Behind the baking

Even people who bake nothing but brownies from a mix the whole year through may wish to do some holiday baking.  You might be the parent of a small person or three, which gives you exactly seven minutes and 42 seconds to yourself on any given day.  Or you might trudge to the office, day in and day out, barely making it home in time to heat up some dinner and spend 60 mindless minutes watching Glee.  Whatever your salt mine, you probably don’t have endless hours to churn out 15 dozen Christmas cookies (really, just one batch isn’t even worth the effort, is it?).  The holidays are supposed to be relaxing!  (Quit your laughing.)

The strategy we need in this situation is divide and conquer, friends.  I have six different kinds of cookies on my list this year (hopefully enough to see us through New Year’s, plus enough for some tasty gifts for our children’s many wonderful teachers).  So yesterday, after a morning of errands, including the post office, the grocery, the dry cleaner, the customer service desk at Kohl’s, and a local funeral home (to drop off Seven and Five’s holiday coloring contest entries), I finally mixed up the first two batches of cookie dough while Three ate his lunch with Dora the Explorer.

The beauty of so many cookie recipes is that the dough requires some chilling time.  Make it work to your benefit! It’s just like time-shifting your shows by recording them on your DVR.  I mixed up Mexican Wedding Cakes and World Peace cookies, and then put the doughs in the fridge until I had another 30 minutes or so to bake them up.  In fact, I might freeze some of the dough and bake it several weeks from now.  

Mexican Wedding Cakes are a holiday staple in my family (some people call them Russian Tea Cakes or Almond Crescents), but I haven’t made them in at least five years because the kids had nut allergies.  Now that they’ve been given a clean bill of health from the allergist, I’m going crazy with the nuts!  (Though I’ve been informed that some people still don’t LIKE nuts, and what are THEY going to eat?)  Our family traditionally uses walnuts, but this year I tried toasted hazelnuts.  Pecans or almonds are also delicious.  We roll them into balls, but you could shape them into crescents if you wish.
World Peace cookies are a new addition to my Christmas cookie repertoire.  I was looking for something chocolatey to round out the list, and I remembered that I’ve been meaning to try this recipe from Dorie Greenspan.  After all, isn’t Christmas a time to wish for world peace?  These are chocolate sablés with bits of bittersweet chocolate, and you can find an easy-to-print recipe here at Smitten Kitchen.  In the spirit of world peace, I used bittersweet chocolate with cocoa nibs from the Czech Republic.  Today I took one log of frozen dough and sliced and baked a dozen cookies.  I have to admit, they brought an unusual peace to the after-school hour, which so often devolves into tears and time outs.
Later this week I’ll be featuring cookies from Poland, Italy and Wisconsin….Kolacky (my mother-in-law’s recipe), chocolate hazelnut biscotti, Orange Delight cookies (from a lovely B&B in Cambridge, Wisconsin), and some gingerbread cookies for the kids to decorate.  If I had a cookie press, I might make Spritz cookies, but I guess I have to draw the line somewhere.  I already crossed Linzer Heart cookies off the list.  Maybe for Valentine’s Day?
Mexican Wedding Cakes

1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter
1/2 cup sifted powdered sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup finely chopped nuts
Cream butter in stand mixer until fluffy.  Add powdered sugar and vanilla and beat together.  Add flour and salt and mix just until the dough comes together.  Add the nuts and mix just until incorporated.  Chill the dough for at least 30 minutes, well wrapped in plastic wrap or a sealed container.  If it chills for longer (a couple days, in my case), you’ll need to let the dough warm up just so it’s soft enough to work.
Heat the oven to 400 degrees.  Roll the dough into one-inch balls.  (You can flash freeze the balls of dough on a sheet pan, and then transfer them to a freezer bag to bake later.) A small cookie/ice cream scoop makes this step go much faster.  Place on an ungreased baking sheet and bake until set, but not brown, 10-12 minutes.  While still warm, roll cookies in powdered sugar.  Makes 3 dozen cookies.

Tell me, what’s on your cookie list this year?


4 responses

  1. Well, for starters I'll be making your Mexican Wedding Cookies. I love those kind of cookies and that recipe looks perfect. Also some cutouts for the kids to frost and decorate. I'll definitely be putting some dough in the freezer so we don't have to eat all of everything now. Sometimes I make half a recipe, so that we can have the excitement of cookies, but fewer results to nibble on.

  2. Cheryl–one tip, just in case you have reluctant nut eaters at your house–you can chop the nuts in the food processor so they're almost ground (just watch so you don't turn it into nut butter). It gives a finer texture to the cookies, and makes the nuts invisible to those picky eaters. 🙂

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