Thursday, December 15, 2011

Pass the milk, please: My favorite Christmas cookies

There is no Christmas without Christmas cookies. Or Plätzchen, as they’re called here. My mom makes about a million elaborate kinds. Every year in October and November I think I can compete. Of course I never have a chance. By the time I get two kinds done, she has made six. Oh well. So I leave the elaborate ones to my mom and focus on my tried-and-true recipes each year and only try out one or two new ones. Well, mostly I want to try new ones. I don’t always get around to them.

Fig swirls. My all time favorite.

Christmas cookies here are bakes with what seems to be a pound of butter for every 10 cookies. I’m exaggerating here (just slightly), but is it just me or is there a fundamental difference in Christmas cookies between the US and Germany? I’ve seen American recipes for vanilla crescents and all that, but what cracks me up is when they say that the cookies keep for like a week or two “in an airtight container”. 

I have no idea if the tins that I store my cookies in are airtight. I doubt it. But for some reason, Christmas cookies here have to be stored in good old-fashioned tins. And you make them weeks ahead of Christmas, because they need time to fully develop their flavor.

As you know, I don’t do well with complicated and fussy projects. And I don’t do well with complicated and fussy cookies, either. I need my cookies to be done once they come out of the oven – quickly coating them in some sugar is about the maximum I can get myself to do. Here’s my list of fuss-free cookies I do every year:

  • Fig swirls – dried figs and red wine cooked to make a jam-like filling for simple roll-up and cut cookies. Find the recipe here
  • Cinnamon swirls – if I get really lazy, I do the same dough as above and just sprinkle it with cinnamon sugar.
  • Pecan crescents – I love pecans, and these ones are flavored with honey and orange. The recipe is from here . It doesn’t make a lot so I always double it.

  • Plum streusel stars – this is about the fussiest cookie I do. It needs to be cut out (well, technically you could just roll it out, top it and bake it…) and gets a plum butter and streusel topping. I do love this recipe though, because to me this is the ultimate cookie dough, soft, buttery, a little sweet and fairly easy to handle.

  • Christmas cantuccini – tiny biscotti with almonds, hazelnuts and Christmas spices. I use this recipe but there are lots of them out there. Leave the spices out and it becomes suitable year-round. 

New this year were chocolate snow balls, a recipe suggested by my friend Alex. Half of our email exchange is about food and recipes. And I needed a chocolate recipe to add to my collection. I think I may have found it. It’s one of those recipes I’ve had all along as it’s from an old issue of a favorite magazine (you can find it here ). I had just never tried it – sounded too fussy for me. But Alex convinced me, so I gave it a try. Yum. I mean, the dough is mostly chocolate and butter, with some egg, sugar, flour and cocoa powder thrown in for good measure. Once chilled, you can form little balls that you coat in powdered sugar, sort of like making truffles. Except these are baked. 

I split all of the recipe steps and do a little here and a little there. Start with the dough, chill. Do the fig filling. Next day, roll out, spread the filling, roll up and chill again. Next day: cut and bake. That makes it more manageable for me – well, it would if I resisted the temptation to double recipes. Because in the end, it does make a difference if you’re baking three or six baking sheets. Oh well. One can never have too many cookies, right?

This is what the streusel stars look like when you drop a freshly baked batch. Oops.

What are your favorite recipes?


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