It’s cookie time!
Christmas cookie baking has long been a tradition at the Ray household. I have recipes that are old favorites, but I frequently try new ones as well. In preparation for this particular column, I went through a stack of recipes I have clipped out of magazines, newspapers, and food packages. Of course there were several for cookies! I also checked out my computer file of “Untried Recipes,” category “Cookies.”
Sunday afternoon was going to be my baking marathon, right after my nap. I slept for about twenty minutes, and as I was waking up, I began to think about past Christmas cookie-baking days. They were often filled with children, grandchildren, and/or friends. Now there is just me to do all the choosing and preparing. Also minus my taste-tester (my late husband), I sat there feeling very alone. I didn’t want to leave the comfort of my chair and do a solo act in my kitchen; however, that was what I was facing. The self-pity party was getting ready to start.
That is when I was reminded that I am never alone, and it was my choice whether to give in to melancholy or to get up and get busy. I chose the latter, turned on my Southern Gospel music, and went to work. I had picked a variety of cookies to make, and four of them ended up on my final list. In the end, three of them turned out very well. The fourth recipe was good, yet it was a lot of time and trouble for cookies that were not as tasty as I thought they would be.
I sang along with the music as I measured and mixed and washed a lot of dishes. Three of the batches of cookie dough had to be refrigerated, one of them in two separate stages. When all was said and done, I would have to say that my baking efforts were a success.
I am including the three recipes that turned out well. Spearmint Dips are very festive for this time of year; they are layered and then dipped in melted white morsels. Chocolate lovers could try using melted chocolate instead. Because I am allergic to that substance, I used white morsels on my Caramel and Chocolate Pecan Bars. They are scrumptious! Those who like nice crunchy cookies should enjoy Lemon Poppy Seed Shortbread. If lemon is not your thing, try using orange zest instead of lemon.
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon mint extract
Green paste food coloring
9 ounces white baking morsels
2 teaspoons shortening
In a large mixing bowl beat butter with electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt. Beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in egg and vanilla until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Using a wooden spoon, stir in any remaining flour.
Divide dough in half. Leave one portion plain. Stir mint extract into remaining portion; add enough food coloring to tint dough desired shade of green. Divide each portion in half. Cover and chill about 1 hour or until dough is easy to handle.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. On waxed paper, roll one plain portion of dough into a 9-by-6-inch rectangle. On floured surface, roll one green portion into a 9-by-6-inch rectangle. Use wax paper to invert plain dough rectangle on top of green dough rectangle; peel off paper. If necessary, press edges to align them. Cut each stacked rectangle into twenty-four 1-1/2-inch squares. Cut each square in half diagonally to make 48 triangles. Repeat with remaining dough portions.
Place triangles 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 7 to 8 minutes or until edges are firm and bottoms are light brown. Transfer cookies to wire racks; cool.
In small saucepan cook and stir white morsels and shortening over low heat until melted. Dip half of each cookie into white mixture, allowing excess to drip back into saucepan. Place cookies on trays lined with waxed paper. Chill until set.
Caramel and Chocolate Pecan Bars
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup salted butter, softened
1 cup pecan halves (may use other nuts instead)
2/3 cup salted butter
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup real semi-sweet chocolate chips (may use other flavored-baking chips)
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all curst ingredients except nuts in large bowl. Beat at medium speed until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Press onto bottom of ungreased 13-by-9-inch baking pan. Place pecans evenly over unbaked crust.
Combine 2/3 cup butter and 1/2 cup brown sugar in 1-quart saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until entire surface of mixture begins to boil. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Pour mixture evenly over pecans and crust.
Bake for 18 to 22 minutes or until entire caramel layer is bubbly. DO NOT OVERBAKE. Remove from oven. Immediately sprinkle with chips; allow to melt slightly. Swirl melted chips over bars, leaving some whole for marbled effect. Cool completely. Cut into 36 bars.
Store at room temperature in loosely covered container.
Lemon Poppy Seed Shortbread
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
With electric mixer, beat together butter and sugar until smooth. Mix in poppy seeds and lemon zest. Add flour and salt and mix well to make a crumbly dough. (If dough doesn’t stick together, add canola oil 1 tablespoon at a time, up to 2 tablespoons.) Divide dough in half and press and roll each half in wax paper to make a cylinder about 2 inches in diameter and 6 inches long. Refrigerate dough until firm; at least 4 hours.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Slice dough into rounds about 1/4 inch thick. Arrange about 1 inch apart on cookie sheets. Bake 12 to 15 minutes, or until edges are browned. Let cool on cookie sheets for a few seconds, then transfer to wire cooking racks to cool completely. Makes about 48 cookies.