Monday, December 31, 2007

Cookie-Thon 2007

by Erin and Xani

In addition to our holiday dinner with the Smiths, another one of our holiday traditions dating back to when we were little girls is our annual Cookie-Thon, where we make a ton of holiday cookies to give away as gifts and bring to holiday parties. This year we made all of our cookies on Christmas Day, because hey, what the hell else are we gonna do when everything is closed? (Don't worry, we went for Chinese food after all the cookies were done!)

This year we decided to make four kinds of cookies, and we actually only made one recipe of each! Back in the day, we would make dozens upon dozens of rugelach, black-bottoms, and pecan puffs (sometimes known as Mexican wedding cookies) with our family friend Ellen, but this year we thought one recipe would suffice for our party schedules. As usual, we made a shopping list from the recipes, and the wonderful BCD Mom did the grocery shopping.

The first cookies we made weren't cookies at all, rather they were Toasted Coconut Marshmallows, a recipe by Ina Garten. This is a favorite recipe of ours, and they are always a hit since (a) they are delicious, and (b) they are pretty unique. "You made your own marshmallows??" they say.

This recipe isn't that difficult, but it involves candy-making, which we explored when we made our spooky caramel lady apples for Halloween (near disaster!). Our cousins are much more adept at this since their mom, our Aunt Gloria, made candy for them (and us!) back in the day and she's passed on the knack. But, we did okay this time - no burns, spills, or disasters! And they turned out totally delicious as usual!

For this recipe, you begin by making a syrup by boiling together granulated sugar, light corn syrup, water, and a bit of salt until it reaches 240 degrees on a candy thermometer (we ended up using both a candy thermometer and our trusty instant-read thermometer just to be sure we were at the right temperature).

Meanwhile, you dissolve several packages of gelatin in water in an electric mixer. In addition, we toasted up some coconut in a pan until it was golden brown. Once the syrup is ready, it is carefully added to the dissolved gelatin, and then the whole thing is mixed on high speed for 15 minutes - yes, FIFTEEN MINUTES! It goes from a clear bubbling mixture to a beautifully fluffy white blob! Vanilla is added to the blob, and then it is spooned into a pan lined with half of the toasted coconut. Then the other half of the coconut is added on top, and it is supposed to sit for a day to dry out before cutting it into cubes. They are sweet and better than any Stay-Puft product you've ever had. The coconut adds a great contrast in texture and flavor. YUMMM!

The next recipe we made were (Mint) Double Chocolate Brownie Cookies from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook. We wanted to make a chocolate-mint cookie, so we chose this recipe, omitted the walnuts, and replaced half of the vanilla extract with peppermint extract.

Made in Maryland!

The recipe begins with melting bittersweet chocolate, unsweetened chocolate, and butter together over a double-boiler. The chocolate mixture is placed into the electric mixer (which we washed NUMEROUS times during this cookie-thon!) and flour, sugar, salt, vanilla extract, and the peppermint extract are added and everything is beaten until combined. Then semi-sweet chocolate chips are folded in, and the cookies are dropped onto baking sheets. These cookies are described in the recipe as moist and chewy like brownies, and that is pretty much accurate! They are chocolatey and chewy, and they have a lovely, subtle hint of peppermint.

For the next two cookies, we turned once again to the Smitten Kitchen, who presented many delicious cookie recipes in a row in honor of the holidays, and we picked two which looked irresistible. The first recipe from her site that we made was Austrian Raspberry Shortbread, a recipe adapted from Gale Gand's book (remember her? She had that show on Food Network called Sweet Dreams...whatever happened to her?).

We chose this recipe because we love shortbread and jam cookies, and we usually make Ina Garten's Jam Thumbprint Cookies, but the Austrian Raspberry Shortbread cookies had an unusual technique that actually seemed much easier. First you make shortbread dough, which begins with four (yes, FOUR) sticks of softened butter (no wonder they're so good!), and then flour, egg yolks, baking powder, salt, and a bit of lemon zest are added to the mixer. This dough is then put in the freezer for 2 hours. Then, the dough is shredded using the shredding disk of the food processor! Half of the shreds are placed on the bottom of a baking dish, then raspberry jam is drizzled all over the shreds, and then the second half of the shreds of dough are placed on top. It's baked for about an hour, then cooled, and then cut into small bars.

The verdict? Oh. my. goodness. These are like tiny squares of buttery heaven! They are sweet and intense, and much more tender and delicate than traditional shortbread cookies, which are usually harder and more crumbly. The brightness of the jam cuts through the richness of the buttery shortbread, and they are absolutely delicious.

The second Smitten Kitchen recipe we used, and the last cookie we made, were Rugelach Pinwheels. Our Grandma used to make rugelach and we would watch her painstakingly roll out the dough, cut it into small slices, and roll each one into a crescent-shaped cookie. We have made rugelach in the past and have done the same process, but this recipe seemed to take some of the labor out of it, so we gave it a try.

The dough is made with cream cheese, butter, sugar, and flour, which is combined in a food processor and chilled in the fridge for two hours. For the filling, the recipe called for sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, raisons, walnuts, and apricot preserves, but we omited the raisins and the cinnamon to accommodate some family flavor preferences. Once the dough was chilled, it was rolled out to about 1/8 of an inch, covered with the apricot jam, and then the sugars and nuts were sprinkled over top. It was then rolled into log and chilled for another hour, then sliced into 1/4 inch slices. The cookies were tossed in a cinnamon-sugar mixture, and then baked for 20 minutes or so. The only problems we ran into were rolling out and rolling up the dough, since it got very soft very quickly.

These cookies were absolutely delicious! Like traditional rugelach, they had a harder outer layer and a soft, chewy center. The nuts added yet another texture, and the sugars and cream cheese dough were sweet and delightful. Although they are in a different shape than traditional rugelach, they taste the same and therefore remind us of Grandma - a sweet memory indeed!

At the end of the night, after we had our traditional Christmas Day Chinese food, we divided up the cookies (ironically in chinese food containers that Dad has ordered IN BULK for use as storage containers) for each of us to take to parties and friends.

It was a great day of baking and family time! This holiday season has been a fun and relaxing one for both of us as we hope it has been for all of you. As we count down to the new year we are looking forward to many more delicious experiences and sharing them with all our readers! We wish you all a very sweet new year!

Happy 2008!

E & X

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