Students, faculty and some of the super star lecturers from Cook ‘n Scribble’s fall’s BlogU intensive have put together a fabulous collection of recipes and reminiscences to add to your Christmas cookie repertoire. I’ve doubled every batch, am still baking and have long since run out of tins.
So bake on, Sistahs — and send in your favorites, too — The benefits of a sugar high at this time of year are wildly underrated. — Molly O’Neill
Time to Bake The Cookies
“Its too much,” she says.
“I’ve baked enough,” she says.
And then, by the first week of December, she starts baking, almost apologetically.
“I thought you weren’t going to bake this year,” I say.
“I am not BAKING,” she says, “I am just making a few cookies.”
Here isa link to the first cookie she bakes every year, a crisp, honey-scented almond cookie that keeps for up to a month if stored in a tin between layers of wax paper and kept in a cool place.
I’m constitutionally incapable of following a recipe without improvising and so have never been the baker that my mother is. I make a few cookies. Mostly I make her cookies. I also try to add a recipe or two each year to the repertoire. Along with the rest of the country, I’ve gone a little savory.
It began on Labor Day weekend when Hurricane Irene had devastated upstate New York. We were without power and were cooking (by gas) against melting freezers. I’d laid in a significant store of small-batch butter from a Vermont farm, butter that wouldn’t last for more than a day after thawing. There were shrubs of rosemary that hadn’t been flooded. Et Viola. Rosemary Shortbread.
Shortbread is the basis of most winter holiday cookies. If you add ground nuts they become Swedish nut balls, Russian teacakes, Mexican wedding cookies. If you add chocolate they become chocolate shortbread. If you add a whole lot more butter and sugar they become “scottish,” shortbread, crisp, brown, addictive. call 911.
The only secret to great shortbread is using great butter and using less flour than seems right. I generally reserve a 1/4 of a cup of the flour in a shortbread recipe and use it to flour the rolling surface and the rolling pin. If the first tray of cookies turn into amorphous blobs, I add more flour. Judiciously.
These are great. And here’s a link to a short how-to video from The Joy of Baking, a woman who really bakes — and who has a lot of information on how to vary the master recipe successfully, a result that a mere cookie maker cannot always guarantee.
Irene’s Rosemary Shortbread
2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt, plus extra for sprinkling on top if you want to live dangerously and prefer your cookies more savory than sweet
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon high quality vanilla extract
11/2 Tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon minced lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper.
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the flour and salt and set aside. Cut the butter into chunks and sprinkle with the powdered sugar, the vanilla the rosemary, lemon zest and pepper. Use a hand mixer to completely combine, but don’t whip it too much. The goal is total combination, not airy butter mixture.
2. Sprinkle 1/4 of the flour mixture over the butter mixture and work it together as if you were making a pie dough. Continue to add until all but 1/4 cup of flour has been used. Divide the dough into two hunks. sprinkle some of the reminaing flour on a sheet of wax paper and roll out to 1/4 inch thickness. Use a 1 1/2 inch cookie cutter and press out cookies. Gently lift to a lightly greased cookie tray.
3. Cool in refrigerator for 30 minutes and then bake for 10 15- minutes until the cookies smell great and are lightly golden around the edges. cool on the tray then lift onto a rack. Cool compeltely before storing between layers of waxed paper in an airtight container. Alternatively, cool them until the risk of burning tongue and finger is minimal and eat them at once.
makes about 36 cookies.
The following, nutted variation on the shortbread theme comes from From “One Big Table: A portrait of American Cooking”
Everyone in Birmingham knows Melanie Fay for her fabulous parties—and she has her mom, Lurene Hall, to thank for that. Known affectionately as Dolly, Mrs. Hall was a local fashion model and avid home cook. You need to create your own signature on your baked goods, Mrs. Hall would always instruct her daughter—hers was two tiny rows of marks, made with the tines of a fork, on top of her biscuits. As for these butterballs—they’re actually what the rest of the country calls Russian Tea Cakes—first published in the “Woman’s Home Companion Cookbook” in 1943. But when Ms. Fay chose to serve them every Christmas with a special “ambrosia” fruit salad (made with oranges, grapefruit, and coconut), she made that recipe her own.
1 cup butter, softened
4 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups sifted flour
1 cup chopped nuts (Dolly almost always used pecans, but sometimes used black walnuts)
Extra powdered sugar for rolling
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cream butter. Add sugar and continue to beat until light and fluffy.
3. Add vanilla. Add sifted flour and mix well. Fold in the nuts.
4. Shape into small balls, about the size of walnuts. Place on ungreased baking sheet.
5. Bake for 15 – 18 minutes. Roll in confectioner’s sugar while still hot.
6. Cool on brown paper sacks or wire cooling racks.
Makes about 3 dozen.