December 23, 2008

Stormstayed with Cookies

I’m sitting in my mother’s kitchen as snow and wind buffet her little house. There’s a glass of wine at my side and a tray of cookies cooling on the counter behind me. A jazz Christmas CD is playing on the stereo. I should be feeling very happy, but I’m not.

Usually I love storms. There’s nothing like a good East coast blow. It’s such a great feeling to sit inside, doing cozy Christmas things while the snow blows around and makes little islands out of cars and houses. But this time, I had plans. This time, I was supposed to be out in a car on the road right now, not sitting inside eating Christmas cookies. Me and J and six of our friends were planning on driving up to our friend’s house in Western PEI tonight for a party. The eight of us hadn’t all seen each other in over a year, and it was going to be a great old time – lots of food, drink and laughter.

But there’s not much chance we’ll be going anywhere now. So I guess it’s just time to sit back, relax, and drink my glass of wine. Let me just go put another CD in. Ah, that’s better. Nothing like Louis Armstrong singing Christmas in New Orleans to put me in a better frame of mind. Oh, you want to hear about those cookies? What? This is a food blog? Well, fine.

These are the first two of three different cookie recipes J and I are making this year. Every year we bake cookies for J’s mother to have around her house during the holidays. It’s becoming a bit of a tradition, and to stay on tradition this year we decided to bake three cookie recipes that we’ve already made in the past. I wanted to try out a new one too, just to shake things up a little (and because I was so tempted by so many recipes in the Gourmet Favourite Cookies online feature), but realised that it may be a bit excessive. I might still get to them after Christmas.

We first made Nigella’s Christmas Decorations cookie recipe a few years ago when we were living in our first tiny apartment on Pownal Street in Charlottetown. We actually used them as Christmas decorations on our tree. This year, we just made them to eat them because they are so tasty. They’re kind of like a cross between a molasses cookie and a sugar cookie, and they’re a bit like Pepparkakor, the traditional Scandinavian spice cookie, but not as dark and gingery. The secret is in the ground pepper, which may seem a bit out of place in a cookie but is actually amazing. Use the full two teaspoons and you won’t be disappointed.

The pinwheel recipe is from the Moosewood desserts cookbook and we made it a few years ago as well. They take a few more steps, but it’s worth it. They’re crunchy, buttery, and look so pretty on a Christmas cookie platter. I’m planning on posting some more Christmas recipes in the next week, despite our very hectic schedule. Who knows? This storm may last for days, and maybe all I’ll have to do is sit inside, drink wine and bake cookies. There are worse things.

Christmas Decorations

From How to Be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson


2 cups all-purpose flour

pinch of salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon mixed ground spice

1-2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper

scant ½ cup unsalted butter

scant ½ cup dark brown sugar

2 large eggs beaten with 4 tablespoons honey

For the icing and trimmings:

2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

3 tablespoons boiling water

gold or silver balls or sprinkles (optional)

florists’ ribbon or twine for hanging (if using as decorations)

Combine the flour, salt, baking powder and mixed spice, and pepper in the processor. With the motor on, add the butter and sugar, then, slowly, the eggs and honey, though don’t use all of the liquid if the pastry has come together before it’s used up. Form two discs and put one, covered in plastic wrap or in a freezer bag, into the refrigerator while you get started on the other. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Dust a surface with flour, roll out the disc, also floured, to about 15 inches (it’s best if it’s about ¼ inch-thick), and cut out the cookies using cutters. Re-roll and cut out some more, setting aside the residue from this first disc, well covered, while you get on with rolling out the second. When you’ve got both sets of leftover clumps of dough, roll out and cut out again and keep doing so till all the dough’s used up. Now take a small piping tip and use the pointy end to cut out a hole just below the top of each cookie (through which ribbon can later be threaded to hang them).

Arrange on the baking sheets and cook for about 20 minutes (We only cooked them about 13 minutes): it’s hard to see when they’re cooked, but you can feel; if the underside is no longer doughy, they’re ready. (Make sure they don’t get too brown because they’re best when still chewy.)

Transfer them to cool on a wire rack. Make up ordinary glace icing by mixing the boiling water with the confectioners’ sugar and stir till you’ve got a thin, glossy glaze. (We used about twice as much water as that.) Ice the cold decorations using a teaspoon (the tip for dripping, the back for spreading) and scatter sprinkles and sparkles as you like.

Pinwheel Cookies

From Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts

A simple butter cookie recipe can be the starting point for many delightful creations. Ours have a light, delicate texture and the unmistakable richness of butter.

The basic cookie dough is great baked just as it is or topped with a whole or half nut, a few chocolate chips, or sprinkling of sugar just before baking.

You can also use this dough to make jam drop cookies – just make a thumbprint in them just before baking and then add jam afterwards.

The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Keep some of it on hand in the freezer; it will keep for up to 6 months. Thaw frozen dough in the refrigerator for a day before using.

Yields: 60 to 70 cookies
Preparation time: 15 to 20 minutes
Baking time: 15 to 20 minutes per batch
Chilling time: about 1 to 2 hours

Basic Cookie Dough
1 ½ cups unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 cups unbleached white flour
½ teaspoon salt

Pinwheel Cookies
2 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate
¼ cup sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

With a wooden spoon or an electric mixer, cream the butter until light. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time, then add the vanilla and beat until smooth. Gradually add the flour and salt, mixing just until the dough is uniformly smooth. The dough is now ready to chill, shape, and bake or freeze or flavor for one of the three variations below.

For Pinwheel Cookies, gently melt the chocolate with the sugar and cinnamon in a double boiler. Remove half of the dough from the bowl and set aside. Add the melted chocolate to the bowl and stir to make an evenly colored brown dough. Cut both the dark (chocolate) and the light (vanilla) balls of dough into halves. Wrap each piece in plastic and flatten into a ½ -inch-thick disk. Chill for at least 1 hour.

On four lightly floured pieces of wax paper, roll the disks into 12-inch squares. Flip each dark square onto a light square, peel off the wax paper, and press lightly with the rolling pin to seal the two dough layers together. You will have two double-layered 12-inch squares. (If the dough is already soft and sticky, refrigerate it for 10 minutes.) Roll up each square of dough, jellyroll fashion, to form two logs, removing the wax paper as you roll. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 1½ hours, until the dough is firm enough to hold its shape when sliced.

When the dough is firm, preheat the oven to 350°. Using a sharp knife, slice the logs into ½-inch-thick cookies and place them an inch apart on lightly oiled baking sheets. Bake until the edges of the cookies are lightly golden, about 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on the baking sheets for a few minutes, then transfer to racks to cool completely.


Aliya said...

My husband too love cookies... I used to buy his favorite cookies through Wisconsin Cheeseman.

Anne said...

I feel honoured to have an episode of the blog written at my house - even if you were frustrated that you had to stay longer and not go to see your friends. Great cookies too, especially the peppery ones!
Love, Mom