Sweets you can make to share, give away, or just relish during the holiday season.
Thank you, Julia Moskin, for your in-depth look at butter in the New York Times on Wednesday. This time of year, we’re really going through the stuff, and it pays to know a little more about optimum temperatures for working with butter, how the different brands of butter vary in flavor, and how to cream butter to best effect.
And that may be especially so with cookies like these, which are basically just butter, flour, confectioners’ sugar, and nuts (with a little vanilla and salt thrown in). Start with delicious butter, and the cookies — known variously as Mexican wedding cakes, Russian tea cakes, or butterballs — will taste sublime. And they’re great for this time of year because they resemble snowballs — another name to call them by.
Continue reading Russian tea cakes »
I hate sugar cookies — at least, those that taste like nothing, or like nothing but plain sugar and flour. That said, I understand the allure of cutting cookie dough into shapes, spreading the baked ones with icing, then shaking on the sparkles, jimmies, and dragées. It’s a fun thing to do with kids (it’s even fun without kids).
When I found the recipe for Butter Cut-Out Cookies in Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess, I stopped grimacing at the annual pressure to make cookie-cutter treats. These cookies are delicious, tasting of butter and vanilla; they’re especially good topped with a lemony icing instead of the usual powdered-sugar-and-water paste (easy to make, but nasty to eat).
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Our summer intern, Savannah, left a big impression with her bright smile — and she also left a ringing recommendation for an awesome holiday-season cookie: Alice Medrich’s buckwheat butter cookies with cocoa nibs. Savannah raved about those cookies, which she and a friend made last December, and once I tried them, I too was smitten. My whole family loved the nuttiness of the buckwheat, and the not-so-sweet cookies are a nice foil to all the sugar and white flour of the season.
In fact, these cookies would be good any time of year.
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Every holiday season, my generous and talented neighbor Cornelia brings over one of the Christmas treats I love the best: A cellophane bag of cookies she’s made, using recipes from her native Switzerland. Some of them are best to eat right away, but some — like this one — are to be savored at the right moment, dunked in hot chocolate or in hot, milky coffee.
This recipe suggests the traditional way of making the cookies: by shaping a crescent and then slashing the outside edge three or four times. The result is a pretty, leafy-looking cookie. Sometimes, though, Cornelia shapes the cookies into a block and presses them with a wooden stamp that was given to her by her mother (see photo).
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I have been known to forget my budget when a favorite bakery in town sells panforte during the holidays. I love this chewy, nutty confection, especially on a dessert plate (sliced thin) with chocolate truffles and shortbread. Alice Medrich’s recipe is easy to follow, much cheaper to make than to buy, and addictive to eat.
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I have a friend whose family makes these Central European cookies every year at Christmastime. Because they’re fat-free, the cookies last for weeks in an airtight container and thus make great edible gifts.
If you’re expecting a chocolate-chip cookie, you’ll be surprised when you bite into a nutty, chewy cookie redolent of allspice; even odder, some find, is the edible Communion-style wafer the cookie is baked on (the wafer helps keep the bottom of the cookie from sticking and burning).
Continue reading Austrian Christmas cookies »
Making toffee is surprisingly easy; the syrup is blisteringly hot, but getting the temperature just right isn’t terribly important, so long as you get it a deep golden color and don’t burn it.
Continue reading Toffee brittle »
Served on a plate with other durable holiday sweets — frosted cookies, gingerbread men, and the like — these rum balls were and are a boozy favorite at my family’s annual Christmas Day dinner.
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There are two camps of biscotti lovers: those who like them hard enough to gnaw on and those who prefer them crumbly to the touch. I actually like both (the third camp, I suppose, are the bottom-feeders who’ll munch on anything called a cookie), but this recipe for Cornmeal-Almond Biscotti falls into the crumbly camp. One of my all-time favorites, this recipe comes from Judy Rodgers via Richard Sax’s Classic Home Desserts.
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Chocolate truffles are another of those holiday treats that look tricky but really aren’t. You simply melt and cool some chocolate and cream, then roll scoops of the goo into balls and dust them in cocoa powder. Your hands will get terrifically messy, but you’ll have fun, and in the end, you’ll have delicious little intensely chocolatey goodies to give away as presents.
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I have loved rugelach since my first bite, but it was one of those pastries I could never imagine making. Then a friend’s mother, whom we all called Daba, showed me how easy they are to prepare.
You just whip up the dough in a food processor and chill it, then roll it into dough balls and out into circles. Then you spread the dough circles out, sprinkle them with fillings, cut them into pie-slice triangles, and roll each triangle into a crescent and bake.
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This Tom Douglas recipe has become a wintertime staple in my kitchen for three reasons: it’s easy, it makes a ton of cookies, and it’s beautifully balanced between chewy (the soft middles) and crunchy (the crispy edges).
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When my siblings and I were young, my dad used to whip up messy batches of chocolate fudge for us to give away as holiday presents to our schoolteachers. He used marshmallows to make his version, but this recipe from the Joy of Cooking is more traditional, using real butter, chocolate, and vanilla.
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At the risk of sounding like a food snob, I’ll confess here that I’m not a fan of store-bought cookies — not even the fancy ones. Walkers shortbread, however, is the exception. In fact, there’s often a box in my desk drawer at work; I like to have a piece of shortbread with a cup of Earl Grey on winter afternoons.
I know I like shortbread because I like butter, and shortbread is basically butter with a little flour and sugar thrown in for good measure.
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Who doesn’t love a good cookie-and-candy plate? You know, the kind a neighbor drops off on a Sunday afternoon, or a colleague brings to the office?
In my book, a really top-drawer confection plate has to feature at least five varieties of sweets, and each one should have a different texture. There should be nuts and berries, maybe some butter cookies, and of course, a little chocolate.
Continue reading Chocolate cookies »
I have a strange weakness for marshmallows — their light-yet-chewy texture, their ephemeral flavor of vanilla. (When I had to suffer through gooey fluoride treatments at the dentist as a kid, I always chose the marshmallow flavor.) They’re perfectly tasty on s’mores, although I prefer to eat them freshly caramelized off the roasting stick.
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