Monday, December 22, 2008
What's Cooking Wednesday (early): A Jew Does the Cookie Thing
Please go to Shan's place for more What's Cooking Wednesday participants.
Like so many Americans, I'm proud to proclaim myself a "mutt". Maybe not racially, but in terms of my heritage. On one side I'm Irish/German Protestant and on the other side I'm Polish/Belarus Jewish. Add in a little bit of Welsh and maybe a Brit or two, and stir well.
Spiritually? Who knows... I'm still trying to figure that out. Culturally? I feel like what I am - a blend of things.
It's taken me a long, long time to feel comfortable with this. That's all I'm going to say right now.
Anyway, Christmas cookies were never a part of my experience growing up. I think that had more to do with my mother's lack of interest in baking than anything else. Also, too, we both lit the candles for Hanukkah and had Mom's family over for Christmas, and I think there was just too much to do.
Lovely early food memories were receiving a huge, heavy tin of Mrs. Brown's shortbread that we'd receive each Christmas time. That was the sum total of my understanding of Christmas cookies.
My first year as an elementary teacher I was presented with the best plate of Christmas cookies I've ever tasted. Maybe they were that much better because I'd made it through my first semester, but no Christmas cookies have touched these since, and those cookies first intrigued me with the whole Christmas cookie idea.
So our Christmas plans changed this year, and all of a sudden more presents were needed and also all of a sudden we were plunged into grief and chaos. Shopping completely stresses me out and I really felt a strong need to stay close to home. Finally, Christmas cookies seemed to be the answer. Making things would be relaxing.
Well, it was interesting, although after my first morning of baking I had herring and pickles for lunch - I think my Jewish side was rebelling against all this sugar and excess.
I planned my cookies carefully. I planned a swap. I searched recipes. I read tons of blogs. I haunted the Food Network and Epicurious.
Finally, this is what I came up with:
The bottom layer - traditional Christmas cookies, apricot-chocolate biscotti, espresso crinkles, candied walnuts with orange rind and chocolate
And this is what I came up with:
The top layer - pistachio-raspberry ribbon cookies, mincemeat swirls, cherry shortbread and peppermint bark.
For a first year, these were not bad. Did I make my own recipes? Heck no, I'm definitely not ready for that, yet.
Here's what I did make:
Traditional Christmas Cookies using a sugar cookie dough by Alton Brown. The reviews said that the cookies were bland, so I added 1 TBS rum and 1 tsp vanilla to the dough. I still found them bland, but C and his friend K loved them. And they are Christmas cookie fans, so who am I to judge? For the coatings I mixed a glaze of powdered sugar, water and rum. It was fine - the cookies were decorated by D and C, with some being decorated by me. The dough was PERFECT to work with. The recipe worked exactly as stated and rolling out and cutting out the cookies was easy (and I STINK at rolling and cutting). My new silpat pastry mat may have helped, too.
Apricot-Chocolate Biscotti: I used this recipe from Giada De Laurentiis, but I obviously changed the add-ins and I switched from lemon rind to orange rind. I used a TBS of Grand Marnier and 3 TBS of orange juice as flavoring, and added in 1/2 cup of chocolate chips, chopped fine, and 2/3 cup chopped apricots. Again, the dough and the recipe was perfect. If I had these to do over again, I'd use more oj and skip the Grand Marnier. There was a slightly bitter taste, and I think this would resolve it.
Espresso Crinkles. These were from Cooking Light. Don't. Bother. For chocolate lovers and children only. They're *okay* and C likes them fairly well, but they're not all that pretty and don't taste good enough and they were a pain to make. 'Nuff said.
Candied Walnuts with Orange Rind and Chocolate - I got these off an e-mail list, and I don't want to print the recipe without permission, but these ROCKED. I will find the author and get this to you. Promise. They were a tiny bit bitter, but cutting back on the orange rind would take care of it, I think.
Pistachio-Raspberry Ribbon Bars and Mince Pinwheel Cookies. Both of these recipes are by Marye Audet, and these were my two favorite cookies. Hands down. My only additions were that I used more jam and more Mince than Marye called for. The Mince Pinwheel Cookies may be my all-time favorite cookie, after Tollhouse Chocolate Chips. If you're a mince fan, you will LOVE these. The Ribbon Bars can be found here and the Mincemeat Swirls here.
Cherry Shortbread... hmmm... this did not work as well as I would have liked, although D thinks it's great. I used this shortbread recipe from the Hearty Boys, omitting the espresso aspects and stirred in one cup of chopped, dried cherries. The cherry flavor came through beautifully, but the shortbread really refused to set. I think I'd add 1/4 cup of flour the next time, due to the moistness of the cherries.
Peppermint Bark - easy-peasy and delicious! Just melt a cup and a half of bittersweet chocolate in the microwave, pour it on a parchment-lined, large cookie sheet with a lip, and sprinkle crushed candy canes on top. Let set. Break. Yum.
Phew. I'm exhausted.
I leave tomorrow morning for family and love and good fortune and I can't wait. See you in a few days. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy Kwanzaa for anyone celebrating those holidays!