Food — C Is For Cookie and Christmas and Cool Combo

C Is For Cookie and Christmas and Cool Combo

By Amy Diaz

It’s the holiday season, and it’s your turn to supply dessert

If there is a defining food of Christmas, it is the cookie.

Sure, you have ham sometimes. Maybe someone throws a turkey your way. Manchester seems big on its pork pies and spanakopeta. And, no matter where you turn, there will always be a candy cane in the mix. But, let’s face it, the cookie has a lock.

Office parties, family parties, neighborhood parties — cookies litter the Christmas culinary playing field. It’s one of the few items that just about everybody makes with some proficiency and cookies are easier for sharing and mingling than cakes or scoops of ice cream. And, eventually, the duty of providing these important ornaments of holiday gatherings will fall to you, like it or not.

The basics

Holiday cookies are remarkably easy to make.

With four basic recipes, you can create a host of variations that look and occasionally taste slightly different.

Sugar cookies: Any basic cookbook will include at least one recipe for roll- out sugar cookies. Remember that most recipes for this kind of dough call for at least an hour of refrigerator time, so don’t make these at the last minute. Sugar cookies, once rolled out, can be cut into any number of cute, clever, silly or simple shapes. Dress these up for Christmas by cooking them three-quarters of the way and then pulling the cookies out of the oven. Brush them with milk and sprinkle with colored sugar sprinkles or with chocolate sprinkles. Then return to the oven for the remaining cooking time.

Or, go the icing route. After cookies are cooked, let them cool completely. Then, accent your cookie with stripes or buttons of cake icing (which can be purchased in a ready-to-squeeze tube).

Just about any trick you play with sugar cookies can also be pulled with gingerbread (though, like sugar cookies, gingerbread cookie recipes often call for time in the refrigerator).

Chocolate chip cookies: A simple chocolate chip cookie, well-made, can reach a heavenly level of cookie perfection. But, without too much effort, this recipe can also be dressed up. Instead of chips, buy candy bars and break them into pieces with a wooden spoon or the flat side of a wooden meat tenderizer. The chunky effect can give the cookie a more homemade, gourmet appearance. Or replace the semi-sweet chocolate chips (the chocolate chip cookie standard) with colored M&Ms (which are usually available in red and green around the holidays).

For a blend of flavors, replace only half the chips with milk chocolate, peanut butter, butterscotch or white chocolate chips. Or add nuts along with the chocolate chips for a heartier cookie.

Oatmeal cookies: In addition to being a solid cookie, oatmeal cookie dough is easily dressed up to provide different, more adult flavors. Add dried cherries or dried cranberries along with a few chopped walnuts to give the cookies an old-fashioned harvest taste. Chocolate chips and nuts also give the cookies sweetness while still allowing for some heft. The addition of coconut to the dough and a brush of honey to the tops of the finished cookie can produce an altogether different (if slightly sticky) variation on the standard model.

Peanut butter cookies: Imprinted with the criss-cross fork design, these creamy treats are great on their own. The addition of chips — chocolate chips for a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup taste or peanut butter chips to add an extra layer of creaminess — will increase the wow factor of the cookie.

A standard peanut butter cookie recipe is also easily modified to make a peanut butter Kiss cookie. Decrease the amount of flour by half  a cup. Roll the dough into balls, roll the balls in granulated sugar and drop the balls onto a greased cookie sheet. Place one Hershey’s Kiss on the center of each dough ball, pushing it flat slightly.

Haute cookie

But perhaps the holiday standards aren’t enough of a challenge.

Below are three recipes that offer new flavors in cookie form.

The pumpkin spice cookies, available at Michelle’s Gourmet Pastries and Deli around Thanksgiving, have the spicy taste of warm pumpkin pie. This is a cookie that’s as savory as it is sweet and could provide a nice finish to a holiday meal heavy on winter vegetables.

The powdered almond cookies are a Greek specialty. Kay Skilogianis, owner of Kay’s Bakery, says the kouarbiedes are some of her most popular cookies along with the koulourakia (the butter cookies that are twisted and sprinkled with sesame seeds before baking). The cookies themselves have a toasty almond flavor but aren’t too sweet — taking most of their sugar from the powdered sugar coating.

The Joe Froggers are my pick for best new cookie of the holiday. Featured in the recently released King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion book, these spicy molasses cookies take richness from the rum as well as the cloves and allspice. Molasses cookies are sweet but have an earthy flavor that keeps them from having too much of a sugary aftertaste.

Any one, or even all three, of these cookies on a plate would make as impressive an after-dinner dessert as any mousse or soufflé.

Cookies, the even easier way

As novice-baker-friendly as most cookie recipes are, sometimes you just don’t have time to mess with the oven.

Just because you’ve decided to buy cookies doesn’t mean you have to resort to overly processed, plastic-encased goodies. Wow your crowd by bringing Greek cookies — available fresh at some local bakeries and small markets. These more exotic treats also require few cookies per person — one or two pieces of baklava will satisfy quicker than four or five sugar cookies. Or, pick up specially decorated gingerbread men — one per person will more than fill the bill with the nearly Barbie doll-sized, frosted gingerbread boys and girls at Michelle’s.

When going for the upscale store-bought cookie, remember to order ahead. Bakeries will have some cookies available at all times but, to be safe, call at least a day ahead (call several days ahead for cookies needed on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day).

- Amy Diaz

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