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Holiday Baking

Give Cookies

Here Are Five Easy Pieces Just Made to Go Together

By Elinor Klivans
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, December 15, 2004; Page F01

During my "cookie baking life," I have made thousands of cookies, produced hundreds of recipes and written hundreds of thousands of words about them, in magazines and cookbooks. But it takes a certain kind of cookie to make it onto my holiday platter.

Although the collection always includes some of my traditional favorites and some new ideas, this assortment of five looks and tastes as if it was made to be together. The cookies can go from instant gift basket to office party to festive dinner without dropping a crumb.

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The five make a good mix for several reasons. The first one is the time, or rather the lack of time, it takes to make them. It's a baker's given that cookie-dough mixing takes a fast track, but shaping cookies can slow down the baking. I've chosen recipes here whose dough can be spread onto baking sheets, shaped quickly with your hands or rolled out without any chilling.

The confectioners' sugar-dusted pecan crescent cookie that my mom, and her mom before her, made for every holiday is my traditional selection in this group. My newest holiday-worthy cookie is a chocolate roll-out, star-shaped and decorated with melted white chocolate and crushed peppermint candy. The lemon shortbread wedges are compliments of a recipe that a Scottish friend "loaned" me years ago.

Chocolate is always easy. In addition to my chocolate stars, I've included chocolate-dipped coconut macaroons and cookie brittle made super-crunchy by adding crushed, chocolate-covered toffee.

If you're putting together an assortment of your own favorite cookies, think about shape, color, flavors and textures that go together. Rather than a platter of round cookies, go for a variety of shapes. Cookie cutters can easily produce stars, trees, ginger people or other seasonal shapes from a roll-out sugar cookie dough. A soft cookie dough can be patted into cylinders or bent into crescents. Just-baked shortbread can be cut into wedges, sticks or squares; a firm mixture such as a coconut macaroon batter bakes into round balls, and cookie brittle is a snap to break into irregular shapes. Neatness, not fancy technique, counts when it comes to finishing touches.

The following five cookie recipes will make comfortable companions on your platter.

Chocolate Peppermint Crunch Cookie Stars

Makes about 32 cookies

These cookies are geared for adults with their dark chocolate, not overly sweet flavor that goes well with coffee. The dough requires no chilling, so it can be rolled out as soon as it is mixed.

For the cookies:

1 1/2 cups flour

1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

11 tablespoons (1 stick plus 3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus additional for the baking sheet

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon instant decaffeinated coffee granules dissolved in 1 teaspoon water

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the icing:

4 ounces white chocolate, melted

1/4 cup (about 2 ounces) finely crushed peppermint candy

For the cookies: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or butter the baking sheets.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter, sugar, dissolved coffee and vanilla until blended and smooth, about 1 minute. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture, mixing until the flour is incorporated and the dough holds together. At first the dough will form fine crumbs, then it will come together in large clumps.

Divide the dough in half and shape each portion into a smooth ball. Place 1 piece of dough between 2 large pieces of wax paper and roll it out to slightly less than 1/4 inch thick. Remove the top piece of wax paper. Using a 2 1/2-inch star cutter, cut out cookies. Slide a thin metal spatula under each cookie to loosen it and place the cookies about 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheets.

Bake the cookies, 1 sheet at a time until the tops feel firm and look dull rather than shiny, about 15 minutes. Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool. Repeat with the second piece of dough and then press all of the dough scraps together to form a smooth ball. Repeat the rolling and cutting process.

For the icing: Dip a fork in the melted white chocolate and drizzle it randomly and generously over the tops of the cooled cookies. Immediately sprinkle with crushed peppermint candy. The candy will stick to the warm chocolate.

Let the cookies sit until the chocolate is firm. The cookies can be stored between layers of wax paper in a tightly covered container at room temperature for up to 4 days.

Per cookie: 95 calories, 1 gm protein, 13 gm carbohydrates, 4 gm fat, 11 mg cholesterol, 3 gm saturated fat, 20 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Lemon-Glazed Shortbread Wedges

Makes 12 cookies

White rice flour results in an especially tender shortbread; cornstarch can be substituted with good results.

Adapted from "125 Cookies to Bake, Nibble, and Savor" (Broadway Books, 1998):

For the shortbread:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup white rice flour* or cornstarch

6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus additional for the pie plate

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

For the glaze:

1/2 cup confectioners' sugar

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest

For the shortbread: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9- or 10-inch pie plate or a 9-inch tart pan.

In a medium bowl, combine the all-purpose flour and rice flour or constarch. Set aside.

In a large bowl using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter, granulated sugar and lemon zest until lightened and fluffy, 3 minutes. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix until combined. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture, mixing until the dough becomes smooth and comes away from the sides of the bowl, about 1 minute.

Press the dough evenly into the prepared pan. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the top becomes a very pale golden. Glaze and cut the shortbread while it is warm.

For the glaze: Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together the confectioners' sugar, lemon juice and zest until smooth. The glaze should be syrupy.

Pour the glaze over the warm shortbread when it comes out of the oven and, using the back of a spoon, spread it evenly. Use a sharp knife to cut the warm shortbread into 12 wedges. Cool the shortbread in the pan to room temperature. The shortbread can be stored between layers of wax paper in a tightly covered container at room temperature for up to 4 days.

*NOTE: White rice flour is available at some supermarkets and most health food stores.

Per wedge: 200 calories, 2 gm protein, 22 gm carbohydrates, 12 gm fat, 31 mg cholesterol, 7 gm saturated fat, 2 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber

Black-Bottom Coconut Macaroons

Makes about 36 cookies

These cookies get their richness from sweetened condensed milk. To make jumbo cookies, use 1/4 cup of batter for each cookie and bake about 17 minutes.

Adapted from "Big Fat Cookies" (Chronicle, 2004):

For the cookies:

Butter for the baking sheet

14 ounces (3 1/3 cups) shredded sweetened coconut

1 cup sweetened condensed milk

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract

2 egg whites

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

For the glaze:

18 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted with

2 tablespoons canola or corn oil

For the cookies: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a silicone liner or parchment paper and butter the paper.

In a large bowl using a fork, combine the coconut, condensed milk, salt, vanilla and almond extracts. Set aside.

In a medium bowl using a whisk or electric mixer on low speed, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until foamy and the cream of tartar dissolves. Whisk vigorously or increase the mixer speed to medium-high and beat until soft peaks form. Add the sugar and mix until completely incorporated. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the egg white mixture into the coconut mixture.

Drop rounded tablespoons of the coconut batter onto the prepared baking sheet, spacing the macaroons about 1 inch apart. (The cookies do not spread a lot during baking.) Press any loose coconut shreds back onto the mound of dough.

Bake until the bottoms of the cookies and the tips of the coconut shreds are lightly browned, about 12 minutes. Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for 5 minutes. Slide a metal spatula under the macaroons to loosen them from the liner and transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the glaze: Dip the bottom of each macaroon into the chocolate, allowing any excess to drip off or using a knife to scrape off any excess. Place each cookie on a wire rack with the chocolate side facing up or to the side. (You will have some chocolate coating left over for another use or to pour over ice cream.) Set the macaroons aside until the chocolate coating is firm, about 1 hour.

Serve cold or at room temperature. The macaroons can be stored between layers of wax paper in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Per cookie: 146 calories, 2 gm protein, 16 gm carbohydrates, 9 gm fat, 3 mg cholesterol, 6 gm saturated fat, 33 mg sodium, 2 gm dietary fiber

Toffee Crunch Cookie Brittle

Makes about 40

irregularly shaped cookies

In this recipe, one large sheet of cookie dough is baked until almost crisp, then broken into pieces that resemble brittle but taste like a cookie. I rely on bits of broken chocolate-covered toffee bars for a rich, buttery flavor. (Leave the candy bars in their wrappers when crushing the candy with a hammer or meat pounder to avoid pieces of toffee flying around the kitchen.)

Adapted from "Big Fat Cookies" (Chronicle, 2004):

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

1/3 cup packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups (about 7 ounces) coarsely crushed chocolate-covered toffee, such as Skor or Heath bars

1 cup (about 4 ounces) walnuts, broken into large pieces

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the melted butter, brown and granulated sugars and vanilla until smooth, about 30 seconds. Using a large spoon, slowly add the flour mixture and stir just until incorporated. The dough should appear to be smooth. Stir in the crushed toffee and walnuts. (You may need to use your hands if the dough is thick.)

Spoon the dough onto the prepared baking sheet, leaving at least 1 inch of empty space on all sides. Use the palms of your hands to pat the dough into an even layer about 1/2 inch thick and 13 by 9 inches. The dough should be patted out slightly thinner at the edges.

Bake the brittle until it turns golden and the edges turn light brown, about 19 minutes. The brittle may be fairly soft when warm but will crisp as it cools. Let the brittle cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes.

Using a large metal spatula to guide it, slide the large cookie onto a wire rack to cool completely. Don't worry if the cookie breaks; it will be broken into irregular pieces, anyway. Break the cooled cookie into 2-to-3 inch pieces. The cookies can be stored in a tightly covered container at room temperature for up to 4 days.

Per cookie: 108 calories, 1 gm protein, 11 gm carbohydrates, 7 gm fat, 12 mg cholesterol, 3 gm saturated fat, 59 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Pecan Crescents

Makes about 48 cookies

These are my mother's version of the popular confectioners' sugar-coated cookies known by several names: Russian tea cakes, Mexican wedding cookies and pecan meltaways, to name a few.

The recipe relies on a combination of butter and margarine to make the cookies especially crisp. Adapted from "125 Cookies to Bake, Nibble, and Savor" (Broadway, 1998):

2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons (1 stick) margarine (do not use reduced-fat margarine), chilled

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup confectioners' sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract (may substitute 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)

1 cup (4 ounces) pecans, coarsely chopped

1 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted, for dusting the cookies

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour and salt. Set aside.

Cut the margarine into pieces. In a large bowl using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the margarine, butter and 1/2 cup of sugar until smooth, 1 minute. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix until combined. Reduce the speed to low, add the flour mixture and mix just until it is incorporated and the dough looks smooth and shiny. Using a wooden spoon, add the pecans.

Take a rounded teaspoon of dough and roll it between the palms of your hands until it forms a cylinder that is thick in the middle with tapered ends. Place on the prepared baking sheet and repeat with the remaining dough, spacing the cookies about 1 inch apart. (The cookies do not spread a lot during baking.) Curve each cookie into a crescent.

Bake the cookies until the edges and pointed ends are light brown, about 25 minutes. Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for 5 minutes then transfer them to a wire rack to cool for about 10 minutes.

Place the remaining 1 cup of sugar in a shallow dish or pie plate. Add several still-warm cookies to the sugar and roll each cookie in it to coat evenly. Return them to the wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining cookies. The cookies can be stored between layers of wax paper in a tightly covered container at room temperature for up to 4 days.

Per cookie: 92 calories, 1 gm protein, 10 gm carbohydrates, 6 gm fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 43 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber

Elinor Klivans' most recent book is "Big Fat Cookies" (Chronicle Books). She last wrote for Food about chocolate.


© 2004 The Washington Post Company