The 12 Days of Holiday Cookies: Day Nine

The Irresistible Un-Cookie

Crispy caramel. Chocolate-covered. Gluten-free. Easy.

This treat looks like a free-form cookie, you can nibble it like a cookie, but it isn't a cookie.

It's Chocolate-Covered Buttercrunch Toffee

After all the holiday excess of baked goods, are you ready for a taste break? 

Made with ingredients you probably have on hand, the toffee mixture comes to a boil in a saucepan. You simply let it cook until it reaches 300 degrees F. 

Carefully pour the toffee mixture onto a baking sheet, then strew with chocolate chips. Let them melt for 2 minutes, then swirl the melted chocolate with a knife or thin metal spatula.

Add-ons could include chopped toasted pecans or walnuts, flaked almonds, toasted pumpkin seeds, or coarse sea salt. 

 And the other amazing thing about Chocolate-Covered Buttercrunch Toffee is that is just seems to disappear. 

You start off with a full plate (okay, you may have had to taste just a little bit to make sure it turned out all right)

You come back a little later, and this is what you see

And before you know it, you have to make another batch.

Chocolate-Covered Buttercrunch Toffee

Adapted from a recipe by David Lebowitz

Makes enough toffee to last about 24 hours.

You can double this recipe and pour it out onto a large 11 x 17-inch baking sheet to cool. When the candy thermometer registers 250 degrees F., my advice is to stand watch. A watched pot does actually boil and will produce a perfect toffee.

2 cups (8 ounces) toasted, chopped nuts (optional), flaked almonds, or toasted pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons water
1/2 cup (1 stick) salted or unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped, or 1 cup chocolate chips

Optional: Fleur de sel or coarse sea salt to sprinkle on at the end

Use a vegetable oil (such as canola) to lightly oil an 8 x 10-inch baking sheet and set aside.

If using the nuts, sprinkle half on the baking sheets; reserve the remaining half.

In a medium heavy-duty saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer, bring the water, butter, salt, and sugars to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring as little as possible, until the mixture just reaches 300 degrees F, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Immediately remove from the heat and stir in the baking soda and vanilla. Quickly pour the hot toffee mixture onto the prepared baking sheets, trying for an even layer. If necessary, gently but quickly spread with a metal spatula. 

Strew the chocolate over the hot toffee and leave to melt for 2 minutes. Use a table knife or a metal spatula to spread the melted chocolate in an even layer.

Sprinkle on the remaining nuts and fleur de sel, if you like.

The 12 Days of Holiday Cookies: Day Eight

Decadent Chocolate Chunk Cookies 
with a Latte for Dunking

Sometimes during the holiday season, the cookie baker needs a treat, too.

For maximum pick-me-up and minimal fuss, I vote for this chocolate chip cookie that is fortified by chopped walnuts and tastes fabulous dunked in a latte. 

Even better if the latte has a holiday ornament/apple/pomegranate artfully inscribed in the foam!

There's something positively therapeutic about warm, oozy chocolate and a milky, espresso-dark latte.

I feel better just thinking about that combination.

Chocolate Chunk Cookies
(Adapted from Judith Fertig's Bake Happy, to debut in May 2015)
Erin Brown of Dolce Bakery in Prairie Village, Kansas, welcomes the relaxed pace of baking in her home kitchen. Brown’s husband, a professional athlete, “trains like a beast,” she says, but he saves room for her Chocolate Chunk Cookies, adapted here, dipped in an Affogato . For these cookies, bigger is better to achieve a gooey interior and a crispy exterior. If you want to work ahead, mix and place the cookies on a baking sheet. Freeze, then remove the unbaked cookies from the baking sheet and freeze them in a sealable plastic bag for up to 3 months. Bake from frozen about 8 to 12 minutes  longer.
Makes 24 (2-ounce) cookies
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (265 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
11/2 cups (270 g) semisweet chocolate chunks
1 cup (180 g) large bittersweet chocolate chips
11/2 cups (180 g) cups finely chopped walnuts
1 cup (227 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 packed cup (220 g) dark brown sugar
1/2 cup (100 g) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (or 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste)
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
In a medium bowl, sift the flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In a second bowl, combine the chocolate chips, chunks, and walnuts.
Place the butter and sugars in a large bowl and cream together with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy , about 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating and scraping after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Beat in the dry ingredients on low speed, a fourth at a time, adding the chocolate chip and nut mixture with the last of the flour. 
Scoop 2 tablespoons of the dough at a time onto the prepared baking sheet, leaving 2 inches between each cookie.
Bake, one pan at a time, until browned and crispy at the edges and soft in the middle, about 8 to 10 minutes. Cool in the pan for a few minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 3 months. To warm, microwave a frozen cookie on high for 15 to 20 seconds or until warm and gooey.

So Happy Together:
Chocolate Chunk Cookies + Affogato
A warm Chocolate Chunk Cookie dunked in an affogato can elevate a wonderful experience into the unforgettable—if you love coffee.  To make an affogato, Italian for “drowned,” simply put a scoop of ice cream or gelato in a coffee cup and pour a shot or two of hot espresso over it. Let the ice cream melt just a little, then dunk a still-warm Chocolate Chunk Cookie.

The 12 Days of Holiday Cookies: Day Seven

Shimmer Cookies

When I'm in the midst of a baking project, I have King Arthur Flour Company on speed dial. (And no, this is not a sponsored post. It's simply a fact.)

Whatever it is that I need--a special type of flour, unique flavorings, the right pan, or unique cupcake wrappers--I can find in their online or paper catalogue.

What's even better  is their treasure trove of baking recipes on their web site, kitchen-tested and approved by many readers.

That's where I found this recipe for Shimmer Cookies, flavored with Fiori di Sicilia (Flowers of Sicily), a unique blend of vanilla, citrus, and flower essences.  

Shimmer Cookies, photo courtesy of King Arthur Flour Company
These cookies sparkle just like snow. With their mellow, creamy citrus flavor, they're a refreshing complement to the usual spicy, decadent cookie selection at holiday time.

Recipe courtesy of King Arthur Flour

Makes  24 to 26 filled cookies

            1 cup (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
            3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
            1/4 teaspoon salt
            1/4 teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia (or vanilla)
            2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

            coarse white sparkling sugar, for coating
            1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
            6 tablespoons unsalted butter
            1 to 2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
            1 to 2 teaspoons grated orange peel
            colored sparkling sugar or sprinkles, for coating

            1) Preheat the oven to 350°F, and grease two baking sheets, or line with parchment paper.
            2) To make the cookies: Beat together the butter, sugar, salt, and Fiori until creamy.
            3) Add the flour, and mix just until incorporated.
            4) Shape teaspoon-sized balls of dough, and roll them in sparkling sugar.
            5) Place the cookies 1" apart on the prepared baking sheets.
            6) Bake the cookies until they're just beginning to brown along the edges, 16 to 18 minutes. Remove from the oven, and cool completely.
            7) To make the filling: Beat all the ingredients together until light and fluffy.
            8) To assemble the cookies: Sandwich a 1/4"-thick layer of filling between two cookies, and roll the filling edge in the colored sugar or sprinkles.


The 12 Days of Holiday Cookies: Day Six

Swedish Wishing Cookies

Today's cookie post involves a bit of a travelogue.

We're going to Lindsborg, Kansas, a wheat-farming college town founded by Swedish settlers in the 1860s and proud of its Swedish heritage.

Nick Fertig eating an ice cream cone at Lindsborg Town Hall.

Throughout the year, the community holds ethnic celebrations. 

Today marks St. Lucia Fest (follow the link to a 6-minute video), held on the Saturday closest to the traditional December 13 Saint Lucia Day.

Lindsborg celebrates both its wheat-farming and Swedish identities with holiday decorations.

Christmas trees, indoors and out, are decked with red-ribboned wheat sheaves and tiny white lights.

Instead of greenery, bundles of prairie grains, also tied with red ribbon, really give you a sense of place. 

You start off the day with a Swedish Bake Sale

but you better get there early or all the best Swedish specialties will be gone. 

Then, the Swedish folk dancers in traditional costume

start their procession down the main street to the Lutheran church. Its architecture is part Swedish, part small town America.

The Swedish dancers pass out pepparkakor or crisp ginger cookies, sometimes called Swedish Wishing Cookies, to those savvy enough to line the streets.

Inside the church, the St. Lucia pageant participants gather.

There is a Star Boy.

And lots of little Saint Lucias (with battery-operated candles in the crowns!).

After the Saint Lucia pageant at the church, you might wander downtown again and come across a demonstration of sweet yeast rolls known as Lucia Buns, flavored with saffron, formed into traditional shapes, and decorated with currants or raisins before baking.

After all that, you're hungry again.

Good thing you can go home and bake a batch of Swedish Wishing Cookies to remember your day.

Swedish Wishing Cookies

Adapted from All-American Desserts by Judith M. Fertig

For St. Lucia Day in the homes of families of Swedish descent, the eldest daughter wears a white gown with a red sash and crown of tiny white lights. In the darkness of a December 13 morning, she brings a tray of saffron-flavored Lucia buns or cookies like these in to her parents’ bedroom.  In public celebrations, a teenage girl playing the role of St. Lucia offers pepparkakor or these cookies to both adults and children who attend the festivities that might include Swedish folk dancing and the St. Lucia and Star Boy pageant. When these spice cookies are rolled very thinly and cut out in heart shapes, they become “wishing cookies,” a charming holiday tradition. St. Lucia gives a child a cookie to hold in the palm of one hand and tells the child to make a wish. With the index finger of the other hand bent, the child strikes the cookie with a knuckle. If the cookie breaks into three pieces, the wish will be granted. If not, there are still those delicious cookie pieces to gobble up. 
Makes 5 dozen
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
3/4 cup light molasses
2 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated orange rind
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer. Beat in the egg, molasses, and orange rind. Sift together the dry ingredients and add to the egg mixture, a cup at a time, beating well with each addition. Cover and refrigerate the dough for several hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. 
Roll out the dough, a portion at a time, on a floured surface to a 1/8 inch thickness. Cut out with heart-shaped cookie cutters or the shape of your choice. Transfer the cookies to the prepared baking sheets. 
Bake for 7 to 9 minutes, or until browned at the edges. Cool on wire racks. Store in airtight containers.