the best part is the crust and the crumb topping.

Pecan pie is on the right track, what with the corn syrup and butter, but is really more of a tooth-number than anything of real interest.  Would it kill you to add something--anything--to offer a little flavor contrast?  Some chocolate, some cranberries...something.

Also, not that I want to get petty or anything, but as a general note, Thanksgiving pies are just downright homely. Sure, they have a certain je ne sais quoi just out of the oven, while cooling, but you try and show me a pie that's good-looking once cut into. Nope--it all turns into a lumpy landscape of beige and orangey earth-toned stuff. 

Thanksgiving Pie!

Christmas cookies, on the other hand, really know how to liven up a table. In festive colors with sparkling sugar and sprinkles, these little nuggets of pure decadent joy form a village of deliciousness when displayed on the dessert table. And we're indulgent. We're full of butter and love and joy, all in easy-to-pop-in-your-mouth-sized servings. We're like the holiday equivalent of the Fun-size candy bar: bet you can't eat just three. Christmas cookies are bountiful, are pretty, are playful in a way that pies will never be. 

 

So, in closing, let me say that I get it. I know I'm not going to change the world with a mere letter to the editor. We all have to pay homage to the tradition of Thanksgiving pies. After all, they are representative of the earth from which our feast comes from, a symbol of survival in the new world. And it's really a rather nice tradition.

But to the cookie enthusiasts out there, those who find the pies, well, just a litting boring--you are not alone. I know that you're all really looking forward to the cookies, and it's only a few days til the season really begins.

Respectfully,

A Christmas Cookie named Snowball

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Dear Snowball,

I'd like to make it clear to my readers that your point of view is not intended to be the CakeSpy point of view on the matter. While I can agree that cookies make for a splashier dessert spread visually, we must pause to appreciate the pie. 

For one thing, as you do point out, there's the tradition aspect. Pies have long been a symbol of hearth and home, and perfectly suited to this family-oriented holiday. And I beg to differ about the virtuousness of pies. I think that if you were to try the recipes below, you might be singing another tune:

Perfect Sweet Potato Pie via Joy the Baker

Presidential Pumpkin Pie 

Cranberry Pecan Pie

"Peace" of Pie

Caramel Apple Crumb Pie from The Kitchn

Plus, cookie, you might find that you have more in common with pie than you think. In fact, one of the first cookies my mom used to make during the Christmas season was actually made using the crust from the Thanksgiving pies, which she'd brush with butter and cinnamon-sugar and roll up. Good gravy were those things good. Here's a recipe that is similar.

I think that's proof that we can all get along and co-exist deliciously.

Love, 

CakeSpy

Monday
Dec052011

Mac Attack: Christmas Tree Coconut Macaroons Recipe for Serious Eats

In general, coconut macaroons are not what would be considered a "cute" cookie.

But that's about to change: introducing the Christmas Tree Coconut Macaroon!

These sweet little somethings are rendered adorable simply by tinting the coconut with green food coloring and then decorating with sprinkles and writing icing post-baking. They're fun and easy to make, sweet to eat, and it's a very child-friendly baking project to boot!

For the full entry and recipe, visit Serious Eats!

Thursday
Dec232010

Rule of Thumb: Thumbprint Cookies Recipe from Cake Gumshoe Alana

Hi, my name is CakeSpy. And as a professional sleuth of sweetness, I just want to give you fair warning: if you give me a secret family recipe, I will share it.

Oh, just kidding. Clearly this recipe, from Cake Gumshoe (and buddy) Alana isn't a big secret, otherwise she wouldn't have given me a recipe card along with the tin of yum she delivered last week, brimming with soft molasses cookies and (my favorite!) jam-filled thumbprints.

And I'm totally passing on the recipe to you, sweet readers. 

Alana's No-Longer-Secret Family Recipe for Thumbprint Cookies

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, yolks and whites separated
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cup finely chopped nuts
  • 8 ounces raspberry jam

 Procedure

  1. In a large bowl, mix butter, sugar, egg yolks, and vanilla until smooth. Sift together f lour and salt and then work into batter. Chill  dough for at least one hour.
  2. Preheat oven to 375. Form dough in 3/4 inch balls.
  3. Beat egg whites in a bowl with a fork til slightly bubbly.
  4. Roll the balls in the egg whites, then in the chopped nuts.
  5. Place 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.
  6. Bake at 375 for 5 minutes. Remove cookie sheet from oven and press the back end of a wooden spoon into the centers of the cookies to form a small indent.
  7. Return cookies to the oven; bake for 8 more minutes, or until golden brown.
  8. Transfer cookies to a wire rack and fill with a generous dab of jam. Let cool.

 

Monday
Dec202010

Snowbound: Snowy Snickerdoodles Recipe from SpyMom

Lucky, lucky you. SpyMom has another sweet holiday recipe to share: Snowy Snickerdoodles. No, you won't get an explanation of where the name comes from, but you will get a recipe that is bound to be delicious, because that's how she rolls.

Snowy Snickerdoodles

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • cinnamon sugar

Procedure

  1. In a mixer bowl, cream together sugar and butter; beat in egg and vanilla
  2. Combine flour, cinnamon, baking powder and salt
  3. Add to butter mixture
  4. Blend well
  5. Cover and refrigerate 2 hours or till firm enough to roll into balls
  6. Shape dough into small balls about 3/4-inch in diameter
  7. Roll in cinnamon sugar to coat
  8. Set cookies 1-inch apart on lightly greased cookie sheets
  9. Bake at 350° for 10 minutes or till the edges are lightly browned.
  10. Cool slightly on pans, then remove to racks to cool completely.

 

Friday
Nov262010

Kicking off Cookie Season: Mint Candy Butter Cookies Recipe from Crazy About Cookies by Krystina Castella

Thanksgiving's over. But don't cry into your empty pie plate (or empty Pumpkin Pie Shake), because that means it's officially Cookie Season.

And let's kick things off with one that is simple but classic and completely delicious: Mint Candy Butter Cookies from Krystina Castella's Crazy About Cookies (also check out the other posts from all week dedicated to Krystina's work: Pumpkin Cheesecake Pops, Zen Stone Cookies, and a giveaway featuring her super awesome book A World of Cake!). To get in a Christmas-y mood, I used candy canes. When served at the store, they disappeared in record time. Black friday was red and white and buttery all over, baby!

Mint Candy Butter Cookies

Adapted from Crazy About Cookies by Krystina Castella

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter
  • 1 cup superfine sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • Royal icing
  • 1 1/2 cups mint hard candies or candy canes, crushed

Procedure

  1. Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolk. Add the whole egg, salt, and vanilla, and stir to combine.
  2. Gradually stir in the flour. Form the dough into a flat disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes. 
  3. Preheat oven to 350. Get 2 cookie sheets ready to go, no need to grease 'em.
  4. Roll the dough out on a floured surface, to about 1/2 inch thick. Cut into 3-inch squares. Place the squares on the baking sheets and bake for 15-18 minutes, until the edges begin to turn golden. Transfer to a rack to cool completely. (Note: While still warm I cut the cookies into fourths, because I was sharing them at my store and wanted bite-sized cookies)
  5. Cover with icing. While icing is still wet, top with the crushed candies.
Saturday
Jan022010

The Splendid Tableau: A Cookie Tableau Adventure from Cake Gumshoe Megan

Cookie Tableau

CakeSpy Note: This is a post from Cake Gumshoe Megan, who gets in over her head every Christmas...

Despite the fact cake is actually my drug of choice, every year at Christmas I become a cookie dervish. I tell myself it's because I'm developing the repertoire I will be known for later in life, but I think it's really just because I finally have an excuse to bake and bake and bake and no one will ask me what I'm going to do with all of those cookies.

Seventeen or so dozen cookies later (gingerbread, sugar, springerle, candy cane cookies, brownies, chocolate raspberry drizzle, chocolate peanut butter chunk, stained glass, macaroons and chocolate butter snowflakes, if anyone was interested), I turned my attention to a cookie tableau. Reading a Theresa Layman book on gingerbread gave me the idea for a tableau, but I decided to make mine out of sugar cookies and have an undersea theme. I have a very good friend who has been so supportive in pretty much every area of my life, and I knew he'd appreciate something edible for the holidays.

What I didn't know was that Mother Nature was conspiring against me.

The blizzard that dumped two feet of snow on the mid-Atlantic forced me to fly home for Christmas two days early and sent my tableau plans sprawling. The Christmas rush forced me to give a non-edible present to my friend, but I still wanted to make a tableau, so I shifted my sights to a gingerbread winter scene.

A trip to Michael's yielded gel paste food coloring and a foray into Wegmans' bulk candy aisle gave me all the decorations I needed (and plenty to snack on). I ended up using Spree, Jelly Belly jelly beans and candy canes.

I would recommend a little planning with this since my lack of design had me dithering in the candy aisle for longer than absolutely necessary, but if you're at all like me, you can totally do this by the seat of your pants too.

First I used a lebkuchen recipe from Festive Baking by Sarah Kelly Iaia. This is my go-to gingerbread recipe. It uses honey instead of molasses, so you can taste the spices rather than the syrup. I used one whole recipe total in making the background and then the buildings and little gingerbread man. I drew templates free-hand and cut them out with a paring knife.



Baking them in an unfamiliar oven yielded slightly crispy edges, but those were neatly covered by royal icing.


From there I just decorated the buildings as my imagination dictated and space on the background allowed. I did make one mistake which couldn't be fixed due to lack of time. I added too much water to my yellow piping icing, so the windows to the church weren't fully flooded. Some of the "icing" soaked into the cookie.


I also wouldn't recommend taking shortcuts with the icing as I did with the sky. Rather than make a whole new batch of royal icing, pipe a border and then flood, I just flooded the whole thing, which led to rather messy edges. I wasn't too worried about thin coverage in the middle since the buildings were going to cover most of it.

I made a few sugarwork decorations and let everything dry for two days. A little Karo syrup glue to attach the buildings to the background, and I was finished. The final size was about 8 1/2 by 11 inches.


I really enjoyed myself despite a total lack of architectural and drawing skills, and I definitely plan to make another one soon. This time I will have a much more detailed plan beforehand!

Wednesday
Dec232009

America the Sweet: The First Published Christmas Cookie Recipe in America

Christmas cookies
Christmas is rich in tradition--and equally rich in cookies (hooray!). But have you ever paused to wonder what the cookie selection might have been like for our ancestors?

Well, in case you had been curious, here is a recipe from what is largely considered America's first cookbook (to clarify, the first cookbook featuring American food published in America--there had been other British books which had been released here previously), American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, which was published in 1796.

If these cookies sound more like hockey pucks than delicious treats to you, please, don't despair--after all, as Amelia advises that "if put in an earthen pot, and dry cellar, or damp room, they will be finer, softer and better when six months old." Whew!

Christmas Cookey

From American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, 1796

"To three pound of flour, sprinkle a tea cup of fine powdered coriander seed, rub in one pound of butter, and one and a half pound sugar, dissolve one teaspoonful of pearlash (a rising agent) in a tea cup of milk, knead all together well, roll three quarters of an inch thick, and cut or stamp into shape and slice you please, bake slowly fifteen or twenty minutes; tho' hard and dry at first, if put in an earthen pot, and dry cellar, or damp room, they will be finer, softer and better when six months old."

Sunday
Dec202009

Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: A Sweet Snowball Cookie Celebration

Let it Snow Confectioners' Sugar
Snowballs. Russian Tea Cakes. Greek Kourambiedes. Bullets. Mexican Wedding Cakes. Viennese Crescents. Moldy Mice. Armenian Sugar Cookies. What does this international sampler of cookies have in common? Quite a bit, it seems--they are just a few (I've counted over 20!) of the countless riffs on the same basic cookie, comprised of butter and (usually) ground nuts, a melt-in-your mouth treat which is liberally coated in confectioners' sugar and seems to be a mainstay in so many special occasions.
Cookie!
So what gives? I took it upon myself to learn more about this cookie, ultimately applying the knowledge in the sweetest way possible for the December Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 project: by taste-testing seven different batches of these international treats with a group of friends and reporting not only on the intellectual findings, but dishing on the goods as well.

But first, a little background. What's up with this cookie? Foodtimeline.org offers up the 411:

According to several food history sources and cookbooks...these are a universal holiday cookie-type treat. This means this recipe is not necessarily connected to any one specific country. It is connected with the tradition of saving rich and expensive food (the richest butter, finest sugar, choicest nuts) for special occasions.
Of course, that having been said, the cookies do perhaps take their root from the Middle East:
Food historians trace the history of these cookies and cakes to Medieval Arab cuisine, which was rich in sugar. Small sugar cakes with nuts (most often almonds) and spices were known to these cooks and quickly adopted by the Europeans. This sweet culinary tradition was imported by the Moors to Spain, diffused and assimilated throughout Europe, then introduced to the New World by 16th century explorers. Sugar cookies, as we know them today, made their appearance in th 17th century. About sugar. Recipes called Mexican wedding cakes descend from this tradition. They first appear in American cookbooks in the 1950s.

See? I bet you're feeling smarter already. And now, Let it snow confectioners' sugar:


Snowballs

About the cookie: This is probably the most famous American version of the cookie--its name seems to stem from their appearance after being rolled in confectioners' sugar. The first mention I could find was a 1939 article in the Chicago Tribune, where it says "don't wait for signs of snow to make these frosty-looking snowball cookies, for they're good in any season". Regional variations will call for filberts, almonds, walnuts, or pecans.
Tasting notes: I made the standard-issue version not unlike the ones I grew up with. These ones, made with walnuts, tasted nostalgic, but didn't necessarily separate themselves from the crowd. But still--they were a delight to eat.

Snowball Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 cups sifted flour
  • 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups chopped walnuts
  • 1-lb. confectioners sugar to roll cookies in
Directions
  1. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix butter with sugar until very light and fluffy. Mix in flour mixture. Stir in walnuts. Refrigerate until easy to handle.
  2. Make balls in the palm of your hand by tablespoons. Place on a lightly greased cookie sheet, and bake in a 350 degree F. oven until golden brown, being careful bottoms do not burn.
  3. Place confectioners sugar in a large bowl. Take cookies from oven and gently put into bowl. Carefully, they are hot, toss cookies in sugar until they are coated.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Bullets of Sweetness

Bullets

About the cookie: These cookies are closely related to the snowball--in fact, I might even surmise that they are a regional version of them, based on the fact that some snowball recipes list a possible variation as using macadamia nuts. However, these ones intrigued me: in the leadup to the recipe, the writer notes that "when we were growing up, my sister Tammie rated these her favorite cookie".
Tasting Notes: Clearly sister Tammie knew what she was talking about. These cookies are the absolute lap of luxury. Flavorwise, they couldn't be more rich: the already buttery-tasting macadamia nuts pair perfectly with this buttery cookie, and they really do just crumble in your mouth. Yes, macadamias are expensive--but this one is worth the splurge. These were one of the top two cookies tasted.

Bullets Recipe

Adapted from Cookies by Natalie Hartanov Haughton

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup chopped macadamia nuts
  • confectioners' sugar
Directions
Preheat oven to 350. In a medium bowl, beat together butter, granulated sugar and vanilla until creamy. Add flour, beating until well blended. If necessary, work with fingers until dough holds together. Blend in nuts. Shape into one-inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 15-17 minutes, or until bottoms are golden. Remove cookie sheets; cool on racks. After they have cooled for about 30 minutes, roll in confectioners' sugar, coating completely. Makes 30.
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Danny Takes a BiteKourambiedes (top right and bottom center)
Greek Kourambiedes (or Kourabiethes)

About the cookie: On Whipped, the site where I found this recipe, it says "in the bakeries of Greece, the Kourabiethes are piled up high and deep and look like a mound of little snowballs. My trusty, old-school Greek cookbook reads, 'Kourabiethes are the national cookies of the Greeks for Christmas and New Year’s Day.'
Tasting Notes: True to Whipped's word, these are truly "Greek little balls of heaven". The rosewater adds a certain je ne sais quoi to the cookies, giving them a unique flavor. I shaped some of these into crescents as well.

Greek Kourabiethes Recipe


Only slightly adapted from the recipe on Whipped


Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • about 2 cups of confectioners' sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 T brandy
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
  • rose water
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped almonds

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix butter and 1 cup sugar until very light and fluffy. Stir in egg yolk and brandy. Mix sifted flour and baking powder in a separate bowl. Mix in the flour and baking powder a little at a time until dough no longer sticks to your fingers. Mix  in almonds while mixing in flour, accomodating for the extra ingredient and not letting the cookies get too dry. Knead well until dough is smooth and can easily be rolled; shape into balls or crescents--follow your bliss. Place on parchment paper on a baking sheet. Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until very light brown. While still warm, brush very lightly with orange flower or rose water. Roll in confectioner’s sugar and set on a tray or plate. Use the remaining sugar to sift over top until well covered.
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Jasen Takes a Bite

Mexican Wedding Cakes


About the cookie: Per Foodtimeline.org,

The cookie is old, the name is new. Food historians place the first recipes named "Mexican wedding cakes" in the 1950s. Why the name? Our books and databases offer no explanations. Perhaps timing is everything? Culinary evidence confirms Mexican wedding cakes are almost identical to Russian Tea Cakes. During the 1950s and 1960s relations between Russia and the United States were strained. It is possible the Cold War provided the impetus for renaming this popular cookie. Coincidentally...this period saw the mainstreaming of TexMex cuisine into American culture.
Tasting Notes: What set these cookies apart was the addition of cinnamon--they added a spicy holiday flair to the cookies and really set them apart from the rest. As you can see by the photo, even pugs couldn't avoid the holiday charm of these cookies.

Mexican Wedding Cakes Recipe

Adapted from Epicurious

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup pecans, toasted, coarsely ground
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions
  1. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until light and fluffy. Add 1/2 cup powdered sugar and vanilla; beat until well blended. Beat in flour, then pecans. Divide dough in half; form each half into ball. Wrap separately in plastic; chill until cold, about 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk remaining 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar and cinnamon in pie dish to blend. Set cinnamon sugar aside.
  3. Working with half of chilled dough, roll dough by 2 teaspoonfuls between palms into balls. Arrange balls on heavy large baking sheet, spacing 1/2 inch apart. Bake cookies until golden brown on bottom and just pale golden on top, about 18 minutes. Cool cookies 5 minutes on baking sheet. Gently toss warm cookies in cinnamon sugar to coat completely. Transfer coated cookies to rack and cool completely. Repeat procedure with remaining half of dough. (Cookies can be prepared 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature; reserve remaining cinnamon sugar.)
  4. Sift remaining cinnamon sugar over cookies and serve.

- - - - - - - - - -
Moldy Mice Cookies

Moldy Mice

About the cookie: This is a rich, buttery pecan cookie smothered in confectioners' sugar, which to the best of my knowledge first cropped up under this name in a 1950 Junior League cookbook entitled Charleston Receipts. What of the name? As you can read on Serious Eats (where you can also find the recipe) I have two theories: first, if you squint really hard at the cookies, they sort of resemble tiny mice covered with mold. Second--my favored theory--is that it is a clever deterrent technique dreamed up by a baker frustrated by their delectable morsels disappearing too quickly.
Tasting Notes: These rich, tender cookies were a big hit: toasting the pecans before baking really added something.

Moldy Mice Recipe 

You can find it on Serious Eats!

- - - - - - - - - -
Russian Teacakes

About the cookie: Per foodtimeline.org,

Noble Russian cuisine (along with every other facet of noble life) was influenced by prevailing French customs during the 18th century. Tea was first introduced to Russia in 1618, but the Russian tea ceremony of samovars and sweet cakes was a legacy of Francophile Catherine the Great in the 18th century. It is interesting to note that A Gift to Young Housewives, Elena Molokhovet [1870s popular Russian cookbook] contains plenty of recipes for a variety of small baked goods, none specifically entitled Russian tea cakes. There are, however, several recipes which use similar ingredients.
Tasting notes: What can be said? This recipe is a classic.

Russian Teacakes Recipe

Adapted from Betty Crocker

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter or margarine, softened
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped nuts
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Powdered sugar
Directions
  1. Heat oven to 400ºF
  2. Mix butter, 1/2 cup powdered sugar and the vanilla in large bowl. Stir in flour, nuts and salt until dough holds together.
  3. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place about 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet.
  4. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until set but not brown. Remove from cookie sheet. Cool slightly on wire rack.
  5. Roll warm cookies in powdered sugar; cool on wire rack. Roll in powdered sugar again.

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Armenian Sugar Cookies (Shakarishee)

About the cookie: This is a traditional cookie, called shakarishee, which I am told is a commonly served item at weddings or other special occasions.
Tasting Notes: Sweeter than some others, this recipe yielded a cookie that looked more like a drop cookie when baked rather than holding a snowball shape; the nuts were only an accent in this version, but what held true to all of the other recipes was the texture, which was crumbly and dense and delicious. Taster Jasen, who is himself Armenian, commented that "these make me feel like I should be at an Armenian wedding".

Armenian Sugar Cookies Recipe

Adapted from this Shakarishee Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 cup softened butter [unsalted]
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, beat together the butter, egg yolk and the sugar until smooth and almost white in color. Add flour and blend well. If you are using the nuts, this is the time to add them in. Shape into small rectangles about 3/4" by 1 1/2".
  2. Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes or until lightly browned on the sides. Note: The recipe notes that a blanched almond or walnut half can be placed on top of the cookie before baking, but for uniformity I did not add this.

- - - - - - - - - - - -
Viennese Crescents

About the cookie: Well, it seems that Vienna has a bit of a history with delicious crescents--could the shape of this cookie be connected to the other famous crescent from that fair city, the croissant? Read on for Wikipedia's roundup:

Fanciful stories of how the kipfel - and so, ultimately, the croissant - was created are culinary legends, at least one going back to the 19th century. These include tales that it was invented in Europe to celebrate the defeat of a Muslim invasion at the decisive Battle of Tours by the Franks in 732, with the shape representing the Islamic crescent;that it was invented in Vienna, Austria in 1683 to celebrate the defeat of the Turks to Polish forces in the Turkish siege of the city, as a reference to the crescents on the Turkish flags, when bakers staying up all night heard the tunneling operation and gave the alarm; tales linking croissants with the kifli and the siege of Buda in 1686; and those detailing Marie Antoinette's hankering after a Polish specialty.

Tasting Notes: This is a winner. The almonds paired with almond extract was an idea I got from Cook's Illustrated, and it really did give the cookies a full, almond-y flavor and helped balance out the fact that almonds are a drier nut than some of the more smooth, buttery varieties I had tried in other recipes. These were simply lovely.

Viennese Crescents Recipe

Makes about 36

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup ground almonds
  • 1/2 cup sifted confectioners' sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, butter, nuts, 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, salt, almond extract, and vanilla. Hand mix until thoroughly blended. Shape dough into a ball; cover and refrigerate for about an hour.
  3. Remove dough from refrigerator and form into 1 inch balls. Roll each ball into a small roll, 3 inches long. Place rolls 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet, and bend each one to make a crescent shape.
  4. Bake 15 minutes in the preheated oven, or until set but not brown.
  5. Let stand 1 minute, then remove from cookie sheets and place on racks to cool. After about 30 minutes, dip cookies in the confectioners' sugar to coat them. If not served right away, dip them again directly before serving to ensure a snowy coating.

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So, to sum it all up? It was particularly sweet to see how this cookie transcends so many borders: even though our cultures may be very different, we all have some sort of variation of this cookie in common. Regardless of the language you speak or the culture you come from, a cookie made of butter, ground nuts, and coated in confectioners' sugar is a type of equality that is within reach for everyone: easy to make, and completely delicious.

Wednesday
Dec162009

Christmas Cookie Collection: Chocolate Cream Cheese Graham Cracker Bars

Holiday Bar Cookies
Ah, Christmas Cookie Season, that decadent and delicious time of year when moderation is thrown out the window. Sweet, sweet Christmas cookie season.

And in that spirit of rich decadence, here's a sweet little confection I recently made for the C+H Sugar Holiday recipe spree (full disclosure--they gave me a $20 gift card for ingredients. I felt fine about this as I often use their products anyway!). Dense, rich, and decidedly not low-fat or low-carb, these little morsels fall into the territory of so bad, but so good--and are completely habit-forming.
Preppy holiday bars
Chocolate Cream Cheese Graham Cracker Bars

- makes about 24 small bars -


Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup sugar (I used C+H's baker's sugar, which is really quite wonderful--it falls somewhere between confectioners' and granulated sugar in texture)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts (pecans would also work nicely I think)
  • About 1 cup chocolate cream cheese frosting (it was leftover from a batch I made from this recipe)--or the frosting of your choice.

Procedure

  1. Prepare the base. In a saucepan, heat butter and sugar until the sugar is completely absorbed in the liquid. Add beaten egg and stir to thicken. Remove from heat and stir in the graham cracker crumbs and nuts. Press into a greased and parchment-lined 8x8-inch pan. Pat in firmly and evenly. Let this chill for about 2 hours.
  2. Spread the frosting thickly and evenly on top of the graham cracker base. Let chill until it is firm, and if desired, decorate the top with festive christmas icing (I used Wilton's glitter gel in red and green and their opaque writing icing in white).

 

Wednesday
Dec092009

Gingerbread Mad Men: A Recipe for Serious Eats

Gingerbread Mad Men - Don Draper
They say you have to learn the rules before you break them. But is it ever possible to break them just a little bit while you learn them? Case in point: gingerbread men.
Gingerbread Mad Men - Joan
I haven't made enough of them to feel comfortable messing with the classic recipe but wanted to have a little fun with this batch nonetheless. The solution? Using a classic recipe—in this case, from Betty Crocker's Cooky Book—but decorating them as Gingerbread Mad Men, inspired by the characters in the AMC series.
Gingerbread Mad Men - Betty Draper
Note: I am pretty much obsessed with Mad Men (I blame my friend Julie). I only discovered it about a month ago and actually am not caught up to the end of Season 3 yet, so please, no spoilers!
Cuppie Loves Mad Men!
You can check out the full entry -- plus the recipe I used -- on Serious Eats!

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