Blog Archive

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Cookies: Spice Wins Again!

To each of my readers, I wish a Holiday Season full of all good things:  perfect health,  the joy of family, the gift of sharing, and the perfect peace that love of every kind brings.  Happy Holidays from my home to yours!

Christmas Cookies:  Spice Wins Again!
by Victoria Challancin

With my son coming home for the holidays, I had to think long and hard.  What kind of Christmas goodies should I have ready for what I knew eventually would be a house full of young people?  I mean, even if you are in your early twenties, you need Christmas traditions, right?  Maybe more than ever.  And a house full of love, family, good food, and more love.  And cookies.  Definitely cookies.

Of course, I first thought of my own family and my childhood, feeling blessed anew for having grown up in such a loving and supportive family--and one full of deeply rooted traditions.  Should I make cookies and goodies from those times, I thought, remembering all the trays if Christmas food joy I delivered for my Mom over the years.  Should I make her chocolate meringue kisses, fudge (peanut butter or plain?), divinity, pecan or toffee squares, Southern peanut brittle, or her exquisite, but time-consuming to make Santa Claus cookies that so many in my extended family grew up with?  Or should I make a cake?  Too late to make my Mom's famous fruitcake, which she began in November to age by painting with whiskey and then gave to all and sundry, or my Aunt Victoria's Japanese Fruitcake, or my Dad's favorite Lady Baltimore Cake.  Oh the decisions!  In the end, cookies and spices won out.  I just can't help myself:  I love spices.  And I find that they sneak their addictive way into almost everything I prepare--or at least into the dishes I most love.  So, with that in mind, here is a list of the Christmas cookies I have made so far and a couple of the recipes with more to follow soon:

  • Mexican Chocolate Cookies with Chocolate Chips and Chile (for my entire Latin crew)
  • Swedish Cardamom Cookies (for my dear friend Berit) with added icing
  • Candied Ginger Biscotti (for me, yes, for me)
  • Chai Snickerdoodles  (because who doesn't love chai, right?)
  • Earl Grey Cookies (ahhhh...bergamot, my son's favorite flavor)

Spicy Mexican Chocolate Cookies with Chocolate Chips and Chile
(Recipe from The Cooking Channel)

1/2 cup/4 oz unsalted butter
4 oz good-quality unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon chili powder (I used ancho chile)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

In a heatproof bowl set over simmering water, melt the butter and chocolate together, whisking until glossy and smooth.  Alternately, the butter and chocolate can be melted in the microwave in a microwave-safe bowl in 25-second increments, whisking between each interval.  Cool the chocolate mixture to room temperature.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a hand-held mixer), beat the brown sugar, granulated sugar, vanilla extract and eggs on low speed until well combined.  POur in the cooled chocolate and continue to mix until the ingredients are evenly distributed.

In a medium bowl sift together the flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, chili powder, baking soda, salt and cayenne pepper.  Add the dry ingredients to the chocolate batter and mix on low speed until just combined and no visible flour remains.  Fold in the chocolate chips with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon.

Working in two batches, scoop 12 balls of dough (preferably using a small ice cream scoop or cookie-dough scoop with a spring handle, about 1 1/2 tablespoon size) onto a parchment-lined sheet pan, leaving at least 1 1/2 inches of space between each cookie.  Bake the cookies, on pan at a time, for approximately 14 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through cooking time.  The cookies should be puffy and still fairly soft when removed from the oven.

Immediately slide the cookies, still on the parchment paper, onto a wire cooling rack.  Cool just a bit before serving, 5 to 10 minutes.  Cookies can be stored in airtight container for up to three days, but are best on the day they are baked.


A tempting plate of Christmas treats

My dear friend Berit always regales me tales of the food of her Swedish childhood.  Over the years I have eaten many Swedish treats at her house using lovely lingonberries, vanilla sauce, and other tasty morsels--and also some very strange salty Swedish candies straight from her Mother's candy store.  These frosted cookies, loaded with the popular Scandinavian ingredient cardamom are in honor of Berit.

A Note on Cardamom:  Scandinavia and the Near East consume over half the world's cardamom.  In Sweden it is more widely used than cinnamon.  Apparently, the Scandinavian affinity for cardamom was born when the Vikings first sampled the aromatic spice during their raids on Constantinople during the 8th through the 11th centuries.  I first truly learned to appreciate it when I moved to Abu Dhabi in the mid-1970s, where it was used in green coffe, sweets, and even chewed by itself as a breath freshener.

Swedish Cardamom Christmas Cookies
(Recipe from Food Network)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
1 cup unsalted butter, 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 (or use the following icing recipe, as I did)

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

Put the butter and confectioners' sugar in a food processor (or use a stand mixer, as I did), 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 324 degrees F.

Scatter either the sanding sugars or toasted nuts, if using (I used icing) 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.

Icing for Christmas Cookies
(Recipe from the files of Victoria Challancin)

Note:  I have no idea where this recipe originated.  It was in my file box and is the icing recipe my Mother used.  I think it might have been from Better Homes and Gardens magazine based on the scrap of paper I found.

2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
2 Tablespoons water, and more, if needed
1 Tablespoon soft butter
1 Tablespoon light corn syrup
1/2 to 1 teaspoon pure almond extract

Beat all ingredients together until you have a smooth, spreadable icing.  Add more water if needed.


A small plate of cookies ready for a friend--minus the Earl Grey Cookies

Cook's Note:  This and the Chai Snickerdoodles (recipe to come later this week) were probably my personal favorites.  I loved the biscotti because they weren't too sweet.  I have made similar biscotti with dried cranberries and pistachios, dipped in white chocolate.  But because I had other fairly sweet cookies, I wanted these without the added sweetness of the white chocolate.

Ginger Biscotti with Candied Ginger
(Recipe from Coastal Living Magazine, December 2011)

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole almonds (I roughly chopped these)
1/2 cup chopped crystallized ginger
8 oz white chocolate (although I had this ingrediente, I opted not to use it, wanting something less sweet)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Beat butter with an electric mixer at medium speed until creamy.  Gradually add sugars, beating well.  Beat in eggs.

Combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ground ginger, cloves, and salt; add to butter mixture, beating at low speed until blended.  Stir in almonds and crystallized ginger.

Divide dough in half.  Using floured hands, shape each portion into a log 3 inches wide and 1 inch high.  Place on a lightly greased cookie sheet.  

Bake 25 minutes.  Cool 5 minutes on cookie sheet; remove to wire rack, and set aside until cool to the touch.  Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees F.

Cut each log crosswise into 1/2-inch slices with a serrated knife.  Place slices on ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake 7 minutes; turn cookies over, and bake 7 more minutes.  Cool completely on wire racks.

Dip ends of biscotti in melted white chocolate.  Place biscotti on wax paper until chocolate hardens.


Looking for more Holiday ideas?  You might like these recipes from past years:

Red, Green, and Perfect for a Christmas Party!  Goat Cheese Squares with Chipotle-Raspberry Chutney (so pretty--so tastey!)

Brandy-Roasted Pears with Gorgonzola Cheese  (pears and cheese--always a hit!)

Italian Mostarda to go with a Holiday Ham  (one of my personal favorites)

Muhammara:  A Syrian Roasted Red Pepper and Walnut Dip (my very favorite dip--and a pretty red for Christmas!)

English Berry Trifle with Cointreau  (sooooo beautiful and enticing!)

Baked Pears and Camembert (yes, more pears and cheese--can I ever get enough?)

A bowl of color and my Christmas felt talisman, made by my loving and creative friend

Do you have special Christmas food traditions? Or do you like to try new things?

Either way, I hope you have the happiest of Holidays!

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.


Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Great choice Vicoria! I love the smell of the spices during Christmas. They always put me in a Christmassy mood! :)

Lynne said...

Delicious cookies-all those lovely spices must smell wonderful. I remember the Japanese fruitcakes and when I've told other people (not Southerners') that my aunt used to make the most divine Japanese fruitcake, they laugh at me! Hope you have a wonderful holiday with your family and a most prosperous,healthy and Happy New Year!

Victoria Challancin said...

I've never met anyone other than a Southerner that knew what Japanese Fruitcase was either! It was my Mom's favorite, but not mine. Wishing you happy, healthy holidays as well!