Festive Holiday Cookies Are A Christmas Tradition

IN THE KITCHEN

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The most traditional of all Christmas cookies are gingerbread with holiday icing.

Iced gingerbread cookies are a great holiday project, one that pays off twice.

First, these cookies are enjoyable even before the holidays. Children as young as 5 can mix the icing and drizzle colored sugar onto the baked cookies, turning them into sparkling stars, wreaths and round baubles.

Turning out a good-size batch of cookies requires a full afternoon, or a long evening, as the dough has to chill, and

the cookies must cool completely before they are iced. Or, you can make the cookies in one session, then ice them up to several days later. They store beautifully in an airtight metal container.

The gingerbread cookies in the following recipe are healthier than most and come from the American Institute for Cancer Research. The dough is one-third whole-wheat flour, which gives the cookies good snap, both in flavor and texture. Just make sure to get whole-wheat pastry flour, and be sure to flour your work surface and the rolling pin generously.

Making the icing with milk instead of egg whites makes it creamier, easier to spread and drizzle.

Gingerbread Cookies with Holiday Icing

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup unsulphured molasses

1 large egg

1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

1/2 teaspoon. vanilla extract

2 1/2 to 4 tablespoons 2-percent (reduce fat) milk

Colored sugar, sprinkles, and/or silver dragées

In a bowl, mix together both flours with baking soda, ginger, allspice, cardamom, cloves and pepper; set aside. In another bowl, beat butter with sugar until fluffy. Beat in molasses, then the egg. (The mixture may look slightly curdled.) At low speed, mix in half the dry ingredients until well-blended. Mix in remaining dry ingredients until dough is thick enough to be shaped.

Divide the dough in half. Place each half on a sheet of wax paper. Shape each portion of dough into a 1-inch thick rectangle. Wrap and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, 2 to 24 hours.

Arrange a rack in the upper and lower third of the oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease three cookie sheets or cover them with baking parchment.

Using a lightly-floured rolling pin and a well-floured surface, roll out one rectangle of dough to 1/4-inch thickness. If dough cracks, smooth it together with your fingertips. Working quickly, cut dough into 2 1/2-inch rounds or stars. Place cut-out pieces on one of the prepared baking sheets. Repeat this process with the second rectangle of dough and baking sheet. (If desired, gather up scraps of dough and press together with hands into a rectangle. Wrap in plastic wrap, set in refrigerator to chill and roll out later to cut out and bake more cookies. There should be enough to bake one more sheet of cookies, for about 12 minutes.)

Bake cookies 6 minutes. Reverse position of baking sheets. Bake 4-6 minutes or until cookies are barely colored at edges. Transfer cookies to wire rack and cool completely.

To make the icing, sift confectioners' sugar into a bowl. Mix in vanilla and 2 teaspoons of the milk. Add more milk gradually until icing can be spread on cookies and drizzled from a spoon. Ice cookies and decorate with colored sugar, sprinkles and dragées.

Makes 36 cookies.

In his book, "Cookies Unlimited," Nick Malgieri takes the time-honored tradition of making cookies to a combination of science and art. Recipes for some of his creations follow.

Pecan Brownies

16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into 1/4-inch pieces, or chocolate chips

4 large eggs

1 cup dark brown sugar, packed firmly into cup

1 cup white sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup flour

10 ounces or 2 1/2 cups pecans, coarsely chopped

Using a 9x13x2-inch pan, grease well with butter or line with buttered parchment paper or foil.

Place rack in middle of oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

Melt butter over medium heat, take off heat and add chocolate. Allow to stand 2 minutes the whisk smooth.

Using a large bowl, stir one egg into the brown sugar, dissolving any lumps. Add remaining eggs individually, stirring after each addition. Stir in white sugar, vanilla and salt. Add chocolate mixture to egg mixture.

Fold in the flour, then add all but 1/2-cup of the pecans.

Put batter in pan and garnish with remaining pecans.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes and allow to fully cool, then place in refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight.

To serve, turn out of pan and cut into 2-inch squares.

Sour Cream Cinnamon Drops

2 cups flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

4 tablespoons or 1/2 stick of unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 large egg

1 cup sour cream

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3 tablespoons sugar

Use two to three cookie sheets or jelly roll pans, covered with foil. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Combine flour, salt and baking soda. Beat together butter and first measure of sugar, then add egg and beat again.

Add half of flour and combine with egg mixture, add sour cream, mix. Add remaining flour and mix again.

Drop batter by spoon onto cookie sheets, leaving 2 to 3 inches between cookies.

Mix cinnamon and second measure of sugar and sprinkle over cookies.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on racks.

Coconut Drops

1 (7-ounce) bag of sweetened, shredded coconut

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons, or 1 stick, unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 large egg

Use two cookie sheets or jelly roll pans lined with foil. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Run coconut through food processor, pulsing for 1 second intervals about 12 times. Don't make coconut too fine.

Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Combine butter and sugar, then add vanilla and mix, followed by the egg. Beat until smooth.

Add flour, then coconut. Mix well.

Drop by spoon onto pans, leaving 2 to 3 inches of space between cookies.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, then let cool fully before serving or storing.

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