December 2, 2010
My favorite part of Christmas is the cookies! So many holiday memories center around baking with Mom. When I was just a little tyke, it was my job to add the colored sugar sprinkles and other decorative bits of sugar we used to make the cookies look festive. I also helped to cut out the butter cookies or sugar cookies using fancy cookie cutters, although Mom’s skill was needed to transfer the cutout shapes to a baking pan.
I remember helping her to add food coloring to very soft dough made with cream cheese put through a cookie press to create Christmas trees, wreathes and candy cane shapes. These were decorated with tubes of icing and more sprinkles. When they were finished, they melted in your mouth.
Another type of drop cookie we would make was a coconut meringue cookie that was a favorite of my dad. Sometimes we tinted the egg whites or the coconut with green or red food coloring. Mom also made cream cheese enriched dough that she rolled into ½-inch balls, rolled in cereal and centered with red and green candied cherries. They looked like jewels nestled among other kinds of cookies in a can.
My favorite cookies to make are soft dough or drop cookies, because everyone can help, regardless of their skill level. Every cookie maker probably started with Toll House or chocolate chip cookies. They are a hands down favorite. You can introduce variety by adding white chocolate, butterscotch or peanut butter chips also.
Each year I try to find an interesting new cookie recipe to make for the cookie exchange. Each member of our adoption search and support group makes a dozen cookies for every other member of the group. We meet for brunch or afternoon tea and swap cookies. Everyone goes home with several dozen different cookies. Although chocolate chip cookies are not what I would consider a Christmas cookie, the manufacturer now makes a miniature dark-chocolate, candy-coated M&M which can be substituted for the Toll House morsels at Christmas time.
I have a better idea. A few years ago, I found a recipe for cranberry macadamia nut jumbles that were not only festive but included ingredients that often find their way to the holiday table in other dishes. I lost the recipe but recreated it through trial and error. This year, I was inspired to substitute pistachio nuts and chopped dried cherries. Enjoy!
2 ¼ cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup brown sugar
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup dark chocolate bits
1 cup white chocolate bits
1 cup macadamia nuts*
1 cup dried cranberries*
Preheat oven to 375° F. Combine dry ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Beat butter, sugar(s) and vanilla extract in a large mixer bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time beating well after each. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in chocolate bits, nuts and dried fruit. Roll soft balls of dough roughly one-inch in diameter and place about two inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake 11-13 minutes or until golden brown. This year I substituted pistachio nuts and chopped dried cherries.