Saturday, December 31, 2011

Always a good time

I love to make Christmas cookies. Let me clarify that statement: I love making cookies at Christmastime. I don't like cookies that are decorated with pink frosting and sprinkles and taste like pure sugar and cardboard (but maybe I would if I had a kid). I like the ones that are good-tasting as well as good-looking (yes, I'm a snob). I also like to put them in cellophane bags tied with a brightly colored ribbon, and give them away to friends, keeping any leftovers to nibble on at home. Amid the craziness of shopping, wrapping and menu-planning, it's a big project, but one that makes me very happy.

This year, my friend Anya and I teamed up to do a day of holiday baking together. After some careful deliberation, we decided on four different kinds to make -- an ambitious undertaking which took us the better part of a day and evening to complete. We went through a lot of butter. There was a lot of dishes (thank you, Jacob, for your help). Still, it was worth it. We nearly covered her entire kitchen table with the treats ready to be packed up and divvied up. As you may imagine, it smelled pretty amazing in her house that day.
First we made Orange Sablés, then Mexican Wedding Cookies (with pecans), then Linzer Hearts (sandwiched with raspberry jam) and, finally, Rugelach, one batch with orange marmalade and chocolate, the other with apricot preserves and no chocolate. I often make Dorie Greenspan's rugelach for the holidays, at least I have for the past few years. As they are in fact a Yiddish invention, I feel as though I'm somehow honoring my Jewish heritage during Hanukkah (the one quarter in me, anyway). Plus, they're delicious, each one stuffed with currants and jam and a scattering of nuts. The cream cheese dough is rolled up like little crescents, which puff up and brown ever so slightly in the oven. They almost melt in your mouth, they're so astoundingly tender.
Anya's Linzer Hearts with hazelnuts were also particularly lovely and delicate. And really, why save heart-shaped things for Valentine's Day? The recipe comes from her Martha Stewart Baking Handbook, and had a quite a number of steps involved -- including repeatedly rolling out a fat slab of dough and cutting out of heart shapes -- but I just loved how they turned out. Stacked up one on top of the other, they certainly made a fine gift. 
Sablés, or French-style shortbread, are another of my favorites, a recipe I've already written about here before, but one I've never made with orange zest until now. Though I'm a lemon fiend in both sweet and savory modes, I have to admit the orange version gives the lemon version a run for its money. The Mexican Wedding Cookie recipe came from my this great book, and was the most basic of the four, but their simplicity makes them great, it seems.  They have a nuttiness and crumbly texture that pairs so well with their gentle sweetness. When they were lined up on the baking sheets cooling, they looked like little snowballs, dusted in powdered sugar. They're a winner, for sure.

Perhaps I'm a week or two late to be telling you about all of this, but I figure it's always a good time to be dreaming about cookies. If you're already fantasizing about kale chips and coconut water, well, you're not alone. Anyway. Thanks, Anya, for baking with me, it was fun. I needed some cheering up, as the holiday season can be a sad time for some of us. 

I'm looking forward to 2012. There's so much I want to do. The culinary adventures await.

Happy New Year, everyone.