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On Cooking Southern: Can It Be Christmas without the Candied Cherries?

Smart Cookie: A person whose intelligence is notably outstanding. Never to be mistaken for someone who has behaved stupidly and is tossing their cookies. And in no way affiliated with or connected to an event or circumstance in which the cookie is crumbling.

Hanukkah’s over, the Christmas holidays are ALMOST here, and Houston, we have a problem. More specifically, some of us have a holiday baking problem.
There’s not a red candied cherry left to be purchased in Lafayette County.
Oh no.
A search of every store since Sunday revealed only three puny little packages of green candied cherries. They’re mine now because beggars can’t be choosers. But, as every baker knows, those green ones just don’t rise to the occasion like the red ones. This cook was “reassured” that there will be no new shipments of candied cherries until next year.
Forget the beloved Christmas cherry cookies, the Billy Goats and the annual fruitcake cookies. Forget the family heirloom white fruitcake a la Eudora Welty.
What to do, what to do, with family arriving soon….
Some wag once said that improvisation is the mother of invention. Well now … Mother Improv has been lurking in my kitchen all week. But Mom and I met with success at last, and discovered three recipes that might just become part of my family’s new holiday tradition.
Nevertheless, next year, I’ll buy those darned red cherries at Thanksgiving, along with the Christmas tree.
PS. Be sure to note my tips for avoiding baking pitfalls with these new recipes. Trust me, I learned the hard way.

Butter cookies are a global favorite, descended from our European ancestors. When preparing DO NOT overbeat the butter and eggs, DO NOT refrigerate more than an hour and DO NOT overwork the dough — or else the dough will dissolve during baking.
2 sticks (1 c=8 oz) salted butter, softened
1/2 c white granulated sugar
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 c all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
*Jam of choice (raspberry, strawberry or blackberry)

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Line cookie sheets with parchment. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.
Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks on medium speed until blended. Stir in vanilla until well mixed.
Add the dry mixture, beating on low speed until completely mixed. Dough will be wet. Loosely fold out and wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes to an hour.
To bake, form small (1-inch) balls or use a melon scoop to portion them onto the baking sheets, about 1-1/2 inches apart. Use thumb or index finger to lightly press a depression into the center of each cookie. Fill each depression with jam. NOTE: I use a demitasse spoon to fill them with about one-fourth teaspoon of jam.
Using a timer, bake 8-10 minutes, just until cookies begin to lightly brown around the bottom edges. Remove sheet to wire rack to cool completely. YIELD: about 40 small cookies.
Store in airtight container.
*VARIATIONS: Lemon curd or chocolate

These cookies are made with egg-white meringue. They are the perfect baking foil for butter thumbprints that require only egg yolks. Seal tightly once made, or they will become a bit “chewy.”
2 c blanched almond flour (available at local stores in bags of 32 oz=8 cups)
1 c white granulated sugar
2 heaping T fresh lemon zest (from 3-5 lemons)
Pinch of salt
2 large egg whites, room temperature
1 tsp lemon extract
Confectioners sugar (about 1 c)

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Line cookie sheets with parchment. In a medium bowl, whisk together the almond flour, salt and granulated sugar. Whisk in the lemon zest. Set aside.
Beat egg whites on medium speed in large mixing bowl until soft peaks form. Stir in the lemon extract until blended and gradually add the flour mixture. The dough will be thick. Pinch off and roll dough into balls about 1- to 1-1/2 inches in size. Roll balls in powdered sugar to coat completely. Place 2 inches apart on cookie sheets.
Bake approximately 15-17 minutes, until tops crackle and bottoms have lightly browned. I use a timer set to 15 minutes. Remove cookie sheet to wire rack to cool. Once completely cooled, store in airtight container for up to 3 days.
YIELD: About 40 small cookies.

These fabulous cookies taste like a cousin to Devils Food Cookies. Beware, though, they become stale after a few days, so make them up as close to your event as possible.
2 c sifted all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 c unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 c (minus 1 T0 whole milk
1 T white vinegar
1 tsp baking soda
5-1/2 T butter, softened
1 c white granulated sugar
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325˚F. Line cookie sheets with parchment. Sift the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, cocoa and salt. Set aside. Combine milk and vinegar in a measuring cup and set aside (you are making sour milk).
Cream butter and gradually mix in sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg followed by the vanilla until completely blended. Gradually add the flour mixture, alternating with the sour milk until blended.
Drop dough by rounded tablespoons onto baking sheets, about 2 inches apart. Bake 10 minutes, until cookies spring back in center when touched.Remove to wire racks to cool. While cookies are baking, make glaze.
1-1/2 c confectioners sugar
2 T unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
2-1/2 T melted butter
2-1/2 T hot strong coffee or expresso
1 (0.09 oz) packet of instant espresso coffee, optional

Stir the optional espresso powder into the hot coffee to intensify the flavor. NOTE: I USE CAFÉ BUSTELO packets available in boxes of 6 packets at Walmart.
Whisk together the sugar, salt and cocoa until blended. Combine with the butter and coffee mixture until smooth. Keep warm over a double boiler of warm water.
Pack the hot mixture into a pastry decorating tube or plastic storage baggie with a corner cut off. Pipe warm glaze onto each cookie on the baking tray, refilling piping tube as needed.
YIELD: About 35-40 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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