Hello. Still there? It's hard to believe it's been three weeks since I have been here, and suddenly the shortest day, and longest night, of the year. Making cookies is something I have always done for Christmas and it marks the time of year for me. Cookies were the first things I ever baked myself, and I have had a holiday baking ritual ever since.
In the last few years, this has been a team effort and long, slow, gathering called Bake Day. We like to do the actual baking together, but you could also host a cookie exchange by asking everyone to bring one completed batch of cookies (or bar or candy) to share. Then everyone walks away with a complete assortment, and no one gets dirty. Of course, for those of us who want to get our hands deep in dough with friends, there is take-out, cocktails, and the day turning into night.
We always make sugar cookie cutouts, and there is usually toffee and fudge, but I am particularly fond of slice-and-bake cookies, more affectionately named icebox cookies. The dough is made ahead, and on bake day, all you do is slice and bake. One of the more stunning examples of the icebox cookie is this Pistachio Cranberry Icebox Cookie recipe from the sadly defunct Gourmet.
Take a crisp shortbread, add spice and orange zest, fold in pistachios and dried cranberries, and to add a little sass, shape the dough into square logs before it goes into the fridge to chill.
Then coat your logs with coarse sugar - turbinado, sparkling or sanding sugar- and these little cookies become beauties worthy of a gift. Regular granulated sugar will not hold its shape and shine in the oven- you need a larger crystal. And do me a favor; these icebox cookies are very small, so enjoy a few before packing those bags and boxes.
I love a recipe that hits on all cylinders like this one - easy to put together, no dependence on special seasonal ingredients, better made ahead, but beautiful to look at, full of flavor and contrasting textures, and not easily broken when shipped. In other words, something that's less work than it looks.
The hardest part of this recipe is slicing the cookies. Just use a sharp knife, and turn the log each time to keep the cookies square. A few will crumble where the nuts are close together - that is actually a good thing because if you mixed the dough so thoroughly as to have the nuts and fruit evenly spaced, you will have overmixed the dough.
Speaking of Christmas, I better get back to the oven. I have family coming in, through and around this week, and I so look forward to vacation, and saying goodbye to this year, and hello to 2010.
MAKESABOUT 3 DOZEN COOKIES
- ACTIVE TIME:20 MIN
- START TO FINISH:2 1/2 HR
Gourmet magazine, DECEMBER 2006
It doesn’t get fancier or more Christmassy than these glittery-edged cookies sporting studs of red and green. But all that festivity comes in an easy slice-and-bake package, so you can always keep a log of dough in the fridge, ready to go when company unexpectedly comes calling.
This is just one of Gourmet’s Favorite Cookies: 1941-2008 [EDITED TO ADD: Sadly the link to this fabulous cookie collection is broken. I encourage you to go to the Gourmet website and retreive and print recipes you are interested in, before it goes away. Epicurious has many Gourmet recipe, thankfully, but the photos of the cookie recipes are fabulous and only available at Gourmet.com.]
Although we’ve retested the recipes, in the interest of authenticity we’ve left them unchanged: The instructions below are still exactly as they were originally printed.
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh orange zest
- 1/2 cup shelled pistachios (2 1/4 oz; not dyed red)
- 1/3 cup dried cranberries (1 1/4 oz)
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 1/4 cup decorative sugar (preferably coarse)
Stir together flour, cinnamon, and salt in a bowl.
Beat together butter, granulated sugar, and zest in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing until dough just comes together in clumps, then mix in pistachios and cranberries. Gather and press dough together, then divide into 2 equal pieces. Using a sheet of plastic wrap or wax paper as an aid, form each piece of dough into a log about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Square off long sides of each log to form a bar, then chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, until very firm, at least 2 hours.
SLICE AND BAKE COOKIES:
Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
Brush egg over all 4 long sides of bars (but not ends). Sprinkle decorative sugar on a separate sheet of parchment or wax paper and press bars into sugar, coating well.
Cut each bar crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices, rotating bar after cutting each slice to help keep square shape. (If dough gets too soft to slice, freeze bars briefly until firm.) Arrange cookies about 1/2 inch apart on lined baking sheets.
Bake cookies, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until edges are pale golden, 15 to 18 minutes total. Transfer cookies from parchment to racks using a slotted spatula and cool completely.
- Dough bars can be chilled up to 3 days or frozen, wrapped in plastic wrap and then foil, 1 month (thaw frozen dough in refrigerator just until dough can be sliced).
- Cookies keep in an airtight container at room temperature 5 days.
RECIPE BY MAGGIE RUGGIERO