Red Pen Recipes: Cookies perfect for a Christmas platter
For the past two years, I’ve done a cookie countdown to Christmas on my blog. Cocoa Cookies and Pecan Fingers are the first two cookies in this year’s countdown.
My favorite new decorated cookie from last year was Food Network Magazine’s hot cocoa cookie recipe. I saw the recipe in the December 2012 edition as I was perusing for ideas. The cookie is a chocolate cutout cookie topped with marshmallow cream. The recipe in the magazine called for making a sandwich cookie loaded with the cream, but it only makes 15 sandwich cookies — not enough for my large family. I decided to do a single cookie topped with the cream.
Though the recipe called for store-bought marshmallow cream, I pride myself on making things from scratch. This was no exception. While I know how to make marshmallows, I didn’t know how to make marshmallow creme. I turned to this recipe from Bon Appétit for help.
The chocolate cookie isn’t too rich, and the marshmallow cream was a really nice change from traditional icing or buttercream frosting, which is what I use on my sugar cookies. Plus, it gave me a chance to decorate in a different way. I love how they turned out. They just put a smile on my face.
2 1/4 cups cake flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt into a medium bowl.
Beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl with a mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until incorporated. Reduce the mixer speed to low; add the flour mixture in 2 batches and beat until just incorporated. Divide the dough in half, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Working with 1 piece of dough at a time, dust the dough generously with flour and roll out between 2 pieces of parchment paper until about 1/8-inch thick. Cut out shapes using 2- to 4-inch cookie cutters and transfer to the prepared baking sheets. Gather the scraps and refrigerate until firm; reroll once to cut out more cookies. Refrigerate the cutouts until firm, about 30 minutes.
Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Bake the cookies, switching the position of the pans halfway through, until slightly puffed and darker around the edges, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer to racks to cool completely. Sandwich the cookies with the marshmallow cream.
1 cup sugar, divided
4 egg whites
Pinch of kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine 3/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and simmer syrup without stirring until the thermometer reads 240 degrees F, occasionally swirling pan and brushing down sides of pan with a wet pastry brush.
Meanwhile, place egg whites, salt, and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whip attachment. Whip on high until frothy. Slowly add remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Whip until soft peaks form. Continue whipping until medium peaks form. Reduce speed to medium, then pour hot syrup into meringue in a slow, steady stream while whipping. Increase speed to high and continue whipping until stiff peaks form. Reduce speed to medium and whip until meringue is cool.
I found the recipe for Pecan Fingers years ago in my “Good Housekeeping Favorite Recipes: Brownies!” cookbook. It’s simple and really tasty.
I include some kind of shortbread cookie on my Christmas cookie platter every year because it’s important to have one cookie that’s easy to make and not time-consuming. I save the time-consuming part for the sugar cookie decorating. One of the most important pieces of advice I can offer to anyone who is in charge of doing all the Christmas baking is not to commit to cookies that all require extensive amounts of time to make and decorate. Don’t get overly ambitious — making a large amount of cookies is ambitious enough, no matter the type. To do a platter well, you need to choose what you want to spend time on, and what you want to keep simple and delicious. There’s a large variety of shortbread recipes out there to choose from. Shortbread is one of the easiest things to make, which is why I always choose at least one type for my platter.
When I think of shortbread, I tend to think of simple, buttery, and sometimes dry, plain cookies. These pecan fingers are pretty far from that. They are sweeter than your average shortbread, but overall have a warm flavor to them because of the pecans and brown sugar. I will likely bring these back to my assortment this year because my mouth is watering just thinking about them.
3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup pecans, chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, with a mixer at medium speed, beat butter, brown and granulated sugars, vanilla and salt until creamy, about 2 minutes. At low speed, gradually beat in flour until just evenly moistened. With hand, press dough together to form ball.
Divide dough in half. On half of an ungreased large cookie sheet, roll half of dough, covered with waxed paper, lengthwise into 12-inch by 5-inch rectangle. On same cookie sheet, repeat with remaining dough, 1 1/2 inches from first rectangle. With fork, prick dough at 1-inch intervals. Press tines of fork along long side of rectangles to form decorative edge. Sprinkle pecans evenly over rectangles; press gently to adhere.
Bake until edges are lightly browned, 20 to 25 minutes. While still warm, cut each rectangle crosswise into 12 finger-shaped cookies. Transfer fingers to wire rack to cool. Store in tightly covered container up to 1 week.