With the holidays approaching, it’s time to think about Christmas cookies and treats. Maybe your family has made the same phenomenal bourbon balls for years or your tradition is making gingerbread people with the kids … everybody has at least one or two favorites.
So why not get together with friends and trade your best treats? That’s the premise of a new cookbook, “Christmas Cookie Swap!,” which has more than 110 recipes for goodies to share with fellow cooks, from simple to ornate.
On the simple end of the spectrum are elegant gingerbread stars dressed with white chocolate drizzle and sparkling sugar. Anybody with a cookie cutter could pull those off.
Don’t even have a cookie cutter? There’s a recipe for chocolate-covered cherry cookies, chocolate cookies topped with chocolate-covered cherries and white chocolate. Or cherry-lemon candy canes, which are shaped by hand, giving them a nice homemade look. Or hidden kiss cookies, basically cookie-dough wrapped chocolates (or other treats, if you prefer).
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What could be simpler? Well, there is one option: peanut butter cookies made with only four ingredients: peanut butter, sugar, egg and vanilla extract.
At the other end of the difficulty spectrum: Snow globe cookies, charmers dressed up with tiny gingerbread people and trees. These clearly need an expert hand for the icing and the cookie book provides decorating tips as well as icing recipes.
Another cookie that would not look amiss in a bake-off challenge: 3-D sugar cookie trees, standing stand-outs that will look impressive dressing up a Christmas tableau.
There are also “stained-glass” cookies that look good enough to hang in a window. The “glass” comes from crushed hard candy that melts in the oven when the cookies bake. It looks lovely in a plain sugar cookie and even better in one dressed up with icing or fondant.
But looks aren’t everything. Cookies ultimately are judged by taste, and the cookbook has plenty of treats that will have people snatching them out of the box.
The chocolate-peanut butter thumbprint cookies are a nice twist on the classic thumbprint. Instead of jam or icing, they go straight to the miniature peanut butter cup candies. Make them with packaged cookie dough and you’ve got something even kids can put together, if you can keep them from eating the candy first!
This one’s definitely for the adults: bourbon shortbread truffles. These no-bake treats add 1/4 cup of bourbon (or more, if you feel like that just isn’t enough) to melted chocolate and crushed shortbread cookies, rolled into balls and then in chopped pecans, then chilled.
And a Christmas classic that can be dressed up with a twist of orange and pecans: divinity. The recipes require precise measurements but the results are worth the extra effort. For a special treat add toasted chopped pecans and grated orange rind, which adds an extra holiday note.
Once you’ve decided which cookies you can’t live without, organize a swap party. Contact friends and plan to get together. Include recipes to share and don’t forget to provide wrapping and tags so they can package up their goodies.
Bourbon shortbread truffles
From “Christmas Cookie Swap!”
12 ounces bittersweet baking chocolate, chopped
1½ tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
9 tablespoons whipping cream
¼ cup bourbon
1 (5.3-ounce) package pure butter shortbread cookies, crushed
2 cups finely chopped salted roasted pecans
Stir together chocolate, butter and vanilla in a large microwave-safe bowl. Cook the whipping cream and bourbon over medium heat 3 to 4 minutes or until hot but not boiling. (Mixture will steam, and bubbles will form around the edge of the pan.) Pour over the chocolate mixture. Let stand 1 minute.
Stir the chocolate mixture until melted and smooth. (If mixture doesn’t melt completely, microwave at HIGH for 30 seconds.) Stir in the crushed cookies. Cover and chill three hours or until firm. (Mixture can be prepared and refrigerated up to two days ahead.)
Place the chopped pecans in a bowl. Shape the chocolate mixture into 1-inch balls (about 2 teaspoons per ball). Roll the balls in chopped pecans. Place on baking sheets lined with waxed paper. Chill one hour. Store covered in the refrigerator up to five days.
Not your Grandma’s divinity
From “Christmas Cookie Swap!”
2 cups sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup water
2 large egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Stir together the sugar, corn syrup, and 1/3 cup water in a 3-quart microwave-safe bowl. Cover with plastic wrap; microwave at HIGH 3 minutes. Uncover and microwave at HIGH 6 to 7 1/2 minutes or until the mixture begins to turn light brown around the edges.
Meanwhile, beat the egg whites at high speed with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form (about 4 minutes.) Pour the hot sugar mixture in a thin stream over the beaten egg whites, beating at high speed. Add the vanilla, and beat just until the mixture holds its shape (about 3 to 4 minutes.)
Working quickly, drop the mixture by rounded tablespoonfuls onto waxed paper. Let stand at room temperature until the candies feel firm (at least 12 hours or overnight) before removing from the waxed paper. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.
Note: Measure all your ingredients ahead of time; divinity requires accuracy.
Stir in 1/2 cup toasted chopped pecans and 1 teaspoon grated orange rind after adding the vanilla. Proceed with the recipe as directed.
Snow globe cookies
From “Christmas Cookie Swap!”
¾ cup butter, softened
¾ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
¾ cup molasses
¼ teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
1 large egg
3½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 recipe Royal Icing
Blue, green, red, yellow food coloring paste
White nonpareils, yellow stars, red sanding sugar
Melt butter in a saucepan over low; whisk in brown sugar and next six ingredients. Place the mixture in the bowl of a electric stand mixer; let stand 30 minutes. Add egg, beating at low speed just until blended.
Stir together the flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a medium bowl; gradually add to the butter mixture, beating at low speed just until blended. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut with a 4-inch snow globe cutter, reserving the remaining dough.
Place the cookies 1 inch apart on prepared baking sheets. Create other desired shapes, like mini gingerbread men and trees, using mini cutters and the remaining dough. Place the shapes 1 inch apart on a separate baking sheet.
Bake the snow globe cookies at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Let stand five minutes. Transfer to wire racks, and cool completely (about 20 minutes). Bake the mini gingerbread men, snowmen, and tree cookies for 6 to 8 minutes or until lightly browned. Let stand five minutes. Transfer to wire racks, and cool completely (about 20 minutes).
Make royal icing. Separate the icing into 5 bowls. Add blue, green, red, and yellow food coloring to each of four bowls, one color icing to each bowl, leaving one bowl for plain white. Spoon each color icing into individual zip-top plastic freezer bags.
Snip one corner of each icing bag to create a small hole. Squeeze the bag to decorate using white icing to create the snow. Add white nonpareils, and let stand 10 minutes. Fill in the rest of the globe with blue icing, and place the gingerbread men or tree cookies on top, while the icing is still wet.
Decorate the gingerbread men and tree cookies with icing and yellow stars. Sprinkle white nonpareils for falling snow effect; let stand 10 minutes. Add red icing to the base, sprinkle with red sanding sugar, and decorate with icing. Let the decorated cookies harden for one hour before serving or storing.
1 (16-ounce) package powdered sugar
3 tablespoons meringue powder
5 to 6 tablespoons warm water
1 teaspoon light corn syrup
Food coloring paste (optional)
Combine powdered sugar, meringue powder, water and corn syrup in a large bowl. Beat at medium-low speed with an electric mixer 5 to 7 minutes. Divide and tint with food coloring, if desired. Icing dries quickly, so keep it covered at all times.
Makes about 3 cups.