I love this time of year and always look forward to the annual tradition of baking Christmas cookies.
Ashley, my oldest daughter, attends a Christmas cookie exchange each year.
Cookie swaps are a fun way to share and attain a variety of cookies as well as spend time with family and friends.
This year, you’re invited to share your favorite cookie recipes with other readers and search our database for some new holiday favorites. Log onto ledger-enquirer.com/food to share your favorites.
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Cookies come in many different shapes and styles. There are brownie and bar cookies, chocolate cookies, classic cookies, cookies from a mix, cutout cookies, drop cookies (my favorite), no-bake cookies, slice and bake cookies, shortbread cookies and sugar cookies just to name a few. For me, it is hard to decide which ones to start baking first because I like them all.
The following are the basic ingredients I have on hand when I begin my holiday baking (along with all purpose flour). I hope my list will help you with your cookie planning.
Chocolate, which comes in many forms, is one of my main baking items. I use semisweet chocolate chips, cocoa powder and white chocolate chips more than any of the other chocolate types. However, I continue to experiment with new chocolate recipes and chocolate forms.
Unsweetened chocolate, also known as baking or bitter chocolate is pure chocolate with no added sugar.
Semisweet chocolate is pure chocolate with added cocoa butter and sugar. This chocolate is versatile and is available in bars, blocks, and pieces (chips).
Bittersweet chocolate is usually darker and less sweet than semi-sweet chocolate. Some European brands are labeled “dark chocolate.”
Milk chocolate is chocolate with added cocoa butter, sugar and milk solids.
Sweet baking chocolate is made of pure chocolate with added cocoa butter and sugar. The sweetness is in between unsweetened and semisweet chocolate
Unsweetened cocoa powder is pure chocolate with most of the cocoa butter removed. Cocoa labeled “Dutch-process” or “European-style” has been treated to neutralize the natural acids, giving them a mellow flavor and reddish color.
White chocolate is made by combining cocoa butter with sugar, milk solids and flavoring.
Nuts are a must to have on hand when baking. I am a southerner, so pecans are my favorite. However, I enjoy and like to bake with walnuts and almonds too.
Coconut is another delicious addition to have on hand. I like flaked coconut in the can or package. To get even more flavor from nuts and coconut, toast them lightly. Spread the nuts or coconut in a single layer in a shallow baking pan. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 5 to 10 minutes or until light golden brown. Stir them once or twice and watch them closely. Once containers of nuts and coconut have been opened, tightly close the packages and store them in the refrigerator, or for longer storage, in the freezer. This keeps the oils they contain from becoming rancid and developing off flavors.
Citrus in the form of a lemon, lime and orange adds a bright flavor to many different recipes and I usually have one of each on hand. I think fresh taste better. One medium lemon yields 2 teaspoon shredded peel and 3 tablespoons juice. One medium lime yields 1-1/2 teaspoons shredded peel and 2 tablespoons juice and one medium orange yields 4 teaspoons shredded peel and 1/4 to 1/3 cup juice.
Dried fruit is intensely sweet, chewy and great for cookie baking. My favorites are raisins, apples, apricots, cherries, cranberries, dates and mixed berry fruits.
Spices and extracts such as cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice taste wonderful. Vanilla and almond extracts are my favorites.
Peanut butter makes delicious cookies and bars. I like to add peanut butter chips to my soft, chewy chocolate cookies for an extra special treat.
Here are a few helpful cookie hints I have learned through trial and error.
Let hot cookies sit for a few minutes before removing them from the sheet or pan. I then place them on a flat brown paper bag, a rack or waxed paper to cool.
Never put away cookies that are not completely cool. Warm cookies can cause steam and will soften the whole batch.
Make sure you separate your flavors of cookies. Pack each variety of cookie in a separate container.
Refrigerate cookies that contain cream cheese, custard or dairy products.
Unfrosted cookies can be frozen up to six to twelve months and frosted cookies for up to three months. Make sure they are tightly covered to insure freshness.
Crisp cookies, the ones with loads of butter and sugar, freeze better than soft cookies.
When shipping, choose sturdy cookies such as chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin. They are the best travelers and aren’t as likely to breakup and crumble.
I have been baking the following recipes since the early 1980s and they are two of my favorites.
HERSHEY’S CHEWY CHOCOLATE COOKIE
1-1/4 cups butter softened
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Hershey’s Cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup finely chopped nuts, optional
Cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl. Add the eggs and vanilla; blend well.
Combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt; blend into the creamed mixture.
Stir in nuts, if desired (I normally don’t add).
Drop by teaspoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes. Do not over bake. Cookies will be soft. They will puff during baking, and then flatten upon cooling.
Cool on the cookie sheet until set, about 1 minute; remove to wire rack to cool completely.
Makes about 4 1/2 dozen cookies.
Variations that can be added to the basic chocolate batter: Dark, Semi-Sweet, or Milk Chocolate Chips, Mini Kisses, Mint Chocolate Chips, White Chocolate Chips, Peanut Butter Chips, Heath Bits ‘O Brickle or Heath Milk Chocolate Toffee Bits (if you add either of these, lightly grease or paper-line the cookie sheets)
1 cup softened salted butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2-1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon water
1 cup finely chopped pecans
2 cups sifted powdered sugar
In a large mixing bowl, mix the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer.
Add the vanilla, water and half of the flour. Beat until thoroughly combined. Beat in the remaining flour. Stir in the pecans.
Shape into 1-inch balls; place them about 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes or until the bottoms are brown.
While the cookies are warm, gently roll them in powdered sugar.
Allow them to cool and reroll again, if desired. Makes approximately 4 dozen cookies.