Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Cookies 2014

I've reached the moment in time where I have made peace with the fact that my iPhone takes better pictures than my 10-year-old Canon point-and-shoot.  Sigh.  I made a huge tray of cookies on Monday to take to work, and tried taking pictures, and they were just ... awful.  (Darkest day of the year certainly didn't help!)  So this year, instead of viewing the entire spread, you get a shot of my "snack plate" that I fixed for myself today, for periodic nibbling in-between meals, walks, knitting, reading, laundry, and maybe, just maybe, a nap.  (Because I got home from singing for Christmas Eve service well into Christmas Day last night!)  Merry Christmas!

Cookies after breakfast?  Yes, please!

Chewy Gingersnaps
I have made this recipe several years in a row now, and they have become a mainstay.  I love gingersnaps, and I love them even more when they are chewy (and STAY chewy several days later.)  Gingersnaps are one of those cookies I believe are actually better a few days after baking ... maybe it's that whole "flavors having a chance to blend" thing?  Anyhow, these are great -- nicely spiced, but not "too spicy."  A cookie for adults and children alike.  I used coconut oil this year (instead of the canola oil called for in the recipe,) and they are perfect.

Magic in the Middles
This fall, I had a peanut-butter stuffed chocolate cookie at a local restaurant, and fell in love -- I HAD to find a recipe!  King Arthur Flour to the rescue!  I strayed from the original recipe a bit, adding an ounce of Neufchatel and a tablespoon of milk to the chocolate dough, (recipe reviewers complained the dough became dry with storage,) and ended up having to add a few teaspoons of milk to the peanut butter filling (using natural peanut butter made the filling a bit dry and crumbly.)  These weren't nearly as fussy as I thought they were going to be to shape, and have been a huge hit with friends and coworkers.  My friend Dora told me, as she dropped me off after church last night, that "the chocolate cookie with the peanut butter surprise" was the best one I made this year!  They were the first to go off the tray at work, too.

Best Cut-Out Sugar Cookies
Thank you, Faith Durand and The Kitchn, because these are, hands-down, the BEST cut-out sugar cookies I have EVER HAD.  The dough is a dream to work with, froze beautifully, and yielded soft, yet sturdy cookies.  I also love that the additions of both lemon zest and almond extract make the cookies themselves more of an event, rather than just an avenue for buttercream and sprinkles.  :)  Decorated sugar cookies are always my favorites, and these have elevated what I've come to think of simply as "Christmas Cookies" to a whole new level.


Peppermint Cream Squares
Another Kitchn recipe I tried this year, and a good one.  For a few years growing up, we made a cookie called "Peppermint Snowballs," which I believe may have been a grandparent to these bars, and Peppermint Snowballs were always a favorite of mine.  I don't love chocolate, although I LOVE mint, and I fell for the buttery shortbread and minty cream filling instantly.  However, we gave up on those cookies after a few tries because they were too fussy and just didn't store well.  I was thrilled to find this recipe, because I missed the flavor of Peppermint Snowballs, but not the fuss and mess.  Bars to the rescue!  I made a few changes to the published recipe, (including using all of the shortbread as the crust and simply sprinkling the peppermint/powdered sugar over the warm cream cheese layer,) but may even make more changes next year.  I wanted a slightly thicker, more cheesecake-like peppermint layer on top, rather than the more moist, sticky layer I got using the original recipe.  I think I will increase the cream cheese and add an egg next year.  Regardless, these have still been hugely popular ... people who love shortbread and mint were coming back for seconds!

Fig and Cream Cheese Bars
These babies are unassuming at first glance, but folks who are brave enough to try them are richly rewarded.  I think people either love or despise figs; I am a lover of figs, both fresh and dried, and consequently, LOVE these bars.  (Plus, hello lemony cream cheese topping!)  A day after delivering tins and gift bags of cookies, I received a text message from my friend Stephanie: "It's like a fig newton but better!  Yummmm."  Agreed.  I follow the recipe as printed, baking the bars in a smaller 8- or 9-inch square pan, rather than the 9x13 called for.

Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels
Salted caramels almost seem like a cliche these days, but maybe for good reason -- starting around Thanksgiving, I start getting the "are you going to make caramels this year?" questions.  This recipe from Alice Medrich's Pure Dessert is a hit, and in my opinion, both reliable and relatively easy to make.  (The hardest part of making caramels, in my opinion, is CUTTING THEM.  Sigh.)  I love the gentle flavor golden syrup lends to baked goods, (it's the not-so-secret ingredient in my pecan pie,) and these caramels are no exception.  I decided to salt the caramels using Maldon sea salt this year, instead of the coarser salt I've used in the past -- and I love the gentler flakes, instead of the crunchy chunks.  Last year, my friend's (then) 4-year-old daughter scarfed three of these caramels in one sitting while no one was looking ... smart girl.  :)  (They got a whole bag of extra caramels this year!)


Apricot Coconut Bars
I have wrestled with these bars for years, because I love the dense, chewy, sweet, rich, apricot-coconut topping, but DESPISE the crust as written -- it is crumbly and difficult to work with, and literally shatters and disintegrates when cutting.  This year, I added an extra ingredient (an ounce of Neufchatel,) and changed my technique (creaming softened butter, cream cheese, and 1/4 cup sugar together, before stirring in the flour,) and was promptly rewarded by a sturdy, flavorful shortbread crust for that glorious topping.  (P.S. flipping the bars out of the pan upside-down on a sheet of parchment paper to cut also helped.)  Success!  Only took me three tries to figure that one out.  I think we will call this holiday season the year of Neufchatel, since it became a key player in many of my cookie recipes, all of a sudden.  :)

Cream Cheese Meltaways with Lemon Glaze
This is another one of those frequent repeats, as I get several "are you making the lemon cookies this year?" requests, again beginning at Thanksgiving.  One of my work friends reported these were her husband's favorites, and I "caught" at least one coworker rushing back for seconds of this one just moments after returning to his desk with his first selections from the tray.  I decided rather than toss out the surplus glaze this year, I would simply double-dunk the cookies.  More sugar!  Yes.


English Toffee (from the Betty Crocker Cookbook)
The toffee is not pictured, because it is gone!  It's gone for several reasons, really -- I have a couple of gluten-free treat recipients who deserved extra toffee and caramels this year, and well, I just really like toffee.  It's easy to sneak a bite here and there, you know?  :)

Off to eat a post-breakfast cookie now.  Merry Christmas!

No comments: