Christmas Cookies, Dec 02 | Enduring Favorites for Delicious Gifts

Obsessed with making spritz and gingerbread and toffee bars at an early age, at age 12 I commandeered the kitchen for a December cookie-baking marathon that became a yearly tradition. Now, four decades later, having rolled, mounded, sliced, and iced gazillions of cookies for the holidays, I’ve winnowed out the ho-hum, the truly awful, and the far-too-complicated recipes so that only the gems remain. In this season of giving, I present five of my tastiest recipes to you.

If you can keep from eating them, these cookies will last for at least two weeks. The key is to keep them well sealed in cookie tins and stored in a cool location, like an unheated garage or basement.

Be sure to use organic ingredients whenever available, and buy real butter, quality chocolate, pure vanilla, and fresh nuts. They make a difference.

Every oven is different, and the correct baking time can make or break your cookies. When I switched from a gas to electric oven (gas is preferable but I had no choice), I had to alter baking times a bit as eledctric ovens tend to get hotter than gas. So experiment and watch them like a hawk, especially toward the end of the suggested baking time. And remember, if you let the cookies sit on the hot-from-the-oven cookie sheet, they’ll continue to cook.

Cherry Butter Cookies

Chewy and very flavorful. (Makes 6 dozen)

1 c. butter, softened
1-1/4 c. sugar
1 egg
2 tsp. almond extract
2-1/2 c. flour
1-1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. dried cherries, chopped in 1/4" pieces

Beat softened butter until creamy. Add sugar, egg, and almond extract and mix well. In a food processor, chop cherries finely. Stir into butter mixture.

In another bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Gradually add to butter mixture and mix gently.

Line a 9×5" loaf pan with parchment paper or foil. Pack dough firmly in pan (use a second loaf pan to flatten the top). Chill overnight, or wrap well and freeze dough for up to a month.

Preheat oven to 375°. Remove dough from pan and cut in half lengthwise. Slice 1/8" thick and place on ungreased cookie sheets at least 1" apart. Bake for 8-10 minutes until just barely browned. Cool on racks.

Chocolate Toffee Bars

These are easy and absolutely delicious. For deeper chocolate flavor, use bittersweet chocolate for all or part of the chips. (Makes about 3 dozen)

1 c. butter
1 c. brown sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
2 c. unbleached flour, sifted
1 c. chocolate chips
1/2 c. chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 325°.

Melt butter, then mix with brown sugar, vanilla, and egg yolk. Stir in flour and salt. Pat mixture into parchment-lined (or greased) 15" x10" pan. Bake 15-20 minutes.

Melt chocolate chips and gently spread over warm crust. Sprinkle walnuts over chocolate and gently press them in. Let chocolate set, but cut into squares while the dough is still warm (otherwise they’ll crumble).

If well-wrapped and kept in a cool spot or refrigerated, these keep for a month.

Pecan Shortbread

This is heavy on pecan flavor and a little sweeter than most shortbread. Allowing the dough to refrigerate overnight lets the flavors blend. (Makes 3 dozen)

1-1/4 c. unsalted butter
1 cup + 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2-1/2 cups unbleached flour
3/4 tsp. salt
7 Tbsp. quick or regular rolled oats
(1/2 cup minus 1 Tbsp.)
1/4 c. ground pecans
1/2 c. cup (heaping) chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350°.

Melt butter and mix in sugar and vanilla. In another bowl, combine flour, salt, and oats. Add to butter mixture and stir until combined. Stir in pecans.

Using rounded tablespoonfuls, form dough into balls and place 1-1/2" apart. Flatten dough to 2-1/4" in diameter and 1/4" thick. Or roll dough into a log, refrigerate till firm (or freeze for longer storage), then slice 1/4" thick.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until edges are crisp.

Mocha Butterballs

Rich, chocolatey, and memorable. (makes 6 dozen)

1 c. unsalted butter, softened
1/2 c. granulated sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. instant coffee powder
1/4 c. unsweetened cocoa
1-3/4 cups unbleached flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups finely chopped pecans
1 cup mini-chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325°.

Mix butter and sugar together well. Add coffee powder to vanilla and mix well to form a thick paste. Add to butter mixture and stir.

In another bowl, mix together cocoa, flour, and salt. Then add to butter mixture and combine only until mixed. Stir in nuts and mini-chips.

Shape dough into 1" balls and place on greased cookie sheets.

Bake about 15 minutes, until set. Cool on racks.

Sour Cream Ginger Cookies

These soft, spicy cakes keep well. From Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Cookies. (Makes 3-1/2 dozen)

2-1/2 c. unbleached flour, sifted
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/8 tsp. salt
2 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 c. butter, softened
1 c. brown sugar, packed
2 Tbsp. molasses
1 egg
1/2 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 375°. Sift flour, soda, salt, and spices together. In another bowl, cream the butter, add the sugar, and mix well. Beat in molasses and egg. On low speed, add the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating with the sour cream in two additions. Beat only until dough is smooth.

Using a rounded teaspoonful for each cookie, place 2" apart on parchment-lined or greased cookie sheets. Shape the mounds carefully (some imperfections will smooth out during baking). Bake 12-14 minutes. When tops are lightly pressed and spring back, they’re done.

Cool completely on racks, then glaze (below).

Glaze:
1 egg white
1-1/2 c. powdered sugar, sifted
1/8 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. butter, melted
1 tsp. vanilla

Beat egg white briefly until foamy. Add remaining ingredients and beat well for 2 or 3 minutes. The mixture should be runny. Add more sugar if too thin.

Place the racks of cookies over wax paper. With a pastry brush, brush the glaze over the cookies and let them dry until the glaze is completely hard.