Bring cheer with a batch of holiday cookies | NevadaAppeal.com

Bring cheer with a batch of holiday cookies

J.M. HIRSCH
AP Food Writer

Sometimes selecting which holiday cookies to bake can be more trouble than the actual baking.

With every magazine and celebrity chef offering scores of ideas for holiday treats, how do you pick between one molasses cookie, gingerbread man or oatmeal-chocolate chip something-or-other and the 20 other similar recipes?

You don’t. The Associated Press has done it for you, leafing through dozens of magazines and stacks of books in search of just the right mix of holiday favorites that are easy, light on labor and look and taste great.

CHOCOLATE MALTED

WHOPPER DROPS

You’ve got to love a cookie with a name like that. This recipe, from Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking: From My Home to Yours” (Houghton Mifflin, 2006, $40), combines malted milk balls, chocolate chunks and cocoa powder for serious richness.

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(Start to finish: 45 minutes)

13Ú4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup malted milk powder

1Ú4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

11Ú2 teaspoons baking powder

1Ú4 teaspoon salt

1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (11 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2Ú3 cup sugar

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1Ú4 cup whole milk

2 cups chocolate-covered malted milk balls, coarsely chopped

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped, or 1 cup chocolate chips

Position oven rack to divide the oven into thirds. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, malted milk powder, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed until very smooth, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition.

Beat in the vanilla. Don’t be concerned if the mixture looks curdled; it will even out once the dry ingredients are added.

Reduce the mixer speed to low, add half the dry ingredients, mixing until they just disappear into the batter.

Mix in the milk, then the remaining dry ingredients, mixing only until they are incorporated. The batter will resemble frosting more than cookie dough.

With the mixer on low, or by hand with a rubber spatula, mix in the malted milk balls and chocolate pieces.

Drop the cookie dough onto the prepared baking sheets, one rounded tablespoon per cookie, leaving about 2 inches between each. Bake for 11 to 13 minutes, rotating sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through.

When done, the cookies will be puffed and set, but slightly soft to the touch. Let the cookies rest for 2 minutes before using a wide metal spatula to transfer them to racks to cool to room temperature. Bake remaining dough in similar fashion.

Makes about 30 cookies.

(Recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking: From My Home to Yours,” Houghton Mifflin, 2006, $40.)

CHOCOLATE PEPPERMINT STARS

What an attractive and simple, but still unusual design – star-shaped chocolate cookies drizzled with ribbons of melted chocolate, dusted with crushed candy canes, and finished with yet another drizzle of chocolate.

The design came from the December issue of Bon Appetit magazine, but I used my preferred chocolate cookie recipe from King Arthur Flour’s “The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion.”

(Start to finish: 41Ú2 hours, 30 minutes active)

11Ú2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

3Ú4 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder

1Ú2 teaspoon salt

1Ú2 teaspoon baking powder

11Ú2 sticks (3/4 cup) butter

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

1 large egg

1 tablespoon water

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate

1Ú2 cup (about 31Ú2 ounces) finely crushed red-and-white-striped hard peppermint candies or candy canes

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, salt and baking powder. Set aside.

In a separate, larger bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the butter until light. Add the sugar and beat until well incorporated. Add the egg, water and vanilla and beat until the mixture has lightened both in color and texture, about 2 minutes. Gently mix in the dry ingredients.

Shape the dough into a flattened disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 3 to 4 hours, or overnight. This dough is very soft, so it is imperative to chill it before you roll it out.

Preheat oven to 325 F. Lightly grease or line with parchment two or three baking sheets.

On a clean, heavily floured surface, roll the dough to a 1Ú8-inch thickness. Use a large star cutter to cut cookies from the dough. Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheets. The cookies won’t expand much, so you don’t need to leave much space between them.

Bake for 17 to 18 minutes. They are easy to burn, so watch them carefully. When you start to smell them, they’re probably done. Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack, and cool them completely.

Place the chocolate in a glass measuring cup. Microwave in 20-second increments, stirring between, until melted. Dunk a spoon in the chocolate and drizzle the chocolate over the cookies in a zigzag pattern. Sprinkle the cookies with crushed candies, then drizzle with remaining chocolate.

Makes about 30 cookies, depending on size of cutter.

(Cookie recipe from “The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion,” The Countryman Press, 2004, $29.95. Recipe design adapted from the December issue of Bon Appetit magazine.)

JAM STARS

Every holiday cookie collection has to have something dainty and pretty. For that, we have these cookies from “Baking with Love” by the editors of Reader’s Digest (2006, $24.95).

(Start to finish: 11Ú2 hours)

31Ú4 cups all-purpose flour

1Ú2 cup ground almonds

3Ú4 cup caster (superfine) sugar

11Ú2 sticks (3/4 cup) butter, cut into small pieces

3 egg yolks

2Ú3 cup currant jam

2 to 3 tablespoons powdered sugar

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the flour, ground almonds and sugar. Add the butter and egg yolks, then beat until mixed and crumbly, about 1 minute. Press the dough together by hand.

Divide the dough into three pieces. Shape each piece into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate 30 minutes. Halfway through the chilling, preheat oven to 400 F.

Roll out each ball of dough on a lightly floured work surface, or between two sheets of parchment paper. Using a 21Ú2-inch star cookie cutter, cut out cookies. Use a smaller star-shaped cutter to cut stars out of the center of half the cookies.

Arrange the cookies on the prepared baking sheets. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Spread a thin layer of jam over the cookies without the center cut out. Sift the powdered sugar thickly over the other cookies. Place a sugar-dusted cookie over each jam-coated cookie.

Makes about 70 cookies.

(Recipe from “Baking with Love” by the editors of Reader’s Digest, 2006, $24.95)

GIANT GINGER COOKIES

These cookies, from the special cookie edition of Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food magazine, are rich, chewy and spicy thanks to generous amounts of ginger, allspice, freshly ground black pepper and molasses.

These also make great gift cookies, as they improve with age, getting even chewier on the inside. They can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for up to a week.

(Start to finish: 50 minutes, 30 minutes active)

21Ú2 cups all-purpose flour

21Ú4 teaspoons baking soda

1Ú2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon ginger

1Ú2 teaspoon allspice

1Ú2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

11Ú2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1Ú2 cup packed light brown sugar

1Ú2 cup granulated sugar, plus 1Ú3 cup for coating

6 tablespoons unsulfured molasses

1 large egg

Arrange oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Preheat to 350 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, allspice and pepper. Set aside.

With an electric mixer, beat the butter, brown sugar and 1Ú2 cup granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Add the molasses and egg and beat until well mixed. Slow the mixer to low and gradually add the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined.

Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic and freeze for 20 minutes for easier handling.

Tear off chunks of the dough and with your hands shape into 2-inch balls. Place the remaining 1Ú3 cup sugar in a bowl and roll the balls in it to coat. Place the coated dough balls on the prepared baking sheets, at least 4 inches apart.

Flatten the balls into 3-inch rounds. Pressing the balls with the bottom of a heavy mug works well. Sprinkle the cookies evenly with any sugar remaining in the bowl.

Bake, rotating the sheet halfway through, until the cookies are set and cracked on top, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes 12 cookies.

(Recipe from Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Everyday Food magazine, Collectible Cookie Edition)

CHEWY CRANBERRY-OATMEAL COOKIES

Every tin of holiday cookies needs something oatmealy. And these cookies from the December issue of Fine Cooking magazine are a great choice, combining the traditional oats and brown sugar with tangy dried cranberries.

Like many drop cookies, these really spread as they cook. Be sure to leave ample space around them on the baking sheet.

(Start to finish: 30 minutes)

11Ú2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1Ú2 teaspoon salt

1Ú2 teaspoon cinnamon

21Ú2 cup rolled oats

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, slightly softened

1 cup packed light brown sugar

1Ú2 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 tablespoon honey

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

11Ú3 cups dried cranberries

1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly oil two baking sheets or line them with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and oats. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and both sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the honey and vanilla and beat until blended.

Add the flour mixture in two batches, beating until well blended. Stir in the cranberries and walnuts.

Drop the dough, one heaping tablespoon per cookie, about 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake until the centers of the cookies are soft, but no longer look wet, about 10 to 12 minutes. Rotate the sheets if necessary for even browning.

Let the cookies cool 5 minutes on the baking sheets. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Makes about 46 cookies.

(Recipe from the December issue of Fine Cooking magazine)

CRANBERRY-ORANGE SHORTBREAD CUT-OUTS

At least one batch of holiday cookies should call for dragging out the cookie cutters. But this recipe from Country Living magazine’s Holiday 2006 issue takes a new approach – cutting the cookies after they’ve baked.

This is a nice approach that avoids the fuss of trying to cut sticky doughs. The only down side is that you can’t smoosh together the dough remnants in order to make more cookies. Instead, save the scraps and use them as a topping for ice cream.

(Start to finish: 1 hour)

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened

1Ú4 cup packed light brown sugar

1Ú4 cup granulated sugar

11Ú4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup whole-wheat flour (or another cup all-purpose flour)

Finely grated zest of 1 orange

1Ú2 cup whole fresh or frozen cranberries, finely chopped

1Ú4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place one rack in center of the oven. Preheat oven to 325 F. Line one baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and both sugars. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add both flours, the orange zest, cranberries, salt and vanilla. Beat on medium-low until mixture is fully combined.

Turn the dough out onto the prepared baking sheet. Use fingers and the palm of your hand (or a lightly floured rolling pin) to pat the dough into a 1Ú4-inch-thick rectangle. Bake until slightly firm to the touch in the center and edges are golden brown, 25 to 35 minutes.

Transfer the baking sheet to a work surface. Let cool about 5 minutes. Working one at a time, press a cookie cutter into the large shortbread to create shapes. Use a small knife to cut away any cranberry pieces. Continue until all the shortbread has been cut.

Once cool, transfer the shortbread to an airtight container.

Makes about 12 cookies.

(Recipe from Country Living magazine’s Holiday 2006 issue)