Monday, December 12, 2016

Annual Holiday Cookie Party

 This is just the beginning.

There were two tables of them.

Here they are:  all together.

For this year's edition of my annual holiday cookie extra, I was planning to make fewer cookies than last year, and I succeeded. Last year, I made 34 cookies. This year? 32.

Mom's Sugar Cookies

I really was holding the line below 30 for a while, but then some last-minute guests from out of town came--and I was so honored, I had to make some special cookies for them:  lemon sandwiches and a vegan ginger-almond cookie.

And of course, I have a few holiday favorites that are a must every year: gingerbread, girl scout thin mints, coconut macaroons, my mother's sugar cookies, and red velvet anything.

Red Velvet Cookies with Cream Cheese Frosting

A few new recipes joined the party this year, like cookie truffles (oreo and lemon-coconut flavored)--a big hit, and matcha green tea cookies, which were delicately flavored with finely ground matcha tea powder, imported from Japan via my favorite tea shop in Alexandria, Virginia.

Oreo Flavored Cookie Truffles

I asked for people to vote for their favorite cookie, and the result of the completely unscientific poll was a three-way tie for first place: red velvet (either cookies or whoopee pies, I couldn't tell which), lemon bars, and millionaire shortbread, a new recipe from Cook's Illustrated. 

Key Lime Pie Cookies
Also receiving some love were the lemon sandwiches, green tea cookies, espresso chocolate fudge, birthday cake bars, raspberry crumb bars, chocolate ginger molasses cookies, cookie truffles, key lime pie cookies, linzer cookies, pignoli, pistachio-cardamom cookies (my new favorite), peanut butter sandwiches, and Italian rainbow cookies, always so pretty on a cookie table.

Pistachio-Cardamom Cookies

Here's the master list. I'll be posting selected recipes in the coming weeks. The ones linked to recipes already posted to this blog are starred below.
  1. *Jack’s Lemon Sandwiches              
  2. *Red Velvet Whoopie Pies
  3. Smores Bars                                 
  4. Millionaire Shortbread
  5. Matcha Green Tea Cookies with White Chocolate Chunks
  6. *Girl Scout Thin Mints                    
  7. Spritz Butter Cookies
  8. Coconut Macaroons                      
  9. *Gingerbread   
  10. Espresso Chocolate Fudge Cookies             
  11. Birthday Cake Bars
  12. Pecan Tassies                               
  13. *Raspberry Crumb Bars
  14. *Choco Ginger Molasses Cookies      
  15. Lemon Bars
  16. Cookie Truffles                            
  17. Key Lime Pie Cookies
  18. Gone Bananas Biscotti                   
  19. Oatmeal Lace Cookies
  20. TRIPLE Chocolate Chip Cookies      
  21. *Linzer Cookies
  22. *Italian Pine Nut Cookies(Pignoli)  
  23. Sugar Cookies
  24. CB’s Ginger-Almond Cookies          
  25. Caramel Crumb Bars      
  26. Funfetti Cookie Cups with Strawberry & Milk Panna Cotta
  27. Mexican Wedding Cookies              
  28. “Luxury Oreos”
  29. Pistachio-Cardamom Cookies 
  30. Red Velvet Cookies
  31. *Italian RainboW Cookies
  32. *Peanut Butter Chocolate Sandwiches     

Monday, November 28, 2016

Getting Ready for the Cookie Extravaganza

Every year around holiday time, I go crazy for cookies.

My holiday cookie baking obsession began several years ago, when I met the poet Jeanne-Marie Beaumont, who's a wonderful baker, and I asked if I could join her while she made her holiday cookies. As her two beloved cats slinked between our legs, we filled her Manhattan kitchen with dozens of cookies, some rolled, some baked as bars and then cut when cooled, some shaped, and some pushed through a special cookie dough extruder known as a "spritz" cookie press. Jeanne-Marie had an antique metal press she'd found at a garage sale, I believe, and it was fun to fit in the various disks and push out different shapes of cookies.

We had so much fun that our holiday cookie baking became an annual ritual. We'd scour cookbooks and magazines for new recipes to try, and learned to balance out flavors, colors, textures, and even processes. For example, it's no fun to make dozens of cookies that are all brown, or several doughs that all have to be rolled out.

I'd then share the results of our labors with friends, family, co-workers, doormen, dry cleaners, anyone in the neighborhood I knew and wanted to reach out to once a year, just to say, hey, I see you. I appreciate you.  I hope you have a great holiday.

When I moved to Washington, DC, four years ago, I couldn't let go of this beloved tradition, so I began baking on my own. The trouble was, I was making more cookies than I knew what to do with, so we decided to throw a small party and invite a few people over to share them.

Four years later, the party and the number of cookies I make have grown by quite a bit. I'm actually trying to cut back, but it's hard, with so many great new recipes to try. It's fun to see the trends in cookie-making from year to year, ranging from the whoopee pie craze, to green tea flavored cookies, to this year's craze:  funfetti. All three will be represented at my cookie table this year, alongside classics like gingerbread and sugar cookies.

Among the many lessons I've learned along the way:

1.  PLAN AHEAD!  It's not fun crashing through a whole bunch of recipes at the last minute. I divide my cookies into three categories:  A) cookies that can be made entirely and frozen until you need them B) cookies with dough that can be made ahead, frozen, and then baked off when you need them, and C) cookies that have to be made from scratch at the last minute.

In fact, almost all cookies freeze pretty well, but I do tend to find that some, like whoopee pies, just taste better when freshly made.

2.  BALANCE.  Different flavors, different textures (I have to remind myself to make a few crispy cookies like biscotti because my natural tendency is to soft-bake cookies), different colors, different shapes and sizes, different processes of cookie making.

3.  CONTROL.  This is something I'm still learning.  No cookie table needs four lemon-flavored or four  strawberry-flavored cookies. One of each, two max, is probably enough.

Pictured above are my spritz cookies, delicious buttery bite-sized morsels that can be decorated in a variety of ways including with sprinkles, melted chocolate, and candy melts. (I officially hate candy melts now—they harden up and clog your piping bag in the blink of an eye.) Though my spritz cookie press is a plastic version that I found at Michael's, not a lovely metal antique, as I use it, I think back to those early days when my friend Jeanne-Marie and I baked together in Manhattan, with plumes of flour rising from our hands and the mewing of cats resounding about our feet.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Leftover Halloween candy. Do you freeze it? Donate it? Throw it away?

What I like to do is re-purpose it, specifically for this leftover Halloween candy shortbread recipe. You start by making a shortbread crust in an 8 x 8 pan, baking for about a half hour. Then you melt chocolate chips on top, which acts as a glue. Finally, you scatter various candies across the top. In the picture, I've got a mix of M&Ms, Kit Kats, Twix Bars, and Reeses Pieces.

The original recipe calls for cutting the results into 16 squares. I cut those into half again, resulting in 32 "fingers." As you can imagine, this is a rich dessert, best savored in small portions! 

Leftover Halloween Candy Bars
(adapted from Everyday Food)


1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt
2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 cups assorted chocolate candies or roughly chopped candy bars (12 ounces)


1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter, brown sugar, and salt on medium-high until light and fluffy, 3 minutes. With mixer on low, add flour in three additions and beat until combined (dough will be crumbly). Press dough evenly into an 8-inch square baking dish. Bake until golden brown and firm, 30 to 35 minutes.

2.  Scatter chocolate chips on top of shortbread. Bake until soft, 1 minute. With the back of a spoon, spread chocolate evenly over shortbread. Scatter candies over top. Let cool on a wire rack 30 minutes. Refrigerate briefly to set chocolate, then cut into 16 bars, then cut again into 32 fingers.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Pumpkin Creme Brûlée

It's that time of year again:  Everything seems to be flavored with pumpkin, at grocery stores, coffee shops, restaurants. Yes, we have the ubiquitous pumpkin spice latte (which doesn't taste very much like pumpkin to me), but there's also pumpkin flavored cookies, pasta sauce, cereal, sandwich cookies, on and on.

So it's a good thing I happen to love pumpkin, especially in desserts. Which is why I'm going to add to the craze by sharing this recipe for pumpkin creme brûlée. It's easy and a great make-ahead dessert, especially for Thanksgiving. 

You'll need some special equipment, starting with ramekins, which are the little white ceramic cups like the one in the picture above, and are cheap and easy to find at any kitchen supply store. You'll also want a mini torch, just because they are super cool and fun to use--though if you don't have one, you can just put these custardy treats under the broiler.

At the end of the process, you'll have leftover egg whites, which you can save for healthy egg white omelets (to offset the creme brûlée), or for meringues or macarons. Put them in a plastic container with a label of how many egg whites are in there. Though if you forget, usually an egg white measures out to be 1 liquid ounce, so you could measure it out that way.


Pumpkin Creme Brûlée
(adapted from Thanksgiving 101)

Yield: 8 servings


2 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup packet light brown sugar
5 large egg yolks
1 15-ounce can solid pack pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
1 tsp ground cinnamon (I use a heaping teaspoon because I like cinnamon)
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 tsp salt

To caramelize the top of custard:
1/3 cup of brown sugar or white sugar, depending on your preference


Place a rack in the center of the over and preheat to 350 degrees.

In a medium saucepan, heat cream over medium, stirring often, until simmering. Remove from heat and stir in brown sugar until it's dissolved. Boil about 3 cups of water.

In a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks, pumpkin, spices, and salt. Gradually whisk in the hot cream mixture. Pour equal amounts (about 1/2 cup) of pumpkin custard into 8 6-ounce ramekins. Place ramekins into large roasting pan and place in the oven. Pour enough boiling water around the cups to come 1/2 inch up the sides. (Be careful not to get the water into the custard.) Bake until the custards are set but jiggle a little when gently shaken, or until a knife inserted into the center of custard comes out almost clean. Custards will continue to cook when removed for oven. This takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Remove custards (carefully) from water and cool completely on a wire rack. Cover each custard with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, at least 4 hours or preferably overnight. (Custards can be made 2 days ahead.)

To caramelize the tops, either use a hand-held propane torch or position a broiler rack 6 inches from heating element and preheat the broiler. Dust the tops of the custards with white sugar or rub 1/3 cup of brown sugar through a wire sieve over each custard. If using torch, simply burn away.  If using broiler, put the custards on a baking sheet and broil, watching carefully to avoid scorching until sugar caramelizes, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve immediately.