Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas Cookies!

Oh, my friends, will you ever be able to forgive me? I have been in absentia for an obscene amount of time from this fine blog, though I promise, you were never far from my thoughts. The rumors of my untimely death were exaggerated, but not greatly. That end-of-the-semester push, nay, SHOVE, of finals and all the subsequent grading was quite rough and rude. But survive it I did, only to go comatose and narcoleptic for a few days, as I always do at the end of term. Also, in an evil coincidence, I managed to throw my back out as I do once every few years, and I am just starting to be able to stand and move without screaming. Still, the Christmas prep waits for no one, not even the semi-paralyzed. I've almost finished my shopping. I know, I know...I should have been done long ago. I was planning on sending care packages of homemade goodies to quite a few people, but I had to postpone that vision until I can stand for longer periods of time to bake and pack (sorry in advance, everyone--and you know who you are--but you'll be getting New Year's packages this year). So it was Amazon to the rescue in large part, and I even braved the mall today briefly (shudder), God help me.

I don't know what possessed me to do it. I suppose it was because I was in a good mood, having increased motility from taking mega-doses of ibuprofen, and possibly still on a sugar high from one of my favorite Christmas traditions, the Annual Padula Cookie Swap. It was a more intimate gathering this year, mainly because the head hostess, Dominica, now has a real job as a city attorney, and apparently could not convince her employers to give her time off for the high cookie swap holy day! BOO HISS! But her presence was felt, or rather tasted, as she made many cookies for us to munch on and trade. And then mama Janice made two ginormous, lovely quiches (ham and cheese and broccoli and cheese), a green salad, rolls, and we had Dominica's super-fabulous walnut tart for dessert. Yum!

The cookie offerings this year included June's famous ginger people, a peppermint swirl cookie from Martie (so pretty!), and whopper cookies that Dominica made from a recipe on Anna's blog. I, too, turned to the Mad Cookie Queen for inspiration. I needed something that wasn't too intricate, and I spied her recent post about chocolate almond shortbread that seemed perfect. The ingredient list wasn't daunting, it mixed up quickly with no fussy procedures (you don't even need to chill the dough), and the resulting cookies were so yummy--even better the next day! Continuing the motifs of almonds and powdered sugar (the latter is perfect for Christmas as the cookies look all snowy), I also made some Vanille Kipferl, an Austrian cookie better known as Vanilla Crescents. These were a little more involved, as they required hand-shaping--not to mention MATH to convert from European/metric measurements--but I didn't mind, as I could do both sitting down. ;-) These also taste better a day or two after making them...if they last that long! So what are you waiting for? Fire up your oven and hop to! Tick tock, tick tock!

Chocolate Almond Shortbread
Almonds Are In--via Cookie Madness)

1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar (I tasted the dough and added an extra tablespoon or two)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon almond extract (I halved this--personal taste)
2 squares (1 oz. each) semi-sweet chocolate, melted and cooled (I used chips and weighed them)
1 square (1 oz.) unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
2 cups flour
1 cup toasted chopped almonds (I used blanched/sliced/toasted from TJ's)
*I also added a good pinch of salt

powdered sugar (and lots of it...I mixed a little Hershey's Special Dark cocoa in there for good measure)

Cream butter with sugar, vanilla and almond extract. Blend in melted unsweetened and semi-sweet chocolate. Stir in flour and almonds. Roll into 1-inch balls. Place on ungreased cookie sheet and flatten slightly (I missed this step on my first batch as you can see in the picture above, but the more rounded cookies were still delish). Bake at 350 degrees, 10 minutes (more like 12). Cool on wire rack. Sift powdered sugar over cookies (I tossed mine in it after they had cooled a bit).

Vanille Kipferl/Vanilla Cresents
(Source: What's for Lunch, Honey?)

1 vanilla bean (I used two--'tisn't the season to be Scroogey!)
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
13 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
pinch of salt
3/4 cup blanched almonds, finely ground

2 egg yolks

vanilla sugar*
powdered sugar

Cut open the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds. Combine together the almonds with the flour, sugar, salt, vanilla seeds, and butter. Using your fingers (I used my mixer on low), work flour–nut mixture until dough resembles coarse meal or breadcrumbs.

Mix in the egg yolks and knead to form a smooth dough. Roll dough into two logs, wrap them in some plastic wrap and chill for approximately 30 minutes. This is an essential step--without the resting period, the dough will break when being formed into cookies.

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. After resting the dough, cut each log into 24-25 equal pieces (total=48-50 cookies), then form each part into a 3-inch long piece with pointy tapering ends; bend these into crescents shapes. Place on a baking sheet and bake in the center of the oven until light golden around the bottom, 12 -14 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through for even baking.

After baking, dip the still hot cookies into vanilla sugar. Handle the cookies with care, as they break quite easily, especially after baking (but you need a few "tasters" anyway for quality control!). When completely cooled, sprinkle liberally with powdered sugar (I mixed in some powdered vanilla to take the vanilla flavor over the top).

The cookies will keep for at least two weeks in an airtight container or a sealed cookie tin.

*Making vanilla sugar: Keep granulated sugar and a vanilla bean(s) in an airtight jar; after a few weeks the sugar will taste of vanilla.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yours look 100 times better than mine!!!