dessert

Christmas Cookies: Pistachio-Cranberry Icebox Cookies

by Caroline

This is the third Christmas for this cookie recipe, which I found in Gourmet and love for all the reasons I love making candy: it’s quick, beautiful, and makes a lot.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar (did you make candied orange peel? use your leftover coating sugar in these cookies to give them a bit more orange flavor)
1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh orange zest
1/2 cup shelled pistachios (2 1/4 oz; not dyed red)
1/3 cup dried cranberries (1 1/4 oz)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup decorative sugar (preferably coarse)


Stir together flour, cinnamon, and salt in a bowl.

Beat together butter, granulated sugar, and zest in a large bowl until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing until dough just comes together in clumps, then mix in pistachios and cranberries.

cookie dough

Gather and press dough together, then divide into 2 equal pieces. Form each piece of dough into a log about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Square off long sides of each log to form a bar, then chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, until very firm, at least 2 hours.

cookie bars


Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Brush egg over all 4 long sides of bars (but not ends). Sprinkle decorative sugar on a separate sheet of parchment or wax paper and press bars into sugar, coating well. (Of course you can skip this step, and I often do. The cookies are perfectly delicious without the extra coating of sugar, but it does sort of add to the nice stained glass effect).

Cut each bar crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices.
Arrange cookies about 1/2 inch apart on lined baking sheets.

cookies to bake

Bake cookies, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until edges are pale golden, 15 to 18 minutes total. Transfer cookies from parchment to racks using a slotted spatula and cool completely.

I forgot to take a picture until we’d given most of the first batch away, but here are the last few, looking prettily Christmasy, I think, all studded with their red and green:

cookie

Christmas Candy: Salted Chocolate Pecan Toffee

by Caroline

In his recent New Yorker piece about cookbooks, Adam Gopnik writes, “…cookbooks have two overt passions right now: one is simplicity, the other is salt.” This recipe, originally published in Sunset magazine, offers both. The boiling sugar makes it a poor choice to make with the kids’ assistance; just let them stand back and watch in awe as you put more sticks of butter into one pot than they have ever seen you do before.

2 cups pecan halves
3 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2 teaspoons fleur de sel or coarse sea salt

Have all the ingredients prepped and ready before you begin, because once the sugar reaches candy temperature, you need to move quickly. Also, keep a bowl of ice water near the stove just in case of accidents; sugar burns badly.

Preheat oven to 350°. Put pecans on a rimmed baking sheet and cook, stirring occasionally, until toasted, about 8 minutes. When cool enough to handle, chop roughly. Divide into 2 batches; chop 1 batch finely. Set both batches aside.

chopped nuts

Put sugar, butter, salt, and 3/4 cup water in a 4-qt. saucepan over medium heat. If you have any doubt about the size of your pan, go with a bigger one; you want to let the sugar bubble up quite a bit without having to worry about it boiling over.

bubbling butter

When butter and sugar are melted, increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture is deep golden brown and measures 310° on a candy thermometer, about 20 minutes.
cooked sugar

Remove from heat and carefully stir in vanilla (mixture will bubble up, so stand back as you pour, and/or wear oven mitts, just in case) and finely chopped pecans. Pour into a 10- by 15-in. rimmed baking sheet.

cooling toffee

Let toffee cool until set, at least 30 minutes. (For even pieces, you can score the toffee by cutting it with a sharp knife after it has set for about 10 minutes, scoring into 5 strips lengthwise and 8 strips crosswise to yield 40 pieces. Wipe knife clean with warm water after each slice for easier cutting.)

Chop chocolate and melt gently in a double boiler (this is where I break out my late mother-in-law’s beautiful copper and ceramic double boiler), but a metal bowl set over a saucepan of water, or the microwave, both work just fine, too.

melting chocolate

Pour melted chocolate over toffee; spread evenly with a knife or offset spatula. Sprinkle the chocolate with roughly chopped pecans. Let sit 20 minutes, or until chocolate is cool but still a bit soft. Sprinkle with fleur de sel. Chill until set, about 1 hour.

salt

Gently twist the pan to release toffee, then chop or break into chunks. Store in the fridge, if it lasts that long.
toffee

Christmas Candy: Spicy Pumpkin Seed & Cherry Chocolate Bark

by Caroline

I discovered this recipe last year in Catherine Newman’s Wondertime column, and now the only problem is making enough both to give away and keep some in the house for ourselves. I’ve made two batches already, and expect to make at least that much more before this holiday season is over. It is so easy the kids can do it without much supervision (just caution them about the baking pan, which is hot when it first comes out of the oven), and of course you can vary it any number of ways (I might make a semi-sweet version next, with raisins and peanuts), but the spicy pumpkin seeds are my favorite.

1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 cup raw hulled pumpkin seeds (the green kind)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 (11- or 12-ounce) bags semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
1 cup dried, pitted sour cherries (we get ours at Trader Joe’s)

Heat oven to 250. Line a 12-by-17-inch jelly roll pan (or rimmed baking sheet) with parchment paper.

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, heat the oil until a drop of water sizzles on contact, about 3 minutes. Stir in the pumpkin seeds and cook, stirring constantly until the seeds are fragrant, starting to brown, and making popping sounds, about 3 or 4 minutes (sometimes the pumpkin seeds fly right out of the pan, so be careful!). Turn off the heat, stir in the salt and cayenne, and leave to cool about 5 minutes.

pumpkin

Scatter the chocolate chips evenly in the prepared pan. This is a great job for an enthusiastic helper:

dumping chocolate

spreading chocolate

Place pan in the oven for 5 minutes, then remove and spread chocolate with a rubber spatula.

melty chocolate

Scatter the cherries over the top of the melted chocolate, then scatter the pumpkin seeds; push them in a bit so that they really stick.
bark with seeds and berries

Chill at least 2 hours, until firm enough to break into pieces, then store in the refrigerator until ready for gifting.

packages of bark

Christmas Cooking: Ben’s Chocolate-Coated Candied Orange Peel

by Caroline

oranges

I am always ready to start the Christmas baking too early to actually start the Christmas baking. Last year (at exactly this time, I see), I was stirring up a batch of Wonderballs, no-bake peanut butter-oatmeal concoctions that we keep in the fridge. They are an excellent transitional snack, whether the gap you’re trying to bridge is from lunchtime to dinner, or from Thanksgiving to Christmas!

naked oranges

This year, I figured it wasn’t too early to start in on some of the Christmas gift candy-making. Every year seems to add a few more people to the list of folks who have helped us through the months, from the boys’ many teachers to the guy who delivers the Sunday New York Times, and while I make batches and batches of cookies during the holidays to share with folks who come over, I make candy to give away. It keeps better than cookies, it’s less fragile, and I can produce it quickly in great volume.

Now candied orange peel might not be at the top of everyone’s favorite candy list, and I think that’s probably because too many people have been subjected to too much bad fruitcake studded with plasticky candied citrus. Fresh candied orange peel is a revelation: it’s delicious, with all the citrus flavor concentrated in a couple tender bites; it’s sparkly and beautiful; it’s also (except for one tedious step) easy, quick, and cheap. What’s not to like? I’ve been making it for years, and now it’s one of the first things Ben asks for when we start to talk about Christmas cooking, so I can’t resist making it for him.

Place in a saucepan:

peel in pot

Peel of 3 oranges, 2 grapefruits, or 6 lemons, removed in wide strips

Add water to cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Drain, cover with fresh cold water, and simmer until tender. Drain, refresh under cold water, and then remove the remaining pulp or pith by scraping it away with a spoon or paring knife. This is the tedious part of the process and it’s a little too delicate to delegate to the kids yet, but I hope to next year.

pith

Cut the peel into 1/4″ wide strips.

sliced peel

Combine in a large, heavy saucepan:
1 c sugar
3 T light corn syrup
3/4 c water

Stir over low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Add the fruit peel and cook very gently over low heat until most of the syrup is absorbed. Cover and let stand overnight.

cooking peel

Bring to a simmer again, then use a slotted spoon to transfer the peel to a baking pan lined with parchment and sprinkled generously with granulated sugar.
sugared peel

Use tongs to toss the citrus peel in the sugar until well coated. Let dry for at least an hour.

You can stop there, or you can go one more step and dip the candied peel into chocolate. This is something the kids could do, if you trust them not to eat every other piece.

Melt or temper half a pound of bittersweet chocolate (since I store these in the fridge, I don’t go to the trouble of tempering, but go ahead if you’re feeling fancy). Dip the end of each piece of peel in the chocolate and let dry on sheets of waxed paper. Store the finished candy between layers of wax or parchment paper in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 months.

chocolate peel

Finally, don’t toss the sugar you used to coat the candied peel; it offers a nice orange-y tang to any baked goods or even your next cup of tea.

Nutella Almond Macaroons

by Caroline

macaroons

I own over a hundred cookbooks, and yet still subscribe to several magazines containing recipes and visit food websites frequently. My usual route through a magazine is read and tear, read and tear, saving those torn-out recipes to (eventually) file in one of my recipe binders and (someday) try. When I find good-looking recipes on line, I email the link to myself (and often, too, my sister and mom) and save it in a “recipes” folder on my computer. It is rare that a recipe arrives in my inbox and I just make it, right then.

But Friday night, it was less than an hour from “oh, that looks good” to cookies coming out of the oven — a new land speed record for me. Chalk it up to having a well-stocked pantry, two kids as busily occupied by LEGO as Lisa’s, a recent stroll past Paulette, San Francisco’s new source for Parisian macaroons, and one really easy recipe. Don’t be put off by the need to separate eggs; it’s only two, and you can keep the yolks to throw into an omelette the next day.

I found the original recipe over at Svelte Gourmand, following a link from my new favorite source for everything food-related, The Food News Journal. It’s a delicious cookie: crisp on the outside, chewy inside, the sweetness of the coconut and nutella wonderfully offset by the salt. It would be good spread with dark chocolate ganache instead of the nutella, of course, but I don’t keep a jar of dark chocolate ganache in my pantry. No matter what, it’s much more delicate and delicious than those giant softball macaroons you find most places. I tinkered with the recipe slightly (I can’t help myself), so here’s how I did it:

Pichet’s Coconut Nutella Almond Macaroons

2 egg whites
½ c granulated sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 t vanilla extract
2 T all-purpose flour
1-1/2 c shredded coconut, unsweetened
1/3 c nutella
1/4 c almonds, toasted
1/8 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat the oven to 325.

Beat the egg whites until frothy, then gradually add the sugar and salt, continuing to beat until just stiff.

Whisk in vanilla and flour until well combined, then fold in coconut.

Pour the batter onto a baking pan lined with parchment and spread it with an off-set spatula so it is about 1/4” thick.

Bake until the top is toasted and dry to touch, about 30 minutes.

While macaroon is still warm, cut into rectangular pieces.

Let cool until room temperature and then spread nutella on the cookies. Sprinkle toasted almonds on top of the nutella, then finish with a sprinkle of sea salt.