Sunday, December 14, 2008

Holiday Cookie Extravaganza 2008

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Christmas is inarguably my favourite time of the year (as with most people). The holiday cheer, the (corny) holiday music, the holiday spirit…what’s not to love? Best of all, the holiday season means I get to give my inner baker a really good workout. With two large buckets each of flour and sugar, six bars of butter (that’s 12 cups!), almost three dozen eggs and various spices and sprinkles, I was ready to take on this year’s baking extravaganza.

This year’s first batch of holiday cookies consisted of nine varieties. As I had to accommodate some of the people in my class who had allergies, it meant that most of the cookies in this batch were nut-free. It was hard to narrow down my choices, since a lot of my best (and favourite) cookies contain nuts, but I managed to dig up some nut-free favourites, as well as try my hand at a few new recipes.

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The first set is the cookies featuring nuts. As always, I had to include biscotti in my batch of holiday cookies. To go with the holiday theme, I decided to make Cranberry Pistachio biscotti, which are so beautiful with the green of the nuts and the red of the berries playing off the paleness of the dough. These make wonderful gifts on their own if you dip them in some melted white chocolate, and drizzle a little milk chocolate on top, as I did. The other nut cookie in the batch was another favourite of mine, Rugelach, this time using my own homemade apricot jam and using dried blueberries (I mistakenly took the blueberries to be currants).

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The next pair of cookies plays off another traditional holiday flavour: gingerbread. One of them is my personal favourite, Martha’s Chewy Chocolate Ginger, which I recommend everyone should try. It will quickly become your family’s favourite, I assure you! The second ginger cookie (I like to call them Vegan Spiced Molasses) was actually made for my Secret Santa person in my class. As she was a vegan, I kind of mashed together a cookie dough from three different non-vegan recipes and prayed for the best. Luckily, they did turn out. I had some leftover cookies, and I can happily eat these ones and feel slightly less guilty eating them!

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The third set of cookies highlights butter. I made melt-in-your-mouth Shortbread, Raspberry Thumbprints and the classic Sugar cookie. I never really decorated my sugar cookies in the past; the most I ever did last year was to get my friends to stick various candy and sprinkles on the cookies before I popped them in the oven. As I flipped through Martha Stewart’s Holiday issue this year, however, I was especially drawn to her perfectly iced sugar cookies (but when are Martha Stewart’s things not perfectly done?!). I made Royal Icing the traditional way with egg whites and what not, but if you’re looking to save time (or just want to stay away from raw eggs), it’s best to get some meringue powder. Because I used egg whites, my royal icing came out a bit stiffer than I would have liked to ice cookies with, and I didn’t achieve the same pretty marbling effects that taunted me from the very pages of MS. The decorating was lots of fun though, allowing me to feed off my creative juices for two hours. Plus I must admit, I’d rather decorate cookies any day than study for exams!

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The last set of cookies was an ode to all chocolate lovers out there. I actually had the recipe for the Black and White Chocolate Chunk with Cherries for a few years now, but didn’t get around to making them until this year. They were just as delicious as I imagined them to be when I first saw the recipe, with the sweetness of white chocolate balancing the dark richness of the chocolate and the slight tartness of the cherries. As for the Chocolate Malt cookies (a Doris Greenspan recipe), they didn’t turned out as I thought they would (but not in a bad way!. I thought there would be some slight crunch to them, but these are incredibly moist—almost brownie-like in texture. Packed full of cocoa, chocolate-malt powder, chocolate chips, and Maltesers, they are the perfect cookies for any chocolate fan.

So, countless number of cups of sugar, flour, two dozen eggs and many pounds of butter later, I was surrounded by about 300 cookies. What to do, when a girl with a insatiable sweet tooth is surrounded by that many cookies? Pack them up of course! Santa would be happy that I was good this year, staying away from the majority of the cookies (I did set aside the rejects for myself though) and wrapped them as prettily as I could in plastic treat bags or cookie tins and festive ribbon. Then off I went to spread some holiday cheer. People often ask me why I bake so much, to which I respond with various answers like “I like to bake” or “It’s a stress-reliever.” But the biggest thrill I get is that I can bring a smile to someone’s face with just simple little act of giving a cookie or a slice of cake. And isn’t giving someone a temporary piece of happiness, no matter how fleeting it is, an amazing feeling? Because it’s so true what they say, that the best way to win someone’s heart is through his or her tummy.

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