Cookies!

Peppermint Pinwheels
Nicholas Draney/Standard-Examiner
Story by Becky Wright
(Standard-Examiner staff)
Tue, Dec 13, 2011
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Robin Olson is a seasonal baker.

“I do not bake 365 days a year,” said Olson, author of “The Cookie Party Cookbook” (St. Martin’s Press, 2010). “December is a major cookie month.”

Olsen has been called the “cookie exchange queen,” because of parties she’s hosted each December since 1989, where friends bring big batches of favorite cookies to trade with one another. Her website, www.robinsweb.com, gets 1.5 million visits per year — many for her tips on hosting cookie parties. Her cookie swaps have also made her a magazine cover girl, and been featured on television’s Food Network.

Olson started baking cookies in 1980, when she became engaged. Her fiance’s mother made thousands of cookies at the beginning of the holiday season.

“We would bake double to triple batches of 10 to 12 types of cookies the first week in December, eight hours a day, for three days,” Olson wrote in her book.

They baked together each Christmas for the next 12 years, and Olson continued the tradition when she and her husband moved away.

“To me, Christmas cookies are about family memories and honoring the past,” she said by phone from her home in Gaithersburg, Md. “All of the cookies I make come from my mother-in-law. She taught me how to bake, and it wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t bake the same cookies we baked when I was 21 years old and a newlywed.”

Olson isn’t the only holiday baker.

“Cookie exchanges and cookies for gift-giving, on trays as neighbor gifts, are still fun to do,” said Teresa Hunsaker, family and consumer science educator for Utah State University Extension’s Weber County office.

Hunsaker says most bakers make specialty cookies at this time of year, instead of the more ordinary drop cookies like the traditional chocolate chip.

“It’s not that there’s anything wrong with those cookies, but we usually step it up a notch for the holidays,” she said.

Olson says almost anyone can make cookies — if they’re really willing.

She suggests beginners start with something that’s not too difficult, like shortbread, which is traditionally served over the holidays in the United Kingdom. More experienced bakers may want to try something more challenging, like her mother-in-law’s Peppermint Pinwheels.

And if you want to sample a lot of recipes, get friends together for a cookie exchange — like she does.

“It’s really fun to be the person who’s created a tradition in their circle, and people who come to it really appreciate it,” she said.

Here are a few recipes to try this holiday season:

Chocolate Reindeer Cookies

Dough:

  • 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup (1 stick, plus 2 2/3 tablespoons) butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons milk

Decorations:

  • 1 large bag mini braided pretzel twists
  • Chocolate chips
  • Small red gumdrops
  • Royal icing, optional

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, cocoa powder and salt; set aside. In a separate bowl, using an electric mixer, cream together the butter, sugar and vanilla. Add the egg and beat until light and fluffy, then beat in the milk. Gradually add the sifted dry ingredients to the creamed mixture and beat until well blended. Divide the dough in half, shape into disks, and wrap in wax paper. Chill for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line the baking sheets with parchment paper.

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface or pastry rolling mat to a thickness of 1/4 inch. Cut out the rolled dough with bell-shaped cutters. Transfer the cookies to the lined baking sheets.

Bake the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes. Decorate while still warm and on the baking sheets.

Make the reindeer: The bottom of the bell is the top of the reindeer’s head and the top of the bell is where the mouth should be. Using 2 pretzels, place antlers on the top of head. To make the eyes, use chocolate chips or, to create “silly eyes,” use royal icing for the white part of the eye and black dots or chocolate chips at the bottom of the eye. Use a red gumdrop for the nose. Transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool.

Makes about 2 1/2 dozen cookies using a 3-inch bell-shaped cutter.

— From “The Cookie Party Cookbook” (St. Martin’s Press, 2010) by Robin L. Olson

Peppermint Pinwheels

Dough:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon red food coloring

Topping

  • 1 large egg white
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • Candy topping
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup peppermint candy, such as candy canes

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line the baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, egg, vanilla and peppermint extracts. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour and salt, then add it to the creamed mixture and blend thoroughly. Divide the dough in half. Blend red food coloring into half of the dough and leave the other half plain. Between sheets of wax paper, form two dough disks. Wrap and chill until firm.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the plain dough into a 12-inch square. Roll the red-colored half into a square the same size, and lay it on top of the plain dough layer. Roll out the layered sheets gently until the dough is 3/16-inch thick, then roll up jelly-roll style. Wrap and chill again for at least 1 hour.

Cut the chilled rolls into 1/8-inch-thick slices. Place the slices on the lined baking sheets.

Bake the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes, or until lightly browned. While the cookies are baking, make the egg glaze. Using a small bowl and a fork, beat the egg white with 2 tablespoons water.

Make the candy topping: Lay candy canes between two pieces of wax paper and beat gently with a meat tenderizer mallet or a rolling pin to crush. Leave a few pieces slightly chunky. In another small bowl, combine the 1/3 cup granulated sugar and 1/3 cup finely crushed peppermint stick candy.

When the cookies are done, transfer them to wire racks and cool slightly, but while still warm, add the topping: Brush the top of each cookie with the beaten egg white and then sprinkle with about 1 teaspoon of the sugar and candy cane mix.

Makes 6 dozen cookies.

— From “The Cookie Party Cookbook” (St. Martin’s Press, 2010) by Robin L. Olson; this recipe came from her mother-in-law, Sylvia Olson

Chocolate Caramel Treasures

Dough:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg, separated
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup Dutch-process unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped hazelnuts (or other nuts)

Caramel filling:

  • 10 (1-by-1/2-inch) plain caramels
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • Chocolate drizzle
  • 3 ounces fine-quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), finely chopped

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat together the butter, sugar, egg yolk, milk and vanilla until well blended. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa and salt. Add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture and beat on low speed until it forms a dough. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease the baking sheets.

Lightly beat the egg white. Roll scant tablespoonfuls of dough into balls and coat with egg white, letting the excess drip off, then roll in the nuts to coat. Arrange the balls, as you coat them, 1 1/2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Press your thumb into the center of each ball to flatten, leaving an indentation.

Bake the cookies, in batches, in the middle of the oven until they have puffed slightly but the centers are still soft, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from oven and immediately press the centers of cookies again (you can use the handle end of a wooden spoon). Transfer to wire racks to cool.

Meanwhile, make the filling. Heat the caramels and cream in a small saucepan over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until melted and the mixture is smooth. Spoon about 1/2 teaspoon of the caramel filling into the center of each cookie and cool completely.

One hour before serving, make the chocolate drizzle. Melt the chocolate in the microwave or a double boiler, stirring until smooth. Cool to warm and pour into a heavy-duty sealable plastic bag. Seal the bag and make a small snip in one corner to form a small hole. Drizzle the chocolate over the cookies and let stand until set, about 30 minutes.

Makes about 2 1/2 dozen cookies.

— From “The Cookie Party Cookbook” (St. Martin’s Press, 2010) by Robin L. Olson; recipe from Teresa Brethauer, Forest Hill, Md.

Peanut Butter Christmas Mice

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • Peanut halves
  • Chopped green candy decors or mini chocolate chips
  • Red licorice laces, cut into 3-inch lengths

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter and peanut butter until creamy. Add the sugar and beat until fluffy. Beat in the egg, vanilla and baking soda until well blended. With the mixer on low speed, gradually beat in the flour just until blended. Cover with plastic wrap and chill the dough about 1 hour, until firm enough to handle.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease or line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Shape level tablespoonfuls of the dough into 1-inch balls. Taper each ball at one end into a teardrop shape. Press one side flat. Place flat side down, 2 inches apart, on ungreased baking sheets. Press the sides of the balls to raise “backs of mice.” (The dough will spread slightly as it bakes.) Gently push 2 peanut halves in each for ears and 2 pieces of green chopped candy or mini chocolate chips for eyes. With a wooden pick, make a 1/2-inch deep hole at the tail end. Bake the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes, or until firm. Transfer to wire racks to cool. Insert the licorice tails and cool completely.

Makes 60 mice.

— From “The Cookie Party Cookbook” (St. Martin’s Press, 2010) by Robin L. Olson; recipe from Donna Curry, Vernon, N.J.

Orange-Cream Cheese Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 3 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line the baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine the first four ingredients in a large bowl and, using an electric mixer, beat on low speed until smooth and creamy. Add the vanilla and orange zest and beat well. In a small bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add to the creamed mixture and beat until well blended. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Drop the dough by heaping teaspoonfuls onto parchment-lined baking sheets.

Bake the cookies for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the edges are just beginning to brown. Remove from the oven and cool on wire racks.

Makes 3 dozen cookies.

— From “The Cookie Party Cookbook” (2010, St. Martin’s Press) by Robin L. Olson; recipe from Tim Dolan, Kensington, Md.

Shortbread

For our Standard-Examiner photos, the cookies were cut into snowflake shapes.

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup rice flour (if you can’t find rice flour, use all-purpose flour instead)
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whisk both flours together in a bowl and set aside.

Cream together the butter, sugar, salt and vanilla on medium speed for a few minutes until light and fluffy. Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the flours by hand with a wooden spoon.

Turn out the dough onto a clean surface. Working quickly, use the heat of your hands to make a solid ball. Pull out a large piece of plastic wrap, and flatten the dough on top of it into a 3/4-inch-thick rectangle.

Double wrap it and refrigerate for 2 hours (or up to 2 weeks) to firm.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Grease several cookie sheets with butter or line them with parchment paper. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and dust the top of it and your rolling pin with a little flour, too. Gently roll it to 1/4-inch thick for thin cookies or 3/4-inch thick for bars.

Using a knife or pizza cutter, cut the dough into 2-by-1-inch rectangles. (Or cut out cookies into circles or wedges.) Place the cookies on sheets about 1 inch apart. Prick the centers with a fork.

Bake for 15 to 17 minutes (add an additional 2 to 3 minutes for thicker bars), until the edges are lightly golden. Cool on wire racks.

Makes 3 dozen cookies.

— From “The Cookiepedia: Mixing, Baking, and Reinventing the Classics” (Quirk Productions, Inc., 2011) by Stacy Adimando

Mint Thins

For our Standard-Examiner photos, the cookies were cut into bell shapes.

  • 1 cup salted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 12 ounces semisweet chocolate
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 3/4 teaspoon peppermint flavor

Cream the butter until it’s light and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar and continue mixing, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl as needed. Mix in the egg and vanilla extract. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder and salt. Add the flour mixture by halves, beating to incorporate after each addition.

Turn out the dough onto a clean surface and form it into a disk with your hands. Split the disk in half and place them in the fridge to firm up for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Working on a floured surface (you’ll need a decent amount, since the dough is sticky), roll out the dough to 1/8-inch thick. Shape the cookies using a 1 1/2-inch round cutter and place them on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, then let cool completely.

Break up the chocolate into a bowl and set it over a small pot of simmering water (make sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water). Add the butter and the peppermint flavor and stir the mixture steadily until it’s fully melted and looks glossy and smooth. Remove the bowl and let the chocolate cool lightly.

One by one, drop the cookies in the chocolate, then scoop them out with a fork to let the excess drip off. (Tap the cookies against the side of the bowl to help drain the extra chocolate.) Move them carefully to a wire rack or parchment-paper-lined baking sheet. When they’re all coated, move the sheet to the refrigerator or freezer to set.

Makes 3 1/2 dozen cookies.

— From “The Cookiepedia: Mixing, Baking, and Reinventing the Classics” (Quirk Productions, Inc., 2011) by Stacy Adimando

Thumbprints With Berry Jam

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup assorted fruit jams

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cream together the butter and sugar for several minutes, until they look light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and beat until combined.

Mix together flour and salt in a separate bowl. Gradually pour the dry ingredients into the butter mixture and beat until smooth.

Tear off small chunks of the dough and roll quickly between your palms to form 3/4-inch balls. Before putting each one onto the baking sheet, press your thumb or the back of a wooden spoon into the center to make a hole large enough to fit about 1 teaspoon of filling

Place the cookies on parchment-lined sheets and drop in the jam right from the teaspoon (if the preserves are too thick or sticky to spoon easily into the holes, just melt it a bit in a small saucepan).

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until cookies are set but not yet browning. If the jam centers don’t look full enough, drop in more jam while cookies are still hot from the oven. Let cool completely before storing.

Makes 4 dozen cookies.

— From “The Cookiepedia: Mixing, Baking, and Reinventing the Classics” (Quirk Productions, Inc., 2011) by Stacy Adimando

Christmas Fruitcake Bars

Candied fruit may be a mixture of red and/or green cherries and candied pineapple, or cherries alone, or prepared mixed fruit. Cherries and pineapple should be cut into medium-size pieces; the mixed fruit should be used as is.

  • 6 ounces (generous 1 1/2 cups) walnuts, coarsely cut or broken
  • 5 ounces (1 cup) raisins
  • 8 ounces (1 cup, packed) pitted dates, cut in large pieces
  • 8 to 10 ounces (generous 1 cup) candied fruit
  • 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour, divided
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Finely grated rind of 1 large, deep-colored orange
  • Confectioners sugar

Adjust a rack to the center of the oven and preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Butter a 10 1/2-by-15 1/2-by-1-inch jellyroll pan. Place the walnuts, raisins, dates and candied fruit in a large mixing bowl. Add 1/4 cup of the flour (reserve the remaining 3/4 cup). With your fingers, toss the fruit and the nuts with the flour to separate and coat all the pieces thoroughly. Set aside.

In the small bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs just to mix. Add the salt, sugar and vanilla, and beat just to mix. On low speed, add the reserved 3/4 cup flour, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula and beating only until mixed. Remove from the mixer and stir in the orange rind.

The batter will be thin. Pour it over the floured fruit and nuts. Stir to mix thoroughly.

Turn the mixture into the buttered pan and spread evenly.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Reverse the pan front to back once during baking to ensure even browning.

Cool completely in the pan.

With a small, sharp knife, cut around the edges to release, and cut the cake into bars — they will be only a scant 1/2-inch thick.

With a wide metal spatula, transfer the bars to a large piece of wax paper. Dust the tops generously with confectioners sugar by pressing the sugar with your fingertips through a fine strainer held over the cookies.

These may be wrapped individually in cellophane (clear, red or green) or wax paper, or they may be stored with wax paper between the layers in an airtight box.

Makes 32 bars.

— From “Maida Heatter’s Cookies” (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2011) by Maida Heatter.

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