Thursday, December 22, 2011

My Favorite Christmas Tradition: Cookie Swap at the Padulas!

My friends, Janice and Domenica, host a wonderful annual Christmas cookie exchange, but we didn't do it last year...can't remember why, something about the timing and other obligations getting in the way. That happens sometimes, but I was thrilled when the party was revived this year. In fact, so many people RSVP'ed, that we had to exchange half dozens, instead of full dozens, this year. And of course, Janice made a fabulous Middle Eastern luncheon for us, and as is her way, Domenica made some festive desserts, including the fabulous showpiece--a minty cheesecake with a decadent ganache on top decorated all around with candy canes.

Domenica also hand-formed little marzipan figures (a winter hat, a Christmas stocking, or in my case, a candy cane) on top of each cupcake that served as our place setting. So cute! Those Padulas--SO fun and creative!

As for my cookie offering this year, I used my homemade mincemeat to make some very flavorful cookies that I called "Fruitcake Cookies," so that people would be less scared of trying them. The cookies themselves were lovely and cakey, but I wasn't crazy about the caramel icing. It had good flavor, but despite boiling it for about seven minutes, it remained grainy, kind of like a praline.

Truthfully, the cookies don't even need the icing, but they look rather plain without it. Of course, if I hadn't run out of pecans, they would have looked nicer with a pecan half on top. Oh well. They may not have been the prettiest cookie at the party, but I think they were the tastiest! They are also pretty easy, and I got 70 cookies out of one recipe, using a regular cookie scoop. So I definitely recommend adding this cookie to your holiday repertoire.

Mincemeat (or "Fruitcake") Cookies
(Source: adapted from AllRecipes)

1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs
*I added 1 teaspoon vanilla
3 1/4 cups prepared mincemeat pie filling
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped pecans

1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
3/4 cup butter, cubed
1 cup confectioners' sugar
6 tablespoons half-and-half cream
1 teaspoon rum extract (I omitted this because my homemade mincemeat was PLENTY boozy!)

70 pecan halves

1. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs. Add mincemeat; mix well. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; add to the creamed mixture and mix well. Stir in pecans. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls 2 in. apart onto greased baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees F for 14-16 minutes or until edges begin to brown. Remove to wire racks to cool.

2. For the frosting, combine the brown sugar and butter in a saucepan; bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil for 6-8 minutes, stirring twice, or until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat. Add the confectioners' sugar, cream and extract; beat until smooth. Frost the cookies; top each with a pecan half.

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