Sometimes the best counterbalance to all the overload of commerce this time of year, is to sit down and just make something… and even better yet to make something to give. And what better thanks can you think of for all those people who make a difference in our lives, than freshly baked homemade cookies?
We are blessed to have so many people to thank (as well as our own sweet tooths to satisfy), so that means we’ve been baking like crazy. The secret to our impressive output this year? Making and freezing a ton of dough just after Thanksgiving and then slicing and baking our way through the season. I must say it’s a pretty awesome feeling to know a batch of warm, homemade cookies is only minutes away.
The whole family got into the act this year. Tim continued tinkering with his great grandmother’s famous Italian “s” cookies. I’ve heard many stories about these cookies including tales of Nonni Abbey’s giant, 5 gallon tin-sized batches, but unlocking the secret has remained elusive. Perhaps the ingredients she used in her day were a bit different or it’s her transcription of the recipe which leaves quite a bit of room for interpretation (it calls for a “glass of whiskey” among other things). The cookies may not be quite the same as the original, but using her well-worn, tin cookie press each Christmas is a tradition that we wouldn’t miss.
I think my favorite holiday cookies this year were these whole wheat gingerbread cut outs which are mildly spiced and perfect with a cup of coffee or glass of cold milk. I especially appreciate that these cookies, like most gingerbread, stay soft and lovely and almost seem better in the weeks after you’ve made them. My kids vote for these chocolate-peppermint snaps which are particularly gooey and good while still warm from the oven. We also had fun tinkering with a new layering technique for butter cookies, inspired by classic pink, brown and white Neapolitan ice cream colors. We even squeezed in a mini baking playdate with Simran and Ria to try a new recipe — a soft, rich, honey drenched cookie topped with a swirl of semi-sweet chocolate. Yum!
[It’s hard to beat cookies, but for another great homemade gift we also love Ria’s granola.]
Layered Butter Cookies
I’m excited about the potential of this layering technique and can’t wait to play with it more in 2013.
- Mix up your favorite butter cookie recipe. Here’s a nice basic butter cookie recipe from King Arthur Flour and another from Martha Stewart. For chocolate, try this great technique from Cook’s Illustrated (via “Dinner with Kirsten) which amps up the chocolate flavor with a chocolate paste of cocoa powder, butter and instant espresso powder added to basic butter cookie dough.
- Separate your dough into a few portions and then vary each portion using spices, citrus zest, chopped nuts, extracts, food coloring, chocolate chips or whatever addition you like.
- Line a loaf pan with parchment paper and add the cookie doughs in layers. Make sure to compress everything as you go to remove any air bubbles.
- Refrigerate for a few hours so the dough is firm and then use the parchment “handles” to lift the dough out of the loaf pan. Slice and bake right away or wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and freeze for up to a few months.
- When you’re ready to bake, slice the dough into 1/8″ – 1/4″ thick slices (then cut the slabs into smaller pieces if you like) and bake on a parchment lined baking sheet at 350 degrees for 12-14 minutes. Start checking them closely after the 12 minute mark and take them out when they start to get a little golden at the edges. The cookies spread a little and will have rounded edges, so if you want crisp shapes you can trim them with a knife while they are still warm.