I realize it's May and we're talking about Christmas cookies - but the way the weather is behaving, it might as well be December! (Christmas Eve was MUCH warmer than it is today!)
One of the things the members of the baking club told me when I first joined, was that they did an epic Christmas cookie exchange every December. Each member would make four dozen of four different kinds of cookies...that's 16 dozen cookies...per person!! Needless to say, I was excited and intrigued and started making my list of cookies I wanted to make last June (hey, it's never too early to think about Christmas!).
When December finally came, I took off a day of work just so I could focus on baking cookies - and it was a delightful vacation day, well spent. The day started with an 8:30am showing of the new Star Wars movie, a stop by one of my favorite Mediterranean restaurants for lunch to go, and then an afternoon in my kitchen with Christmas music playing in the background. Heaven.
Keep reading for all of our cookies and some recipes!
LIBBY - Spritz Cookies, Pecan Pie Bars, Rosemary-Lemon Shortbread, Italian Seed Cookies & Cheddar Cheese Wafers
In the end, I made 5 different kinds of cookies - a mix of classics that I used to make with my Mom and some new ones. I even included a savory "cookie" for variety. Here are some of the recipes I made:
PECAN PIE BARS
I love pecans but am generally not the biggest fan of pecan pie. The ratio of crust to pecans to sweet, gooey filling is all off for me. There ends up being way too much of the gooey stuff and I can really only take a bite or two before it's too much. But these bars are a game-changer. A thick, slightly sweet crust is the base for the perfect blend of filling and pecans. There's just the right amount of each component - and I dare you to eat just one!
- 3 cups flour
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 cup butter or margarine
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 4 eggs, slightly beaten
- 1 1/2 cups Karo light corn syrup
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 3 Tbsp butter or margarine
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
- 2 1/2 cups pecans, toasted and chopped
Grease bottom and sides of a 10x15x1 inch baking pan (a half sheet or jelly roll pan will also work fine).
Prepare crust: In large bowl with mixer at medium speed, beat flour, sugar, butter and salt until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Press firmly and evenly into the pan. Bake in 350 oven for 20 minutes.
While crust is baking, prepare filling: In large bowl, stir eggs, corn syrup, sugar, butter and vanilla until blended. Stir in pecans. Spread evenly over hot crust. Return to 350 oven and bake for 25 minutes or until set.
Cool completely before cutting.
These cookies are a variation on a shortbread recipe my mom received from a friend back when we were living in Germany in the 1980s. It called for rice flour before that ever became a common ingredient you easily find in the regular grocery store. We often would replace the rice flour for another cup of regular flour - which never affected how quickly they were eaten! Since the shortbread is cut into 1" squares - it makes for a lot of cookies (up to 16 dozen) - and perfect for a cookie exchange or to give as gifts!
- 1 pound (4 sticks) butter, softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup rice flour
- 3 Tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
- 1 Tbsp fresh lemon rind
- Sanding sugars (optional)
In the bowl of a mixer, cream butter and add sugar. Slowly add in flours and then the rosemary and lemon rind. Pat in a half sheet or jelly roll pan. Pre-cut the shortbread into 1" squares and prick each square with the tines of a fork. Bake at 325 for 40-50 minutes until light golden brown. Sprinkle with sugars (I either use clear sparkling sugars or seasonal red & green sanding sugars.) While still warm, re-cut and prick the squares.
Variations: Instead of rosemary & lemon add: 2 tsp cinnamon or 1 cup mini chocolate chips or 1 cup roasted pistachios, finely chopped.
CHEDDAR CHEESE WAFERS
Cheese wafers are a classic Southern staple, especially at the holidays. Whenever I'd travel to Louisiana to visit family, I could always anticipate finding a plate of these at any one of my relative's homes. It wasn't until my Mom moved to Tennessee that she discovered this variation on the cheese wafer, with the unexpected-but-delightful ingredient of...Rice Krispies!
- 2 sticks butter or margarine
- 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (best if you hand-shred from a block)
- 2 cups flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 2 cups Rice Krispies
In the bowl of a mixer, cream the butter and cheddar cheese. Add flour, salt and cayenne and mix well. Add in Rice Krispies and gently stir in until fully incorporated. Shape the dough into small balls (about 1 tsp) and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten each ball with a fork and bake at 350 for about 15 minutes. These don't get brown - so be careful not to overbake.
GINA - Caramel Oat Lace Cookies, Hazelnut Kisses, Dulce de Lece Macaroons, Crunchy Almond Cookies & Triple Chocolate Drops (clockwise from top)
Caramel Oat Lace Cookies - via The Washington Post
These are a lovely cross between candy and a cookie, with hints of citrus and cardamom. They look so fancy and elegant and would make for a perfect after-dinner treat, served with coffee or tea.
Hazelnut Kisses (Baci di Dama) - via The Washington Post
OMG - these were pretty much my favorite cookies of the whole bunch. What's not to love with hazelnut shortbread cookies filled with homemade nutella? While I gave away most of my cookie haul as gifts, I kept all of these for myself (sorry, not sorry!).
Dulce de Leche Macaroons - via The Washington Post
If you love the flavors of coconut and caramel - these cookies are for you! They are an easy 5-ingredient cookie that come together in one bowl - and can be made in advance.
Crunchy Almond Cookies - via The Washington Post
These French cookies are dairy free and just four simple ingredients. As a lover of anything almond flavored - these cookies weren't almond-y enough for me. I would add a bit of almond extract to amp up the almond-ness of these cookies.
Triple Chocolate Drops - via The New York Times
These cookies have it all: looks, taste and chocolate! And not just one kind of chocolate...three! (technically four, if you count the semi-sweet chocolate shavings on top). The white chocolate glaze is really the shining star in this cookie - the smooth, creaminess of the glaze is the perfect pairing for a rich chocolate cookie base.
KLARE - Bullseye Chocolate Mint Cookies, Chocolate Raspberry Pinwheels, Ribbon Cookie & Orange Coconut Cookie (clockwise from top)
Klare got very creative in the kitchen with her cookies - making little tweaks here and there to make these cookies her own. She also figure out how to be the most efficient with shaping and baking her cookies...all of these are slice and bake cookies. It's amazing how different they all look - round logs, square logs, spirals and layers. They're quite pretty and the flavors of each one are unique and so delicious. The bullseye peppermint cookies taste like there's a peppermint patty hidden in the middle!
TONYA - Salted Dulce de Leche Thumbprints, Sicilian Almond Cookies, Chocolate Caramel Chews & Fruitcake Cookies (clockwise from top)
Salted Dulce de Leche Thumbprint Cookies - via Baked by an Introvert
These are just delicious...and dangerous! It's much too easy to knock out four or five of these little one-bite cookies in the blink of an eye! The soft and tender shortbread cookie and the pool of ducle de leche with the sharpness of sea salt all make for a winning combination.
Sicilian Almond Cookies - via The Washington Post
Another call for almond lovers - these almond and cinnamon cookies get an extra dose of cinnamon when they're rolled in a cinnamon & sugar mixture right before baking.
Chocolate Caramel Chews - via Rose Levy Beranbaum
These cookie bars have some of my favorite things layered one on top of another: crust, caramel, chocolate and nuts. And they play together nicely in this cookie playground. In a sea of round cookies, these triangle treats will surely stand out on any cookie platter!
Fruitcake Cookies - via Ina Garten
I think in the world of fruitcake, you're either a lover or a hater. I happen to fall in the latter camp - but my Mom LOVES her some fruitcake - so she was very excited to try these. These cookies do require some advance planning - first you have to make your candied fruit mixture and let it sit overnight before you prepare the cookie.
So when the day was done, we sampled 18 different kinds of cookies. I loved the diversity of flavors, ingredients and techniques but most of all enjoyed sharing this time with my fellow bakers. So which ones are you going to put on your Christmas baking list for this year? It's never too early to start planning...after all, Christmas is just 216 days away!!