Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Cookies



I had an accident earlier this week. Freak accident, really. I was doing my usual two mile loop around the reservoir, and as I crossed the street to jog the .08 miles down the sidewalk to my house, my left foot stepped on a random piece of metal ring, and my right foot caught it. I crashed down onto the sidewalk, throwing out my right hand to take my fall. Ouch. Off to the ER I went. Sit in the waiting room, go through intake, soak my scratched-up hand in iodine, take X-rays, and -- big sigh of relief to find out my wrist is sprained, not broken. They sent me home with a brace and that was that.

Unfortunately, since I cannot properly use my right arm or do anything forceful with it, I was not able to work this week in the restaurant kitchen that is now my job. I did, however, learn how to do many things with my left hand this week. I can now, with my left hand:

- Brush my teeth
- Apply mascara
- Crack an egg (one-handed, even!)
- Drive a stick-shift car (not recommended)

And...

- Make cookies


Mind you, I did not make all the cookies in this photo. Instead, I made a few batches of cookies and held a cookie swap. There were cookies everywhere, and we all kept some of our own and took some others. Cocoa nib meringes, peppermint shortbread, almendrados (almond), pecan nut crescents, cranberry pistachio oat, nutella shortbread...I could go on. It was heavenly. Then, as if that were not enough, last night Justin and I dipped things in chocolate: pretzels in white chocolate, cashews in dark chocolate, more pretzels in dark chocolate with crushed candy canes...our kitchen looked like a confectionary. Then I boxed the pretzels and tinned the cookies and came up with this:



We have a whole arsenal of sweet things to bring with us to Massachusetts this Christmas, as well as more for our freezer to pull out at New Years. It's so festive, isn't it? I did not have fun spraining my wrist and getting seriously scratched up earlier in the week, but I have to confess, it feels like a bit of a blessing in disguise. It was nice to have time at home with no responsibilities. And even though baking cookies with one hand takes twice as long, I had fun doing it, while crooning along with Bing Crosby and other favorite Christmas tunes.

What is your favorite type of cookie? Are there any that you always have at Christmas? I decided to try new recipes this year, and here are two that turned out very nicely: Nutella sandwich cookies and pecan nut crescents. Both are shortbread-based, which is probably why I love them. They are indulgent and rich, which is just what I want during this time of year.

The crescent cookie recipe is from Baking Illustrated. You can use pecans or walnuts. The recipe calls for superfine sugar, which you can either buy or make yourself by processing regular granulated sugar for 30 seconds in a food processor. I actually used turbinado sugar, which is coarser, and processed it in the food processor. It did not turn out to be superfine, but the cookies were great regardless. You can simply roll the dough into balls, or shape them into crescents by rolling just under a tablespoon of dough into a 3-inch rope and then bending it into a crescent shape.

Pecan Crescent Cookies
Adapted from Baking Illustrated
Makes 3-4 dozen, depending on how you roll them

2 cups pecans, chopped fine
2 cups white whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
Take 1 cup of pecans and process them in a food processor until it resembles coarse cornmeal, or place in a plastic bag and roll with a rolling pin. Add back into flour mixture.

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened but cool
1/3 cup turbinado sugar, blended to be superfine
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 1 1/2 minutes. Beat in vanilla. Scrape down sides of bowl, and add in flour mixture. Beat at low speed until dough just comes together but still looks scrappy. Scrape down sides of bowl and beat just until dough forms a ball. Do not overbeat.

Adjust oven racks to upper- and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 325 degrees. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper, or lightly coat them with butter. Take just under a tablespoon of dough at a time and either roll it into a ball, or roll into a 3-inch rope and curve to resemble a crescent. Place about an inch apart on the sheets, and bake just until beginning to brown, about 17-19 minutes, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through. Let cool on sheets two minutes, then cool on racks to room temperature, about 30 minutes.

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
Pour sugar in a bowl. Place a few cookies at a time in the bowl and turn to coat. You can store the cookies in an airtight container for up to 5 days (and probably longer in the fridge).


Nutella Shortbread Cookies
Makes 9-12 cookie sandwiches


1/2 cup butter, softened at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup white whole wheat flour
about 1/2 cup of Nutella
Cream together butter and sugar. Beat in vanilla. Gradually add in flour until dough comes together (it might be a little ragged, but if you squeeze it into a ball and it stays, it's good). Roll/squeeze dough into 1/2 inch balls and place an inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten down each ball with the palm of your hand. Bake for 10-15 minutes at 350 degrees until edges turn light golden brown. Place cookies on a rack to cool. Once cooled, spread Nutella on the bottom of one cookie, then sandwich together with another.



Merry Christmas, friends!

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