Holiday Cookies. A few of my favorites.

While scanning through the many holiday cookie recipes on Pinterest, I was pondering what makes a cookie worthy of gifting. What do I want to nosh on? My criteria is relatively simple. As with any dessert, texture is extremely important. Soft, cakey, textured cookies are good. Slightly crisp and sandy is awesome too. Brightly colored dough is not appealing, although a few colored sanding sugars are nice. The taste should not be overly sweet. Buttery is good. Chocolate is crucial. Size is important. Smaller is better, a few bites is best. As with any baked goods, the best ingredients are of utmost importance… pure butter, good chocolate, real vanilla, fresh eggs, etc. Starting with only the finest, purest ingredients is key to producing delicious cookies every time.

Here is the list of cookies I have rotated in the last few years. In an effort to simplify and reduce holiday stress, I’m choosing two or three varieties this year. And due to their complexity, some of these will automatically disqualify.

Recipes are below the descriptions.

Butter Cookies. Buttery goodness. One recipe, two different cookies.
Christmas Cookies

Cut-outs. This recipe is a two for one. One batch of butter cookie dough makes both spritz and cut-outs.
Decorated Holiday Cookies

Double Chocolate Snowflakes. Soft, chocolately cookies with a cake-like interior.
Holiday Cookies

Pecan Tassies. Miniature pecan pies. A bit of work, but worth the extra effort.
Pecan Tassies

Gingersnaps. Spicy, sweet, soft. Yum.91911-153

World Peace Cookies. The name says it all. If we could all eat these every day, there would be peace in the world. If you love dark chocolate, this slightly crisp, sandy textured cookie will float your boat.
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Chocolate Chip Cookies. Made with cake flour and chunks of dark chocolate, these are small, dense, and extra special.
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THE RECIPES
Notes:
• Butter = unsalted butter, unless otherwise noted
• I like to splurge on good chocolate. Guittard, Ghirardelli, Scharffen Berger are good.
• All cookies listed are baked in a 350 degree F oven.
• It is better to underbake than overbake cookies. Take them out of the oven while they’re still a bit soft, and butter and sugar cookies should still be very light.

Christmas Cookies
Butter Cookies
2 Cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 Tablespoons pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons salt
5 cups all-purpose unbleached flour

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
Add eggs, vanilla, and salt; mix on medium speed until combined.
With mixer on low speed, add flour in 2 batches, mixing just until it’s incorporated.

Divide dough into two equal portions. Place each on a piece of plastic wrap, flatten into disks. Wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate until firm, or at least 2 hours or up to 1 week.

Take out one disk and let it get to room temperature before putting it through a spritz cookie press. Use same baking instructions as above for cut-outs.

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Cut-outs
When you’re ready to bake, roll out the other disk to about 1/4 inch thick and cut out desired shapes. Place onto a cookie sheet, sprinkle with sanding sugars. Bake in preheated oven for about 12 minutes, or until they’re slightly golden just around the edges.

Cool cookies overnight before frosting.

Icing
For spreading:
Makes about a cup, enough to coat 1 recipe’s worth of 1/8-inch thick cut out cookies.
In a bowl, still until smooth: 3 cups powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1/4 cup water
To tint, stir in food coloring, a few drops at a time.
Icing should spread evenly, and after a second, settle to make a smooth surface. If too thick, mix in a few drops of water; if too thin, stir in powdered sugar, a little at a time.
Spread icing onto cool cookies with a metal spatula. Let stand until icing is firm, about 1 1/2 hours.

For piping:
Makes about 3/4 cup, enough to decorate 1 recipe’s worth of 1/8-inch thick cut out cookies.
In a bowl, stir until smooth: 2 cups powdered sugar, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, 1 1/2 Tablespoons water
To tint, stir in food coloring a few drops at a time. Icing needs to be still enough to hold a line when piped through a pastry bag fitted with an 1/8-inch tip. If too thick, mix in a few drops of water; if too thin, stir in powdered sugar, a little at a time.
Let stand until icing is firm, about 5 minutes.

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Holiday Cookies
Double Chocolate Snowflakes
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups chocolate chips

Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt
Cream butter, add sugars
Add eggs and vanilla. Mix well.
Add flour mixture and mix until a soft dough forms.
Add chocolate chips and mix well.
Cover dough and chill for at least an hour.
Shape dough into balls and roll in powdered sugar.
Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven until cookies have puffed and cracked. About 8-10 minutes.

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Gingersnaps
1/2 cup butter
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup molasses
4 cups sifted flour
2 teaspoons soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ginger

Cream butter and sugar together, beat in eggs.
Stir in molasses.
Sift in all dry ingredients. Mix into dough.
Roll dough into 1″ balls. Roll in sugar (cinnamon optional).
Bake at 350 degrees for 7-10 minutes.

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chocolate and sea salt 91611C-205

World Peace Cookies (Chocolate Chunk Butter Cookies with Sea Salt)
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips, or a generous 3/4 cup mini-chocolate chips

Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together.
Working with a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, or a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla and beat for 2 minutes.
Pour in the dry ingredients (drape a towel over the mixer to protect yourself from flying flour) and pulse the mixer at low speed about 5 times for a second or two each time. Take a peek; pulse a few more times if there’s a lot of flour still on the surface of the dough. Mix on low speed for about 30 seconds more until the flour disappears into the dough. Work the dough as little as possible for the best texture. Don’t be too concerned if it looks a little crumbly. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix to incorporate.
Turn the dough onto a work surface. Gather it together and divide in half. Shape each half into a log that is 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.
Preheat oven to 325F degree
Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.
Using a sharp, thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are 1/2 inch thick. Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them.
Bake one sheet at a time for about 12 minutes. The cookies won’t look done or be firm, but they’ll firm up and become more sandy-crumbly as they cool.

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Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 3/4 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 large eggs

Sift together baking soda and salt. Set aside.
Soften butter. Add sugars and mix until smooth and fluffy.
Add vanilla and eggs. Mix well. Add flour mixture and blend.
Add chocolate chips. Mix.
Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10-12 minutes.

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Happiest of holidays to you all!

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Roasted Squash Soup

Squash soup is as fall as colorful leaves, apple cider, pumpkins. And even though the leaves have been blown by the wind into disorganized piles around the yard, pumpkins replaced with holly greens and lights, squash still holds an honored spot in our local grocery stores. As long as these fruit-like vegetables stick around, I will turn them into soup… Bwahaha

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Roasted Delicata Squash Soup

INGREDIENTS

3 to 4 pounds squash, peeled and seeded (I use Delicata, but if you can’t find that, Butternut works too)
2 yellow onions
2 McIntosh apples, peeled and cored
3 tablespoons good olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 to 4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1/2 teaspoon good curry powder

Scallions, white and green parts, trimmed and sliced diagonally (sprinkled on top)

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Cut the butternut squash, onions and apples in 1-inch cubes. Place them on a sheet pan and toss with the olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Divide the squash mixture between 2 sheet pans and spread it in a single layer. Roast for 35 to 45 minutes, until very tender.

Meanwhile, heat the chicken stock to a simmer. When the vegetables are done, put them through a food mill fitted with the medium blade. (Alternatively, you can place the roasted vegetables in batches in a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add some of the chicken stock and coarsely puree.) When all of the vegetables are processed, place them in a large pot and add enough chicken stock to make a thick soup. Add the curry powder, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Taste for seasonings to be sure there’s enough salt and pepper to bring out the curry flavor.

Recipe slightly modified from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics.

Roasted Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

Todays soup is Chicken with Wild Rice. This chunky, hearty, soul-warming soup is a family favorite.

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Did you know that soup was one of the first fast foods? Since it can be stretched to feed as many as necessary, it’s a great choice when you’re not sure how many people will be stopping by to eat… add a few more splashes of broth here, more vegetables there… and voila! Bowls all around.

Roasted Chicken and Wild Rice Soup
(adapted from Cooking Light)

Ingredients:

1 (6-oz) box long-grain and wild rice mix (such as Uncle Ben’s)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups red onion, chopped
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped carrot
2 garlic cloves, chopped
12 white button mushrooms, quartered
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon leaves
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
2 cups water
2 Tablespoons dry sherry
32 oz fat-free, less sodium chicken broth
12 oz fat-free evaporated milk
3 cups shredded roasted skinless chicken

Directions:

1. Prepare rice according to package directions; set aside. Roast chicken, cool slightly, shred into bite size pieces; set aside.

2. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add chopped onion and next 4 ingredients (onion through mushrooms), and sauté for 6 minutes or until onion is tender. Lightly spoon the flour into a dry measuring cup, and level with a knife. Stir the flour, tarragon, and thyme into the onion mixture, and cook for 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add 2 cups water, sherry, broth, and evaporated milk; bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for 20 minutes or until slightly thick. Stir in cooked rice and chicken; cook for 10 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Yield: Approximately 8-10 servings.

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Corn Chowder

This morning I received an email from a reader who very politely let me know I had left out potatoes in my list of ingredients when I posted this corn chowder recipe over on PortlandPeeps. My bad! Her message made me realize my omission of soups here on DecisiveCook. Soup is one of my favorites on cold winter days. Soups are the smoothies of winter. So many healthy ingredients can be added to one dish. You may just be looking for some hearty soup recipes for this holiday season, so I’ll be posting a few of my favorites.

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Corn Chowder
(recipe slightly modified from Cooking Light Magazine)

1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Medium sweet onions, diced
2 Cloves of garlic, minced
1 Teaspoon sweet paprika
4 Cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1 pound small red potatoes
1 Celery rib, thinly sliced
1 Bay leaf
1/2 Teaspoon salt
1 Teaspoon sugar
Freshly ground black pepper
4 Cups frozen corn kernels
5 Scallions, thinly sliced
1 Cup milk (or half and half if you want it richer)
1/4 Teaspoon dried thyme
A few dashes of cayenne pepper
Sour cream

1. In a large stockpot, combine the butter, olive oil, onions and garlic. Saute over medium heat until the onions are tender but not brown, about 10 minutes or so. Sprinkle with the paprika, stir, and cook for a minute.

2. Add the vegetable broth, potatoes, celery, bay leaf, salt, sugar and pepper. Cook, partially covered, until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in the corn and scallions and cook for 2 minutes.

3. Scoop out 2 cups of the chowder and set it aside. Puree the remainder (if you have an immersion blender, it comes in handy since you can puree directly in the pot of soup) and return it to the pot. Stir in the reserved chowder, milk, thyme and cayenne pepper. Cook for 5 minutes. Serve hot with a spoonful of sour cream on top.