Thursday, September 29, 2022

On Cooking Southern: Christmas Cookies Are Not Just for Ol’ St. Nick

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SOUTHERNISM OF THE WEEK
Close enough for government work: Acceptable … the rocket doesn’t depend on it and nobody’s flying a plane based on the effort …. Like drop cookies and recent Presidential debates.


GET OUT THE COOKIE SHEETS AND SPRINKLES

Most Southerners enjoy Christmas cookies. Many of us participate in holiday cookie exchanges simply for the opportunity to sample new or different recipes.

My family has perennial favorites, such as Mississippi Mud Cookies, Mom’s Billy Goats, Christmas Cherry Cookies, Gingerbread Kids and Chocolate Matzo Crack. I religiously make them every year, along with cheese straws, assorted fudges, and cakes. The stated goal is always to share them with family, neighbors and friends. Occasionally this even occurs.

By around December 18 every year, my husband starts to grumble about how much I love Christmas and how messy the kitchen has been for weeks. My children, ever observant and far too astute for comfort, make noises about my glazed eyes and crooked back as they step far far away from the ornery mother figure.

This year I have departed from tradition. I accepted a personal challenge to experiment with new recipes. The baking had parameters, much like those imposed on Chopped champions. For example, could I use up the bits of ingredients remaining in cupboards and drawers?

The experiment was intensified by the Cedar Oaks Guild’s requirement for us Guild members to omit nuts from cookies being prepared for last weekend’s annual Cookie Palooza Open House.

No nuts in a Christmas cookie? Yup. Quite possible.

I can now confirm that there’s an entire non-nut cookie universe populated by oatmeal and coconut and chocolate chips and brickle bits and powdered sugar and butter. Some of the recipes are pretty tasty.

Let me tell you, it’s a lot easier to skip nuts in a Christmas cookie than to omit all fruit. Just imagine no raisins, coconut, cherries, cranberries or candied pineapple in ANY Christmas cookie. BORING.

One year the Cedar Oaks Guild ladies were instructed to make fruitless Christmas cookies. The previous year the local prison population had fermented the fruit contained in our donated cookies.

I wish I were that creative.

As of this week, I’ve met the obligation and I’m done with experimenting. There’s still time for me to rustle up the usual suspects in my Christmas cookie arsenal. My family will be so happy … I just love Christmas.

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GRANDMA GEIL’S OATMEAL RAISIN COOKIES
This recipe is a family favorite shared by my friend Fern, who bakes them regularly for guests at her country inn in British Columbia. These are cookies that taste better after aging for a few days in a sealed container.

1 c butter

2 c brown sugar

2 eggs

2 c plain flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

Pinch of salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 c old-fashioned rolled oats

1 c shredded coconut

1 c golden raisins

Sift dry ingredients together. Set aside. Cream butter and brown sugar. Add in eggs, until creamy. Mix in dry ingredients, a bit at a time, and when combined, mix in vanilla. Add oatmeal, coconut and raisins, mixing after each. Roll into 1-1/2 inch balls. Press with fork onto parchment-lined cookie sheets. Bake at 350˚F in preheated oven about 8-10 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool in pan on rack.

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CRAISY CHOCO-OATMEAL COOKIES
If tired of making chocolate chip cookies, try this oatmeal-cookie variation containing dried cranberries and a combination of white and dark chocolate chips. This cookie is very sweet.

1 c quick oatmeal (not instant or old fashioned)

2 c all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp kosher salt

2-1/2 sticks (1-1/2 c) salted butter

1/2 c white granulated sugar

1 c light brown sugar

1 large egg, room temperature

1 large egg yolk, room temperature

1 T vanilla extract

6 oz white chocolate chips

6 oz semisweet chocolate chips

1 c craisins

Preheat oven to 325˚F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl, sift together the dry ingredients (except oats). Set aside.

Combine butter and both sugars in large mixing bowl , mixing on medium speed until creamy. Scrape down sides with spatula. Mix in egg and egg yolk on low speed and then on medium speed until completely blended. Add the oats. Add the flour mixture in three parts, mixing until completely blended. Scrape sides as needed. Add the chocolate chips and craisins, working dough until blended.

Drop heaping teaspoons of dough on the baking sheets, about 2 inches apart (totaling about 16 cookies to the sheet at a time). Bake one sheet at a time on center rack for about 15 minutes until golden. Remove sheet to rack to cool and bake second sheet.

Repeat until finished. Yields 48-60 cookies, depending on size.

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MEXICAN WEDDING COOKIES
This recipe is a lovely shortbread that works well with the prescribed nut substitute.

1 c (2 sticks) butter, softened

1/2 c confectioner’s sugar

1 T vanilla extract

2-1/4 c all-purpose flour

1/4 tsp salt

3/4 c finely chopped pecans or Grape Nuts

Candied cherries, optional

Heat oven to 400ºF. Mix thoroughly the butter, sugar and vanilla. Work in flour, salt and pecans until dough holds together. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place on ungreased baking sheet. Press a candied cherry on top if desired. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until set, but not brown. While warm, roll in confectioners sugar. Cool. Roll in sugar again. Store in tightly sealed metal container. Yields about 48 cookies.

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CHOCOLATE CHERRY NUGGETS
I found this recipe in the Great Food Bloggers Cookie Swap, attributed as originating in the Milwaukee Sentinel in the 1980s. It’s like a shortbread cookie with extras. I rolled the cookies in powdered sugar for added sweetness. I also experimented with chopped candied cherries and preferred them to the maraschinos. Try both and decide for yourself!

2 c butter, room temperature

2 c confectioners sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 tsp salt

4-1/2 c flour (unbleached flour works too)

12-oz pkg mini chocolate chips

1 c chopped pecans or Grape Nuts

1 c maraschino cherries, drained and quartered (or chopped candied cherries)

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Cream butter in a large bowl. Mix in the confectioners sugar gradually. Add vanilla and salt and mix until blended. Add in the flour in three parts, mixing until well blended and stiff. Fold in the chocolate chips, chopped pecans and cherries with your hands, kneading the dough to blend these ingredients.

Drop cookies in rounded mounds about 2 inches apart onto the parchment using a small cookie scoop. Slightly flatten the mounds with the back of the cookie scoop. Bake for 15 minutes until the edges begin to brown. Remove to a rack to cool. When the cookies have cooled, roll in confectioners sugar.

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CHOCOLATE SNOWBALLS
This recipe came from the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap of 2011 and contains a chocolate kiss in the center. But to me, the cookies taste even better when omitting the chocolate, flattening them slightly, and topping them with roasted salted pecan halves.

1 c (2 sticks) butter, room temperature

1/2 c confectioners sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp almond extract

1 c ground almonds (I started with almond slices)

1/2 tsp cinnamon

2 c all-purpose flour

24 chocolate kisses, unwrapped

1 c confectioners sugar, or more as needed

Cream the butter with a mixer in a large bowl. Add the first powdered sugar and mix well until combined. Mix in the vanilla and almond extracts, ground almonds and cinnamon. Mix in the flour in three parts until soft dough comes together (do not overbeat or dough will become tough).

Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill in fridge for about 30-45 minutes. While dough is resting, preheat oven to 350˚F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and place second confectioners sugar in a large shallow bowl.

Remove chilled dough from fridge and measure out 24 portions with a tablespoon. Roll each portion into a ball. Press one kiss into each ball and fold sides around the chocolate, rolling back into a ball. Place balls onto baking sheet, about 1 to 2 inches apart.

Bake 15-18 minutes, until bottoms are golden. I suggest using a timer. Remove cookie sheet to a rack to cool. When cookies have cooled enough to handle without breaking, gently roll each cookie in confectioners sugar. Place each sugared cookie on a pan to continue cooling. This first powdered sugar will absorb into the cookies.

Once cooled completely, roll each cookie again in the powdered sugar. NOTE: If omitting the chocolate kisses, the dough will make about 4 dozen cookies.

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CHOCOLATE CRACKLES
Technically, this cookie is not nut-free, because of the Butterfinger baking pieces. Feel free to substitute an 11-ounce package of milk chocolate chips.

1/2 c canola or extra light olive oil

2 c white granulated sugar

4 large eggs, room temperature, beaten with fork

1-1/4 c semisweet chocolate chips

2 tsp vanilla extract

2 c all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

Dash of kosher salt

10-oz pkg Butterfinger baking pieces

1 or more c white granulated sugar for rolling cookies

1 c confectioners sugar for rolling cookies

Mix oil and sugar on medium speed in a large bowl.

Melt chocolate chips in a double boiler, using spatula to stir until smooth. Mix melted chjocolate into the sugar and oil. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth. Sift dry ingredients in a large bowl and slowly add in three parts to the wet dough, mixing until combined. Work in the Butterfinger pieces or chocolate chips. Do not overbeat.

Scrape the very wet mixture into a bowl and cover tightly with foil. Refrigerate overnight.

To bake, preheat oven to 350˚F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Place the rolling sugars in two large bowls. Scoop chilled dough by the tablespoon and roll into balls. Roll the balls first in granulated sugar and then in powdered sugar to coat. Refrigerate dough between batches.

Position 12 to 16 cookies on baking sheet, allowing space for cookies to spread. Bake for 15 minutes (use timer). Remove tray to rack to cool completely. Repeat until all cookies have been made. Yields at least 65 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.

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