Thursday, December 16, 2010


Hi Elise,
It's cookie season. Really all of November and December are one long bake-a-thon, but as Christmas gets closer, the baking field narrows down to cookies. I like to give cookies as presents. I don't have to shop for them, and they don't create that reciprocity pressure. My friends understand that I have a baking disorder and that their gift to me is to just pretend not to notice and accept whatever I force on them. Some might call it enabling, I think of it as the holiday spirit.
Last year I just made Rugelach. I was coming off a few years of disappointing Christmas Cookie Melanges and I decided to do one thing and try to do it reasonably well. You may remember, they taste good, but they are unsightly.
But this year I have been reading cook books and cooking magazines, and even though the magazines don't devote anywhere near the energy and print space to Christmas that they lavish on that damn Turkey, there are still some recipes that catch my eye and seem worth a go. I've spent the last week experimenting with some of these.
One of my new favorite cookbooks is The Sweet Life by Kate Zuckerman. This is a book I actually got for you, but then it wouldn't fit in the box with your other presents so I had to keep it for myself. Don't worry though, there is always St. Patrick's day. KZ has a recipe for Double Chocolate and Dried Cherry cookies. She says that it is originally from Rick Katz and appears in the Baking with Julia cookbook. Baking with Julia is edited by Dorie Greenspan. And Dorie Greenspan invented the beloved Chocolate Chunkers. I tried the KZ recipe. And it was good, but difficult to work with. The dough is extremely sticky and the baked cookies are also impossibly sticky. They stick to the parchment paper, they are gummed onto the pan even when sprayed with Pam. They cling to the spatula. And they aren't as good as Chunkers. I compared the recipes and DG's has a slightly higher dry to wet ration, but other than that, pretty similar. But, Mine is not to reason Why, Mine is just to go with what is Easiest.

I have always been attracted to a sandwich cookie. I used to spread canned frosting on Milano's so the combination of frosting and cookie is a compelling one. I tried some chocolate mocha sandwich cookies. Good, but too sweet, (I know, cookies with frosting and I'm complaining about too sweet?) and the filling was too soft.
I then made some sleigh bells. This is an old favorite, a real go-to. Originally a Gourmet recipe, back before Ruth Reichle ruined that magazine. It is a walnut short bread baked into little half moons with a chocolate ganache sandwiched between the 2 half moons and the whole thing is then rolled in more ground walnuts that adhere to the ganache where is has oozed out the sides. It looks pretty, small yet bountiful. A really stellar addition to a Christmas cookie melange. They are a tad time consuming, many steps, but not hard and I was reminded just how good they are, so they will be part of my weekend baking extravaganza.

Back to Kate Zuckerman. She has a recipe for Rugelach that I wanted to try. You asked why I would want to try a different recipe when I already have one that is great. I wanted to try this one partially because Kate raves about it, though really I've never read an introduction to a recipe that said, "Just OK, but you can probably something better." This one also seemed easier; the dough is rolled around the filling, chilled and then the log is sliced. What could be simpler? None of that fussiness with the pizza cutter and the individual little rolls. You pointed out that it wouldn't really be Rugelach, and while I admit you have a point, you do see this sort of shape more and more. You said, yes, well, mass produced in China perhaps.
As usual, you were right. Rugelach can't be bad, but Kate uses an egg wash instead of jam and currants instead of raisins and that adds up to less delicious. Also, really not that easy because the original roll up of the dough around the filling is challenging. So I'll stick with Lora Brody.

Then (still experimenting) I made some Hazelnut Cardamom Raspberry jam sandwich cookies. Also from Kate Zuckerman. (You really wish you had this cookbook) and also time consuming. But they turned out really well. They look pretty, they look festive, they look impressive. They made the cut.
I have one more sandwich cookie to try and then I'll make final determinations, but for now the melange will be Rugelach, Sleigh Bells, Chocolate Chunkers and the Raspberry Jam sandwiches.
This weekend I'll put on the Three Tenor's Christmas, I'll sing along with Pavarotti to O Holy Night, and I'll mix and roll and chill and bake and repeat. My weekend is perfectly laid out. I just wish you were here to do it all with me.

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