Cookie Calendar: Chocolate Chip Cookies

You could make these famous chocolate chip cookies as a quick dessert on Christmas morning, but I doubt even the familiarity and drop-cookie-ease of this recipe is enough if you have to cook a big meal today.

Still, these would be greatly comforting to enjoy in the post-holiday season soon upon us, as you sit back, relax, and relish a job well done.

As a hint for next year, my mom often would bake these as (highly anticipated) gifts for school staff when we were in grade school. As the recipe states, she alters the standard Toll House cookie recipe by always using butter-flavored Crisco (which is fattier than butter, by the way, making these cookies darker and crisper on the outside) and by dropping them with an enormous cookie scoop. We're talking about a scoop on the high-end of what's sold at the kitchen store, which holds something like two or more tablespoons of dough. The cookies will end up bake-sale sized, maybe about four inches across.

Cookie Tip #24: Don't trust what a recipe gives as its yield. I often end up with far less than what's stated; I imagine that others always end up with more. A lot depends on the size of your scoops or slices, true, but you'll also run into variations due to measuring differences. Flour is especially difficult to measure accurately because it compresses under its own weight. Someone who sifts and gently scoops flour with a spoon into a cup will end up putting much less flour in the bowl than someone who uses the measuring cup to shovel straight out of the canister and presses the top flat. It's best to find recipes that measure ingredients by weight rather than volume for this reason.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Source: Nestlé and Mom

  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1 cup (1 stick) butter-flavored Crisco

  • ¾ cup granulated sugar

  • ¾ cup packed brown sugar

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 2 large eggs

  • 2 cups (12 oz. pkg.) chocolate chips

PREHEAT oven to 375° F.

COMBINE flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels and nuts. Drop by ice cream scoop onto ungreased baking sheets.

BAKE for 11 to 13 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Mom's way: Use the big cookie scoop to create huge, four-to-five-inch cookies. Will take a few more minutes to bake.

Download Chocolate Chip Cookies into MacGourmet.

Cookie Calendar: Swedish Christmas Cookies

If you'd like to have fresh-baked cookies on Christmas with a minimum of fuss, then slice-and-bake is definitely the way to go. If you're like most (non-insane) people putting on a big party on Christmas Day, you'll probably be spending much of today in the kitchen prepping anyway, so why not whip up some cookie logs?

Food Network accompanies this recipe now with a picture of pastel-sugar-bedecked cookie rounds, but back when the recipe was first unleashed on the 12 Days of Cookies hordes, the picture dazzled us with a red-and-green holiday theme.

What colors of sugar your roll them in is up to you, but I did the mix of red and green when I baked these. I simply sprinkled both shades on my work surface, used my fingers to mix 'em up, and then rolled away.

Cookie Tip #23: Slice-and-bake logs in the freezer or fridge mean fast cookies with minimal effort at any time in the holiday season!

Swedish Christmas Cookies
Source: Food Network
Yield: About 3-1/2 dozen cookies

  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

  • 2 teaspoons ground cardamom

  • ¼ teaspoon fine salt

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, (2 sticks), at room temperature

  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar

  • 1 large egg, room temperature

  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

  • Colored sanding sugars or chopped toasted pecans

Whisk the flour, cardamom, and salt in a bowl.

Put the butter and confectioners' sugar in a food processor, and process until smooth. Pulse in the egg, vanilla, and lemon zest until combined. Add the flour mixture and process to make a soft buttery dough. Divide dough in half onto 2 (12-inch long) sheets of plastic wrap, using the plastic, shape into rough logs. Refrigerate the dough logs for 30 minutes until just firm enough to shape into uniform logs, 8-inches long by 2-inches in diameter. Refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Scatter either the sanding sugars or toasted nuts on a work surface and roll the logs until completely coated. Cut into 1/4-inch thick cookies and space about 1 inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake until golden around the edges, about 20 to 25 minutes. Cool cookies on the pan on wire racks. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

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Cookie Calendar: Famous Oatmeal Cookies

Oatmeal cookies may be your typical, everyday cookie fare, but it wouldn't be Christmas without them making an appearance on our holiday cookie platters. It's a special favorite of my grandpa, but I think a lot of people would be disappointed not to be able to have a few (and take some home!).

Oatmeal cookies do have a holiday flavor, too, with their molasses-like brown sugar. You can up the Christmas factor by adding in some cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice -- whatever gets you in that celebratory mood.

We always add raisins to our oatmeal cookies, but at this time of year, dried cranberries or even cherries would be perfect!

Cookie Tip #22: If you're not already planning to pre-wrap a bunch of your cookie stash as gifts, consider having pretty bags or storage containers nearby so that guests can pack up a few cookies for the road as the party breaks up. Your waistline will thank you come New Year's.

Famous Oatmeal Cookies
Source: Quaker Oats
Yield: About 5 dozen

  • 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

  • ¾ cup vegetable shortening

  • ½ cup granulated sugar

  • 1 egg

  • ¼ cup water

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

  • 3 cups Quaker Oats (quick or old fashioned, uncooked)

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

  • 1 teaspoon salt (optional)

  • ½ teaspoon baking soda

1. Heat oven to 350°F. In large bowl, beat brown sugar, shortening and granulated sugar until creamy. Add egg, water and vanilla; beat well. Add combined oats, flour, salt and baking soda; mix well.
2. Drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.
3. Bake 11 to 13 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Remove to wire rack. Cool completely. Store tightly covered.

Cook Tips and Variations

* Add 1 cup of any one or a combination of any of the following ingredients to basic cookie dough: raisins, chopped nuts, chocolate chips or shredded coconut.

LARGE COOKIES: Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 15 to 17 minutes. ABOUT 2-1/2 DOZEN

BAR COOKIES: Press dough onto bottom of ungreased 13 x 9-inch baking pan. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Cut into bars. Store tightly covered. Makes 24 BARS

* HIGH ALTITUDE ADJUSTMENT: Increase flour to 1-1/4 cups and bake as directed.

Nutritional notes:
Serving Size:
1 cookie
Nutrition Information:
Calories: 70, Calories from Fat: 25, Total Fat: 3g, Saturated Fat: .5g, Cholesterol: <5mg, Sodium: 10mg, Dietary Fiber: 0g, Protein: 1g

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A Gift in a Jar for Oatmeal Cookie Fans

Picture from . . like my grandpa. My mom always makes sure I prepare some oatmeal raisins for him. And why not -- they're yummy.

They almost feel healthy, too, with all that whole grain and fruit. They're a great cookie for everyone to make after swearing to those New Year's resolutions!

Quaker Oats provides the recipe for creating the jars on their site. It's kind of nice because it even incorporates the fat yet, like Bisquick, it doesn't require refrigeration. That's miracle of shortening for you.

Don't forget to print out the cookie recipe to attach to the jars, else your recipient won't know what to do with a jar full of floury oats.

Cookie Calendar: Shortbread Bites

Half an inch sure makes for one teeny-weeny cookie! If you have little kids around at the holidays, I bet these would make great "tea party" fare.

The square shape is also somewhat unusual for a cookie, and the sprinkles worked into the dough make it so festive. You could use red and green nonpareils for Christmas, true, but I liked the look of the rainbow ones too much to go any other way.

They look kind of reminiscent of that confetti icing they sell at the grocery store. I always longed for that stuff on cakes, but my mom was never a canned frosting kind of person.

Nowadays, I don't like icing much, and I'm often too impatient to wash everything up and make a batch after I've gone to all the trouble of baking. I do sometimes buy frosting in a can for cakes that must be frosted and aren't for me to consume. Hmm, sometime I need to relate my adventures in seven-minute frosting from this summer!

I digress! My big tip for these cookies is to underbake them a bit. I followed the directions here, and 18 to 20 minutes is waaaaay too long for butter cookies the size of nickels. When the bottoms are so very golden brown, the cookies turn all dry and crumbly rather than luscious and buttery. Start checking these puppies, I don't know, nine minutes in, and pull them once they look set.

Cookie Tip #21: Don't trust a recipe. Trust your senses! If they look set, they are done, even if it hasn't been 30 minutes. If they look dull, add sprinkles or candy bits. If they taste boring, add more vanilla or other flavoring next time. Just watch out when you start changing things such as the kind or amount of cocoa or acid used, as ingredients such as those might be balancing out another acid/alkaline ingredient that makes the cookie rise or come together.

Shortbread Bites
Source: Good Housekeeping

  • 1 ¼ cup(s) all-purpose flour

  • 3 tablespoon(s) sugar

  • ½ cup(s) (1 stick) butter (no substitutions), cold, cut into pieces

  • 1 tablespoon(s) red and green nonpareils or sprinkles or 1/2 cup mini baking bits

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
2. In food processor with knife blade attached, pulse flour and sugar until combined. Add butter and pulse until dough begins to come together. Place dough in medium bowl. With hand, gently knead in nonpareils or baking bits until evenly blended and dough forms a ball.
3. On lightly floured waxed paper, pat dough into 8" by 5" rectangle; freeze 15 minutes. Cut dough into 1/2-inch squares. Place squares, 1/2 inch apart, on ungreased large cookie sheet.
4. Bake cookies 18 to 20 minutes or until lightly browned on bottom. Transfer cookies to wire rack to cool. Repeat with remaining dough. Store cookies in tightly covered container at room temperature up to 1 week, or in freezer up to 3 months.

Nutritional notes:
Calories 40
Total Fat 3g
Saturated Fat 2g
Cholesterol --
Sodium --
Total Carbohydrate 4g
Dietary Fiber --
Sugars --
Protein --
Calcium --

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Good Housekeeping's 30 Days of Cookies

For more cookie-recipe goodness, check out Good Housekeeping magazine's chock-full-of-pictures cookie page.

Some look especially good:

Cinnamon Spirals

Spumoni Icebox Cookies

Fig-Filled Moons

Cookie Calendar: Booze Balls

We created these truffle-like cookies a few evenings ago while enjoying another viewing of A Christmas Carol on DVD (see? Make it festive!). Scott did have to make a chocolate run to the convenience store when we decided to make a double batch and discovered we were 40 grams short on chocolate, but otherwise this recipe went a good deal more smoothly than the Rum Balls.

It helped that I found a meat pounder to use for crushing the cookies this time around. Last time we attempted a lightweight skillet and our fingers before finally settling on the edge of a wooden cutting board. Of course, you should use your food processor and save yourself a good deal of time.

We did have to make a few substitutions. Since they don't sell chocolate chips here as far as we can tell (though you can buy packaged chocolate-chip cookies), we used chopped-up dark chocolate bars. Thus, ours might taste a little sweeter than yours. We also used rum rather than bourbon or brandy since we didn't want to buy yet another bottle of liquor that we will not finish in the next four and a half months.

Also, since our box of prunes was three dried plums short of the amount required, we subbed in a couple tablespoons of golden raisins. Chopped up into mush, they didn't stand out much at all.

We used the plain granulated sugar we had on hand for decoration, which as you can see in the picture produced a sparkly coat for each ball that didn't end up absorbed by the moisture of the balls after a couple of days of "maturation."

As for the taste: These balls do remind me of truffles infused with liqueur, with their soft, somewhat grainy texture and chocolaty yet slightly fruity and boozy flavor. They also remind me a little of chocolate Lara Bars without the nuts.

Cookie Tip #20: Some cookies, such as gingerbread men and stained-glass cut-outs, make excellent tree decorations. When you make the string holes in your cookies before baking, make them much bigger than you expect to need to allow for puffing in the oven. Why not buy a small artificial tree for a table (one out of reach of pets!) and decorate it entirely in edible ornamentations? Think popcorn or cereal garlands, candy canes, and, of course, cookies. Just don't expect it to last until Christmas day!

Booze Balls
Source: Food Network
Yield: 4-1/2 dozen one-inch balls

  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (12 ounces!)

  • 20 chocolate wafer cookies (about 1/2 a 9-ounce box)

  • ½ cup finely chopped pitted dried plums (about 15)

  • ½ cup confectioners' sugar

  • ¼ cup bourbon or 1/3 to 1/2 cup brandy

  • ¼ cup sweetened condensed milk

  • ¼ cup granulated sugar, or colored decorating sugars, for garnish

Put chocolate in a microwave safe bowl and microwave on medium power for a minute. Stir and repeat until the chocolate melts, about 3 minutes in all depending on the power of your microwave. Alternatively, put the chocolates in a heatproof bowl. Bring a saucepan filled with 1-inch or so of water to a very slow simmer; set the bowl on the pan (without touching the water). Stir occasionally until melted and smooth.

Process the cookies in a food processor until finely ground (you should have about 1 1/2 cups ground cookies). Alternatively, put cookies inside a heavy re-sealable plastic bag and crush by moving a rolling pin over the cookies.

Stir the cookie crumbs, dried plums, confectioners' sugar, bourbon or brandy, and condensed milk into the chocolate until evenly combined.

Cover and refrigerate the mixture until firm enough to roll into balls, about 45 minutes. Scoop a tablespoon or so of the mixture into small balls with a cookie or small ice cream scoop and set onto a baking sheet or a large plate. Roll each portion by hand into a smooth ball.

Store booze balls in an air tight container at room temperature for a day to allow the flavors to come together. Store balls in the refrigerator for a week or freeze for up to 1 month.

To serve, put the sugar on a plate and roll the balls in it to coat. Serve at room temperature.

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Food Network's 12 Days of Cookies: The Whole Six Years

12daysofcookies.jpgI've collected all the 12 Days of Cookies recipes on one page on my Recipe Box site. You can view and download each individual recipe. Of course, should you prefer to see them in original form on the Food Network site, please visit my blog entries for each year's links:

Come next year, I'll update the collection with whatever cookies come our way. For now, though, bon appétit and happy holidays!

The 12 Days of Cookies Collection

Cookie Calendar: Rosemary-Cheese Spritz Cookies

Though these are called cookies, Rosemary-Cheese Spritz are probably best served alongside your appetizers rather than your desserts. They are savory as well as being as typically tender and buttery as the usual spritz cookies. And you get to use the cookie press!

As they are so tender, don't put these cookies out with your crackers next to the cheese ball. They can't handle the abuse. Instead, place them on their own festive plate or alongside other dry items not meant to be dipped or spread.

If you're not up to speed on the varieties of cheeses available in the marketplace, know that pecorino generally refers to pecorino romano, also often just called romano cheese. As in, that stuff that many restaurants cut the more expensive grated parmesan with.

Personally, I like it even better than parm (possibly because it's saltier) and I buy huge wedges at Costco that I grind up in the food processor for sprinkling on pasta.

By the way, if you're the sort of person who sees "parmesan" and thinks not "Parmigiano Reggiano" but rather "Kraft," you could always use 1-1/4 cups of their Parmesan-Romano blend here in place of measuring out two separate cheeses. We all know in our deepest souls which of us will be working the Microplane come Christmas and which will be scooping from the plastic bottle, but our guests will likely have consumed too much eggnog to judge what camp the cookies fall in.

Cookie Tip # 19: Before you start baking, make sure to clear ample space around the kitchen to set up cooling racks. There's nothing worse than running around the house with a rocket-hot pan in one hand, a rack under your chin, and your other arm shoving the wrapping paper and gifts on the floor as you make some landing space. Your cookie bottoms could burn along with your hands if you wait to set up the racks, as cookies will continue to bake while sitting on a hot sheet.

Rosemary-Cheese Spritz Cookies
Source: Food Network
Yield: About 4 dozen

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter

  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

  • 1 large egg yolk

  • 6 tablespoons heavy cream

  • 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

  • ¾ cup finely grated Pecorino cheese

  • ½ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

  • 1 tablespoon sugar

  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary leaves

  • 1 teaspoons fine salt

  • Pinch freshly ground nutmeg

  • Special Equipment: Cookie Press

Bring all ingredients to room temperature.

Beat the butter and lemon zest with an electric mixer at medium speed until smooth, about 30 seconds. Slowly beat in the egg yolk and cream.

Whisk the flour, pecorino, 1/4 cup of the Parmesan, sugar, rosemary, salt, and nutmeg together in a bowl. Gradually add the flour mixture into the butter mixture while mixing slowly. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then beat on medium speed to make a slightly sticky dough.

Fill the cookie press with the dough. Assemble the press with the desired disk shape (see cook's note), and press cookies onto ungreased baking sheets. Leave about one inch between cookies. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan and refrigerate cookies for 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Bake cookies, rotating pan halfway through, until golden, the cheese browns a bit, and the cookies smell nutty, about 20 to 25 minutes. Briefly cool the cookies on the baking sheets, then transfer to racks to cool. Serve or store in a tightly sealed container for up to 1 month.

Cook's Notes: These freeze beautifully. Press the cookies out into desired shapes on cookie sheets and freeze. Transfer frozen cookies to a plastic bag, seal, and keep frozen for up to 1 month. When ready to bake, lay out frozen cookies on cookie trays and bake from frozen for 25 minutes.

Some disk shapes work better than others. Since this is savory cookie, we liked the cutters that result in a cracker shape cookie, like the ribbon, clover. Stars and and snowflakes work, too.

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Food Network's 12 Days of Cookies: 2007

12daysofcookies.jpgDrumroll, please!

Today, I will provide all the lovely souls of this world with a list of links to this year's (that is, 2007's) 12 Days of Cookies recipes. You have this list if you managed to subscribe to the newsletter before it ended in early December, but if you missed out (and it's easy to miss out if you hadn't thought about Christmas cookies as early as November), you've probably noticed that they don't post a list of the featured recipes on the Food Network web site's 12 Days of Cookies page.


Anyway, I'm most looking forward to trying the Double Chocolate Sable Cookies, Walnut Sugar Cookies (Kourabiedes), and cute Cinnamon Stars (Zimtsterne) next Christmas when I have an oven again. However, most of this year's recipes look intriguing because of the holiday world tour theme the 2007 list has going on. Take a minute to check out the trivia bits presented with each recipe to bone up on your cookie history.

Food Network's 12 Days of Cookies, 2007

I must give credit to the author of the MacGourmet blog for importing all the recipes for us. You can download the file collection from his blog or grab a copy from here.

Download 12 Days of Cookies 2007 into MacGourmet.

Cookie Calendar: Chocolate Crinkles

Not having my King Arthur Flour baking books here with me, I can't say for sure that this version of Chocolate Crinkles from the flour maker's web site is the one I baked for a past Christmas (I seem to remember using Dutch-processed cocoa), but it's likely close enough.

The cookies produced have a deep, dark, chocolaty flavor that makes you feel all tingly inside. Plus, with that contrasting white sugar on top highlighting all the crackles in the cookie's surface, these treats also please the eye.

I remember these being especially a hit with my aunts, including the one who passed away a year and a half ago, just like the jam-filled rugelach.

Cookie Tip #18: It's often recommended in cookie baking that you bring all ingredients to room temperature before beginning the mixing. Supposedly, you can work more air into warmer ingredients, plus they're easier to work with. If you've planned ahead, you can take out your butter and eggs for the day as soon as you wake up in the morning, and they should be ready for you by the time you start baking. I've read that you can speed up the softening of butter by using the microwave, but I've always ended up with butter that's melted on the outside and stone cold on the inside. Melted butter is definitely not a recipe for success! Instead, I like to just cut the butter into chunks and throw it in the mixer bowl cold. But before I add the sugar, I run the mixer for a minute or two, until the butter turns soft and coats the sides of the bowl.

Chocolate Crinkles
Source: King Arthur Flour
Yield: 5 dozen cookies

  • 1 ⅓ cups (8 ounces) chopped bittersweet chocolate or chocolate chips

  • ½ cup (4 ounces, 1 stick) unsalted butter

  • ⅔ cup (4 3/4 ounces) sugar

  • 3 large eggs

  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

  • 2 teaspoons espresso powder (optional)

  • ½ teaspoon baking powder

  • ¼ teaspoon salt

  • 1 ⅔ cups (7 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

  • confectioners' sugar* (for coating)

Dough: Place the chocolate and butter in a small saucepan or microwave-safe bowl, and heat or microwave till the butter melts. Remove it from the heat, and stir until the chocolate melts and the mixture is smooth.

In a separate bowl, beat together the sugar, eggs, vanilla and espresso powder. Stir in the chocolate mixture, baking powder and salt, then the flour. Chill the dough for 2 to 3 hours, or overnight; it'll firm up considerably.

Shaping: Put about a cup of confectioners' sugar into a shallow bowl. Using a teaspoon-sized cookie scoop, a spoon, or your fingers, scoop out heaping teaspoon-sized portions of the dough; they should be roughly 1 1/4 inches in diameter. Drop the dough balls into the confectioners' sugar as you go. Once about five or six are in the bowl, shake and toss the bowl to coat the balls with the sugar. (If you try to do this with too many balls at a time, they'll just stick together.)

Baking: Place the coated dough balls on a lightly greased or parchment-lined cookie sheet, leaving about 1 1/2 inches between them. Bake the cookies in a preheated 325°F oven for 10 to 12 minutes, switching the position of the pans (top to bottom, and front to back) midway through the baking time. As the cookies bake, they'll flatten out and acquire their distinctive "streaked" appearance. Remove the cookies from the oven, and allow them to cool on a wire rack.

*We often call for our glazing sugar to be substituted for confectioners' sugar, as it's a "purer" sugar: it doesn't include cornstarch. However, in this case, go with confectioners' sugar; the cornstarch keeps the sugar from melting atop the cookies as they bake.

Nutritional notes:
Nutrition information per serving (2 cookies, 28g): 113 cal, 6g fat, 2g protein, 5g complex carbohydrates, 8g sugar, 30mg cholesterol, 33mg sodium, 38mg potassium, 38RE vitamin A, 1mg iron, 10mg calcium, 25mg phosphorus, 6mg caffeine

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Food Network's 12 Days of Cookies: 2006

12daysofcookies.jpgThe cookies dropping into our inboxes in 2006 didn't look like the held much holiday promise at first: Black and White Cookies? Chocolate Chips? What's this, the 12 Days of Lunchbox Cookies?

But even though Food Network would continue the trend by trying to pass off Whoopie Pies as special holiday fare rather than your typical bake-sale buy, they did plug in a number of festive recipes to make up for it.

I'd never seen such a triangular macaroon, but the shape is reminiscent of a Christmas tree, especially with those jewel-like cranberries (there's some holiday flavor for ya) shining out like ornaments. Plus, nothing says "Christmas" like a cookie (or in this case, a bar) decorated with candy cane bits.

Props to what looks like an old Food Network blog for cluing me in to the bonus cookie that accompanied 2006's cookie newsletter.

Food Network's 12 Days of Cookies, 2006

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Cookie Calendar: Maamoul

I made these particular cookies last year. It was the first (well, and only) time I've ever worked with dates. I'm a big fan of those bacon-wrapped dates and Middle Eastern-style desserts, so I had to try these.

Don't expect the cookie dough part to shine. The outside looks like a soft biscuit, and the taste is none too sweet with so little sugar. But then, the dough part is just the vehicle for delivering that sweet, fruity filling to your mouth, and you don't want the outside bit to steal the show.

It's kind of like a Fig Newton but so much prettier.

Use the high-quality Medjool dates for best results. If you don't see crystallized ginger sitting around where they keep the fruitcake ingredients, check the spice aisle. McCormick sells bottles of it with their fancy line of spices, and one of their jars equals a 1/4 cup.
And if you have the money for it, buy two jars of that stuff. Crystallized ginger is seriously delicious.

Cookie Tip #17: Check with your guests before the big day to see if there are any dietary needs you will need to account for in your baking. For example, you might need to whip up some nut-free choices (plan on a separate platter for those so there isn't cross-contamination that could trigger allergies) or something gluten-free such as coconut macaroons. As for all those butter- and egg-hating vegans, well, there's always dark chocolate bark.

Source: Food Network
Yield: 20 cookies

  • ½ lb. pitted soft Medjool dates

  • 2 tablespoons water

  • Pinch fine salt

  • ¼ cup finely chopped crystallized ginger

  • ½ teaspoon finely grated orange zest


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

  • 1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar, plus about 1/2 to 2 cups more for dusting

  • Pinch fine salt

  • ½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick), plus 2 tablespoons

  • 2 tablespoons neutral flavored oil, such as canola

  • ¼ cup milk

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

To make the filling: Puree the filling ingredients in a food processor until evenly combined, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove and set aside. Clean the processor bowl.

Put the flour, baking powder, the 1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar, and salt in the bowl of food processor and pulse 3 to 4 times to mix. Add the butter, oil, and milk pulsing until the dough just comes together. Take care not to overwork the dough; it will be slightly wet.

Remove dough from the processor, and roll into 20 equally sized balls. In the palm of your hand, press and pat each ball of dough into a 2 3/4-inch round. Place a rounded teaspoon of filling in the center of each round and draw the edges up and around the filling. Pinch the dough together to make a sealed ball, and then carefully roll the cookie between your palms to make a smooth round ball. Press gently to flatten the cookie slightly, then place them seamed side down on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. Gently prick the cookies with a fork or a wooden skewer in a decorative pattern taking care not to pierce the dough to the filling.

Bake the cookies until firm and slightly puffed, and the tops are pale but the bottoms are just beginning to turn slightly golden, about 25 to 30 minutes. Dust generously with confectioners' sugar, cool and dust again.

Other fillings we love:

Apricot Golden Raisin Nut Filling:
1/3 cup hazelnuts, toasted and chopped (other nuts can be substituted)
1/3 cup golden raisins
3 tablespoons apricot jam
Pinch fine salt

Puree in a food processor until evenly combined.

Quince-Walnut Filling:
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
1/3 cup quince jam
Pinch fine salt

Puree in a food processor until evenly combined.

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Food Network's 12 Days of Cookies: 2005

12daysofcookies.jpgThe big holiday dash is upon us all, and we're almost through counting down the 12 Days of Cookies lists. For all those searching folks, I will be posting links to the Food Network's 2007 recipes on Thursday. It'd be nice if they did it themselves, but whatever.

The year 2005 might be seen as the zenith (so far) of Food Network's Christmas cookie efforts. The recipes from this list got their own television special and a viewer cookie contest that brought us the recipe for S'More Rockin' Reindeer Ravioli.

I remember watching that special a couple of years ago (by the way, it aired again yesterday and will rerun on Dec. 22 also). It's hosted by a guy whose once heavily promoted primetime show has been demoted to the near-graveyard of midweek mornings. The bit on the Ravioli has the creator talking about how she came up with the recipe as a way to one up the guy who always brought a creative original cookie to the work party every year.

And a merry Christmas to you, too!

The Rosemary Cheese Spritz are quite tasty and an excellent excuse to pull out the cookie press again. I'll be making the Booze Balls in the coming week for our Christmas celebrations as they don't require baking.

While the 2005 cookies were still listed on Food Network's main 12 Days of Cookies page as of 2007, if you want to check out how the list looked circa 2005, I uncovered another old, orphaned 12 Days of Cookies page. As you can see, we have to be thankful that we get links to any of the previous years at all nowadays.

Food Network's 12 Days of Cookies, 2005

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Cookie Calendar: Holiday Rum Balls

Holiday Rum Balls

Surprise! I did get to make some cookies this year. True, maybe these unbaked balls are not cookies in the strictest sense, but they were part of the 12 Days of Cookies in 2002. Plus, these sorts of recipes are the closest I can get without an oven.

The taste is kind of like raw cookie dough, with the slightly boozy flavor associated with the usual vanilla extract turned up to 11 with the addition of rum. Also like cookie dough, licking the remainders off the bowl (and my fingers) proved addictive.

I can't report yet how the balls themselves taste, as they need to mature for a couple of days before consumption, sort of like a fruitcake. I'll let you know later if they are a success!

Cookie Tip #16: If you plan to give homemade cookies as gifts, plan on finding some pretty tins to present them in. To keep the cookies from getting covered in each others' crumbs, pick up some cupcake papers to keep each variety separate. Alternatively, it's cute to put each variety in its own clear or decorative cellophane bag (they often sell them in a prominent place with other Wilton baking stuff at craft and discount stores during the holidays, but you can always find them by the cake decorating supplies) and then pile the bags in a gift basket.

Holiday Rum Balls
Source: Lynn Kearney of Food Network Kitchens
Yield: 3 dozen balls (but we only got 2 dozen)

  • 2 cups fine vanilla wafer crumbs

  • 1 ½ cups confectioner's sugar, divided

  • ½ cup walnuts, toasted and chopped fine

  • ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon dark rum

  • ¼ cup dark corn syrup

  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted

In a large bowl combine wafer crumbs, 1 cup confectioners' sugar, walnuts, rum, corn syrup, butter and knead together. Roll into 1 inch balls and then into remaining confectioners' sugar. Arrange rum balls on a baking sheet, cover well with plastic wrap and let sit for 48 hours.

Download Holiday Rum Balls into MacGourmet.

Food Network's 12 Days of Cookies: 2004

12daysofcookies.jpgAnd here we enter the realm of lists still available directly off the current (2007) Food Network web site.

I came to this list with a fever-pitch level of anticipation after my cookie adventures of the previous year. Of course, it couldn't quite meet my high expectations (Cornmeal Wreaths? Made with cornflakes? What?), but looking back at the list now, I see several promising (and delicious, having made a few) recipes.

Maamoul, Ribbon Cookies, and Swedish Christmas Cookies have all hit our holiday table over the years. I was dying to try that Maamoul recipe as it sounded Middle Eastern with that date filling. Were I to make it again, I'd go all out and spring for those Medjool dates rather than the puny ones I ended up with.

If I was baking this year, I might try my hand at those Czech Squares in honor of our year abroad (we'll be moving to the Czech Republic in May). Also, since I'm much less nut-averse than I used to be, I might try those tasty-looking Hazelnut-Mocha Macaroons.

Food Network’s 12 Days of Cookies, 2004

Download 12 Days of Cookies 2004 in MacGourmet.

Cookie Calendar: Cherry Rum Ribbons

Have you ever picked up those manufacturer-sponsored cooking magazines in the grocery store? I don't generally, and the few that I have came from other people, except for the Christmas ones.

Actually, I think the Land O Lakes Holiday Cookies magazine I picked up in 2005 was perhaps the only company-sponsored one-off Christmas magazine I have, but it was well worth the purchase.

For one thing, it sports what would make Scott anoint it a worthy cooking resource: ample pictures. One for each recipes, in fact. Oh, does it makes your mouth water to see all those cookies!

Anyway, this particular recipe for Cherry Rum Ribbons sticks out in my mind as a favorite among all the cookies I made for school gifts that year. Mmm.

I love the pink and white stripes, which defy expectations and don't go for a minty taste. Instead of candy canes, I think of old-fashioned hat boxes.

Also, I'm a sucker for rum flavoring in desserts, and I'm a huge fan of dried cherries. I'd never tried the two flavors together, so I was eager to give this recipe a whirl.

These are excellent make-ahead cookies. You can take a midway-through break from the dough as it needs to chill before you do the slicing, and they're good freezers because they have no frosting or delicate bits.

Cookie Tip #15: Don't make your cookie baking a chore! Get into the spirit by putting on your favorite holiday movies or music in the background as you work, and don't be afraid to take a break to watch or dance, even if it means maybe making one less recipe than you intended. Relax a little! The holidays -- and baking -- are meant to be enjoyed.

Cherry Rum Ribbons
Source: Land O Lakes
Yield: 6 dozen cookies

These crisp layered refrigerator cookies are first formed in a pan and then ready to just slice and bake.

  • 1 cup LAND O LAKES® Butter, softened

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 1 egg

  • 2 tablespoons orange juice or water

  • 1 teaspoon rum flavoring

  • ⅛ teaspoon salt

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour

  • ½ teaspoon baking soda

  • ½ cup dried cherries, chopped

  • 3 drops red food color

  • ½ cup coarse grain sugar

Combine butter and 1 cup sugar in large bowl; beat at medium speed until creamy. Add egg, orange juice, rum flavoring and salt. Continue beating until well mixed. Reduce speed to low; add flour and baking soda. Beat until well mixed.

Remove half of dough from bowl. Add cherries and food color to remaining dough in bowl. Beat at low speed until just mixed. Divide each dough in half again.

Line bottom and sides of 9x5-inch loaf pan with waxed paper or plastic food wrap. Press half of cherry dough evenly onto bottom of pan. Top with half of white dough. Repeat with remaining cherry and white dough, pressing each layer firmly and evenly. Cover with waxed paper or plastic food wrap; refrigerate until firm (at least 1 hour).

Heat oven to 375°F. Invert pan to remove dough. Peel off waxed paper. Place layered dough onto cutting surface. Cut loaf crosswise into 1/8-inch slices using sharp knife. Cut each slice in half crosswise. Place 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets. Sprinkle with coarse grain sugar.

Bake for 8 to 9 minutes or until edges are firm and bottoms are lightly browned. Cool 1 minute; remove from cookie sheets.

VARIATION: Chocolate Cherry Ribbons: Melt 1/3 cup real semi-sweet chocolate chips over low heat; cool. Mix into white dough. Continue as directed.

Recipe Tip
Dried cherries are available in the baking section near the dried fruit in the supermarket. Substitute sweetened dried cranberries if cherries are not available.

Recipe Tip
These cookies are perfect for freezing. Place between sheets of waxed paper in container with tight-fitting lid.

Nutritional notes:
Nutrition Facts (1 cookie): Calories: 60, Fat: 2.5g, Cholesterol: 10mg, Sodium: 35mg, Carbohydrates: 9g, Dietary Fiber: 0g, Protein: 1g

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Food Network's 12 Days of Cookies: 2003

12daysofcookies.jpgIn my mind, 2003 is the Golden Age of the 12 Days of Cookies newsletter. It's not really because of the recipes (though Almond Snowball Cookies did arrive in my consciousness with this round), the snazziness of the design that year, or the immense importance attached to the newsletter that year (we'll have to wait for Round 2005 for that).

No, it stands out in my mind for it being the first time I encountered the Food Network's Christmas cookie collection and the first time I started getting into the annual tradition of the cookie baking blitz.

The newsletter and the newfound fascination with baking fed into each other. I tried my hand at those Almond Snowballs, they turned out well, and so I wanted to bake some more. Of course, I turned to the newsletter then for more inspiration.

In later years, the 12 Days of Cookies newsletter would turn into a real promotional monster for the Food Network, something hyped all through the year and packed with videos, contests, TV tie-ins, and a whole nearly hidden section of the web site (what . . . ?). It's such a big pull that in 2007 they didn't even bother putting the recipes in the e-mails, knowing one and all would click through to all the advertising goodness on the Web.

But now, in 2003, the newsletter is more an experiment and perhaps an attempt at spreading a little free Christmas cheer.

Major thanks go out to this forum archive, which provided me an ordered list of recipes for the 2003 newsletter. Where my copies of the newsletter ended up is a question only my dearly departed iBook can answer.

Food Network’s 12 Days of Cookies, 2003

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Cookie Calendar: Butter and Jam Thumbprints

I came across this recipe in my investigation of Food Network's 12 Days of Cookies newsletter, which I'll be discussing in a few future entries here. I made these particular cookies last Christmas (2006) for the cookie swap at the school where I taught third grade.

I realize, these are perhaps not the best cookie for a cookie exchange, as you really can't stack them willy-nilly in a take-home container. In fact, I placed them in a single layer in a special box just to get them to school in the first place, which should have told me something.

Still, I couldn't resist showing off with this beautiful, beautiful cookie. It made fewer than I expected (I think I might have ended up bringing a second batch of something else to make up for the shortfall), considering that some came out "too messy" to give away to anyone but my and Scott's mouths.

I used strawberry jam for some of my batch and my favorite Ikea lingonberry jam for the rest (lingonberry tastes a lot like cranberry to me, and what better flavor for the holidays?). Both produced a lovely ruby-red jewel tone in the center of each cookie, with a berry flavor that complemented the sandy, buttery baked dough.

You should probably make these no more than three days before you plan to serve them so you can store them in a single layer at room temperature. They're magnets for crumbs with that jam center, so you must be careful. With all the jostling in the freezer, I found that a similar recipe for thumbprints I made a few years before just weren't good sub-zero survivors.

Cookie Tip #14: Cookies made with butter are especially prone to spreading, which is why many recipes recommend chilling your dough after mixing and whenever you're not specifically using it. Another way to minimize spreading is to make sure your cookie sheets are no warmer than room temperature when you put your raw dough on them. Achieving this can be tough when you're constantly swapping sheets during the holidays, so here's the trick: Clear some space in your freezer (you're never going to eat those leftovers anyway!) and stick each emptied tray in there for just a minute or two before placing on fresh dough. The freezer will suck the heat out of an aluminum tray lickety split!

Butter and Jam Thumbprints
Source: Food Network
Yield: 24 to 30 cookies

  • 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

  • ½ teaspoon baking powder

  • ½ teaspoon fine salt

  • ¾ cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened

  • ⅔ cup sugar, plus more for rolling

  • 1 large egg

  • ½ vanilla bean, seeds scraped from pod, or 1/8 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

  • ⅓ cup raspberry, cherry or strawberry jam

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.

Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a bowl.

In another bowl, whip the butter and the sugar with a hand-held mixer until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the egg and vanilla until just combined. Slowly beat in the dry ingredients in 2 additions, mixing just until incorporated.

Scoop the dough into 1-inch balls with a cookie or ice cream scoop and roll in sugar. Place about 2-inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Press a thumbprint into the center of each ball, about 1/2-inch deep. Fill each indentation with about 3/4 teaspoon jam.

Bake cookies until the edges are golden, about 15 minutes. (For even color, rotate the pans from top to bottom about halfway through baking.) Cool cookies on the baking sheets. Serve.

Store cookies in a tightly sealed container for up to 5 days.

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Food Network's 12 Days of Cookies: 2002

12daysofcookies.jpgLast year, it frustrated me when the cookies featured in the (I thought) inaugural 2003 edition of the 12 Days of Cookies were demoted to pictureless status on the round-up page (I also found it frustrating that the current year's cookies weren't listed, but that's another story). The 12 Days of Cookies newsletter has become a part of holiday tradition for me, and you can't have a tradition without history.

This year, though! This year!

This year, the 2003 cookies -- including my annual favorite, the Almond Snowballs -- disappeared from the round-up page completely!

The travesty! Scrooges! Grinches!

I decided that I had to preserve this tradition myself, since Food Network seems to believe that recipes degrade with age, like leftovers, rather than improve, like fine wines.

Despite this negative attitude, all of the recipes from 12 Days past still exist in the Food Network online database. With a bit of searching on Google, I uncovered the lists from years past -- I even discovered that a list from before 2003 existed!

And here is that list, from 2002 by my estimate. The page I found from an older version of the Food Network web site doesn't give a date for the holiday season it covers. There's a copyright from 2001 at the bottom, but there's a notice about 2003's edition being a newsletter instead of a web page, so I'm guessing that implies this list is from the year prior.

Most of the recipes are courtesy of Gale Gand, a Chicago pastry chef who used to have an afternoon show on the network called Sweet Dreams. Food Network doesn't give enough airtime to baking or sweets, in my opinion. No one's ever going to learn to create desserts from Ace of Cakes.

I'm going to link to each recipe on the Food Network site from here. Unfortunately, the links on that old page don't work anymore, so I had to search for each recipe on the current site. That means I can't be 100%, super-duper-positively certain that I selected the recipes that correspond to the list, as some titles had multiple matches. However, I'm pretty sure I deduced the correct recipes using the years listed and the pictures, which all look similar in style.

Food Network's 12 Days of Cookies, 2002
For anyone out there who uses MacGourmet to store their recipes, I've also created a compilation of all twelve 2002 holiday cookie recipes.

Download 12 Days of Cookies 2002 into MacGourmet.

Cookie Calendar: Toasty Coconut Macaroons

I don't think a whole lot of my family members give coconut its just due. It's delicious, sweet, and tropical-tasting. Coconut also has a nice chew to it, enough to give you time to contemplate the wonder that is coconut as you consume a bit of macaroon.

I know some of you out there like coconut. Scott professes an undying love for it, after all. But I sure wish you'd eat more of my coconut macaroons.

Coconut macaroons are a perfect Christmas cookie! Not only are they rich and sweet, they look like a mound of snow! How can you beat that?

I forget every year which recipes I've tried more or less successfully in the past (it's often the same way with cut-out sugar cookies, though I'm certain I've used yesterday's Crisco recipe before). I may have used this one in the past -- I do have it saved, after all -- but I don't know if I've every taken the time to toast the coconut before baking the cookies. They get toasty enough while baking, I think, and besides, I want them to look like snow!

If you are testing various recipes, I'd recommend avoiding the macaroon recipe in my dearly departed (as in seemingly lost forever) baking book, How to be a Domestic Goddess, by Nigella Lawson. I made them at least twice, and they always turn out to be a sticky mess.

Cookie Tip #13: When you're planning a pre-Christmas baking blitz, look carefully at your selected recipes before you begin. Not only will you want to evaluate your pantry and make a full shopping list, you'll want to decide when exactly you'll make all these cookies. Doughs meant to be chilled can be made first and parked in the refrigerator until you have the time to bake and decorate them. Drop cookies can be made whenever you have a pocket of a couple of hours. Delicate cookies such as macaroons and those with intricate frosting, though, should be saved for the last minute so that you can store them flat at room temperature. Plan on freezing the rest (after they've cooled!) as you bake them off to keep them fresh-tasting.

Toasty Coconut Macaroons
Source: Alton Brown
Yield: 40 cookies

  • 4 large egg whites

  • Pinch salt

  • ½ cup sugar

  • 1 package (8-ounce) sweetened shredded coconut, lightly toasted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a mixer fitted with a whip attachment. whip egg whites and salt until they become white and begin to stiffen. Add sugar in 3 parts. Continue to whip until the egg whites are very stiff. Using a rubber spatula fold in toasted coconut.

On parchment lined cookie sheets, drop a teaspoon of the mixture leaving 1 to 2 inches around each cookie. Place into the oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes. The outside should be golden brown but the insides should still be moist.

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Cookie Calendar: Ultimate Sugar Cookies

OK, this recipe is not the fanciest for sugar cookies out there, but if you're looking for something reliable and planning to smother the things with a thick coat of butter frosting anyway, they will certainly do the trick.

You know, Alton Brown said on the chocolate-chip cookies episode of Good Eats that butter-flavored Crisco somehow tastes more buttery than butter in cookies. It's possible. I'm betting the stuff is chock-full of diacetyl . . . let me check.

Looked it up on Netgrocer . . . no ingredients listed. But I did learn that apparently the "0 g trans fat" thing has moved into the butter-flavored line. Well, you can feel a little less guilty about eating these, unless you're still making that frosting with margarine.

Well, the Crisco web site lists ingredients, and it doesn't mention diacetyl specifically, just "natural and artificial butter flavors." I guess the jury's still out on whether taking a big whiff of hot butter-flavored Crisco every day will give you popcorn lung.

Cookie Tip #12: Be gentle with your roll-out cookie dough. The first roll of the dough will always produce the most tender cookies because subsequent kneading together and rolling of the dough will develop the gluten. Gluten equals nice, chewy bread and yucky, tough cookies. Hmm, tough cookies. Anyway, I don't believe in throwing away a ton of dough, so I always do a second rolling out. Just try not to manipulate the dough too much -- push it into the empty spaces to form a nearly flat cohesive mass again, then gently smooth out the top with the rolling pin.

Ultimate Sugar Cookies
Source: Crisco

  • 1-¼ c. sugar

  • 1-¼ c. (1 stick) butter-flavor Crisco

  • 2 eggs

  • ¼ c. light corn syrup or regular pancake syrup

  • 1 tablespoon vanilla

  • 3 c. all-purpose flour

  • ¾ teaspoons baking powder

  • ½ teaspoon baking soda

  • ½ teaspoon salt

  • Decorations (your choice)

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Combine sugar and Crisco in large bowl. Beat at medium speed of electric mixer until well blended. Add eggs, syrup and vanilla. Beat until well blended and fluffy.

Combine 3 cups flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add gradually to creamed mixture at low speed. Mix until well blended. Divide dough into four quarters. Tip: If dough is too sticky or too soft to roll: Wrap each quarter of dough with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least one hour.

Spread flour on large sheet of waxed paper. Place 1/4 of dough on floured paper. Flatten slightly with hands. Turn dough over and cover with another large sheet of waxed paper. Roll dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut out with floured cutter. Transfer to ungreased baking sheet with large pancake turner. Place two inches apart. Sprinkle with granulated sugar or colored sugar crystals, or leave plain to frost when cooled.

Bake one baking sheet at a time at 375 degrees for 5 to 9 minutes, depending on the size of your cookies. Cool two minutes on baking sheet. Remove cookies to racks to cool completely; frost if desired.

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Cookie Calendar: Minty Cream Wafers

And more with the mint!

Did you know that the flavor of mint appears to suppress your appetite? Sort of lends credence to that well-traveled bit of diet advice about brushing your teeth immediately after eating to curb snacking. I've heard that cinnamon also acts to curb your desire to eat. It seems that Christmas cookies are the answer to our nation's obesity crisis.

OK, maybe not.

I remember making these last year and having such a difficult time finding plain, minty candy canes. Cherry, tropical fruit, citrus -- sure! But the candy cane we all think of when we think of candy canes, the kind that are typically a dime a dozen? Nowhere to be found in the week before Christmas!

I don't remember if we ever found candy canes or if we had to resort to crushing starlight mints. I suppose we could have just gone the fresh mint route and saved ourselves some trouble, but I didn't think that it would hold up so well in storage.

At any rate, these are a sweet little cookie. Use candy canes in the filling if you like the crunch but don't mind the sticky candy taking up residence in your molars; use the mint if you're fancy and planning to serve the cookies right away before it can discolor.

Cookie Tip #11: While red and green are traditional Christmas colors, don't limit yourself in decorating your cookies! Dye frosting a deep yellow for a holiday gold, or leave it snowy white. Blue is popular for both Hanukkah and Christmas, and purple was pretty trendy last December. If you stick with red and green, your cookie platter will look pretty dull. If you go a little wild, it'll look lit up like a Christmas tree!

Minty Cream Wafers
Source: Better Homes and Gardens
Yield: 70 cookies

  • 1 cup butter, softened

  • 2 cups all purpose flour

  • ⅓ cup evaporated milk

  • granulated sugar

  • ½ cup butter, softened

  • 1 tsp. vanilla

  • 2 ⅓ cups sifted powdered sugar

  • ¼ tsp. peppermint extract (optional)

  • Red and green food coloring

  • 2 to 3 tbsp. finely snipped fresh mint or finely crushed candy cane (optional)

In a large mixing bowl, beat the 1 cup butter with electric mixer on medium to high speed for 3- seconds. Beat in flour and evaporated milk. Form into ball. Cover, chill 2 hours or until firm.

Preheat oven to 375°F. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut with a 1 1/2-inch round cookie cutter. Place on ungreased cookie sheets and sprinkle with sugar. Prick each round three times with a fork. Bake for 7 to 9 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove and cool on a wire rack.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the 1/2 cup butter on medium to high speed about 30 seconds. Add vanilla. Gradually add powdered sugar until smooth and creamy. Beat in peppermint extract, if using. Separate filling into 2 bowls. Tint one part with red food coloring and the other with green. Generously spread the bottoms of one-fourth of the wafers with red frosting and one-fourth with green frosting. Lightly sprinkle the center of the frosting with snipped fresh mint or crushed candy cane, if desired. Top with remaining wafers, bottom sides down.

Tip: If planning to store cookies for longer than three days at room temperature, do not use fresh mint as it may get dark.

Nutritional notes:
66 cal., 4 g total fat (2 g sat. fat), 11 mg chol., 31 mg sodium, 7 g carbo., 0 g fiber, 0 g. protein, 3% vit. A, 0% vit. C, 0% calcium, 1% iron

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Cookie Calendar: Rugelach

I'm kind of late to the party on Hanukkah, but I kept debating whether to save these cookies for the end of the Cookie Calendar because they are just. So. Good.

I concluded that not only must I allow you time to make and enjoy these properly this month, but that since this is a cookie that is sometimes associated with Hanukkah you should get the recipe now, during the Festival of Lights.

Though if you could consider a latke a cookie in that it is small and round, I do think I would anoint that my favorite Hannukah cookie.

Anyway, rugelach are truly delicious. They're a cross of a cookie, a pastry, and a teeny-tiny pie. You roll out the dough in a circle like pie crust, then paint on some jam and sprinkle on some sugar, spices, and nuts.

But then you cut it like a pizza and roll it like a crescent roll, which kind of goes against my dessert analogies. Whatever. The result is a ton of delicious cookies that are a big favorite of the family every year.

My family prefers this version, made with raspberry jam, but a little searching will lead you to a variety of other fillings based on dried fruits. Personally, I love the kind made with dried cherries in my King Arthur Cookie Companion. You can also use this particular recipe with different flavors of jam -- whatever's in your fridge.

Cookie Tip #10: Though some recipes may say margarine is an option, DON'T DO IT! Always make your cookies with butter, not margarine, for the best flavor and predictable results. Also, unless otherwise specified, you should use fresh, unsalted butter. Most recipes include added salt, and you don't want the cookies to end up too salty, true. But mostly, salt is added to butter as a preservative, meaning your salted butter is probably old butter.

Source: Kraft Foods

  • 1 pkg. (8 oz.) PHILADELPHIA Cream Cheese, softened

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened

  • 2-¼ cups flour

  • 1 cup finely chopped PLANTERS Walnuts

  • ½ cup plus 2 Tbsp. sugar, divided

  • 1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon, divided

  • ¼ cup raspberry preserves

BEAT cream cheese and butter in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until well blended. Gradually add flour, mixing well after each addition. (Dough will be very soft and sticky.) Divide dough into 4 portions; place each on sheet of plastic wrap. Pat each portion into 1-inch-thick circle, using floured hands. Wrap plastic wrap around each circle to enclose. Refrigerate overnight.

PREHEAT oven to 325°F. Cover baking sheets with foil or parchment paper. Mix walnuts, 1/2 cup of the sugar and 2 tsp. of the cinnamon; set aside. Roll each portion of dough to 11-inch circle on lightly floured surface, lifting dough occasionally to add more flour to work surface as necessary. Spread each circle evenly with 1 Tbsp. of the preserves.

SPRINKLE nut mixture over preserves. Cut each circle into 16 wedges. Roll up each wedge, starting from wide side. Place, point sides down, on prepared baking sheets; shape into crescents. Sprinkle with combined remaining 1 tsp. cinnamon and 2 Tbsp. sugar.

BAKE 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Immediately remove from baking sheets. Cool on wire rack.

Size It Up

Sweets can add enjoyment to a balanced diet, but remember to keep tabs on portions.

Great Substitute

Substitute PLANTERS Pecans for the walnuts and/or apricot preserves for the raspberry preserves.

Nutritional notes:
For two cookies:
Calories 150
Total fat 11g
Saturated fat 4.5g
Cholesterol 25mg
Sodium 70mg
Carbohydrate 13g
Dietary fiber 1g
Sugars 6g
Protein 2g
Vitamin A 6%DV
Vitamin C 0%DV
Calcium 0%DV
Iron 4%DV

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Cookie Calendar: Spicy Chocolate Cookies

I admit, when I first saw this recipe in Real Simple, I was skeptical. Not just cinnamon, but cayenne and ground black pepper in a chocolate cookie recipe? What were they thinking?

I am more familiar these days with Aztec and Mexican traditions in flavoring cocoa, so it doesn't sound so odd to me anymore. Still, you might want to be selective in revealing the secret of these cookies to people before they taste them. We all have the friend or relative who wouldn't touch a peppered cookie with a 10-foot pole and the one who would get turned on to the cookie just by the idea.

I've heard that brown sugar, like buttermilk, enhances the flavor of chocolate in baked goods. The recipe doesn't specify light or dark brown sugar, but I generally use the light brown kind in those situations. The recipe also doesn't specify natural or Dutch-processed cocoa powder, and as the leavening seems to come from non-chemical sources, I would guess that it does not matter much which you use.

These are an easy slice-and-bake cookie variety. Real Simple suggested in the accompanying article that the dough logs were great to keep around in your freezer throughout the holiday season for any last-minute cookie needs.

Give the Spicy Chocolate Cookies a chance. They are surprisingly delicious and a regular part of my rotation now.

Cookie Tip #9: Time management becomes crucial when baking many different cookies during the holidays. I find it's often best to focus for a couple of hours on just making refrigerator-bound doughs, keeping all the tools and ingredients at the ready to save time. They can rest for hours or days even while I work on other holiday tasks. Later on, with my fridge stocked with logs and rounds, I can focus exclusively on forming and baking cookies, with clear counters to work on.

Spicy Chocolate Cookies
Source: Real Simple

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
⅛ to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick)
1 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine the first 6 ingredients in a medium bowl. Mix thoroughly with a whisk and set aside. In a mixing bowl, beat the butter and brown sugar until creamy. Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat on high until fluffy, about 1 minute. Gradually stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture until the butter is just incorporated.

Turn the dough out onto wax paper. Use the paper to shape and roll the dough into a cylinder about 10 inches long and 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter. Wrap tightly in more wax paper, folding or twisting the ends to seal. Chill for at least 45 minutes or freeze (for up to 3 months) until needed.

Before baking, preheat oven to 375° F. Unwrap the dough (if frozen, let thaw for 5 minutes). On a cutting board, cut it into slices about 1/4 inch thick. Place the slices about 1 inch apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool until the cookies are firm enough to be moved. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

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Cookie Calendar: Minty Christmas Cookies

I suppose it's all the red-and-white candy canes and starlight mints we see this time of year that make us associate mint with the holidays. Mint is a refreshing flavor any time of the year, of course -- just ask the Girl Scouts -- but at Christmas, it's bound to sneak its way into a higher number of confections.

Such as . . . M&M's! Plain M&M's are already pretty tasty and a good way to satisfy a chocolate craving without going overboard (a whole bar is usually way more chocolate than my tastebuds require), but around the holidays, the company adds a sweet mint-chocolate variety to the lineup.

By the way, have you tried those (relatively) new dark chocolate M&M's? I love dark chocolate. Even when I was a kid I stole all the Special Darks from the Hershey Miniatures bag.

Anyway, this recipe came to our family via M&M's, from the web site or promotional material or something. It's great as a replacement for those everyday sort of chocolate chip cookies, giving you the same sort of satisfaction in a more festive package.

Cookie Tip #8: Don't limit yourself to the baking aisle when looking for cookie mix-ins or garnishes! M&M's, Hershey's Kissables, chopped-up candy bars -- all good stuff to take the place of chocolate chips.

Minty Christmas Cookies
Source: M&M's
Yield: 36 cookies

  • 2 bags M&M'S® Brand Mint Chocolate Candies for the Holidays

  • 2 ½ cups flour

  • ⅓ cup cocoa powder

  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

  • ½ teaspoon salt

  • 1 cup butter, softened

  • ¾ cup sugar

  • ¾ cup brown sugar

  • 2 eggs

  • 1 cup chopped pecan pieces

  • 2 non-stick cookie sheets or parchment-lined cookie sheets

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Combine the flour, baking soda, cocoa and salt in a bowl; set aside.

3. With the mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, until blended. Gradually stir in the flour mixture.

4. Fold in the pecans and all but 1 cup of the M&M'S Brand Mint Chocolate Candies for the Holidays.

5. Make the cookies with a tablespoon of dough in the cookie sheet. Add extra reserved M&M'S Brand Mint Chocolate Candies for the Holidays on top of each cookie before baking.

6. Bake for 12-15 minutes.

Tip: If your family likes their cookies extra minty, try adding a few more M&M'S Brand Mint Chocolate Candies to the mix!

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Cookie Calendar: Ruth Moulton's Spice Balls

I love the warm, spicy flavor of gingerbread. I love the cuteness of gingerbread, too, but despite my affinity for baking, I have little patience for rolling out dough, making cutouts, and decorating finished cookies.

Because I make so many Christmas cookies each year (each year that I have an oven, that is), I much prefer cookies of the dropped, pressed, or sliced varieties. I can deal with a little hand-shaping, too, like with these cookies, which get rolled into balls before taking a tumble in some sugar, much like snickerdoodles.

I believe this recipe might have been part of one of those classic 12 Days of Cookies newsletters, but it's been so long I can't remember for sure. Back when I first came across this recipe, Sara Moulton was a far more visible presence on the Food Network. Nowadays, she's just one of the many stars of the early days who has been pushed aside to make room for all those popular home cooks.

Even though I enjoy many of the newer shows more than a number of the older ones that often featured hosts lacking charisma or recipes that were too complicated to reproduce most nights, I do miss Sara Moulton's old show Cooking Live. She made a lot of recipes from Gourmet accessible and was a great teacher each night back when I was just learning to cook on my own. Plus, like Julia Child, she was a human chef -- she messed up, especially during the weekly live "cook-along" show, and she just laughed it off and kept going.

She still pops up at odd hours on Food Network with the show Sara's Secrets, and she's on Good Morning America a good bit, if you're interested.

Cookie Tip #7: Many spice cookies call for molasses. Unless the recipe states otherwise, always go for the bottle just labeled "molasses." You want the sweeter first boiling, not a later one. If nothing else, just remember to never get blackstrap molasses. It's not a brand-name! It refers to the least sweet, most bitter type of molasses (albeit probably the most nutritious).

P.S. The first time I made these cookies, I had to use blackstrap molasses because my brother did the shopping. They were still delicious! Still, I wouldn't go substituting blackstrap in for recipes that don't call for it, as a rule.

Ruth Moulton's Spice Balls
Source: Sara Moulton
Yield: 48 cookies

  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

  • 1 ¼ cups sugar

  • 1 large egg

  • ¼ cup molasses

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 2 teaspoons baking soda

  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves

  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger

  • ½ teaspoon table salt

Combine the butter and 1 cup of the sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Beat in the egg and molasses.

Sift the flour, soda, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, and salt together onto a piece of parchment. Add to the butter mixture in 2 batches, beating just until combined. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 2 to 3 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a pie plate. Shape the dough into walnut-size balls and roll in the sugar to coat. Arrange 2 inches apart on greased baking sheets and bake until cracked and dry but still soft, about 10 minutes. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to cool on wire racks.

Please note: Even though these are called spice “balls” they end up flat after baking.

To begin with, the dough freezes very well. Unfreeze it and bake your cookies whenever you like. Like chewy gingerbread without all the ginger, they are a special treat at holiday time and comfort food anytime.

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Cookie Calendar: Eggnog Thumbprints

Here is a cookie recipe posted in tribute to my dear eggnog-lover, Scott. Though I'm still trying to get used to the stuff, Scott loves that traditional holiday beverage that, as it happens, we watched Alton Brown make via our TiVo this evening.

These cookies obviously lack that thick, coating mouth feel of eggnog the beverage, and their booziness is slightly reduced as well. Still, the spices and other flavors come through, especially that signature nutmeg.

If I remember correctly, I made these as sandwich cookies rather than thumbprints, possibly because that would have made them easier to store in the freezer. As I bake for weeks before Christmas, I always freeze most of each batch to keep them fresh for the big day. Still, I think the flavor of the icing would come through a lot better if you followed the recipe's recommendation simply to fill the cookie cavity.

Cookie Tip #6: To freeze cookies with decorated or frosted tops, first spread them in one layer on a frosty cookie sheet and place the sheet in your freezer. The aluminum of the tray should suck the warmth from the cookies more efficiently, plus this method lets the soft topping turn solid before you stack the treats in freezer bags or plastic containers.

Eggnog Thumbprints
Source: Better Homes and Gardens
Yield: 40 cookies

  • ⅔ cup butter, softened

  • ½ cup granulated sugar

  • ⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg

  • 2 egg yolks

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

  • 1-½ cups all-purpose flour

  • 2 slightly beaten egg whites

  • 1 cup finely chopped walnuts

  • ¼ cup butter

  • 1 cup sifted powdered sugar

  • 1 teaspoon rum or 1/4 teaspoon rum extract

  • 1 to 2 teaspoons milk

  • Ground nutmeg

1. Beat the 2/3 cup butter in a mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add granulated sugar and the 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg; beat until combined. Beat in egg yolks and vanilla. Beat in as much flour as you can. Stir in any remaining flour with a wooden spoon. If necessary, cover and chill dough about 1 hour or until easy to handle.

2. Shape into 1-inch balls. Roll balls in egg whites, then in chopped walnuts. Place 1 inch apart on lightly greased cookie sheets. Press centers with your thumb. Bake in a 375 degrees F oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Cool on wire racks.

3. For filling, beat the 1/4 cup butter until softened. Add powdered sugar and beat until fluffy. Beat in rum or rum extract and enough milk to make of spreading consistency. Spoon or pipe about 1/2 teaspoon filling into center of each cookie. Sprinkle with nutmeg.

Make-Ahead Tip: Bake and cool cookies but do not fill. In an airtight or freezer container arrange cookies in a single layer; cover with a sheet of waxed paper. Repeat layers, leaving enough air space to close container easily. Freeze up to 1 month. To serve, thaw cookies. Prepare filling and spoon or pipe into center of each cookie. Sprinkle with nutmeg.

Nutritional notes:
calories: 96, total fat: 6g, saturated fat: 3g, cholesterol: 22mg, sodium: 46mg, carbohydrate: 9g, fiber: 0g, protein: 1g, vitamin A: 5%, vitamin C: 0%, calcium: 0%, iron: 2%

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Cookie Calendar: Chocolate Peppermint Pinwheel Cookies

Just this morning I watched a rerun of Alton Brown making these cookies with a little help from old St. Nick, and considering that today is his special day (St. Nicholas', not Alton Brown's), what better than this to post today?

These cookies are delicious. The dough is rich and produces a cookie with a nice, soft interior. The candy canes provide a crunchy, minty hit as you chew.

They weren't too popular on the cookie tray the year I made them, though, and I think I know why: They were way too big. My cookies, much like the ones on the show, were half an inch thick and about three or four inches wide. I suggest rolling your dough so that you end up with a log with a much shorter diameter. Keep in mind, too, that they will puff a bit while baking.

Cookie Tip #5: For holiday cookie spreads, keep your wee cakes wee. Your guests will want to graze, so they can try several varieties without overstuffing their stomachs, and they'll get turned off by monster-sized, bake-sale-style cookies. Unless you want a lot of leftovers haunting you like the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, keep those babies bite-sized.

Chocolate Peppermint Pinwheel Cookies
Source: Alton Brown

  • 1 batch Sugar Cookies, recipe follows

  • 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 1 egg yolk

  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract

  • ½ cup crushed candy canes or peppermint candies

Divide the dough in half and add chocolate and vanilla to 1 half and incorporate with hands. Add egg yolk, peppermint extract, and crushed candy to other half of dough and incorporate with hands. Cover both with plastic and chill for approximately 5 minutes. Roll out doughs separately to approximately 1/4-inch thickness. Place peppermint dough on top of chocolate and press together around the edges. Using waxed paper or flexible cutting board underneath, roll dough into log. Wrap in wax paper and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Remove dough from the refrigerator and cut into 1/2-inch slices. Place cookies 1-inch apart on greased baking sheet, parchment, or silicone baking mat and bake for 12 to 13 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through cooking time. Remove from oven and let sit on baking sheet for 2 minutes, then move to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Sugar Cookie:

3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon milk
Powdered sugar, for rolling out dough

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. Place butter and sugar in large bowl of electric stand mixer and beat until light in color. Add egg and milk and beat to combine. Put mixer on low speed, gradually add flour, and beat until mixture pulls away from the side of the bowl. Divide the dough in half, wrap in waxed paper, and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Sprinkle surface where you will roll out dough with powdered sugar. Remove 1 wrapped pack of dough from refrigerator at a time, sprinkle rolling pin with powdered sugar, and roll out dough to 1/4-inch thick. Move the dough around and check underneath frequently to make sure it is not sticking. If dough has warmed during rolling, place cold cookie sheet on top for 10 minutes to chill. Cut into desired shape, place at least 1-inch apart on greased baking sheet, parchment, or silicone baking mat, and bake for 7 to 9 minutes or until cookies are just beginning to turn brown around the edges, rotating cookie sheet halfway through baking time. Let sit on baking sheet for 2 minutes after removal from oven and then move to complete cooling on wire rack. Serve as is or ice, as desired. Store in airtight container for up to 1 week.

Yield: approximately 3 dozen, 2 1/2-inch cookies
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 7 to 9 minutes
Inactive Prep Time: 2 hours

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Cookie Calendar: Cardamom Butter Squares

The holidays can be a tricky time to introduce new flavors. People are so caught up in tradition that there can be a revolt if, say, the mashed potatoes are missing on Thanksgiving, or if no one bothered to bake the sugar cookies with butter icing.

By the way, you vultures out there -- you know what the secrets to those particular sugar cookies that show up in our family home are? Pillsbury place-and-bake refrigerated dough and a ton of margarine.

Nonetheless, those sugar cookies are sure to be the first to go, leaving behind the more specialized confections I slaved over for hours and filled with the highest-quality ingredients: pure unsalted butter, exotic spices, dark chocolate, and so forth.

Such is the sad story of my Cardamom Butter Squares, a cookie that I believe must be destined for a comeback soon as I know Scott at least is fond of the warm flavor of cardamom.

If your family hails from the Middle East, Asia, or Northern Europe, you might already have cardamom-spiced treats in your holiday repertoire. These cookies will add a little variety with their unusual square shape and chocolaty topping.

Cookie Tip #4: For the love of butter, use a double boiler to melt chocolate for cookies! I know many people recommend the microwave (though no one in their right mind recommends straight-up on the stovetop), but it's such a fiddly process, heating for a minute, stirring, checking. It's hard to know for sure when to stop if you haven't already done it a million times, but if you heat too much the chocolate turns into a burnt mess. A double boiler doesn't take much more time, and by constantly watching and stirring, you get a better sense of when the chocolate's reached a perfect drizzling consistency. All you need to do to make a double boiler is put about an inch of water in a saucepan and then put a heat-safe bowl on top. The bowl bottom should not touch the water. Bring the water up to a simmer and start melting the chocolate in the bowl. Presto!

Cardamom Butter Squares
Source: Gourmet

For cookies:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

  • ¾ teaspoon salt

  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cardamom

  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • ¼ teaspoon ground allspice

  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened

  • 1 ¼ cups granulated sugar

  • 2 large eggs

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

For espresso and chocolate icings:

  • 1 teaspoon instant-espresso powder

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

  • 1 ½ to 2 tablespoons milk

  • 1 cup confectioners sugar

  • 3 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), melted

Special equipment: 2 small heavy-duty sealable plastic bags (for icing, not pleated)

Make cookies:

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, cardamom, cinnamon, and allspice in a bowl.

Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes in a stand mixer (preferably fitted with paddle attachment) or 4 minutes with a handheld. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Reduce speed to low, then mix in flour mixture until just combined.

Form dough into 2 (12-inch) logs (1 1/2 inches in diameter), each on its own sheet of plastic wrap. Use plastic wrap and your hands to roll, press, and square off sides of logs. Chill logs on a baking sheet until slightly firm, about 1 hour, then smooth logs with plastic wrap and flat side of a ruler to achieve straight sides. Chill logs on baking sheet until firm, about 1 hour.

Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 350°F.

Cut enough scant 1/4-inch-thick slices from a log with a knife to fill 2 large ungreased baking sheets, arranging slices about 1 inch apart (chill remaining dough, wrapped in plastic wrap).

Bake cookies, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until edges are golden, 10 to 12 minutes total. Cool on sheets 3 minutes, then transfer to racks to cool completely. Make more cookies with remaining dough on cooled baking sheets.

Ice cookies:

Whisk together espresso powder, vanilla, and 1 1/2 tablespoons milk until espresso powder is dissolved, then add confectioners sugar and enough additional milk to make a thick but pourable icing. Spoon into a sealable bag and snip 1/8 inch off a bottom corner.

Spoon melted chocolate into another sealable bag and snip 1/8 inch off a bottom corner.

Pipe some espresso icing and chocolate over each cookie and let cookies stand on racks until icing sets, about 2 hours.


Yvonne M. Parnes of Batavia, Ohio, got the recipe for these rich, buttery cookies in an e-mail from the McCormick spice company. We like them plain, but drizzled with espresso icing and bittersweet chocolate, they are truly out of this world.

Cooks' notes:

  • Dough logs can be chilled 5 days or frozen, wrapped in a double layer of plastic wrap, 1 month (thaw in refrigerator just until they can be sliced).

  • Cookies (with or without icing) keep, layered between sheets of wax paper or parchment, in an airtight container at room temperature 1 week.

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