Was holiday cookie baking and candy making a tradition in your childhood? It was in mine. My grandma would come to visit and she and my mom would churn out gazillions of Date Nut Pinwheels and some other dried fruit/nut cookie that I don’t remember the name of (I confess I never ate either as I am not big on walnuts-their nut of choice-and dried fruit in desserts). My grandma would make candy–would you believe that until just a few days ago I thought my mom made the candy? But she told me, half admiringly and half as though she thought I was crazy as I stirred our boiling brittle–that my grandma would never allow her to make the candy. She said it was too dangerous! And oh I loved that candy. This was before we all became terrified of food dyes, you understand, and the cinnamon hard tack was a brilliant scarlet, the spearmint a vivid Christmas tree green, and, my personal favorite, the peppermint, bright, bold blue. On her own–because that was a tradition from my dad’s family, my mom would pull out her old fashioned pizelle iron and curse at it all day long while she tried to peel the pizelles off of it. I’ll never forget the year she finally got a modern nonstick iron–you might have thought we had gotten her the moon. And last was the children’s favorite, the painted cut-out sugar cookies. Most of us did not like to eat them–they were so sweet–but Christmas was not Christmas until we had painted cookies.
With the exception of pizelles, I admit that I have not carried on the tradition of making any of those exact cookies. My tastes run less sweet, less dried fruity, and more chocolate, coffee, mint and citrus. But what is in the tins does not matter nearly so much as the fact of having the tins. It is not the holidays unless my dining room table is bowing from the weight of Christmas cookie tins, ready to foist upon any visitor the moment they walk through the door.
What makes a good Christmas or Holiday cookie? Call me crazy, but this is something I think about a lot. Chocolate chip cookies, for example, are terrible Christmas cookies. 3 days after you put them in the tin they will be stale and useless. Cookies for the holidays should be capable of lasting in a tin. Whenever I see drop cookies in holiday cookie publications, I skip them, knowing they will probably go stale too fast. I also care a little bit more about appearance at Christmas, preferring slice and bake cookies, lace cookies, pizzelles, cut-outs, biscotti with neat edges. However, some confections are meant to have a more rustic appearance, like brittle and toffee, and I love those too. Do you keep tins of homemade cookies at your home during the holidays? If so, what are your favorite Holiday cookies or confections?
I confess that I am a holiday baking magazine addict. Absolutely love them. However, this year has all been all about books, because this fall has seen a smorgasbord of good baking cookbook releases. Nancy Baggett released her Simply Sensational Cookies, reviewed here; I won a free copy of Tate’s Bake Shop: Baking For Friends (stay tuned for some great holiday tin cookies from that); Shauna Sever’s Pure Vanilla: Irresistible Recipes and Essential Techniques is sitting in my review pile; and my friend Anna Ginsberg, from Cookie Madness, released her book The Daily Cookie: 365 Tempting Treats for the Sweetest Year of Your Life. And here I have a confession to make. I traded on my blogger and friend status and begged Anna for a review copy. I knew the book was going to be great, because it was Anna’s. So yes I got this book for free and no that did not influence my opinion one single bit!
The idea behind Anna’s book is that she offers a different cookie recipe for every single day of the year–and she does her homework to make the treats appropriate. For example, this biscotti recipe appears on December 7, Pearl Harbor Day, and she chose the recipe for the rosemary, the herb of remembrance. The brittle appear on November 10, World Science Day. The are small photos of each cookie. Both recipes I have tried thus far, the 2 shared here, have been knockouts. As expected.
The brittle recipe is unchanged with the exception of using cashews in place of peanuts, simply because that is what I had. And calling for ale or lager, once again because, the second time I made these, all I had was lager. The biscotti I played with a bit more. I subbed pistachios for walnuts (there are those pesky walnuts again!), added white chocolate chunks, and subbed extra virgin olive oil for half of the butter–not as a health consideration but because I thought the extra virgin oil would work nicely with these Mediterranean flavors. I adapted the method just because I have a biscotti method I am already comfortable with, not because I had any problem with Anna’s method. Both of these cookies could easily make it into my regular holiday tin rotation–I say could only because let’s face it, every year I like to play with new recipes.
- 2 cups (9 oz) AP flour
- 1½ t baking powder
- ¼ t salt
- 1 t minced fresh rosemary
- 2 t fresh lemon zest (I used lemon oil)
- 1 t fresh orange zest (I used orange oil)
- 4 T (2 oz) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 4 T (1/4 cup) extra virgin olive oil
- ⅔ cup granulated sugar
- ½ t vanilla
- 2 large eggs
- ½ cup salted, roasted pistachios
- ½ cup chopped white chocolate
- Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
- Beat the butter and sugar together with the lemon and orange zest and the rosemary until creamy. An electric mixer is probably preferable. Slowly add the oil and beat it into the butter and sugar. Add the vanilla and eggs, remembering to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. Beat these in as well.
- Gradually add the flour mixture on the lowest speed. Near the end, also add the pistachios and white chocolate chunks. Mix until evenly incorporated. Chill for 30-60 minutes to firm the dough up a bit.
- Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper or a silicone liner.
- Divide the dough in half. Shape each portion into a log, about 2½ inches by 10 inches. Arrange the logs lengthwise on the prepared cookie sheet, 4 inches apart. Flatten each log just a bit.
- Bake for 20-22 minutes, rotating front to back halfway through. The logs are done when they are golden and set--do not overbake. Let the logs cool for at least 1 hour, preferably 2.
- Heat the oven to 300 F.
- Slice carefully with a serrated bread knife, into ½-inch slices. Place upright with some space between the slices on the cookie sheet. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the slices are golden. The slices will feel somewhat hard, but will not totally crisp up until they have cooled.
- ½ t salt
- 1½ t baking soda
- ⅛ t chipotle powder
- 1½ t unsalted butter
- ½ t vanilla
- 1½ cups granulated sugar
- ½ cup light corn syrup
- ¼ cup ale or lager
- 1½ cups salted and roasted cashews
- Line a large rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
- Attach a candy thermometer to a 3 quart heavy bottomed pot (I used 2 quart, and it was touch and go for spilling but ultimately ok).
- Whisk together the chipotle powder, baking soda and salt. Place beside cooktop.
- Place the butter and vanilla in a small bowl and place beside the cooktop.
- Add the sugar, beer and light corn syrup to the pot. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Keep an eye on the thermometer; candy temperature rises in a kind of manic depressive way, it will take forever to move up 10 degrees and then suddenly rush up the next 30. When the temperature reaches 250 F, add the cashews.
- After adding the cashews, stir nearly constantly to prevent the nuts from burning. When the temperature reaches 300 F, take the pot off the heat and quickly mix in the butter, vanilla and baking soda mixture.
- Pour the brittle onto the prepared cookie sheet. If you want to make the brittle a little thinner you can tilt the sheet, but it will not spread a lot and you do not want to use anything to spread it as that will deflate all those wonderful bubbles.
- When the brittle has set and completely cooled, break it into irregular pieces and store in your candy tin.