Saturday, December 29, 2012


cherry linzer bars (2)
Old-time Christmas recipes, IMHO, are the best.  Case in point:  these linzer bars, which are a variation of the classic Linzer Torte.  Born in Linz, Austria, sometime in the 1600’s, the Linzer Torte is a very short, crumbly flour-and-nut pastry with a strange ingredient, hard-boiled egg yolks.  It may sound odd to use hard-boiled egg yolks in pastry dough – stranger yet to press them through a sieve – but the end result is a very rich yet light pastry.

Traditionally, hazelnuts are used for Linzer Torte, but almonds or walnuts can be used.  Any tart jam will work.  Modern variations on the Linzer Torte omit the hard-boiled egg yolks and use whole raw eggs with good results, but every baker should make the traditional recipe with hard-boiled egg yolks at least once to note the difference.   Don’t fret about what to do with all those leftover hard-boiled egg whites.  Add them to salads, or eat them as a snack.  You can fill them with hummus, Pimiento-Pecan Cheese Spread or Baba Ghanoush for tasty snacking.

Cherry Linzer Bars
Adapted from Family Circle Magazine, 12/7/82
Rating:  10 out of 10


1/2 cup dried sweetened tart cherries
1/4 cup orange juice
2-1/2 cups tart cherry jam*
1-1/4 cups (2-1/2 sticks, 10 oz.) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 tsp. Diamond kosher salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 large egg
5 hard-boiled egg yolks, pressed through a sieve
2-2/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, sifted before measuring
1 cup finely ground almonds with skins (about 2/3 cup whole almonds)**
About 1/4 cup powdered sugar

Combine dried cherries and orange juice in small saucepan and heat to boiling; cover; steep for 1/2 hour to 1 hour.  When cool, stir in cherry jam.  Set aside.

Combine butter, salt, sugar, lemon zest, cinnamon, whole egg and sieved yolks in work bowl of food processor; pulse till well combined and fluffy.  Add half the flour and half the almonds; pulse till just barely mixed.  Repeat with remaining flour and almonds, pulsing till well combined.  Scrape dough from work bowl onto plastic wrap, mixing with hands any bits of flour or egg that were not incorporated into dough.  Roll plastic wrap up around dough and refrigerate at least one hour, or until dough is chilled and firm enough to handle easily.

Heat oven to 350F.  Press 2/3 of the dough in an even layer on bottom and up sides of an ungreased 15 x 10 x 1-inch jelly-roll pan.  Spread jam evenly over dough.  Roll remaining dough, a small portion at a time, with palms of hands on a floured surface into very thin strips, about 1/4” in diameter.  Arrange strips on jam to form a diamond pattern.  Bake 30 minutes, or until pastry is golden brown.  Cool in pan on wire rack.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar.  Cut into 2” x 1-1/4” rectangles to serve.

TIP:  An easy way to sprinkle powdered sugar is to spoon it into a small sieve, then gently shake the sieve over the pastry.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Soft and chewy, sweet and spicy, topped with a lemon-sugar mixture, these cookies will become one of your favorites.  They’re easy to make and easy to eat.  The secret to the soft, chewy texture is baking the cookies only till they’re barely set.  If you haven’t done this before, you will swear the cookies are raw inside.  Take a blind leap of faith and take them out anyway.  This is one good cookie!
Lemon-Topped Molasses Crinkle Cookies 
Rating:  9.5 out of 10


1/2 cup Crisco all-vegetable shortening, room temperature
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, soft
1 cup light brown sugar
1 large egg
1/4 cup unsulphured molasses
1-3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. Diamond kosher salt
1/2 tsp. powdered cloves
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. powdered ginger
1 cup finely chopped candied ginger
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1-1/2 Tbsp. finely grated lemon zest 

In bowl of stand mixer, cream shortening, butter, brown sugar, egg and molasses.  Sift together flours, soda, salt, cloves, cinnamon and powdered ginger.  Add the flour mixture gradually to the shortening mixture using lowest speed of mixer.  Stir in candied ginger.  Chill dough at least one hour, or overnight if possible. 

Heat oven to 375F.  Line a baking sheet with greased parchment.  In a small bowl, using your fingers, combine granulated sugar with lemon zest.  Using a level tablespoonful of dough, roll into walnut-sized balls.  Dip tops in lemon-sugar mixture; place sugared side up on baking sheet.  Bake about 7-8 minutes, till cookies are just barely set and still soft.  (They will look undone.)  Cool in pan 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely.  Yield:  about 42 cookies

TIP:  If desired, spritz the cookies lightly with water before baking to enhance the crackled appearance.  (Purchase a small sprayer in the cosmetics department.)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012


This cookie has been a family favorite for thirty years.  It’s my hubby’s favorite cookie of all time.  A tender pecan shortbread is shaped into logs, or tubes, then curved to form crescents.  The baked, warm cookies are rolled in granulated sugar.  When cool, the cookie is dipped into melted chocolate and finely chopped pecans. 

010 If you’re a rough-and-tumble person, skip these.  The baked cookie must be handled with kid gloves.  No kidding, they break almost when you look at them.  Of course, the broken pieces are just as delicious as a whole cookie, so the baker has the advantage of eating all the discards.

Chocolate-Dipped Pecan Crescents
Adapted from Family Circle Magazine, 12/7/82
Rating:  10 out of 10


7 Tbsp. unsalted butter, soft
1/8 tsp. Diamond kosher salt
2 Tbsp. + 2 tsp. granulated sugar + 1/4 cup sugar for rolling
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract (I used my homemade vanilla extract)
1/2 cup + 2-1/2 Tbsp. finely chopped pecans
1-1/3  cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted
1/2 cup finely chopped, toasted pecans

In work bowl of food processor, combine butter, salt, 2 Tbsp. + 2 tsp. sugar and vanilla.  Pulse till well combined and smooth.  Add 1/2 cup + 2-1/2 Tbsp. pecans and half the flour; pulse till combined.  Add remaining flour and pulse till well combined and pecans are very finely chopped.   Refrigerate dough 1 hour, or up to 3 days.

When ready to bake, heat oven to 350F.  Line baking sheets with parchment.  Using 1 rounded teaspoon of dough (about the size of a small walnut), roll dough on lightly floured surface to
2-1/2” lengths.  Curve into crescents.  Place 1” apart on prepared baking sheet.  Bake 10-12 minutes, till very lightly golden.  Place 1/4 cup sugar in small dish.  Roll warm cookies in the sugar, being very careful not to break the cookies.  (They are very fragile, so treat them accordingly.)  Cool on wire racks.  When cookies are cool, one at a time, dip both ends of cookie in melted chocolate, then in chopped toasted pecans.  Place on wax paper.  Let stand till chocolate hardens, or place in freezer for 15 minutes to set the chocolate.  Yield:  about 3 dozen

Monday, December 24, 2012

WALNUT HORNS (aka Rugelach or Kiflis)

walnut horns (2)

A rich dough made from cream cheese, butter and flour is filled with a not-too-sweet walnut mixture.  The filled dough is then rolled in granulated sugar, which keeps the filling from oozing everywhere.  The finished product is a tender, flaky cookie with a slightly crisp exterior and a rich walnut filling. 

This recipe, from Taste of Home Magazine’s December/January 2010 issue, features a quick and easy make-ahead dough that will keep in the fridge for up to seven days.  Though the title of “walnut horn” is catchy, this cookie is really a walnut rugelach.  Since the dough is curved to form a crescent shape, you could also call it a kifli, though the traditional kifli dough is made with sour cream and eggs.  It is one of our favorite cookies.

Walnut Horns (aka Rugelach or Kiflis)
Adapted half recipe from Taste of Home Magazine, December/January 2010
Rating:  10/10


1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, soft
4 oz. cream cheese, soft
1/8 tsp. Diamond kosher salt
1-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, scooped and leveled

In work bowl of food processor, pulse butter, cheese and salt till well combined.  Gradually add flour, pulsing till combined.  Divide dough into three portions; form into discs; cover each with plastic wrap and refrigerate up to seven days.

2 cups ground walnuts
6 Tbsp. +1/3 cup sugar, divided use
Big pinch of salt
1/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract (I used my homemade vanilla extract.)
1 tsp. unsalted butter, melted

In work bowl of food processor, combine walnuts, 6 Tbsp. sugar, salt, milk, vanilla and butter.  Pulse till well combined and walnuts are finely ground. 

Heat oven to 350F.  Line baking sheets with parchment; spray parchment with nonstick cooking spray.  Roll out each dough disc into 8” circle.  Spread one third of filling over each circle, to 1/2 inch from wide end.  Cut each circle into 12 triangles and roll up, starting from wide end.  Roll each in remaining sugar.  Place, point side down, onto prepared baking sheets.  Curve ends of each cookie to form crescents.  Bake 27-30 minutes, or till very lightly browned.  Transfer cookies to wire rack to cool.  Roll warm cookies in remaining sugar again.
Yield:  36 cookies

Sunday, December 23, 2012


triple almond tea cakes
If you’re tired of the typical vanilla-flavored butter balls, try this delicious variation.  Toasted, chopped almonds, almond extract, almond flour and Amaretto (almond liqueur) deliver a mild almond flavor.  And here’s a nice bonus:  you can make the dough easily in your food processor.  (You should first chop the almonds in a nut grinder, or put them in a plastic bag and pound them with a meat mallet – they are a hard nut and would tax your food processor blades if you leave them whole.) 

Quadruple-Almond Tea Cakes
Rating:  9.5/10


1 cup toasted chopped almonds
1 cup (2 sticks, 8 oz.) unsalted butter, soft
1/4 tsp. Diamond kosher salt
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla powder or extract (I used my homemade vanilla powder.)
1/2 tsp. almond extract
2 tsp. Amaretto
1/2 cup almond meal*, scooped and leveled
1-1/2 cups unbleached all –purpose flour, scooped and leveled

In work bowl of food processor, pulse almonds, butter, salt, sugar, vanilla, almond extract and Amaretto till well mixed.  Add almond meal and pulse till combined.  Add flour in two additions, pulsing till combined after each addition.  Chill dough 1 hour for easier handling.

When ready to bake, heat oven to 325F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment.  Shape dough into 1” balls, using about a rounded teaspoonful of dough for each.  Place 1” apart on prepared pans.  Bake 15-20 minutes, till set but not brown.  Immediately transfer cookies to wire racks.  Cool slightly, then roll in powdered sugar.  Cool completely; roll again in powdered sugar.  (Note:  Baking time and yield will depend on actual size of balls and individual oven.)  My yield:  83 cookies

*Almond meal (almond flour) is available in many grocery stores that carry Bob’s Red Mill products.

Friday, December 21, 2012


cashew brittle crunch cookies (4)

Gourmet magazine printed this recipe in 1972, and I found it via Recipezaar, under the title, “Dutch Caramel Cashew Cookies.”  I take issue with the title, since I didn’t detect caramel flavor, so I renamed it more appropriately.  The recipe also refers to “praline” made with the cashews.  Technically, praline contains half and half and butter, and neither are in this recipe.  Therefore, more correctly, this is a cashew “brittle.”

Since I had half a can of salted cashews in the fridge, I decided this would be a good use of them.   First, you make a very simple and quick cashew brittle, then you chop it up and put most of it in the soft, buttery dough and the rest gets sprinkled on top.  The cashew brittle is very easy to make and it’s delicious.  The crunch it adds to the cookie is wonderfully addictive.  There aren’t many ingredients, but the flavor of the tender cookie is nice, even if it is one note.

Cashew Crunch Cookies
Adapted from Recipezaar and Gourmet Magazine
Rating:  8.5 out of 10

1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. water
1 pinch cream of tartar
1/2 cup finely chopped salted roasted cashews

In a heavy skillet, cook sugar, water and cream of tartar over moderately high heat, washing down any undissolved sugar that clings to the sides of the skillet with a brush dipped in cold water, until the mixture is a light caramel color.  Quickly stir in cashews.  Pour the brittle onto a buttered piece of heavy duty foil.  With a buttered spatula, spread it out as thinly as possible. 
cashew brittle crunch cookies (2) 
Let it cool till it hardens, then break it into pieces and chop into small pieces. 
cashew brittle crunch cookies (3)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, soft
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract (I used my homemade vanilla extract.)
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

Heat oven to 350F.  In a bowl, beat butter and sugar until creamy.  Beat in egg yolk and vanilla.  Stir in flour and 2/3 of the chopped brittle (about 3/4 cup).  Form the mixture into a dough.  Using a rounded teaspoon of dough, form dough into ball, then flatten slightly.  Press tops into remaining chopped brittle.  Place on baking sheet lined with parchment that has been sprayed lightly with nonstick cooking spray.  Bake 10-14 minutes, or till lightly browned on undersides.  Cool on wire rack.  Yield:  20-25 cookies, 1-3/4” to 2” in diameter

Tuesday, December 18, 2012



In November of 2007, The Baltimore Sun revisited their favorite holiday cookie recipes.  They reviewed 75 of their favorites from 2000 - 2006 and picked the top ten. 

The one I adapted for today’s post was originally titled “Espresso Thumbprint Cookies,” by Donna Macek.  Donna found the recipe in a supermarket magazine, of all places.  The thumbprints are filled with a soft, fudgy espresso ganache.  They sounded really good, but I decided to make a plain ganache filling and top it with Heath bar bits and a drizzle of ganache.  These cookies are not quite as soft as other thumbprint cookies because the dough uses a whole egg instead of just the yolk(s).  They also spread a little more than regular thumbprints.  No matter, these will disappear fast from your cookie tray because they’re really, really good.  And, like most Christmas cookies, they freeze well, so you can make them ahead.

Chocolate-Heath Bar Thumbprints 
Adapted from The Baltimore Sun and Donna Macek
Rating:  9.5 out of 10

3/4 cup salted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar, preferably superfine (whirl regular sugar in a food processor)
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract or vanilla powder
1 large egg
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
Chocolate Ganache Filling (see recipe below)
Heath bar bits

Heat oven to 350F.  Beat butter, sugar, vanilla and egg in a large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed, or mix with spoon.  Stir in flour and salt. Shape dough into 1” balls.  Place about 2” apart on ungreased cookie sheet. 


Press thumb or end of a wooden spoon into center of each cookie ball.  Bake 7-11 minutes, or till edges are firm.  Quickly remake indentations with end of a wooden spoon.  Immediately remove from cookie sheet to wire rack.  Cool completely, about 30 minutes. 

Meanwhile, make Chocolate Ganache Filling – Heat 1/4 cup heavy cream in a 1-quart (or smaller) saucepan over medium heat, stirring, until steaming.  Remove from heat; stir in 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips till melted.  Cool about 10 minutes, or till thickened.  Spoon 3/4 of ganache into a plastic resealable sandwich bag.  Spoon remaining ganache into another bag.  Seal bags, squeezing out air.  Snip one corner of each bag:  the smaller bag with a very tiny snip for drizzling and the larger bag with a larger snip to squeeze out ganache into cookie cavities.  Fill cavities with ganache.  Sprinkle each cookie with some of the Heath bar bits.  Drizzle remaining ganache from smaller bag onto cookie tops.  Yield:  about 3-1/2 dozen


Monday, December 17, 2012


peppermint candy snowballs (2)
In 1954, Mrs. Warren L. Jacques of Dayton, Ohio, entered this recipe in Pillsbury’s 5th Grand National Recipe and Baking Contest, and she titled the recipe, “Peppermint Candy Cookies.”  A cake took home the grand prize of $25,000 that year, and Mrs. Jacques’ recipe was just a senior winner.  It has since become a Christmas classic and the $25,000 cake is long forgotten. 

If you like butter balls, these are a slightly sweeter version with a cream cheese-peppermint candy center.  Instead of rolling the cookies in powdered sugar, they get rolled in a mixture of powdered sugar and crushed peppermint candy.  The peppermint flavor is mild.  If you really like peppermint you can add a bit of peppermint extract or a Tbsp. of Peppermint Schnapps to bump it up, but I like it as is.  Some newer versions leave the nuts out of the recipe, but I think they add another layer of flavor that also cuts the sweetness.
To me, this recipe is so perfect I don’t think it can be improved upon, except for mixing methods.  In 1954, there were no food processors available to home cooks.  I used a mini-food processor to mix the filling and a 7-cup food processor to mix the dough, including chopping the nuts right with the dough.  Much easier.  But don’t ruin your blades on the hard peppermint candy.  Instead, put that in a small freezer bag and pound with the flat side of a meat mallet. 

Peppermint Candy Fudge-Filled Butter Balls
Adapted from Pillsbury/Mrs. Warren L. Jacques, Dayton, Ohio
Rating:  10/10

1 cup (8 oz., 2 sticks) unsalted butter*, soft
1/2 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar
1/4 tsp. Diamond kosher salt*
1 tsp. pure vanilla powder or extract (I used my homemade vanilla powder.) 
2-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, whisked first, then scooped and leveled
1/2 cup toasted walnuts

In work bowl of food processor, pulse butter, confectioner’s sugar, salt and vanilla till smooth.  Add walnuts and pulse till almost finely chopped. (Walnuts will continue to be chopped with additions of flour.)  Add flour, 1/2 cup at a time, pulsing till combined after each addition.  Continue to pulse till dough comes together.  Chill while preparing filling.  (Dough may be refrigerated for up to 3 days before baking.) 

When ready to bake, heat oven to 350F; set out baking pans lined with parchment.  Shape chilled dough into balls, using a rounded teaspoonful of dough for each.  Make a deep hole in center of each.
Fill each hole with about 1/4 tsp. of filling.  Seal.008
Place on baking sheets and bake 12-15 minutes until set but not brown.  While warm, roll in reserved candy-sugar mixture.  When cool, reroll in candy-sugar mixture.  Yield:  about 42 cookies

1/2 cup finely crushed** candy canes or other peppermint hard candy
1 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar, divided
2 Tbsp. cream cheese or Neufchatel
1 tsp. milk or cream
1 drop red food coloring

Combine crushed candy and 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar; reserve.  In bowl of mini-food processor, combine cream cheese, milk, remaining 1/2 cup of confectioner’s sugar and 3 Tbsp. of reserved candy mixture; process till smooth.  (If mixture is too dry add another tsp. of milk.) 

*If you use salted butter, then omit the salt.
**Place candy in a freezer bag; seal; pound with the flat side of a meat mallet till candy is finely crushed.

Each time you make a ball, pinch off a small piece for sealing the top.  After you fill the hole, take the small piece of dough and flatten it in your hands.  Lay the flattened dough across the filled holes and gently press edges to seal. 

1/2 cup of finely crushed peppermint candy = about 5 small candy canes

Sunday, December 16, 2012



Hummingbird cake – a banana-pineapple spice cake -- has been a southern tradition since the mid 19th century and is especially popular at Christmas.  The first known publication of the recipe was in the February 1978 Southern Living magazine.  It was elected the magazine's favorite recipe in 1990, and won the Favorite Cake Award at the 1978 Kentucky State Fair.  The cake typically has two or three layers with pecans, mashed bananas, crushed pineapple and cream cheese frosting.

Food Network’s version uses fresh pineapple and chunked bananas.  The mixing method is also slightly different from traditional Hummingbird cake.  I had my doubts about this cake, but trusted in Food Network’s vast array of experience.  They didn’t let me down; this cake is phenomenal.  Light, moist and flavorful, it’s a perfect blend of not-too-sweet frosting and cake.   My only complaint is that I don’t like my bananas chunked.  Next time I make this cake, it will be with pureed or mashed bananas, and I’ll probably mix the bananas with the eggs and sugar instead of with the pecans and pineapple.

I like that the cake ages well and tastes sweeter, richer and all-around better on day 4 or 5 than on day 1.  Since Hummingbird cake is popular, especially at Christmas, you don’t have to worry about making it the day of or the day before the event you are hosting.  Make it up to a week ahead and refrigerate it.  It’ll be waiting for you to serve to your appreciative guests. 


Food Network’s Hummingbird Cake, adapted 6” version
Rating:  9.5 out of 10

2/3 cup toasted pecan pieces
2 ripe bananas, chopped 
1/3 cup chopped fresh pineapple
1/3 cup + 1-1/2 cups  unbleached all-purpose flour, divided
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. powdered ginger
3/4 tsp. baking soda
2 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. Diamond kosher salt
2/3 cup vegetable or canola oil

Heat oven to 350F.  Butter two 6” x 2” round cake pans.  Line with parchment; butter parchment and dust sides of pans and parchment with flour. 

Toss pecans, bananas*, pineapple and 1/3 cup flour in small bowl.  Whisk remaining 1-1/2 cups flour with spices and baking soda in another bowl.

Beat eggs, sugar and salt* on high speed in bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment till thick and light, about 5 minutes.  Gradually beat in oil.  Sprinkle flour mixture over egg mixture, then gently fold to make a thick batter.  Fold in pecan-fruit mixture.  Transfer to pans, dividing equally.  Bake 45-50 minutes, till cakes are firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted in center returns clean.  Cool in pans on wire rack 20 minutes, then invert onto rack to cool completely.  Frost with Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe below) and decorate as desired.  Yield:  6-8 servings

*If you choose to mash the bananas, then mix them with the eggs, sugar and salt.

12 oz. (1-1/2 blocks) Philadelphia cream cheese, very soft
4 oz. (1 stick or 8 Tbsp.) unsalted butter, very soft
1-1/4 cups confectioner’s sugar
2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest 
3/4 tsp. vanilla powder or extract (I used my homemade vanilla powder)

Beat cream cheese in a large bowl with a mixer until fluffy, then gradually beat in the butter until combined.  Sift confectioner’s sugar in three additions over the cream cheese mixture and beat until smooth after each addition.  Add lemon zest and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy.  Place one cake layer on a serving plate, bottom side up.  Spread with 1/3 – 1/2 of the frosting and top with second cake layer, bottom side down.  Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake.

TIP:  Insert strips of wax paper at bottom of cake layer so that they are slightly under the cake with most of the wax paper on the outside.  This will catch drips.  After frosting the cake, just slip the wax paper out from under the cake and discard.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


Fig-filled cookies make a nice addition to a Christmas cookie tray.  This recipe, from Good Housekeeping magazine is easy, and I like the idea of using a fluted round biscuit or cookie cutter for the dough.  Folded in half, it makes an interesting and different shape.  Good Housekeeping does not cook their filling first, and somehow I balked at that idea.    I tweaked the filling recipe, eliminating the raisins, adding sugar and lemon zest and cooking it to blend the flavors better.  The result is a delicious, just-sweet-enough cookie with a crisp but tender crust and nicely flavored filling.  You can use the decorating sugar for the tops of the cookies as I did, or you can leave that off and sprinkle them with powdered sugar.  Either way, you’re gonna love this cookie.

Fig Crescents
Adapted from Good Housekeeping Magazine
Rating:  9 out of 10


1 (8-oz.) pkg. dried Mission figs, stems removed, finely chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped toasted walnuts
1/2 cup orange juice
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp. grated lemon zest
1 tsp. grated orange zest
2 tsp. ground cinnamon

Combine all ingredients in 1-quart saucepan.  Cook over medium-high heat till bubbling and well combined, about 5 minutes.  Cool and refrigerate, covered.

1/2 cup (4 oz.) unsalted butter, soft
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 Tbsp. heavy or whipping cream
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract (I used my homemade vanilla.) 1/4 tsp. baking soda
2-3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling dough
1 egg white, room temperature 
about 1/4 cup coarse sanding sugar

In bowl of stand mixer, using paddle attachment, beat butter, salt and sugar on medium till creamy, about 2 minutes.  Add eggs, cream and vanilla and beat until well combined.  Reduce speed to low and gradually add baking soda and flour, mixing just till blended.  Divide dough into 4 equal pieces; flatten each into a disc.  Wrap each in plastic wrap; refrigerate 2 hours, or up to 3 days.

When ready to bake cookies, remove filling and dough from fridge at least 1/2 hour before rolling.  Grease two large cookie sheets, or line with parchment paper.  Heat oven to 350F.  In cup or small bowl, with fork, lightly beat white of egg. 

Place a sheet of plastic wrap on a counter top or wooden board.  Sprinkle lightly with flour and top with one disc of dough.  Sprinkle top of dough with flour, cover with another sheet of plastic wrap and roll to 1/8” thickness.  With floured 2-1/2” fluted round biscuit or cookie cutter, cut out as many cookies as possible.  Wrap and reserve trimmings in fridge.  Carefully place dough rounds 1” apart on prepared sheets.  (If dough warms too much, just place entire sheet of plastic wrap with cutouts in freezer or fridge for 5-10 minutes.)  Spoon one level teaspoon filling onto 1 side of each dough round.  Fold dough in half over filling.  Gently press edges to seal.  Lightly brush crescents with egg white; sprinkle with decorating sugar.  Bake 15-16 minutes or until tops are golden brown.  Transfer to wire racks to cool.  Repeat with remaining dough, trimmings, filling, egg white and decorating sugar.  Store cookies in airtight containers at room temperature up to 2 weeks or in freezer up to 3 months.  Leftover filling may be used as a jam for toast,  or for crostini or bagels with cream cheese or goat cheese.  Yield:  about 5-1/2 dozen cookies

To reuse parchment paper, wipe it down with a damp paper towel and store with cookie sheet.
Egg whites will beat easily if brought to room temperature.  You can place the cup or bowl containing the egg white in a pan of moderately hot water to quickly bring it to room temperature, just be careful not to cook it.

Today is the final post of 12 Weeks of Christmas Treats, hosted by Brenda Thompson.  Her blog is Meal Planning Magic. Next week, I'll do a final wrap and review of all 12 weeks.

Be sure and check out all of the fabulous treats the other participants came up with this week.  And, if you would like to join the hop and add your own Christmas treat recipes (for next year, of course), just contact Brenda for details. 

Monday, December 10, 2012


Here are some of my favorite Christmas cookie recipes.  Click on the links provided to get the recipes.

Bon Appetit’s  Chocolate-Peppermint Bark Cookies are one of my favorite cookies of all time.  They look beautiful and festive on a holiday cookie tray.   Dark and white chocolates and peppermint candy form a bark on a shortbread base -- I could eat these all day long.016_thumb[6]

Cinnamon, cloves, black pepper and two kinds of ginger provide a powerful punch to these soft, slightly chewy cookies.  Chocolate-Dipped Ginger Cookies are dipped in bittersweet chocolate to take them over the moon.

Who else but Pillsbury could give us the best version of this classic cookie?  Swedish Tea Cakes, aka Russian Tea Cakes, Mexican Wedding Cakes, Butterballs and Snowballs, should be on every Christmas cookie tray.  Everyone, including me, anticipates them at holiday time.

Santa's Spicy Gingersnappers -- This one's a $2500 Better Homes and Gardens prizewinner, and one of the best soft gingerbread-type cookies I’ve ever tasted.  The texture and flavors are reminiscent of Archway cookies.
.  005_thumb3

Four Seasons Hotel’s Chocolate Ginger Cookies are ultra-rich, chocolatey, spicy and absolutely delicious.

Good Housekeeping's Blueberry Linzer Bars are soft and tender and the flavorful dough is made with hazelnuts.  This is one of my new faves.

Peppermint Candy Fudge-Filled Butter Balls are a classic Christmas cookie from the 1954 Pillsbury Bake-Off.  Perfect in every way.

Joy of Baking’s Pecan Shortbreads are so versatile.  You can decorate them a million different ways or serve them with just a dusting of powdered sugar.  Cut them into different shapes or just into squares.  It’s up to you to decide on the shape and decorations, but they are tender, buttery and delicious no matter how you do them.
pecan shortbread paper box (4)_thumb[3]

Aunt Ann's Italian Anise Cookies have been a treat in our family for many years.  You can change the flavors  to vanilla or lemon, if you like.

Chocolate and ginger go so well together, and Chocolate Gingerbread Drops are super easy to make.  Dried cherries combine with chocolate chips to marry the ginger-spiced cookie.
Ch Gin Drops

Pecan Cinnamon Crescents  have a very mild cinnamon flavor.  They're delicate, tender, not too sweet and absolutely delicious.

Glazed Coconut-Almond Rum Balls are a delicious and different take on the classic Mexican Wedding Cakes, and would look beautiful on your Christmas cookie tray.

Kisses will always be a top fave of mine, because I love Lekvar.  If you can’t find Lekvar, all is not lost.  It’s easy to make – instructions are included in the recipe.  These cookies are loved by all.

A recipe I've been making for over 50 years, Scandinavian Cookies have a rich, caramel-flavored shortbread base rolled in chopped nuts and filled with tart jam.  They may look like Kisses, but the dough is different and so is the flavor.  It's a toss-up to see which one wins, because both cookies are to-die-for.

Fudgy Pumpkin Cranberry Cookies are delicious little morsels that have a fudgy texture but no chocolate, and a sweet cream cheese glaze.cookies

Caramel Shortbread Sticks, from Land o’ Lakes -- a yummy delicate shortbread cookie dipped in caramel and pecans.  They’re wonderful!

Amaretto Butter Balls are another delicious variation on the traditional vanilla-flavored Mexican Wedding cakes.

Don't forget these insanely good Rugelach.  This recipe is excellent, and I guarantee they won’t stay on your cookie tray very long.

Fig-Filled Bars, from Pillsbury, are deliciously reminiscent of Fig Newtons.

If you're tired of the same old thumbprint cookies, try my Chocolate Heath Bar Thumbprints.

Thursday, December 6, 2012



My Sicilian hubby’s Aunt Ann always brought these cookies when she visited us in New Jersey, and we all loved them.  She made them sometimes with just vanilla flavoring, and sometimes with anise flavoring.   Though they're good both ways, I make them with anise flavoring.  (If you can't  find, or don't want to buy, anise oil, then anise extract will work.  Anise extract is not as strong as anise oil, so you will have to use more of it to get the anise flavor.  How much more?  Since I don’t use anise extract, I can’t answer that.  Try 1/2 tsp. and taste the dough.  Add more if you can’t taste the anise.  The anise seeds add flavor also, so if you leave them out, then increase the amount of anise oil or extract slightly.  Don’t worry about the seeds being crunchy – amazingly, they dissolve on baking.)

These cookies are light and cakey in texture, something I usually don’t appreciate in a cookie, but these are different.  The anise flavor and the sweet frosting plus the little crunch from the nonpareils all combine to make a pleasant tasting experience. 

Aunt Ann’s Italian Anise Cookies
Rating:  9 out of 10


1/3 cup (5-1/3 Tbsp.) unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar
big pinch salt
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. anise oil
1/2 tsp. crushed anise seeds
1-1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
Anise Glaze (Recipe below) 

Heat oven to 350F.  Line baking sheets with parchment.  In large bowl, cream butter, sugar and salt on medium-high speed till light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Add eggs, one at a time, mixing just till incorporated.  With last egg, add vanilla, lemon juice, anise oil and anise seeds.  Reduce speed to low and gradually add flour and baking powder.  Drop by rounded teaspoons onto prepared pans.  Bake about 9 minutes, or till just set and barely beginning to brown on underside.  Do not overbake or cookies will be dry.  Transfer cookies to wire rack to cool completely.  When cool, dip tops of cookies in anise glaze and sprinkle with colored nonpareils.  Yield:  26-30 cookies

2/3 cup confectioner’s sugar
3 Tbsp. milk or cream
1/8 tsp. anise oil
1/8 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Mix ingredients in small microwaveable  bowl.  Heat in microwave on high in increments of 10 seconds.  When glaze is runny, dip tops of cookies in glaze, then place flat-side down on wire rack.  (Place rack over a cookie sheet or waxed paper to catch drippings.)  Sprinkle with colored nonpareils. 


Today’s post is for week 11 of 12 Weeks of Christmas Treats, hosted by Brenda Thompson.  Her blog is Meal Planning Magic

Be sure and check out all of the fabulous treats the other participants came up with this week.  And, if you would like to join the hop and add your own Christmas treat recipes, just contact Brenda for details. 

Monday, December 3, 2012



Here’s an easy recipe for mac ‘n’ cheese with some good flavor from roasted red peppers and a mix of quality cheeses.    Creamy Havarti with jalapenos, aged extra-sharp cheddar and Parmesan are a perfect blend for for macaroni.  This recipe yields enough for 4-6 moderate eaters and will freeze beautifully if you need to save some.  Freezing it makes for an easy side dish -- just nuke briefly and, presto, you have a side dish.

Roasted Pepper Macaroni and Cheese 
Rating:  9.5 out of 10

3 quarts boiling water
8 oz. dry, uncooked elbow macaroni
1 tsp. Morton kosher salt
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/4 cup minced onion
1 tsp. minced garlic 
2 Tbsp. flour
1 tsp. Diamond kosher salt, or to taste
1/2 tsp. paprika
2 cups milk 
1/4 cup minced roasted red pepper
1-1/4 cups grated extra-sharp aged cheddar
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, or Parmesan and Romano mixed
3/4 cup Havarti cheese with jalapenos

Heat oven to 400F.  Add macaroni and salt to boiling water and cook, stirring often, according to package directions, reducing cooking time 2 minutes.  Drain macaroni in a colander.

Using same pan that the macaroni cooked in, melt butter over medium heat.  Add onion and cook, stirring, till softened, about 3 minutes.  Add garlic and cook, stirring, another minute.  Stir in flour, salt and paprika, then gradually blend in milk, stirring till sauce is smooth and thick.  Remove from heat and stir in roasted red pepper and cheeses.  Arrange macaroni and cheese sauce in layers in a 6-cup buttered casserole.  Bake till toasted on top, about 15-20 minutes.  Yield:  4-6 servings