I confess, Christmas cookies always make me nervous. I’m generally a calm cook, able to improvise and turn out consistently tasty meals, but when it comes to Christmas cookies, which I make once a year, I get the willies. Is the dough too moist? Too dry? Did I cook them too long? Not long enough? Fortunately, the results are consistently pretty good.
I make a lot of cookies. We give them away in small boxes as Christmas gifts for friends and family. They are mostly from one cook book that is essential for any home baker, The Fannie Farmer Baking Book, published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1990.
I’ve increased the quantities considerably in some cases and I’ve modified some of the instructions. By all means go back to original book for the simplest version.
Pinwheels (Fannie Farmer p. 254) X 3. These are a good, tough cookies for putting toward the bottom of boxes and bags. This recipe makes about 120 cookies.
• 3 oz unsweetened chocolate (melted)
• 3 sticks of butter at room temperature
• 2 1/4 cups of sugar
• 3 eggs at room temperature
• 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
• 3 3/4 cups of flour
• 3/4 tsp salt
• 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
• 1 tsp instant coffee
- Melt the chocolate in a small dish over hot water and set aside.
Note: using an electric mixer is a big help for this recipe.
- Cream the butter and sugar, add the eggs one at time and beat until light and fluffy.
- Mix the dry ingredients (except the coffee) and blend into the butter and eggs.
- Note: measuring accurately is a great help. Divide the dough in half. I weigh each half to make sure they are the same.
- Put half the dough back into the mixer and add the chocolate and powdered coffee.
- Divide each half into three equal sized balls and shape into 5 X 3 inch rectangles. You should have three vanilla and three chocolate. Chill thoroughly (probably about an hour)
- Note: use a ruler to get the rectangles the correct size. Remove the dough and working one at a time, place each 5 X 3 rectangle between two sheets of wax paper and then roll them into six rectangles exactly 12 X 7 inches. The dough is very soft. Cut off the excess from the edges and use it to fill in the corners. The dough will bunch up under the wax paper, so turn it over frequently and pull the wax paper loose to avoid deep creases in the dough. As you complete each rectangle, put it back in the refrigerator on a cookie sheet. You can pile one on top of the other.
- When the dough has stiffened, remove one chocolate and one vanilla rectangle. Remove the top piece of wax paper from each, and put them together. Roll up the long way like a rug, being careful avoid any air pockets. Wrap up and chill each roll.
- Cooking these is easy. You simply slice each roll into ¼ to 1/3 inch slices and bake on a well buttered cookie sheet at 350 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes, until just turning brown around the edges.
- Cool on a rack.
Pfeffernuse (Fannie Farmer p. 267) (Makes about 60 cookies). This is a traditional German cookie that is also very tough, so good for the bottom of bags and boxes. It is best made over a couple of days, giving the dough time to dry out before baking and before packing up.
• 2 eggs
• 1 ¼ cup sugar
• 2 tsp grated lemon zest
• 2 cups flour
• ½ tsp baking powder
• ½ tsp salt
• 1 tbls cinnamon
• 2 tsp ground cardamon
• ¾ tsp ground cloves
• ½ tsp nutmeg
• ¼ tsp ground black pepper
• ½ cup finely chopped candied citron.
• 1 tbls aniseed lightly crushed.
• Glaze with ¾ cup powdered sugar and about 3 tbls of cold water
- In an electric mix, blend the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the lemon zest.
- Mix the dry ingredients together and add to the eggs and sugar mix. Add the citron and aniseed at the end.
Roll dough into balls about ¾ of an inch in diameter, dip into the glaze and place an inch apart on the cookie sheet. Let the unbaked cookies stand uncovered overnight, at room temperature, to dry out.
- Bake in a preheated 350 degrees over on greased cookie sheets for 12 to 15 minutes.
- Let sit on cooling racks overnight again before storing. These cookies may keep for years! They are hard and dry with a strong peppery taste. Very distinctive.
Nut Butter Balls (Fannie Farmer p. 270) X 4 [Makes about 110 balls] Not quite as durable as Pinwheels are Pfeffernuse, but these snowy balls, similar to Mexican Wedding cookies, are a great favorite, easy to make and they last a long time.
• 8 sticks butter softened (2 lbs)
• 8 cups confectioner sugar (save ½ for dusting)
• 4 tsp vanilla extract
• 9 cups of flour
• 1 tsp. salt
• 3 cups chopped walnuts
- Mix together in an electric mixer. Note: I could just get the dough in the mixer and added the nuts by hand in a separate bowl.
- Roll dough between your hands into bite sized balls about 1 inch in diameter. Place an inch apart and bake for 10 to 12 minutes until bottoms are light brown and tops are pale yellow.
- Roll in confectioners sugar while still warm and again after they have cooled.
Florentines (Fannie Farmer p 241) (Makes about 60 cookies). I ended up making two batches of these cookies, but I think it’s best to do them separately. The first time I made these cookies, I found them challenging. An accurate thermometer, to get the soft ball stage of cooking exactly right, helps.
• ½ cup sugar
• ½ cup honey
• 1/3 cup heavy cream
• 2 tbls butter
• ¼ cup flour
• 1 ½ cups finely chopped almonds (blanched or not)
• 1/3 cup finely chopped candied orange peel
• grated rind of 2 large oranges.
• 1 ½ oz semisweet chocolate
• 2 oz unsweetened chocolate
• 1 tbls butter
- Combine sugar, honey, cream and butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan, heat until mixture boils and sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally. Then stop stirring, lower heat, and cook until soft ball stage (240 degrees). This takes a while. Fifteen to twenty minutes.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the flour, almonds, orange peel and orange zest. Refrigerate for up to two weeks. Bring to room temperature before baking.
- Place scant rounded teaspoon 3 inches apart and flatten with a fork dipped in cold water. They will spread out to about 2 ½ inches when baked. Bake about 5 minutes, until slightly golden, remove and let cool slightly until they can be peeled off easily. (This is the tricky part, but there’s a moment when it works best).
- Melt glaze in a double boiler, remove from heat, stir in butter, and using a knife spread on one side of one end of the cookie. Store in an airtight container with sheets of waxed paper between.
• 2 cups unsalted butter at room temperature
• 1 ½ cups sugar
• 6 egg yolks
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• 5 cups all purpose flour
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1 teaspoon salt
Sift and mix all the dry ingredients. Turn mixer to low setting and add flour mixture gradually.
Divide into 4 equal balls, put each between saran wrap or wax paper, and press into a round disk. Chill thoroughly.
Roll out on a well-floured pastry cloth and cloth covered rolling pin to about ¼ of an inch.
Cut into shapes and bake at 350.
Raspberry Linzer Heart Cookies (Holiday Baking p. 66. (Makes 48 cookies) These can be difficult, but what a payoff!
• 2 cups walnuts, toasted and cooled
• 2 ½ cups all purpose flour
• 1 cup butter
• 1 cup powdered sugar
• 2 egg yolks
• ½ cup cornstarch
• raspberry jam