Sunday, January 2, 2011

Holiday Cookie Extravaganza!

I cook a lot, but I RARELY bake. I'm more of an improviser than a measurer in the kitchen, so I don't like recipes very much. Too much math. Too many measuring cups and bowls. Too many scientific variables. Too many calories. There's usually only one exception to this rule of mine: December. My mom ans sisters and I used to bake Christmas cookies every year and my sister and I have carried on the tradition. So I do bake, but usually only for the holidays.

This year's baking started as soon as finals were over and went (literally) 3 days straight. I was so lucky to have an extra set of hands (thank you, James!), a KitchenAid mixer (early Christmas gift from mom!), and two new supplies that made the process so easy that I might not give up on baking so quickly this year. Parchment paper and cooling racks are my new best friends.

Now cookies are cookies and it's hard to make them healthy no matter how hard you try. I tried a little harder this year than in years past, sneaking whole wheat pastry flour in wherever I could, using organic products whenever I could afford them, and replacing the harmful food coloring with food-derived food coloring (what a concept!), but still used mountains of butter, flour, sugar, and eggs. I'm going to start experimenting with vegan cookie recipes throughout 2011 in the hopes of passing out healthier holiday cookies next December, but until then, here are a few highlights!

Vienna Crescent Cookies:
Yields: Approximately 45 cookies
1 c ground walnuts
1 c butter, sofened
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 c sugar
1 1/2 c all-purpose flour, sifted
1 c whole wheat pastry flour, sifted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the above ingredients well. Shape into 1-inch long crescents and arrange on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake at 350 until slightly browned. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired. Transfer to cooling rack. Enjoy!

Peanut Butter Kiss Cookies:
Yields: Approximately 45 cookies
1 c unbleached all purpose flour
3/4 c whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 c unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp salt
1/2 c peanut butter
1/2 c brown sugar
1/2 c sugar (more for rolling if desired)
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
45 Hershey kisses, unwrapped

Preheat oven to 375. Combine baking soda, salt, and flours and set aside. Beat peanut butter, butter, brown sugar, egg, and vanilla. Combine in flour mixture 1 cup at a time. Blend until smooth. Roll into 1-inch balls (optional: roll  balls in sugar) and place on parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake at 375 for approx 10 minutes. Remove from oven and quickly place Hershey kisses in center of each cookie. Bake for another 1 - 2 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer to cooling rack.

Next time, I'll use 1 c whole wheat pastry flour and 3/4 c all-purpose flour. I'll also ditch the Hershey kisses in favor of less wasteful and higher quality semi-sweet chocolate chips

Rugelach Cookies
2 bars sweet butter, softened
8 oz cream cheese
2 c flour
Cinnamon Sugar
Chopped Walnuts
Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips

Combine butter, cream cheese, and flour well. Roll into large balls, flatten into circles, and chill for at least 2 hours. Remove dough from refrigerator and preheat oven to 375. On a floured surface, roll out dough into large, thin circles. Sprinkle with Cinnamon and Sugar. Cut like a pie into triangles. Top with chopped walnuts and chocolate chips. Roll tightly from outer edge into center. Arrange on a parchment lined cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes at 375.

Chewy Oatmeal-Raisin Walnut Gogi Berry Cookies
Yields: Approximately 50 cookies
1 c whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 c (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 c granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 c old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
1 c raisins
1 c chopped walnuts
1/2 c dried gogi berries, rinsed

Preheat oven to 350. Whisk together flours, baking soda, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg. With an electric mixer, beat butter and sugars on medium-high speed until fluffy. Gradually beat in the eggs and the vanilla. Reduce speed and gradually add flour mixture, one cup at a time. Mix until combined, then add in the oats, nuts, raisins, and gogi berries (you might have to do this part by hand depending on your mixer). Roll into 1-inch balls and space them 2 inches apart on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake in 350 degree oven for 12 - 14 minutes, or until slightly golden around the edges. Cool slightly on cookie sheet, then transfer to cooling rack. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.

Cut-out Sugar Cookies
Yields: Approximately 20 medium-sized cookies
2 c all-purpose flour
1/2 c whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 c unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened
3/4 c sugar
1 large egg
2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl and set aside. Beat butter and sugar with electric mixer until smooth. Add the egg and the vanilla and beat until fluffy. Turn the mixer to low and gradually add the flour mixture. Mix until well-combined and stiff. Shape into large disks, wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour - 3 days. Remove dough from refrigerator and preheat oven to 350. On a floured surface, roll disks out to 1/4 inch thick (do this one at a time or dough will soften too much). Cut into shapes and place on parchment-lined baking sheets. Refrigerate for 5 - 10 minutes. Sprinkle with decorating sugar, if using, and bake for 9 - 12 minutes (will depend on size of cookies), or until edges begin to turn golden. Transfer to cooling rack. Store in airtight container for up to a week. 

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