Thursday, December 17, 2009

Cookie Week: Kicking it up to high production

Baking with a friend is fun, and cookie exchange parties are sweet, but when I holiday bake for real, I like to be alone in the kitchen, flour flying.
For those of you who like to have a hearty holiday cookie assortment on hand, or plan to gift your goodies, the key to making it happen without burning out (or burning the cookies) is to have a master plan. Here are a few things to consider in your plan.
  • What are your cookie needs?  If you are mailing the cookies, some travel better than others. Will you be giving them to friends, or just need some on hand for company? Having cookies you can make ahead and freeze can reduce your task list so you can enjoy the holidays.
  • Choose an assortment that is varied both in taste, shape, and color. That way, you only need 4 or 5 different cookies to look plentiful.
  • And finally, the most important for production, pick an assortment that has a mix of short and long prep times. Many holiday cookies need to chill, so pick a few that don't while waiting for doughs to set.
This holiday, I decided I would NOT mail any cookies, but I wanted to make some ahead that I could either pull out of the freezer, or bake off a little at a time. When I mail cookies, my single most favorite cookie to make is a BOURBON-BALL. This cookie just gets better (and more potent!) with time. I'll tell you where to find that recipe below.

I chose four cookies for my assortment: A CHOCOLATE-PECAN PINWHEEL cookie, a CHERRY-WHITE CHOCOLATE SHORTBREAD, which I talked about earlier in the week, a NO-BAKE CEREAL CANDY COOKIE, because it was super-easy and something I could make while waiting for other doughs to chill, and some CLASSIC SUGAR COOKIES, because I could make these with my son. We haven't actually made the sugar cookies yet, but the dough is ready in the fridge, and the sprinkles are in the cupboard, for when we need some distraction from the rain. I would have liked one more cookie that was on the more unusual side of flavors and/or colors. A lime-honey shortbread, a peppermint or colorful spritz cookie, or a dried fruity sort of thing. But four is enough for what I need this year.

Once I decide on my recipes, I like to make a master ingredients list. That way I don't get caught in the middle of things short on butter or other ingredient. Here is my chicken-scratch tally.

Before I begin, I lay out all the ingredients for all the cookies, get all the equipment out, and make my space. Plan to do the longest prep time cookie first. In this case it was the CHOCOLATE-PECAN PINWHEEL cookies because there were a number of steps and the dough needed to be chilled. Once those were complete, I moved on to the shortbread. While the shortbread baked, I whipped together the NO-BAKE cookies.

Because the PINWHEEL cookies are the type you can cut and bake as needed, I kept these in the fridge for a number of days before baking any of them. We've now baked off one big roll, and I still have a large roll in the refer to bake next week for Christmas, and two more in the freezer.

For the few cookie assortments I'll give away this weekend, I will add some chocolate kisses, wrap them up in cellophane, tied up with a bow. So how about some recipes?

For starters, try the WHITE CHOCOLATE-CHERRY SHORTBREAD cookies I entered in Gourmet Girl's Cookie Crawl.

Next up is the CHOCOLATE-PECAN PINWHEEL cookie. I have to say that long ago I had the perfect recipe for this cookie. Alas, I lost it. Every year I try a new recipe in hopes it will be as good as my lost recipe. This year I tried quite a few cookies from the Better Homes and Gardens cookie magazine. It didn't even come close. I re-tweaked it on my second attempt. They are pretty, and adding the orange zest and juice got them close to my lost cookie, but still not perfect. I do like the fact that they aren't as sweet as some of the other holiday cookies. Again, I doubled the quantity. You can store the dough in the refrigerator for up to three weeks, or freeze for up to three months.

Makes about 90 cookies

16 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
4 T all purpose flour
4 T strong coffee
2 T grated orange rind
2 T fresh squeezed orange juice
3/4 cup finely chopped pecans
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
6 T milk
1 tsp vanilla
4 1/2 cups all purpose flour

Make Filling
Mix cream cheese, powdered, sugar, cocoa, coffee, 2 T flour, orange rind and juice. Stir in pecans and set aside.

Make dough
Mix dry ingredients - flour, cinnamon, baking powder and salt. Cream butter, sugar and brown sugar, add eggs, vanilla and milk. Add in dry ingredients. Form into 4 balls. Wrap in plastic and chill for 2 hours.

For each ball, roll out to 1/4 inch thick on a lightly floured surface. Make it as rectangle and even as you can. Spread 1/4 of the filling evenly, leaving a 1/2 inch border on the long sides. Roll the long side and smooth the dough at the edge with a little water. Wrap in wax paper and chill for another two hours, up to three weeks.

To bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Slice off a little thicker than 1/4 inch cookies and bake on an ungreased cookie sheet for 8-10 minutes.

For the NO-BAKE CEREAL CANDY COOKIES, I mixed 1 cup of a mixed Kashi cereal. I think it was Good Friends or one of their other cereals that has a mix of shapes in it. I threw in 1/2 cup of craisins, 1/2 cup of mini marshmallows, and  melted 8oz candy "yogurt" coating. Stir in the warm candy coating to fully coat the cereal mixture and drop spoonfuls of the mix onto waxed paper. You can vary this however you like: add chocolate chips, nuts, granola...whatever is tasty in the pantry.

The BOURBON BALLS I make every year come straight out of Rose Levy Beranbaum's cookbook, Rose's Celebrations. You've probably heard of her Cake Bible, and her Bread Bible. Celebrations, however, is one of those cookbooks I cherish because it's so beautiful. She organizes the recipes by holiday, with full color, full page photos and recipes noted both by volume and weight. Titled "BOURBON-PECAN BUTTER BALLS", in the Christmas section, the only thing I change is I add more bourbon! Incidentally, the balls use ground up cookies. Rose suggests one of her recipes or "packaged chocolate wafers". I usually find a great deal on a chocolate cookie wafer at Trader Joe's each year.
I know it isn't barbecue, but I do intend to try some savory smoked shortbread on the grill this weekend. I'll share it with you if it turns out, and just pretend I forgot if it doesn't, OK?

Happy cookie baking everyone. Please share your own favorite cookie recipes in the comments, or e-mail me a picture of your cookie assortments for me to post (

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