Cookies and more cookies take over the mindset of holiday bakers at this time of the year. And appropriately so—it is the perfect gift from the kitchen. Mall and cyber shopping have their place, but nothing spells love like homemade from you. It is the physical activity that engages one in the deepest sense of sharing.
Passions run deep and those who know me also know that I would rather roast a roast and stir a sauce than level a measure and sift. Yet baking takes over at this time of the year and how sweet it is. While I set up my stand-up electric mixer and gather and measure ingredients for a bake fest, my husband, the true cookie lover, happily butters and flours baking sheets and helps with cleanup.
Some of our favorite, simple–to–execute cookie recipes are my daughter Meg’s chocolate chip peanut butter cookies, moist and chewy, with a crisp outer crust, lemon–scented madeleines and kourambiedes, a typical Greek sugar cookie at Christmastime.
Meg’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip Cookies
When my daughter first baked a batch of these delectable cookies she made a cookie lover out of me. Silpat liners to line your cookie sheets will be helpful in the baking and cleanup process.
Yield: about 3 dozen
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
10 ounces peanut butter chips
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with Silpat liners.
1. Sift flour, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl and stir to mix.
2. In a mixing bowl with portable hand mixer or stand-up electric mixer cream butter and both sugars until fluffy. Add vanilla and mix. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, until thoroughly incorporated.
3. Add flour mixture to the egg mixture, a little at a time, scraping down sides of bowl with rubber spatula and mix well. The mixture is quite thick; stir the chips into the mixture, one package at a time, as well as possible.
4. Drop batter by well-rounded teaspoonfuls onto greased or Silpat-lined cookie sheets. Bake one cookie sheet at a time in preheated oven for 10-12 minutes until lightly browned. While one cookie sheet is left to cool, about 5 minutes, put the next cookie sheet in the oven to bake. Transfer cookies to a rack to cool completely as they are done. They will firm as they cool. Continue to bake remaining batter as above and cool. Store cookies in wax paper lined tins.
Madeleines are those wonderful “little cakes” made famous by Marcel Proust who found them “to look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a Pilgrim’s Shell.”
Yield: 24 Madeleines
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus 2 tablespoons to butter Madeleine pans
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Prepare madeleine pans; soften 2 tablespoons butter and press into each fluted mold of the pans evenly. Dust with flour and tap off excess.
1. Melt remaining 6 tablespoons butter and set aside to cool.
2. In a mixing bowl with portable hand mixer or in bowl of stand-up mixer, beat eggs at slow speed until foamy. Adjust speed to medium, add sugar, and beat 8-10 minutes until mixture is thick and pale in color.
3. Sift flour and salt onto a square of wax paper and re-measure to 1 cup. Sift again directly over egg mixture and carefully fold in flour by hand until completely incorporated. Add vanilla and lemon rind and fold into mixture. Lastly add melted butter, folding it in a little at a time until thoroughly incorporated.
4. Spoon batter into the fluted shells to about 3/4 full. Batter will level itself. Place in preheated oven and bake 12-14 minutes until puffed and golden. Check halfway through baking. If necessary, reverse position of pans so that madeleines bake evenly. Remove from oven and allow to cool about 5 minutes. With the tip of a kitchen knife inserted between cakes and mold, lift out cakes and transfer them to a cake rack to cool completely.
Note: Madeleines will keep quite crisp for several days in an airtight container.
A delectable Greek powdered cookie typically prepared at Christmastime.
Makes about 3 dozen
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 confectioners’ sugar
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons brandy
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup finely chopped almonds
1 tablespoon rose water (optional)
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1. In a stand-up electric mixer or in mixing bowl with hand-held electric beater, cream together the butter and sugar about 8 minutes. With mixer at medium speed, add the egg yolk and brandy and continue to beat for about 3 to 4 more minutes. Meanwhile sift the flour, baking powder and baking soda into a bowl and stir in the chopped almonds. On low speed gradually add the flour mixture to the butter sugar mixture until a soft buttery dough is formed, about 1 to 2 minutes. Do not overwork. Cover and let the dough rest at room temperature for about an hour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.