I finally have done something related to Christmas and the holidays today (besides attending a party). I wrote and sent Christmas cards and made 2 different types of cookies. I have several more batches of cookies to go, but it is a start.
I must say that it was a perfect day for baking and running the oven for a few hours. It was exceptionally cold and very much like Winter. It felt cold enough to snow, but no white stuff yet (what can you expect in Atlanta anyway?).
I chose to bake a Molasses Cookie first as I knew that it would certainly produce all the proper smells of Christmas…ginger, cinnamon, allspice and cloves. I tried a recipe that I had not used before, but the cookie sounded wonderful and with America’s Test Kitchen providing the recipe, I figured it would be foolproof. In fact, many of the holiday cookies that I have chosen are from that cookbook (America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook). They are traditional, old-fashioned recipes that are perfect for this time of year.
I was right on for this particular cookie. It was delicious (especially while still warm). It is really spicy (probably with help of a 1/4 teaspoon of freshly ground pepper), but I think the spices I used really added to the flavors. I had just received a shipment of fresh spices from Penzey’s (that is just like a Christmas present!). I used their ginger (China powdered #1) and Vietnamese cinnamon in these cookies and they are truly fabulous! I just wish I had made a double recipe. These are supposed to be gifts…if they last that long. The recipe is reprinted below.
Makes about 22 cookies. Published January 1, 2002. From Cook’s Illustrated.
Measure the molasses in a liquid measuring cup. If you find that the dough sticks to your palms as you shape the balls, moisten your hands occasionally in a bowl filled with cold water and shake off the excess. Bake the cookies one sheet at a time. If baked two sheets at a time, the cookies started on the bottom rack won’t develop the attractive cracks. The cookies should look slightly raw and underbaked when removed from the oven. If you plan to glaze the cookies (see recipe below), save the parchment paper used to bake them.
1/3 cup granulated sugar (about 2 1/2 ounces), plus 1/2 cup for dipping
2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (11 1/4 ounces)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon table salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened but still cool
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar (about 2 1/2 ounces)
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup molasses (about 6 ounces), light or dark
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Place 1/2 cup sugar for dipping in 8- or 9-inch cake pan. (I used a medium sized, shallow soup bowl. I think the pan is too large. I also needed some additional sugar as it started to clump from the moisture).
2. Whisk flour, baking soda, spices, and salt in medium bowl until thoroughly combined; set aside.
3. In standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter with brown and granulated sugars at medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-low and add yolk and vanilla; increase speed to medium and beat until incorporated, about 20 seconds. Reduce speed to medium-low and add molasses; beat until fully incorporated, about 20 seconds, scraping bottom and sides of bowl once with rubber spatula. Reduce speed to lowest setting; add flour mixture and beat until just incorporated, about 30 seconds, scraping bowl down once. Give dough final stir with rubber spatula to ensure that no pockets of flour remain at bottom. Dough will be soft.
4. Using tablespoon measure, scoop heaping tablespoon of dough and roll between palms into 1 1/2-inch ball; drop ball into cake pan with sugar and repeat to form about 4 balls. Toss balls in sugar to coat and set on prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Repeat with remaining dough. Bake 1 sheet at a time until cookies are browned, still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft (cookies will look raw between cracks and seem underdone), about 11 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Do not overbake.
5. Cool cookies on baking sheet 5 minutes, then use wide metal spatula to transfer cookies to wire rack; cool cookies to room temperature and serve. (Can be stored at room temperature in airtight container or zipper-lock plastic bag up to 5 days.)
The second cookie that I made is a Lime-Glazed Coconut Snowball. It uses a basic cookie dough from America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook (the recipe is for Holiday Cookies). This is a basic dough for both rolled and molded cookies. I will use it again to make another cookie tomorrow. They do a reverse creaming process to make for a cookie that can hold up to decorating yet still have a light, buttery texture. The dry ingredients are mixed together first and then the butter is slowly beaten in (almost like a pastry dough).
These cookies were dipped in an icing flavored with lime and then topped with coconut. First of all, they are really attractive (especially when giving as gifts). There is a surprise in your mouth when you bite down because they are tart and sweet and flaky like a buttery pastry. The tartness is unexpected based on the appearance of the cookie. If you want a big lime flavor, you can also add lime zest to the batter. I did not do that for fear it would be overwhelming. They are really yummy and unusual just as I prepared them. The recipe from Cooks Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchen is below.
Lime-Glazed Coconut Snowballs
Makes about 40 cookies. Published November 1, 2003.
If you cannot find superfine sugar, you can obtain a close approximation by processing regular granulated sugar in a food processor for about 20 seconds.
Butter Cookie Dough
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (12 1/2 ounces)
1 teaspoon grated lime zest (I omitted this for fear it would be overwhelming with lime)
3/4 cup superfine sugar (5 1/2 ounces)
1/4 teaspoon table salt
16 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 sticks), cut into sixteen 1/2-inch pieces, at cool room temperature (about 65 degrees)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons cream cheese , at room temperature
1 tablespoon cream cheese , at room temperature
3 tablespoons lime juice
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar (6 ounces)
1 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut , pulsed in food processor until finely chopped, about fifteen 1-second pulses (I used a cleaver and hand chopped the coconut)
1. FOR THE COOKIES: In bowl of standing mixer fitted with flat beater, mix flour, lime zest, sugar, and salt on low speed until combined, about 5 seconds. With mixer running on low, add butter 1 piece at a time; continue to mix until mixture looks crumbly and slightly wet, about 1 minute longer. Add vanilla and cream cheese and mix on low until dough just begins to form large clumps, about 30 seconds.
2. Use hands to roll dough into 1-inch balls. Place on parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake one batch at a time in 375-degree oven until lightly browned, about 12 minutes. Cool to room temperature.
3. FOR THE GLAZE: Whisk cream cheese and 2 tablespoons lime juice in medium bowl until combined and no lumps remain. Whisk in confectioners’ sugar until smooth, adding remaining lime juice as needed until glaze is thin enough to spread easily.
4. Dip tops of cookies into glaze and scrape away excess, then dip into coconut. Set cookies on parchment-lined baking sheet; let stand until glaze dries and sets, about 20 minutes.
I hope you enjoy these cookies as much as I did. I will be baking again tomorrow before a neighborhood Christmas party tomorrow evening. Hopefully, tomorrow’s cookies will be the hits that these were today. I usually go with old favorites, but I was feeling adventurous and it paid off well.
Happy holiday baking to you.