December 2011

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Holy Crap, it’s Christmas! Cookies Part II: Soft Molasses Cookies

Dec 20 2011

warm spiced cookies + a $5 bottle of blanc de blancs (thanks trader joe!) = enough holiday spirit to finally get around to decorating the tree

The Lovechild of a Gingerbread Man and a Snickerdoodle

Most of my Christmas standards are things I make because other people like them or because they’re my grandma’s recipes. In some ways, isn’t Christmas really all about grandmas? These are the one exception. They’re the cookies I make because I like them.

you could use cinnamon sugar if you want, but there's plenty of cinnamon in the dough and with the molasses making the dough darker, I'm not sure it would have much of a visual effectTexturally, they’re almost identical to snickerdoodles—they have the same ratio of butter : sugar : flour :  eggs and they’re also rolled in sugar before baking, so the outside gets crackly and has a little crunch. But flavor-wise, they’re all gingerbread: molasses and cinnamon and nutmeg and ginger and cloves. You can imagine how they smell as they bake.

The best part about these cookies is that if you don’t over-bake them, they turn out amazingly soft. And they stay that way even after they cool, even if you don’t store them in a perfectly airtight container, even if you want to make them a week before Christmas and savor them until New Year’s Day. I think it must be because of the little bit of oil in the dough. It does make them a little more prone to falling apart, but I think that’s a small price to pay for enduring just-out-of-the-oven softness.

If you like the kind of gingerbread that bites back, you might want to double all the spices. I think they’re  perfect as is: as much butter as you can possibly get into a cookie without it melting into a puddle of goo (which they occasionally do anyway, as you can see at approximately 3 o’clock in the picture above), just enough molasses and spices to be festive without getting too overbearing, and a little sparkle from the sugary coating. They’re also the easiest part of this year’s pared-down cookie assortment.

I don't know why they look so much darker here than above. Same cookies, I swear. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! Read more »

Holy Crap, it’s Christmas! Cookies Part I: Date-Nut Pinwheels

Dec 19 2011

making with the holiday smells

Christmas kind of snuck up on me this year. Normally, I’d be at least a week into a meticulously worked-out plan to make a dozen different edible gifts and send them all over the country. It started in high school, when I’d bake a dozen kinds of cookies, carefully selected to represent a balance of chocolate/fruit/nuts/mint and a variety of shapes and colors and textures. Last year, I got excited about giving people mulled wine kits with little cheesecloth bags of mulling spices and made four different kinds of chocolate-covered buttercreams. This year, it wasn’t until a week before the holiday that I had the sudden realization that if I didn’t make cookies right now, I would not be making any Christmas cookies at all this year. 

The upside of having to pare my usual holiday efforts down to a bare minimum is that it made me discover what my traditions are—the recipes that have become my “standards,” the things I absolutely have to make in order to feel like the holidays are happening. So instead of scouring the internet for new ideas or comparing half a dozen different recipes to find the common denominator, this year I’m relying on tried-and-true favorites, a combination of inherited recipes and new favorites discovered somewhere along the way:

Why Date-Nut Pinwheels Make the Cut

I actually stirred the nuts in at the end rather than cooking them in the jam to retain a little more crunchMy grandmother made these every year at Christmas: a rich sugar cookie dough filled with a mixture of dates and walnuts or pecans, simmered with sugar and water until they’re like a thick jam. The cookie dough calls for half brown sugar and half white sugar, so it has just a hint of warm molasses flavor. It also calls for half butter and half shortening, so the texture is in between soft and crispy. Normally, I like cookies baked just until they’re barely done and gooey in the middle when they’re hot. But one of my uncles likes these almost “overdone,” and in this case, I think he’s onto something. The date mixture keeps them soft in the middle, but the edges get crisp and the deeper color represents more caramelization and the slightly-nutty flavor of browned butter.

You could use all butter, which will result in a slightly flatter and crisper cookie (due to the water content in the butter), or all shortening/lard, which will result in a slightly softer and puffier cookie without the buttery flavor. I like the flavor and texture you get by using half and half.

They’re not quite as simple as a drop cookie, but also not really designed to impress anyone. The logs are never quite perfectly circular and the ends are always a little wonky. I was never a big fan as a kid, but I’ve gotten increasingly fond of them. They seem to symbolize the caring labor of holiday baking. They’re something you make because they’re someone’s favorite, because they’re familiar, because your grandma made them, not to show off. And although the combination of butter, dates, and pecans may not be inventive or aspirational, it’s still pretty delicious. they're kinda decorative, in a homely way Read more »