Cookie Mania Starts Right Here

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Chocolate-Ginger Sandwich Cookies

Makes 24 sandwich cookies

These sandwich cookies will remind you of Pepperidge Farm's popular Milano cookies, but with some bite provided by fresh ginger. Adapted from "Maida Heatter's Best Dessert Book Ever" (Random House, 1990).

2 ounces (a piece about 1 1/2 by 2 1/2 inches) fresh ginger root, peeled with a spoon

8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper

1 cup packed dark brown sugar

2 egg yolks

1 1/2 cups flour

1 cup yellow cornmeal (preferably stone-ground)

Finely grated zest of 2 large lemons (about 3 tablespoons)

8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

The ginger can be prepared with a food processor or by hand. If using a food processor, slice the ginger across the grain about 1/8 -inch thick and drop the slices through the feed tube while the motor is running. Process until pureed, stopping and scraping the sides of the bowl once or twice as necessary. If doing manually, grate a chunk of ginger on the round, rather than diamond-shaped, openings on a standing metal grater. Either way should yield about 1/3 cup of lightly packed pureed or grated ginger. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer on medium speed, mix the butter until soft and creamy. Add the vanilla extract, salt, pepper and sugar and beat until thoroughly mixed. Add the egg yolks and the pureed or grated ginger and beat to mix. On low speed, beat in the flour and then the cornmeal. Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the lemon zest. The dough will be soft. Turn it out onto a well-floured surface. Flour all sides of the dough and, with your hands, form it into a smooth and even shape about 10 inches long, 3 1/2 inches wide, and 1 to 1 1/4 inches high. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and freeze (placed on a baking sheet, if necessary, to keep it flat) for several hours or overnight.

Position oven racks in the upper and lower thirds and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

With a sharp knife, measure off and cut 48 slices of the frozen dough, each 3/16 of an inch wide, and place them at least 1 inch apart on the lined baking sheets. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes total, reversing the sheets, top to bottom and front to back, once or twice during baking to ensure even browning. The cookies are done when they are lightly colored all over. Remove from the oven and let stand for about 1 minute. Transfer the cookies to racks to cool completely.

In a small pan over low heat, preferably in the top of a double boiler, heat the chocolate until it is partially melted, then stir until it is completely melted. Let the chocolate cool for a few minutes. Then stir just to mix and, with a small spoon, spread the chocolate 1/8 - to 1/4 -inch thick, down the middle, on the flat side of a cookie, keeping the chocolate about 1/4 inch away from the edge. Place another cookie over it, flat sides together. Continue with other cookies, transferring them to a baking sheet. Refrigerate or freeze only until the chocolate becomes firm. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for several days. Also can be frozen.

Per serving: 209 calories, 2 g protein, 25 g carbohydrates, 12 g fat, 40 mg cholesterol, 7 g saturated fat, 31 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Marcia Kramer; e-mail questions tofood@washpost.com

Aunt Helen's Chinese Chews

Makes 14 to 20 bars

These bars seem fancy, but they're easy to make. Better still, they taste rich, but they're not. Adapted from Marcy Goldman's "A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking" (Broadway Books, 1998).

3/4 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup sugar

1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

1 cup coarsely chopped dates

2 eggs, beaten

Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Lightly coat an 8-inch-square baking dish with nonstick spray oil.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the sugar, walnuts and dates and mix well to combine. Add the beaten eggs. Spread the batter in the prepared baking dish. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the batter is set and dry-looking. Cool slightly, then cut into bars. Spread some confectioners' sugar on a plate and dip the tops of the bars in the sugar. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for several days.

Per serving (based on 20): 140 calories, 3 g protein, 22 g carbohydrates, 5 g fat, 21 mg cholesterol, 1 g saturated fat, 61 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Bonnie S. Benwick; e-mail questions tofood@washpost.com

Ultimate Lemon Squares

Makes 24 to 36 bars

These lemon bars are agreeably sweet without being cloying. Adapted from "Cookies Unlimited," by Nick Malgieri (Harper Collins, 2000).

8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, plus additional for the baking dish

1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, plus more for finishing

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups flour

4 large eggs

2 cups sugar

1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest

6 tablespoons lemon juice

Set an oven rack on the middle level and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and line it with oversized, buttered parchment paper or aluminum foil.

In a stand mixer on medium speed, beat the butter. Add the confectioners' sugar and vanilla extract and beat until light, 1 to 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low and beat in the flour. Pat the dough evenly over the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden and baked through.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk the eggs just enough to break them up. Without overmixing, add in the sugar, then the lemon zest and juice. As soon as the base is baked, pour the lemon topping over it and return the baking dish to the oven. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the topping is set and firm. Transfer to a rack to cool.

When completely cooled, remove by lifting the parchment paper or foil and transfer to a work surface. Cut into 2-inch squares. May be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for several days. Just before serving, dust with confectioners' sugar.

Per serving (based on 36): 126 calories, 1 g protein, 18 g carbohydrates, 6 g fat, 37 mg cholesterol, 3 g saturated fat, 8 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Jill Grisco; e-mail questions tofood@washpost.com

Black Beauties

Makes 16 four-inch cookies

People who like chocolate and nuts will love this cookie. Its base is a chewy chocolate meringue loaded with walnuts. The topping is more chocolate. They're big enough to share with a friend. Adapted from "Great Cookies," by Carole Walter (Clarkson Potter, 2003).

For the cookies:

2/3 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

8 egg whites, at room temperature

1 cup superfine sugar*

2 teaspoons light corn syrup

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

12 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, such as Lindt Bittersweet, melted and kept warm

3 tablespoons hot water

2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts

For the quick chocolate glaze:

1 1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped

1 1/2 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 cup confectioners' sugar

3 tablespoons boiling water, plus additional as needed

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Position oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

For the cookies: In a small bowl, combine the cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer on medium speed, beat the egg whites to firm peaks. Add the sugar gradually, taking about 1 minute to incorporate. Continue to beat for about 2 minutes, until the egg whites are stiff and glossy. Stop the mixer and scrape down the side of the bowl as needed. Add the corn syrup, vanilla extract and lemon juice and beat for 30 seconds.

Remove the bowl from the machine. Using a spatula, blend in the warm chocolate, then the cocoa mixture and the hot water, mixing only to combine. Fold in the nuts.

Using a No. 16 ice cream scoop or a 1/3 -cup measure, place rounded scoops of dough at least 3 inches apart on each baking sheet and use the back of a spoon to flatten each mound of dough into a 3-inch disk. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, then rotate the baking sheets top to bottom and front to back and bake for an additional 25 minutes, or until the tops of the cookies are set (they will firm as they cool). Remove from oven and let cool at least 5 minutes before loosening from the parchment. Transfer cookies to a rack set over a sheet pan or wax paper.

For the quick chocolate glaze: In a shallow bowl set over a pan of simmering water, melt the chocolates and butter, stirring until smooth. Remove from the heat and add the confectioners' sugar alternately with the water. Stir in the corn syrup and vanilla extract and beat well. The glaze may be left at room temperature for several hours or refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.

To assemble: While the cookies are still slightly warm, use a pastry brush to carefully apply glaze to each cookie, coating the entire top. Let the glaze dry completely before storing. The cookies may be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days, layered between strips of wax paper.

*NOTE: To make your own superfine sugar, process granulated sugar in a food processor, blender or coffee grinder.

Per serving: 482 calories, 10 g protein, 52 g carbohydrates, 30 g fat, 4 mg cholesterol, 10 g saturated fat, 95 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber

Recipes tested by Jane Touzalin; e-mail questions tofood@washpost.com

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes 4 1/2 dozen 3-inch cookies

Over the years, we in the Food section have been "forced" to eat many a chocolate chip cookie. This thin, crisp version, the trademark of Tate's Bake Shop in Southampton, N.Y., is easily one of the best. Its secret: salt. Tate's owner Kathleen King is adamant that using salted butter results in a better-tasting cookie. Also adapted from King's "Tate's Bake Shop Cookbook."

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

8 ounces (2 sticks) salted butter, at room temperature

3/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon water

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 eggs

2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat 2 baking sheets with nonstick spray oil or line them with Silpat liner or parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer on medium speed or a whisk and a large bowl, cream the butter and sugars, then add the water and vanilla extract. Mix the ingredients until they are just combined. Add the eggs, mixing lightly after each one. Reduce speed to low and stir in the flour mixture. Fold in the chocolate chips. Don't overmix the dough.

Using 2 tablespoons or a small cookie dough scoop, drop the cookies 2 inches apart onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 12 minutes or until the edges and centers are brown. Let the cookies sit on the baking sheets about 5 minutes, then transfer them to wire racks to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 3 days. Also may be frozen.

Per serving: 100 calories, 1 g protein, 13 g carbohydrates, 5 g fat, 17 mg cholesterol, 3 g saturated fat, 95 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Candy Sagon; e-mail questions tofood@washpost.com

Super-Sized Ginger Chewies

Makes 14 large cookies

Rolling the dough in sugar helps make the outside of the cookie crisp while leaving the inside soft. Adapted from "Big Fat Cookies," by Elinor Klivans (Chronicle Books, 2005).

2 1/4 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon cloves

6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup packed light brown sugar

1 egg

1/4 cup molasses

About 1/4 cup sugar

Set an oven rack on the middle level and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, sift the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves and set aside.

Using a stand mixer on medium speed, beat the butter and brown sugar until blended, about 1 minute, stopping the mixer to scrape the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the egg and molasses and mix until blended and light brown in color, about 1 minute. Reduce speed to low and add the flour mixture, mixing just to incorporate it.

Spread the sugar on a large piece of wax paper. Roll 3 tablespoons of the dough between your palms into a 2-inch ball. Roll each ball in the sugar and place it on the prepared baking sheets, spaced 2 inches apart. Bake 1 sheet at a time for about 14 minutes or until the tops of the cookies feel firm and have several large cracks but the insides are still soft. Remove from oven and cool for 5 minutes, then use a wide spatula to transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. May be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.

Per serving: 244 calories, 3 g protein, 34 g carbohydrates, 11 g fat, 43 mg cholesterol, 7 g saturated fat, 223 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Marcia Kramer; e-mail questions tofood@washpost.com

Toffee Nut Squares

Makes 5 dozen 1 3/4 -by-2-inch bars

These bars have a caramel flavor that harmonizes with the taste of the butter. Be sure to use very fresh brown sugar. For optimum chewiness, the bars should be slightly underbaked. Also adapted from Carole Walter's "Great Cookies."

2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/3 sticks unsalted butter, slightly firm

2 cups lightly packed light brown sugar

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons walnuts, chopped medium-fine

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Position an oven rack in the center and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter a 10 1/2 -by-15 1/2 -inch jelly roll pan.

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

Using a stand mixer on medium speed, beat the butter until it is creamed. Add the brown sugar, about 1/4 cup at a time, and beat well until light in color, about 2 minutes, stopping the mixer to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the eggs 1 at a time, then the vanilla extract. Reduce the speed to low and add the dry ingredients in 3 additions, mixing just to incorporate.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and, using a large spatula, fold in 1 cup of the walnuts and the chocolate chips. Spread the mixture in the pan, smoothing the top. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of walnuts.

Bake for 16 to 18 minutes, or until the sides are lightly browned. A toothpick inserted in the center should still show signs of moistness; do not overbake. Place on a rack to cool for 1 hour, then cut into 1 3/4 -by-2-inch bars. Store in an airtight container at room temperature, layered between strips of wax paper, for up to 5 days or freeze.

Per serving: 103 calories, 1 g protein, 13 g carbohydrates, 5 g fat, 12 mg cholesterol, 2 g saturated fat, 55 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Judith M. Havemann; e-mail questions tofood@washpost.com

Florentines

Makes 30 cookies

These chewy, thin cookies with the trademark chocolate on one side belong on every holiday cookie platter. Adapted from "The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion" (Countryman Press, 2004).

12 ounces (2 cups) slivered dried apricots

1/4 cup flour

1/2 cup heavy cream

2/3 cup sugar

4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter

5 ounces (1 cup) very finely chopped unsalted toasted blanched almonds*

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1 1/3 cups (8 ounces) chocolate chips or semisweet chocolate pieces

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a blender or food processor, combine the dried apricots and the flour. Pulse until the apricots are finely diced. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the cream, sugar and butter and cook, stirring, until the butter is melted. Increase the heat to medium-high, bringing the mixture to a boil. Remove from the heat and add the almonds, almond extract and floured apricot pieces, stirring to combine. Drop the batter by the tablespoon, at least 2 inches apart, onto the prepared baking sheets. Using the back of a spoon dipped in water, flatten each cookie until it's smooth. Bake for 11 to 12 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned. Remove from oven and let them cool just until they are solid enough to be transferred to a rack to cool completely.

To make the chocolate glaze, in a small saucepan over low heat, melt 1 cup of the chocolate. Remove it from the heat and add the remaining chocolate, stirring until melted and smooth. Using a spatula, spread the bottom of each cooled cookie with the glaze. Run the tines of a fork through the chocolate to create a wavy pattern and place the cookies back on the rack, chocolate side up, to set. (They may be refrigerated to make them set faster.) Store in an airtight container, layered between strips of wax paper.

*NOTE: To toast nuts, spread them on a baking sheet and place them in a 350-degree oven, shaking the pan occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes. Watch carefully because nuts will burn quickly.

Per serving: 155 calories, 2 g protein, 18 g carbohydrates, 9 g fat, 14 mg cholesterol, 4 g saturated fat, 4 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by S. Jackson Hayes; e-mail questions tofood@washpost.com

Key Lime Sugar Cookies

Makes 50 to 60 cookies

These tart, crisp cookies are great topped with lime-colored decorating sugar and can be dressed up with optional icing. Adapted from "The All-American Dessert Book," by Nancy Baggett (Houghton Mifflin, 2005).

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon corn oil or other flavorless vegetable oil

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon finely grated Key lime or regular lime zest

6 tablespoons fresh or bottled Key lime juice

1 3/4 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch of salt

2/3 cup sugar

7 tablespoons unsalted butter, slightly softened and cut into chunks

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon lemon extract or 1 teaspoon lime flavoring oil, such as Boyajian

Up to 1 tablespoon water, if needed

About 3 tablespoons lime-colored decorating (crystal) sugar

Icing (optional; recipe follows)

In a small bowl, combine the oil and lime zest. Let stand, covered, for at least 30 minutes and up to several hours.

Meanwhile, in a small nonreactive saucepan over medium heat, heat the lime juice until reduced to 2 1/2 tablespoons. Let cool to room temperature.

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

Using a stand mixer on medium speed, beat together the oil-lime zest mixture and the sugar until well blended. Add the butter, beating until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the reduced lime juice, the vanilla extract and the lemon extract or lime flavoring oil until well blended and smooth. Reduce speed to low and beat or stir in the flour mixture to form a smooth dough. If the dough seems soft, let stand for 5 minutes to firm up slightly. If it seems dry, stir in up to 1 tablespoon water.

Divide the dough in half. Roll out each portion between sheets of parchment paper or wax paper to a scant 1/4 -inch thickness. Occasionally check the underside of the dough and smooth out any wrinkles. Stack the rolled portions (paper still attached) on a baking sheet. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes or freeze for about 15 minutes, or until cold.

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease several baking sheets or coat lightly with nonstick spray oil.

Working with one portion of dough at a time and keeping the rest refrigerated, gently peel off the top sheet of paper, then pat loosely back into place so it will be easy to remove later. Invert the dough and peel off the second sheet. Using a 2 1/4 -inch-round cutter, cut out the cookies, then cut each round in half with a sharp knife. If at any point the dough softens too much to handle easily, transfer the paper and cookies to a baking sheet and refrigerate or freeze until firm. Using a spatula, transfer the cookies to the baking sheets, spacing them about 1 inch apart. Re-roll any dough scraps and continue cutting out the cookies until all the dough is used. Generously sprinkle the cookie tops with the decorating sugar.

Bake one sheet at a time for 7 to 11 minutes, or until the cookies just begin to brown at the edges. If necessary, reverse the sheet from front to back halfway through baking to ensure even browning. Using a wide spatula, immediately transfer the cookies to a wire rack. Let cool completely. Top with icing, if desired.

Per serving (based on 60): 39 calories, 0 g protein, 5 g carbohydrates, 2 g fat, 4 mg cholesterol, 1 g saturated fat, 19 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Brenda Boykin; e-mail questions tofood@washpost.com

Icing

Makes enough for 50 to 60 cookies

About 1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar

2 1/2 to 3 tablespoons fresh or bottled Key lime juice

1 to 2 drops yellow liquid food coloring (optional)

1 to 2 drops green liquid food coloring (optional)

In a small bowl, stir together the confectioners' sugar and 2 1/2 tablespoons lime juice until smooth. Add the yellow and green food coloring, if desired. If necessary, add more sugar or juice to yield a piping consistency (stiff enough to hold its shape but soft enough to pipe through a fine tip). Place the icing in a paper decorating cone or pastry bag fitted with a fine writing tip. Space the cookies slightly apart on a rack set over parchment paper or wax paper. To suggest lime slices, pipe a thin line around the perimeter of each cookie, then add "segments" by piping a dot in the center and 7 thin spokes radiating out from the dot to the perimeter. Let stand until the icing sets, at least 30 minutes.

Store cookies in airtight containers at room temperature for up to 2 weeks. May be frozen for up to 2 months.

Per serving: 19 calories, 0 g protein, 5 g carbohydrates, 0 g fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Brenda Boykin; e-mail questions tofood@washpost.com

Christmas Wreaths

Makes 18 two-inch wreaths

At the very least, these colorful cookies, made with cornflakes, marshmallows and green food coloring with a splash of red, can be used as tree decorations. But they actually taste good, too. Adapted from "Rose's Christmas Cookies," by Rose Levy Beranbaum (William Morrow, 1990).

4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter

30 large marshmallows (about 3 cups)

1 1/2 teaspoons green liquid food coloring

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 cups cornflakes

2 tablespoons cinnamon red-hot candies, such as Ferrara Pan

Have ready a baking sheet lined with wax paper and lightly coated with nonstick spray oil.

Lightly coat a medium saucepan with nonstick spray oil. Add butter and melt over low heat. Add the marshmallows and melt until smooth, stirring constantly, about 6 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the food coloring and vanilla extract until well blended. Add the cornflakes and stir to coat them well. Keep the mixture warm by placing the saucepan in a large pot or skillet filled with 1 inch of very hot tap water, replacing the water as it cools.

Working quickly so the mixture does not harden, use 2 small spoons coated with nonstick spray oil or use lightly greased fingers to drop small (1 heaping tablespoon) mounds of the cornflake mixture onto the wax paper. With lightly greased fingers, quickly form cornflake mounds into wreaths with holes in the centers. While the wreaths are still sticky, decorate the wreaths with the red-hots. Let sit to dry.

For decoration, wreaths may be strung with nylon string or gold ribbons as tree ornaments and will keep indefinitely. For eating, store in an airtight container at room temperature for about 1 month.

Per serving: 109 calories, 0 g protein, 15 g carbohydrates, 5 g fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 3 g saturated fat, 67 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Judith M. Havemann; e-mail questions tofood@washpost.com

Chocolate Peppermint Crunch Cookie Bark

Makes about 2 dozen 5- to 6-inch-long irregularly shaped cookies

This combination of cookie and candy is hard to resist. Melting the chocolate chips on the cookie base helps the peppermint pieces adhere when the bark is broken into pieces. The peppermint could be replaced with crushed toffee or chopped white chocolate. Also adapted from Elinor Klivans's "Big Fat Cookies."

1 1/2 cups flour

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

2 tablespoons water

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 cups (18 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

3/4 to 1 cup crushed peppermint candy (8 to 10 six-inch candy canes), crushed into small pieces

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Have ready 2 unlined baking sheets.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt. Sift the cocoa powder into the flour mixture and set aside.

Using a stand mixer on low speed, mix the melted butter, sugars, water and vanilla extract until smooth, about 30 seconds, stopping the mixer to scrape the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the flour mixture, mixing just until the flour is incorporated, 25 to 30 seconds. Stir in 1 1/2 cups of the chocolate chips.

Leaving a 3-inch margin on all sides, use a thin spatula to spread half the dough on one baking sheet into a rectangle that measures about 11-by-8 inches and is about 1/4 -inch thick. Use your palms to help pat it into an even layer. Repeat with the remaining cookie dough on the second baking sheet.

Bake one sheet at a time about 14 minutes, or until the top looks dull, not shiny, and feels evenly firm at the edges and center. As soon as each baking sheet comes out of the oven, sprinkle half of the remaining chocolate chips over the cookie slab. Let the chocolate chips sit for 5 minutes to soften and melt, then use a small spatula to spread the melted chocolate over the cookie, covering most of the slab. While the chocolate is still warm, sprinkle half of the peppermint candy evenly over it.

Let the cookie bark cool on the baking sheets on a wire rack until the chocolate topping is firm, about 2 hours. Or, to speed the cooling, cool the cookies on the baking sheets for about 30 minutes, then refrigerate them, still on the baking sheets, just until the chocolate topping firms, then remove from the refrigerator. The cookie bark will become crisp as it cools.

Break each cookie slab into about a dozen 5- to 6-inch-long irregular pieces. Store cookies in a tightly covered container, layered between sheets of wax paper, at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Per serving: 276 calories, 3 g protein, 37 g carbohydrates, 15 g fat, 22 mg cholesterol, 9 g saturated fat, 59 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Margaret Roth; e-mail questions tofood@washpost.com

Harlequins and Bow Ties

Makes about 8 dozen 1 3/4 -inch cookies

Two-toned butter cookies (vanilla and chocolate) take on new shapes with just a twist of the dough. The Harlequins and Bow Ties follow the same master recipe, so it's simple to make some of each. Adapted from "Great Cookies," by Carole Walter (Clarkson Potter, 2003).

3 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly firm

1 1/3 cups superfine sugar*

3 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and kept warm

2 teaspoons water

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer on medium-low speed, mix the butter until smooth and creamy. Add the sugar in 4 additions and mix for 2 minutes. Add 2 of the eggs, then the vanilla extract, mixing for 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape down the side of the bowl as needed. Reduce the speed to low and add the dry ingredients in 3 additions, blending just until combined. Do not overmix.

Divide the dough in half and blend the warm, melted chocolate into half of the dough, mixing thoroughly without overworking the dough. Shape each flavor of dough into a 4-by-5-inch rectangle. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour, or until firm enough to roll.

In a small bowl, lightly beat the last egg with 2 teaspoons of water.

Divide each chocolate and vanilla rectangle lengthwise into 4 strips, for a total of 8 strips. Place the strips on a piece of plastic wrap. Working with 2 strips of each flavor at a time, brush the exposed cut side of the strips lightly with the egg wash. Place a vanilla strip alongside a chocolate strip, using the egg wash to hold them together. On top of each one, place a strip of the opposite flavor. Rotate back and forth with your hands to seal the 4 strips together. Roll in plastic wrap, twisting the ends tightly to form a cylinder. Repeat, using the remaining chocolate and vanilla strips. Chill for several hours or up to 3 days, or freeze for up to 1 month.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Position the oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Lightly coat 2 baking sheets with nonstick spray oil.

Unwrap one cylinder at a time and place it on a cutting board. Using a thin, sharp knife, cut the roll into 3/16 -inch slices. Place the slices about 1 1/2 inches apart on the baking sheets. (To make Bow Ties, gently pinch opposite sides together after the slices are on the baking sheet. You can pinch either the chocolate or vanilla side, or some of each. The more you pinch, the greater the definition, but be careful not to separate the dough.) Bake for 9 to 11 minutes, or until the edges just begin to brown. To ensure even browning, toward the end of baking time, rotate the pans top to bottom and front to back. Remove from the oven, let stand 1 minute, then loosen with a thin spatula while the cookies are still hot. Transfer to racks to cool completely. Store in an airtight container, layered between strips of wax paper, at room temperature for up to 3 weeks, or freeze.

*NOTE: To make your own superfine sugar, process granulated sugar in a food processor, blender or coffee grinder.

Per serving: 48 calories, 1 g protein, 6 g carbohydrates, 3 g fat, 12 mg cholesterol, 2 g saturated fat, 17 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Lisa Cherkasky; e-mail questions tofood@washpost.com

Raspberry Squares

Makes 16 squares

Use the highest-quality raspberry jam you can find. The tart jam offers a contrast to the almond-laced dough. Adapted from "Tate's Bake Shop Cookbook," by Kathleen King (St. Martin's Press, 2005).

1 cup salted butter, at room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 egg yolk

3 cups flour

1 cup whole almonds, chopped

1 1/4 cups raspberry jam

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat a 9-inch-square baking dish with nonstick spray oil.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until they are well combined. Add the egg yolk and mix. Add the flour and almonds and blend well, but keep the mixture a bit crumbly and not too dry. Pat half of the mixture, about 3 cups, into the prepared baking dish. Bake for 20 minutes.

Remove from oven and immediately spread with raspberry jam, leaving about a 1/4 -inch border along the sides. Crumble the remaining dough evenly over the jam and pat lightly. Bake for 40 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool completely before cutting into squares. Store in an airtight container, with wax paper between layers, refrigerated, for several days. May be frozen.

Per serving: 357 calories, 5 g protein, 48 g carbohydrates, 17 g fat, 46 mg cholesterol, 8 g saturated fat, 135 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Marcia Kramer; e-mail questions tofood@washpost.com

Skinny Peanut Wafers

Makes about 24 wafers

These thin, crisp wafers are one of master baker Maida Heatter's most popular cookies. Adapted from "Maida Heatter's Brand New Book of Great Cookies" (Random House, 1995).

1 cup salted peanuts

1 cup sugar

1 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 egg

2 tablespoons whole milk

1/2 to 3/4 cup honey-roasted peanuts (optional)

Position an oven rack on the middle level and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Baking sheets with only one raised rim are best; if not available, use any baking sheet turned upside down. Line 2 baking sheets with aluminum foil, shiny side up, and coat lightly with nonstick spray oil. Set aside.

Using a food processor, pulse the peanuts with a few tablespoons of the sugar about 10 times to chop the nuts into coarse pieces (don't worry if some of the nuts become powdery and others remain whole). Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the flour and baking soda. Set aside.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Using a stand mixer or hand-held mixer on medium speed, beat the melted butter, egg, milk and the remaining sugar until well combined. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture and the chopped peanuts and beat until combined. Place slightly rounded (not heaping) tablespoonfuls of half of the dough 3 inches apart on one of the prepared baking sheets. Try to keep the shapes neat. Top each cookie with several honey-roasted peanuts, if desired.

Bake one sheet at a time for about 5 minutes, then reverse the sheet front to back. Bake for an additional 2 to 3 minutes. The cookies will rise up, spread out and then flatten into thin, 4-inch-wide wafers with bumpy tops. The cookies should bake until they are barely brown all over.

Remove from the oven. If the cookies stick together, cut them apart while still hot. Cool on the baking sheet for 2 minutes, then slide the foil off the sheet. Let the cookies cool until they are firm enough to be removed, then peel off and discard the foil. Transfer cookies to rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for several days. May be frozen.

Per serving: 98 calories, 2 g protein, 13 g carbohydrates, 4 g fat, 12 mg cholesterol, 1 g saturated fat, 54 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Marcia Kramer; e-mail questions tofood@washpost.com

Laura Bush's Cowboy Cookies

Makes about 3 dozen large cookies or 6 dozen smaller cookies

This is adapted from the recipe Mrs. Bush submitted to Family Circle's cookie bakeoff during the 2000 presidential campaign. It was up against Tipper Gore's Ginger Snaps. No contest: These Texas-size cookies consist of chocolate chips augmented with rolled oats, coconut, pecans and cinnamon.

3 cups flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 tablespoon baking soda

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

12 ounces (3 sticks) butter, at room temperature

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar

3 eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

3 cups semisweet chocolate chips

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

2 cup sweetened flaked coconut

2 cups chopped pecans (8 ounces)

Position oven racks in the upper and lower thirds and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.

Using a stand mixer on medium speed, beat butter until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. Gradually add sugars and beat to combine, about 2 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each one, and the vanilla extract. Add flour mixture until just combined. Add the chocolate chips, oats, coconut and pecans, mixing until just combined. For large cookies, drop a hefty 1/4 cup of dough onto the baking sheets for each cookie, spacing 3 inches apart. Bake for 8 to 9 minutes, then rotate sheets top to bottom and front to back. Bake for an additional 8 to 9 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Let cookies cool on baking sheet for about 5 minutes, then transfer to rack to cool completely. For smaller cookies, use 2 tablespoons dough per cookie and bake for 15 to 18 minutes total, rotating the baking sheets midway through. Store in airtight containers at room temperature for several days. May be frozen.

Per serving based on 36: 377 calories, 5 g protein, 51 g carbohydrates, 19 g fat, 40 mg cholesterol, 9 g saturated fat, 217 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Kathy Legg; e-mail questions tofood@washpost.com

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