Sunday, December 13, 2009

Wanna Cookie?

One of my very favorite things about the holidays is taking a lazy weekend afternoon, snuggled up on the couch with a hot cup of coffee, and pouring over my cookbooks and foodie magazines choosing cookie recipes to try in the upcoming weeks. Every year, my girlfriend has a cookie exchange that is the driving force behind my delight. There is always a challenge to up my game, yet provide the standards everyone is anticipating.

The decisions are plentiful: Dad's peanut clusters? Mom's sugar cookies? Standby snickerdoodles? Chewy chocolate chip? Try the new recipes I'm drooling over??

I made my list a few weeks ago, but the agony of decision has been haunting me.

"Kristina, be reasonable. You can't actually take seven different kinds of cookies."

Why not?

"Because you only need to take a few dozen cookies, and you would gain 20 lbs. in the process of baking them!"


"I don't care how many recipes are from Cooking Light."

And the winners are: Caramel-pecan bars, Gingersnaps and Mexican chocolate cookies. I wish you could have been in my kitchen last night, smelling the wafts of cinnamon and ginger mixed with the scents of brown sugar, honey and butter melting... Holy cow.

I had never made any kind of caramel-nut bar, but it was really quite simple. Beware: if you are afraid of butter, you should stop reading.

The recipe was from Southern Living, and began with toasting pecans in the oven until the delicious, nutty fragrance hits you like a brick when you open the oven door. For you skeptics, yes, toasting the nuts does make a difference.

Then, you make a shortbread crust with butter (lots of it), flour and powdered sugar. (The foil makes a great liner for the pan and allows you to get the bars out easily. No washing the dish either!)

While that's cooling, you melt brown sugar, butter (lots more of it), honey and a bit of whipping cream until it's rolling in the pan. (Is it weird that I love the gurgling sounds of a rolling boil?)

Mix in the pecans, pour the mixture over the cooled crust, and bake it off until you see golden bubbles. Cool, cut and enjoy.

These are addictive. I'm not kidding.

Next up: gingersnaps. My standby recipe from my treasured Joy of Cooking cookbook. (By the way, if you don't have one, you should. It's filled with all kinds of fantastic kitchen know-how.)

Who doesn't love the smell of gingersnaps fresh from the oven?

Finally, Mexican chocolate cookies, which earned the highest rating available from Cooking Light's Test Kitchen (according to the recipe in the magazine). As of about 30 minutes ago, they earned my highest rating as well. A dash of red and black pepper makes the flavors come to life. You cannot beat the chewy, chocolatey center dusted with powdered sugar like a light snowfall. (Hey, Christmas makes me corny. What can I say?)

The most exciting part of baking these cookies was that I finally got to use my fancy melon ball sized ice cream scoop to make perfect circles of dough! I used to see Barefoot Contessa and other celebrity chefs do this and for some reason, continued to play with the sticky dough in my hands. Not anymore!

Cookie anyone?

Caramel-Pecan Bars


3 1/2 cups coarsely chopped pecans
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup powdered sugar
3/4 cup butter, cubed
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
2/3 cup butter
3 tablespoons whipping cream


Arrange pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 350° for 5 to 7 minutes or until lightly toasted. Cool on a wire rack 15 minutes or until completely cool.

Pulse flour, powdered sugar, and 3/4 cup butter in a food processor 5 to 6 times or until mixture resembles coarse meal. Press crumb mixture evenly on bottom and 3/4 inch up sides of a lightly greased heavy-duty aluminum foil-lined 13- x 9-inch pan.

Bake at 350° for 20 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack 15 minutes or until completely cool.

Bring brown sugar, honey, 2/3 cup butter, and whipping cream to a boil in a 3-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in toasted pecans, and spoon hot filling into prepared crust.

Bake at 350° for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden and bubbly. Cool on a wire rack 30 minutes or until completely cool. When completely cool, using the aluminum foil as handles, carefully lift the tart from the pan, and transfer to a serving tray. Cut into squares.

Mexican Chocolate Cookies


5 ounces bittersweet (60 to 70 percent) chocolate, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup all-purpose flour (about 3 1/3 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Dash of black pepper
Dash of ground red pepper
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cooking spray


Preheat oven to 350°.

Place chocolate in a small glass bowl; microwave at HIGH 1 minute or until almost melted, stirring until smooth. Cool to room temperature.

Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 5 ingredients (through red pepper); stir with a whisk.

Combine sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended (about 5 minutes). Add egg; beat well.

Add cooled chocolate and vanilla; beat just until blended. Add flour mixture; beat just until blended.

Drop dough by level tablespoons 2 inches apart on baking sheets coated with cooking spray.

Bake at 350° for 10 minutes or until almost set. Remove from oven. Cool on pans 2 minutes or until set. Remove from pans; cool completely on a wire rack.

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