New Castle News

December 21, 2013

Culinary Conversation: Baking Christmas cookies, chapter 2

Lugene Hudson
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Are you still making Christmas cookies?

Or are you waiting until this weekend to finish your baking?

Whatever the case, there most likely won’t be a crumb left when you present your best dropped, pressed, bar, molded or icebox cookies at your holiday get-togethers.

Somewhere in my house is a cookie press. I used it twice — both times to make spritz cookies. I also inherited one from my mother. I don’t know where that one is, either.

But I did locate a Pillsbury’s Best Butter Cookie cookbook belonging to mom that cost 20 cents so I’m guessing it’s from the early 1960s. In that book is a recipe for spritz cookies, which can be formed into different shapes including long strips, stars, wreaths, bells, Christmas trees and flowers.

The cookie tips in that book from 50 years ago still apply today. They may seem simple and obvious but can make all the difference in the final results.

So if there’s baking left to do, remember a few basics — preheat the oven, use a baking sheet with little or no sides because pans with deep sides prevent browning, don’t excessively grease your baking sheets because that could cause the cookies to spread and burn on the bottom and edges, and cool cookies on a flat surface or wire rack.

And whoever invented parchment paper should receive an award.

How you store cookies is also very important. Make sure the containers have tight-fitting covers. Store soft cookies and crisp cookies in separate containers, and bar-type cookies can be stored right in their baking pans, tightly covered with aluminum foil.

Keep soft cookies moist by putting a slice of bread or half an apple in their container. If crisp cookies soften in storage, heat in a 300-degree oven about 5 minutes before serving.

Many cookies also freeze very well. There are lots of containers to use — wide-mouthed screw-top glass jars, or canisters and coffee tins with tight covers, sealed with masking tape. You may also use commercial freezer containers. My methods are my old, but still very useful Tupperware pans and tins I have collected over the years. Wax paper goes between each layer of cookies and I finish with several layers of aluminum foil before putting on the lid.

Here’s probably the most important tip — oven temperatures vary. So it’s best to check cookies after a few minutes, especially those baking at higher heat. They may take a shorter or longer time than the recipe indicates.

Now that cookie baking 101 is out of the way, let’s get to some cookies.

From Culinary Conversation to you, Merry Christmas.

Pinwheel Cookies

Cream the butter and gradually add brown sugar, creaming well in mixer. Add egg and vanilla; beat well. Sift together all dry ingredients and blend into butter mixture.

You may chill dough for better results. Roll out half of dough on floured surface to a 10x8-inch rectangle. Spread with half of date, fig or chocolate filling.

Roll out like a jelly roll starting with 10-inch side. Wrap in waxed paper or aluminum foil. Repeat with remaining dough. Chill at least 2 hours.

Cut into slices about 1⁄4-inch thick and place on lightly greased baking sheets. Bake at 400 for 8 to 10 minutes.

Date filling: Combine 11⁄4 cups dates, cut in pieces, 1⁄2 cup sugar and 1⁄2 cup water in saucepan. Cook over low heat until thick; stirring constantly. Cool thoroughly. Add 1⁄2 cup nuts, chopped.

Fig filling: Combine 11⁄4 cups figs, ground or cut in small pieces, 1⁄2 cup sugar and 1 cup water in saucepan. Cook over low heat until thick, stirring constantly. Cool thoroughly. Add 1⁄2 cup nuts, chopped.

Chocolate filling: Melt 1 cup (6-ounce package) semi-sweet chocolate pieces in top of double boiler over boiling water. Remove from heat. Stir in 1 cup flaked or shredded coconut, chopped.

Spritz Cookies

Sift together flour and salt. Cream butter and gradually add sugar, creaming well. Blend in egg and extract (lemon or rum flavoring may be substituted.) Beat well. Gradually add dry ingredients; mix thoroughly.

Press a small amount of dough through a cookie press onto ungreased baking sheet, using any plate to make desired shape. Bake at 400 for 6 to 8 minutes.

Caramel-Nut Acorns

Sift together dry ingredients.

Melt butter in 2-quart saucepan over low heat. Remove from heat. Stir in brown sugar, vanilla and pecans.

Add dry ingredients mix thoroughly.

Shape dough into balls, using a rounded teaspoonful for each. Flatten one side by pressing onto ungreased baking sheet; pinch top to a point to resemble an acorn.

Bake at 350 for 15 to 18 minutes until light golden brown. Cool.

Melt 1⁄2 pound (about 24) caramels and 1⁄4 cup water in top of double boiler.

Dip the flat ends of cookies into caramel mixture about 1⁄4-inch deep, then into 3⁄4 cup pecans, chopped fine, coating thoroughly with nuts.

Pina Colada

Macaroons

In large bowl, beat sugar, margarine and cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add rum extract and egg yolk; blend well. Lightly spoon flour into measuring cup; level off. In small bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually add flour mixture to creamed mixture; mix well. Stir in pineapple and 3 cups of the coconut. Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate at least one hour for easier handling.

Heat oven to 350. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Gently roll in remaining 1 cup coconut to coat. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets; flatten slightly. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until light golden brown. Immediately remove from cookie sheets.

Chocolate Cherry Tea Cakes

Heat oven to 350. In large bowl, beat 1 cup powdered sugar and 1 cup margarine until well blended. Lightly spoon flour into measuring cup; level off. Stir in flour, chocolate and salt; blend well. Stir in cherries. Shape into 1-inch balls. Place 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake for 12 to 18 minutes or until set. Immediately remove from cookie sheets. Cool completely. In small bowl, combine glaze ingredients, adding enough milk for desired glaze consistency; blend until smooth. Drizzle over cooled cookies.