SOUTHERNISM OF THE WEEK
Give me the bacon without the sizzle: Just give me the details without putting a favorable PR spin on them. To quote Dragnet, “Just the facts, Jack. No frills” … I can handle the truth.
CHRISTMAS COOKIES PART DIEU
It’s not too late to mix up some scratch-made holiday cookies for friends and family. In fact, in my opinion, it’s never too late until the last ornament has been stored away after Epiphany.
I strongly recommend saving at least one baking exercise until spend-the-night company arrives for the holiday. It’ll be a grand way to pass an evening while classic holiday movies or Christmas tunes are playing in the background.
Baking cookies, after all, is a time-honored family activity guaranteed to result in singing and laughter and nostalgia.
Amidst (and sometimes inspiring) my family’s laughter, I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to baking cookies. My holiday gift to you, our Hotty Toddy readers, is to share the results of my hard-won experience.
Follow my Top Ten Cookie-Making Tips, and all your cookie efforts will be rewarded … as long as you’re using a tried-and-true tested recipe! That’s why I’ve also included three more of my family’s favorite Christmas cookies. Success with these recipes SHOULD be guaranteed.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, y’all.
LAURIE’S TOP TEN COOKIE-MAKING TIPS
1. Use the right type of flour, butter and salt (Examples: unsalted versus salted butter, all-purpose versus self-rising or cake or bread flour; iodized versus uniodized table salt, kosher or sea salt). The proteins and gluten content vary in different types of flours, and the sodium chloride crystals of the various salts bond differently as well.
2. Use only fresh ingredients (check expiration dates on baking powder and baking soda). I toss out old baking powder and start with fresh every holiday season. Same principle applies to yeast.
3. Have all ingredients at room temperature unless otherwise specified. Eggs will reach room temperature in about 30 minutes. Use recipe-specified butter temperature such as chilled, softened, room temperature or melted; do not microwave butter to soften – resulting chemistry is not the same.
4. Use only fresh eggs of the specified size; when size is not specified (as in old recipes) use large eggs. Follow recipe instructions regarding whether to pre-beat eggs or add eggs one at a time while mixing the dough, or add eggs when creaming the sugar and butter.
5. Measure the ingredients properly. Too much of anything can kill a cookie, which is why you should fluff up or sift the flour before measuring. Dry ingredient measurements always call for a level measure (flat across the top) unless specified as “heaping” or “mounded.” Dry ingredients must be measured in dry measuring cups (usually metal or plastic with a handle), liquid in liquid measuring cups (usually glass). Measuring flour in a liquid measuring cup can increase the volume of flour by as much as a tablespoon, which will affect the outcome – making the cookie over-dry. (NOTE: for chewier or softer cookies, reduce the specified amount of flour. NEVER EVER scoop flour into the measuring cup, which packs it down too much.)
6. Chill dough before baking, which improves flavor, helps the dough to relax and allows cookies to retain their shapes better while baking. If dough becomes too sticky during cookie prep, refrigerate it for 30 minutes. NOTE: Cookie dough may be frozen – icebox dough rolled into logs and wrapped tightly, or drop-cookie dough formed into balls and frozen.
7. Line the baking sheets with parchment paper (now available in precut 12-by-16-inch sheets); parchment prevents scorching more effectively than greasing the sheet.
8. When rolling out dough, keep extra flour on the rolling surface to a minimum because too much flour will toughen cookies; use a silicone rolling pin or roll dough between sheets of parchment to prevent dough from sticking.
9. Preheat oven to proper temperature and use an oven thermometer (many ovens are off by as much as 25 degrees). Allow as much as 30 minutes for the preheating.
10. Set kitchen timer for up to 2 minutes less than the official bake time because the cookie sheet will continue cooking the cookies after removal from the oven. Partially cool tray of cookies and loosen cookies from sheet with metal spatula while still warm but cool enough to hold cookie shape.
MISSISSIPPI MUD COOKIES
Feel free to omit the marshmallows, or to add the marshmallows near the end of the baking cycle.
1 c semisweet chocolate morsels
1/2 c (1 stick) salted butter, softened
1 c white granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 c chopped roasted,salted pecans
1/2 c milk chocolate morsels
1 c plus 2 T mini-marshmallows
Prep cookie sheets with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350ºF.
Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. Microwave semisweet chocolate morsels in microwavable glass bowl on high, 1 minute or until smooth; stirring every 30 seconds. May take longer, but only do 30 seconds at a time.
Cream butter and sugar on medium speed. Mix in eggs, one at a time, until blended and smooth. Gradually add melted chocolate, mixing until dough is well blended.
Mix in pecans, then milk chocolate morsels.
Drop dough by mounded tablespoon onto parchment-lined sheets. Press 3 marshmallows into top of each cookie flattening slightly. Bake 10-12 minutes, or until marshmallows lightly brown. Remove to wire racks to cool. Yield: 3 dozen.
MOM’S BILLY GOAT FRUITCAKE COOKIES
1 c salted butter
1-1/2 c white granulated sugar
3 large egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
2-1/2 c pre-sifted plain flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
2 T whole buttermilk
1 c coarse-chopped pecans or walnuts
1 c chopped dates
1-1/2 c red candied cherries, each cherry cut in half before measuring
Preheat oven to 325ºF. Blend butter, sugar, egg yolks, and vanilla on medium speed 2-3 minutes. Sift dry ingredients together three times. Add to wet batter. Blend in the milk, and fold in the nuts, dates and cherries. Drop by the mounded teaspoon onto cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake on center rack for about 12 minutes. Store cooled cookies in a sealed metal container.
LOUISE’S NO-BAKE DATE BALLS
1 stick (1/2 c) salted butter or margarine
1 c light brown sugar
1 c chopped dates
1/2 c flaked coconut
1 c pecans, crushed or chopped fine
2 c Rice Krispies
Combine butter, sugar and dates in a saucepan. Cook on medium or medium-low until well blended, approximately 5 minutes. Combine the coconut, pecans and Rice Krispies in a bowl. Fold in the melted date mixture. Let cool. Shape into small balls. Roll the balls in powdered confectioner’s sugar. Store in tightly covered tin.
Click here for additional cookie and cheese straw recipes: http://hottytoddy.com/2013/12/22/on-cooking-southern-holiday-cheese-and-cookies/
Laurie Triplette is a writer, historian and accredited appraiser of fine arts, dedicated to preserving Southern culture and foodways. Author of the award-winning community family cookbook GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’, and editor of ZEBRA TALES (Tailgating Recipes from the Ladies of the NFLRA), Triplette is a member of the Association of Food Journalists, Southern Foodways Alliance and the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. Check out the GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’ website and follow Laurie’s food adventures on Facebook and Twitter.