Monday, December 19, 2011

Holiday Cookie Wrap Up

I hope everyone is having a joyful holiday season. I'm trying to do the same over here.

We're spending Christmas in Austin due to work commitments so I'm a little bummed we won't be heading home to spend the holiday with family. We always stop in New Orleans for a couple of days on our way so not only am I missing my mother's Christmas dinner, now I don't know when I'll get my po-boy fix.

Despite being homesick, there are benefits to not traveling over Christmas. I'm kind of looking forward to a quiet and relaxing holiday with just the two of us. We're committed to taking it easy and plan to go out for Christmas dinner. We'll cook my mother's traditional dish on Christmas Eve- a big pot of Shrimp Creole served with homemade crusty bread- but other than that, the kitchen will be closed after December 24th.

In keeping with my vow to chill, I'm not making the traditional holiday treats that tend to sap my time, energy, and patience. I adore eating cutesy, decorated sugar cookies as much as the next person. I even made ten dozen for a holiday party a couple of years back. This year, however, the only painstakingly decorated sugar cookies I'll be eating are those others make. Same goes for gingerbread men; Mom and I make a mammoth batch every year when I'm home and since I can't make them with her this year, I'm skipping it. I also won't be making pain au chocolat or cream filled doughnuts for a festively stressful holiday breakfast. We'll be having an early dinner so breakfast is going to be on the lighter side (literally and figuratively).

Lest you think I've gone Grinch, I am enjoying holiday festivities; I'm just doing so at a more relaxed pace this year. I recently made five dozen cookies for a holiday cookie exchange but instead of seasonal treats, I went with well-loved standards that would please a wide array of people, including gluten free friends. What I really liked about all of the recipes I chose is that they could be prepped or made ahead of time so that I didn't have to scurry around and stress out the day of the party.

My go-to cookie for the gluten free crowd is always the macaron. I decided to make mini macarons for the cookie exchange because I liked the idea of a one bite, pop-able cookie. These chocolate macarons are already on the rich side so a little bit goes a long way. I did mini macs two ways: with a pecan topping and fudge filling and topped with Brazil nuts and filled with cajeta. As you can see from the pic below, the cajeta thinned out a bit too much and ran over the sides of the cookies but the flavors were terrific together so although not the prettiest, they certainly were tasty. I made the macs the day before- the texture actually improves after resting in the refrigerator overnight- and filled the cookies the day of the party.

For those without dietary restrictions, I went with cookies that are perpetual crowd pleasers. I've yet to meet anyone (without a nut allergy or other medical condition that prohibits consumption) who doesn't like a peanut butter cookie or a chocolate chipper. I'm pretty sure that if you grew up in the USA, you're hard-wired to like these cookies. And if not, as my late father-in-law, a first generation, proud citizen would say, "That's just un-American."

These peanut butter cookies are the same creamy, soft treat you remember from school cafeteria lunches but are made even better with the addition of milk chocolate. I found the recipe on Molly's site- for the best cookie texture she recommends freezing scooped dough and then baking directly from the freezer. Bingo! I made the dough and froze the scoops the weekend before the party and then baked them off the day of. I'm seriously considering always keeping frozen dough on hand from here on out- they're that good.

I'm always up for trying out a new chocolate chip cookie recipe but this one sets the bar (for me) against which all others are judged. It's a Jacques Torres recipe that he shared in the New York Times. He calls for resting the dough for at least 24-36 hours and up to 72 hours. According to NYT taste tests, the longer the dough ages, the more evenly the cookies bake and the richer and more complex they taste. Delayed gratification has its upside- if you can stand the wait, these cookies are fantastic. And if you need a recipe that can be prepped ahead, they're pretty much a perfect choice. Mr. Torres calls for using cake flour and bread flour- you can sub all-purpose in a pinch but the texture won't be as nice.

OK, so brittle isn't exactly a cookie but I still brought some to the cookie exchange. Aside from being another gluten free item to share, brittle is holiday-ish. At least for me, it is- I don't really snack on brittle any other time of year. This smoked almond brittle makes me think I should, though. The recipe calls for smoked almonds and sea salt which allays the overly sweet factor of a typical brittle. I went a smidge further and used smoked sea salt to really play up the brittle's savory side.

This brittle can be stored for up to one month in an air-tight container so I made a batch the weekend before the cookie exchange. Note, I tried making the brittle without corn syrup and never could achieve the right texture- one attempt (with staged sugar) produced a brittle so hard it would crack your teeth and the other (with honey) never set properly. I'm hoping to find a good corn syrup substitute- I'll be trying this recipe soon- but until then, the best brittle result required using corn syrup. I was a little hesitant to add the baking soda called for in the recipe thinking it would give the brittle an off taste but I learned something new- I read that adding baking soda releases carbon dioxide which gives the brittle a lighter, crunchier texture. In testing, I found this to be true- the brittle made with baking soda had a nice snap to it but was easier to chew.

Winter Solstice/whatever to all and
best wishes in the New Year!


  1. You've been busy! All of your sweets look delicious - esp. those peanut butter beauties. Happy to hear things are going to be restful for you this holiday - me too. All I want is to sleep in and hit the movie theatre! Happy Christmas :)

  2. I will try the chocolate cookie one I think. Looks great with the chocolate swirls. I have not been a big fan of chocolate chip pieces in a cookie.
    Take it easy. I have never been a big cookie maker during holidays but enjoy when everyone gives me a package. Hope you get much deserved rest and start your new year with energy.

  3. GORGEOUS. My mouth is watering for the mini macs. And my favorite cookies are chocolate chip cookies. Mmmm.

    I'm hungry.

  4. You make all of this sound so easy! Thanks for reminding me about those cookies that are better when baked from the freezer. I remember wanting to try those--obviously, I still haven't. Have a fantastic and relaxing holiday!

  5. Well, my goodness, I want to come to your cookie exchange. WOW! All of these look absolutely gorgeous. I want to try every one of them. Your holiday plans sound so relaxing. Have a wonderful time, Shelley!

  6. Wow, all the cookies look great, if only I could have one of each ;-)
    Happy Holidays Shelley, to you and your loved ones :-)

  7. Johnee's favorite cookie at the swap- Proof that you are in no way a grinch. Merry Christmas my dear friend and I hope to catch up with you soon in the new year.

  8. Happy Holidays, Shelley, to you and your family. That is too bad about missing the New Orleans jaunt, but it sounds like otherwise your plans are super. We fly out to Virginia tomorrow night to visit family. So no cooking for us, either.

    I like all your cookie ideas. Cookies somehow scream Christmas to me. My mother makes dozens of kinds every year so I'm hopeful that this visit will be the same.

  9. Happy Late Christmas and more timely New Years wishes to you. Every cookie made my mouth water. Delicious! xo