Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Cookie Overload

It's been a baking-intensive week. I had a few friends over to make some Christmas treats early in the week, which is a nice way to make an entire day of baking more of an activity than a task. We also got to try some new recipes and I have to admit made a much smaller less than I usually do when I bake alone. The only problem with this is that you need to make a lot of cookies when you're splitting everything three ways, and you each have various friends and family to distribute the treats too. And so I ended up making subsequent batches over the rest of the week. Which actually turned out to be not such a bad thing as we had discovered a few things here and there that made the later batches turn out better than the first.

It's hard to pick a favourite here...we used three recipes from Martha Stewarts Cookies and made very few alterations to each. I think that the Chocolate Crackles are definitely worth making as a giveaway as they just look so good. Not to mention the fact that they are just so decadent and yummy. I have a weakness for shortbread-y, crumbly cookies so I've been snacking on the meltaways the most. It's a nice, light cookie and actually quite refreshing from all the citrus flavour. And I just can't resist cranberry pistachio biscotti around Christmastime - it looks so festive and impressive!

*General notes:
- These recipes says to use an electric mixer. We did, due to all the cookies we were making and since my mom actually has one. I was actually amazed at how each it made all the recipes since I have a tiny kitchen and rarely use any electronic devices when cooking or baking. Either way, you don't need a mixer, you can do all this with a wooden spoon and a willing arm!
- All cookies should be stored in airtight containers between layers of parchment, in a cool place. The Crackles keep for up to 3 days, the Meltaways and Biscotti up to 2 weeks

all recipes adapted from Martha Stewarts Cookies

Chocolate Crackles
Makes about 5 dozen cookies

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa owder
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp instant coffee power
1/3 cup whole milk
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup confectioner's sugar

1. Melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirrings. Set aside and let cool. Sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.

2. Mix instant coffee powder with just enough boiling water to dissolve grains. Let cool and add enough milk to make 1/3 cup.

3. With an electric mixer, beat butter and brown sugar on medium speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Mix in eggs and vanilla, and then the melted chocolate. Reduce speed to low; mix in flour mixture in two batches, alternating with the milk. Divide dough into four equal pieces. Wrap each in plastic,; refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours (don't skimp on this - we waited just under 2 hours the first time and the dough was quite sticky. I actually chilled the dough overnight the second time and it was much easier to handle)

4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit (175 degrees Celsius). Divide each piece into sixteen (or whatever - my four pieces were all but equal so the number varied) 1 inch balls. Roll in granulated sugar to coat, then in confectioners' sugar to coat. Space 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

5. Bake about 14 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. (It says to bake UNTIL the surfaces crack but mine started cracking after probably 5 so this didn't help me much. I just baked for 14 minutes and assumed the cookies were done by then!) Let cool on sheets on wire racks.

Lemon Meltaways
(Martha uses lime but you can use any citrus you like)
Makes about 5 dozen, or 3 dozen if you made your logs larger like I did...

3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup confectioner's sugar
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt

1. Put butter and 1/3 cup confectioners' sugar in a bowl and mix on medium speed with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Add the lime zest and juice and the vanilla, and mix until fluffy.

2. Whisk together flour, cornstarch and salt in a bowl. Add to butter mixture, and mix on low speed until just combined. (At this point I kneaded the dough a bit with my hands as it was super crumbly and we had some difficulty in the first batch with the slicing step that comes later. The kneading definitely helped it become more "dough-y" and formable)

3. Divide dough in half. Place each log on an 8x12 inch sheet of parchment. Roll in parchment to form a log 1 1/4 inches in diameter, pressing a ruler along edge of parchment at each turn to narrow log. (Umm...I just read this. Might have helped.) Refrigerate logs until cold and firm, at least 1 hour.

4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit (175 degrees Celsius). Remove parchment from logs; cut into 1/4 inch thick rounds. Space rounds 1 inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment apper. Bake cookies until barely golden, about 13 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool slightly, 8 to 10 minutes. White still warm, toss cookies with remaining 2/3 cup sugar in a resealable plastic bag.

Cranberry-Pistachio Cornmeal Biscotti
makes about 2 dozen cookies

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup baking powder
1/2 tsp coarse salt
6 tbsp unsalted butter, room temp
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup chopped pistachios

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit (175 degrees Celsius). Whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt.

2. Put butter in the bowl and mix with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add sugar and mix until pale and fluffy. Mix in eggs one at a time, until well combined. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture all at once; mix until just combined. Add lemon zest, cranberries, and pistachios and mix until combined (I did this last step by hand).

3. Transfer dough to a baking sheet lined iwth parchment paper. Pat into a log that is roughly 14 by 3 1/2 inches. Bake until firm, lightly browned, and slightly cracked on top, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool on sheet on a wire rack, about 15 minutes.

4. Transfer log to a cutting board. Using a serrated knife, cut on the diagonal into 1/2 inch thick slices. Arrange slices on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Bake cookies, rotating sheet halfway through, until they begin to brown at edges, 15 to 18 minutes. Let cool on sheet on a wire rack.

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