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Four Cookies From One Dough

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

For time-pressed holiday bakers, cookbook author Nick Malgieri provides a strategy for making several kinds of cookies based on a single dough. Although the base recipe is inspired by Italy's most widely used pastry dough, pasta frolla, these cookies made from it, with one exception, aren't Italian at all.

Most food processors can easily handle a batch of dough of this size. Each variation calls for a half-batch of the base recipe, so make two batches if you want to bake all four variations.

Pasta Frolla

Makes about 2 1/4 pounds of dough (enough for 2 of the variation recipes to follow)

Italians use pasta frolla to line pans for baking a variety of pies, sweet and savory, and to make simple sugar cookies and all sorts of elaborate filled cookies. Using it as a base for bar cookies is simply an extension of its pan-lining capabilities.

The dough is best made in a food processor, but you can also make it by hand, rubbing in the butter and incorporating the eggs with a fork. You'll have to knead handmade dough a little to get it smooth; just don't overdo it. Pasta frolla can be made and refrigerated 3 to 4 days in advance.

4 cups flour (spoon flour into a dry-measure cup and level off)

2/3 cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

8 ounces (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces

4 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract (may substitute 1 teaspoon each vanilla and lemon extracts)

2 teaspoons finely grated lemon or orange zest

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Pulse 3 or 4 times to mix. Add the butter and process 10 to 15 seconds or until it is finely mixed into the dry ingredients. Add the eggs, vanilla extract and zest. Pulse a few times, until a ball of dough forms. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface. Form the dough into a fat cylinder and use immediately, or wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.

Dulce de Leche Crumb Bars

Makes about 24 squares

Dulce de leche, with its rich caramel flavor, fits perfectly with so many dessert preparations and with other sweet ingredients, such as chocolate. Originally concocted as a means to preserve milk in the days before refrigeration, it appears in dozens of versions throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean.

Store the cooled bars between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight tin or plastic container for up to 10 days, or freeze the whole baked sheet, well wrapped, for up to 1 month. Defrost and cut as needed.

For the cookie base and topping:

A half-batch of pasta frolla, freshly made (see previous basic dough recipe)

2 tablespoons flour

For the filling:

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

For the cookie base: Lightly grease a 9-by-13-inch pan and line the bottom and sides with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

Press 3/4 of the chilled dough evenly into the bottom of the pan, using gentle pressure from the palm of your hand. Refrigerate until ready to use. Reserve the remaining 1/4 of the dough at room temperature.

For the filling: Combine the butter, corn syrup and sweetened condensed milk in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan. Melt the butter, then cook for 5 to 10 minutes over medium-low heat, constantly stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan, until the filling starts to thicken and darkens slightly. Pour into a stainless-steel bowl and refrigerate for 10 to 15 minutes, then spread the filling into the chilled dough-lined pan, using a small offset spatula to spread it evenly.

To make the topping: Work the remaining 2 tablespoons of flour into the reserved dough, then crumble it into 1/4 - to 1/2 -inch pieces over a small bowl. Evenly scatter the crumbs over the filling.

Set an oven rack at the lowest level. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the filling is a deep caramel color and the dough and crumb topping are baked through. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool. Lift the slab of baked dough out of the pan and onto a cutting board before it has cooled completely, and cut into 2-inch squares.

Per 2-inch cookie: 169 calories, 3 g protein, 21 g carbohydrates, 8 g fat, 40 mg cholesterol, 5 g saturated fat, 78 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Joe Yonan; e-mail questions tofood@washpost.com

Infasciadedde (Sicilian Twists)

Makes about 48 cookies

These old-fashioned cookies were a specialty of Nick Malgieri's great-aunt, Elvira Pescatore Basile. She wasn't Sicilian but learned the recipe from a Sicilian friend. Malgieri believes an older version of these cookies had the dough wrapped entirely around the filling ("fasciare" means to wrap or bandage in Italian).

Before garnishing the cookies, store them between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container for up to 10 days, or freeze, well wrapped, for up to 1 month. To serve, bring to room temperature before garnishing with honey and almonds.

For the filling:

6 ounces (about 1 1/2 cups) whole almonds, preferably unblanched

1/2 cup honey

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the cookies:

A half-batch of pasta frolla, chilled (see previous basic dough recipe)

Flour, for rolling the dough

Honey, for drizzling

1 1/2 ounces (about 1/2 cup) toasted sliced almonds, for garnish

For the filling: Place the almonds in a food processor and process until finely ground. Add the honey and cinnamon and pulse just to mix. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.

For the cookies: Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat to 350 degrees. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

Transfer the chilled dough to a lightly floured work surface. Squeeze and knead the dough to make it malleable again, but not soft. Shape the dough into a fat cylinder and divide in half. Re-flour the work surface and one of the pieces of dough, flattening it into a rough square. Roll out the dough, moving it frequently and adding pinches of flour under and on it to keep it from sticking, to a 12-inch square.

Use a pizza wheel to cut the dough into 8 equal strips, each 1 1/2 inches wide.

Spray your hands with cooking spray or rub with butter, then take about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the filling and roll it between your hands while stretching until it becomes a 12-inch rope.

Lay the filling in the middle of one of the strips of dough. Fold the dough over the filling lengthwise, but don't press together.

Cut the cylinder into three 4-inch lengths and twist each one once or twice (they should look like barber poles) before placing on one of the prepared pans.

Repeat with the remaining strips of dough and filling; repeat the process with the second chilled piece of dough. Bake the cookies for about 15 minutes, until light golden in color. Slide the papers from the pans to wire racks to cool the cookies completely.

When ready to serve, arrange the cookies on a platter. Drizzle them with honey and sprinkle with some of the sliced almonds.

Per cookie: 81 calories, 2 g protein, 9 g carbohydrates, 4 g fat, 14 mg cholesterol, 1 g saturated fat, 29 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Joe Yonan; e-mail questions tofood@washpost.com

Chocolate and Vanilla Sandwich Cookies

Makes 25 to 30 sandwich cookies

You can also fill these double-decker cookies with cooked/reduced seedless raspberry jam. Adapted from cookbook author Nick Malgieri.

Store the unassembled cookie bases between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container for up to 10 days, or freeze, well wrapped, for up to 1 month. Make the filling and assemble the cookie sandwiches on the day you intend to serve them.

For the cookies:

A half-batch of pasta frolla, chilled (see previous basic dough recipe)

Flour, for rolling the dough

For the chocolate filling:

1/3 cup water

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

6 ounces best-quality semisweet chocolate, cut into 1/4 -inch pieces

Sifted confectioners' sugar, for dusting

For the cookies: Place the chilled dough on a lightly floured work surface. Squeeze and knead the dough to make it malleable again, but not soft. Shape the dough into a fat cylinder and divide in half. Re-flour the work surface and 1 of the pieces of dough and flatten it into a rough square. Roll out the dough, moving it frequently and adding pinches of flour under and on it to keep it from sticking, to a 10-inch square. Use a fluted or plain 2-inch round cutter to cut the dough into 25 cookies. Place them, spaced about 1 inch apart, on 1 of the baking sheets. Repeat with the second piece of dough. Use a 1-inch plain round or decorative cutter to cut the center out of half the cookies. Reroll the scraps to make more cookies, or press them together and add to the reserved piece of dough for another use.

When ready to bake, position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat to 375 degrees. Have ready 2 rimmed baking sheets lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes, until the cookies are light golden and firm. Be careful not to overbake the cookies, or they will be hard and tough. Slide the papers from the baking sheets to wire racks to cool.

While the cookies are baking, prepare the chocolate filling: Combine the water, corn syrup and butter in a small saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat for 3 to 4 minutes or until the mixture starts to bubble around the edges. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate, making sure it is submerged in the mixture. Let stand 3 or 4 minutes, then whisk until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl and let cool to room temperature.

To assemble: Invert the un-cut-out cookies and spread about a teaspoon of filling on each. Top with the cut-out cookies. Immediately before serving, dust the cookies very lightly with confectioners' sugar.

Per cookie (based on 30): 107 calories, 2 g protein, 13 g carbohydrates, 6 g fat, 24 mg cholesterol, 3 g saturated fat, 45 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Joe Yonan; e-mail questions tofood@washpost.com

Holiday Cutouts

Makes about 50 cookies

(or fewer if using large cutters)

This recipe is perfect for use with decorative cutters. Simple shapes such as stars and bells are easy to cut from the dough. Elaborate cutters, such as those very detailed snowflakes popular now, demand some precautions: Make sure you dip the cutter in flour before cutting, and use a wide spatula to transfer the cut cookies to the baking pan.

Store cookies between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight tin or plastic container up to 10 days, or freeze, well wrapped, for 1 month. Iced cookies should not be frozen; the icing may become sticky when defrosted. Adapted from Nick Malgieri.

For the cookies:

A half-batch of pasta frolla, chilled (see previous basic dough recipe)

Flour, for rolling the dough

For the royal icing:

3 large egg whites

1 pound confectioners' sugar, sifted

1/2 teaspoon lemon juice or distilled white vinegar

Paste food coloring (optional)

Colored crystal sugar, nonpareils or other decorative sugar (optional)

For the cookies: Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat to 375 degrees. Have ready 2 rimmed baking sheets lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

Transfer the dough from the refrigerator to a lightly floured work surface. Squeeze and knead the dough to make it malleable again, but not soft. Shape the dough into a fat cylinder and divide in half.

Re-flour the work surface and 1 of the pieces of dough, flattening it into a rough square. Roll out the dough, moving it frequently and adding pinches of flour under and on it to keep it from sticking, to form a 10-inch square. Use decorative cutters to cut the dough into cookies. Arrange them on 1 of the prepared baking sheets, spaced about 1 inch apart. Repeat with the second piece of dough. Press the scraps together and reroll and cut more cookies, or add them to the other reserved half of the dough for another use. Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes, until the cookies are golden and firm. Be careful not to overbake the cookies or they will be hard and tough. Slide the papers from the pans to wire racks to cool the cookies completely. (At this point, the cookies may be stored in an airtight container for several days until you are ready to decorate.)

For the icing: Combine the egg whites and confectioners' sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and use a large spatula to stir them to a smooth paste. Beat on medium speed for 1 minute. Add the lemon juice or vinegar and beat for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the icing is smooth and fluffy and has increased in volume. Add the paste food coloring, if using, blending just to combine. Transfer the finished icing to a bowl or plastic container and press plastic wrap against the surface to prevent a crust from forming.

To decorate: Use a pastry bag fitted with a small plain tube, or put some of the icing into a 1-quart plastic resealable food storage bag, forcing it into one of the bottom corners; twist the bag behind the icing and use scissors to snip off the tip of that corner to make an opening to pipe through. If you want to cover all or part of the cookie with a flat coat of icing, use a small metal offset spatula to spread it. To achieve a very flat, smooth surface when spreading rather than piping the icing, dilute with a few drops of water, thoroughly stirring it in.

Sprinkle colored sugar or nonpareils, if using, immediately after icing the cookies. Let the decorated cookies dry for several hours at room temperature before storing.

Per 2-inch cookie: 61 calories, 1 g protein, 10 g carbohydrates, 2 g fat, 13 mg cholesterol, 1 g saturated fat, 28 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber

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


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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