Food & Drink

Freezer is your friend for fab holiday cookies

For the secret to producing a jawdropping variety of holiday cookies, look away from your oven and focus on your freezer.

In the coming days, try to steal a few moments when you can make some icebox cookie dough. Roll it into logs, wrap and freeze.

When you need cookies for an office party, teacher gift, neighborhood cookie swap or Santa, you’ll be prepared.

Or save your dough for one massive baking session to produce a splendid cookie buffet for New Year’s Eve. Slice-and-bake cookie dough can be as plain as the vanilla variety sold in the refrigerator section of the supermarket. But it also can be flavored with any ingredients you can imagine: anise, chocolate, coffee, spices, dried fruit, herbs. Swapping cornmeal or ground nuts for some of the flour can change the texture of your cookies dramatically, giving your assortment further range.

Slice-and-bake cookies don’t all have to be round. It is possible to shape dough into rectangular and even triangular logs to give your selection graphic appeal.

For best results, keep the following in mind before you slice and bake:

To shape even, smooth logs, pinch and press the dough into a rough log of the specified length. Then turn it onto a piece of wax paper or parchment paper and roll it inside the paper to smooth it and round it.

Tightly wrap your shaped dough logs in two layers of plastic wrap, then place wrapped logs in a zipper-lock freezer bag. Your well-wrapped dough will stay fresh in the freezer for up to two months.

Defrost your dough in the refrigerator overnight before slicing and baking. Rock-hard dough may crumble when cut with a knife. If you’d like to bake just a few cookies at a time, remove a log of dough from the freezer, carefully cut off a portion with a sharp chef’s knife, and let it stand on the countertop for 20 to 30 minutes until it is soft enough to slice.

As you slice your chilled dough, rotate it often so one side doesn’t become flattened by the repeated pressure of the knife.

Cookies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for two to three days.

Slice-and-Bake Anise Cookies

Makes 36 cookies

2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons anise seeds, finely ground in a spice grinder

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1-1/3 cups confectioners’ sugar

2 tablespoons milk (more if necessary)

1/4 teaspoon pure anise extract (optional)

2 tablespoons nonpareils

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, baking powder, salt and ground anise in a medium mixing bowl. Set aside.

Combine butter and granulated sugar in a large mixing bowl and cream together with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy, two to three minutes. Add eggs, beat until smooth. Stir in flour mixture until just incorporated.

Divide dough into 2 portions. Turn 1 portion onto a piece of wax paper and shape it, rolling it inside the paper, into a 9-inch-long log. Square off log by flattening against the counter on four sides. Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or for up to 24 hours. Repeat with remaining dough.

Slice the dough into 1/3-inch-thick squares. Place the cookies on parchment-lined baking sheets at least 2 inches apart. Bake them until they are pale golden around the edges but still soft on top, 10 to 12 minutes. Let stand on the baking sheet for five minutes and then remove them with a metal spatula to a wire rack to cool completely.

Whisk together confectioners’ sugar, milk and anise extract. Use a small metal spatula to ice each cookie and sprinkle with nonpareils. Let stand until the icing is set, about 30 minutes.

Apricot-Cream Cheese Spirals

Makes 30 cookies

2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

10 tablespoons sugar, divided (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons)

1/2 teaspoon salt

8 ounces (1 package) chilled cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 16 pieces

2/3 cup apricot jam

1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine flour, 4 tablespoons sugar and salt in a food processor, and pulse to combine. Add cream cheese and butter, and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

Turn mixture out onto a lightly floured work surface and shape dough into a 6-inch square. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least two hours and for up to two days.

Place jam in a blender or the work bowl of a food processor and blend until smooth.

With a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out dough into a 10-inch square on a lightly floured work surface. Spread 1/3 cup jam evenly over the dough. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of nuts over jam. Roll dough into a tight cylinder. Wrap cylinder in plastic wrap and place in freezer for 1 hour to firm up. Repeat with the remaining dough, jam and nuts.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Combine the remaining 6 tablespoons sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Slice the dough into 1/3-inch-thick rounds, rotating the dough often so it doesn’t become flattened as you cut. Arrange cookies on baking sheets about an inch apart and sprinkle liberally with cinnamon sugar. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer baking sheet to a wire rack and let cookies cool completely on sheets.

Dried Cherry and Pistachio Cookies

Makes 56 cookies

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar

1 large egg

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1-1/2 cups finely chopped unsalted pistachios, divided

1/2 cup finely chopped dried cherries

1 large egg white, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, baking powder, salt and cardamom in a medium-size mixing bowl.

Combine butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl and cream together with an electric mixer on medium-high until fluffy, two to three minutes. Add egg and vanilla and beat until smooth. Stir in flour mixture until just incorporated. Stir in 1/2 cup chopped pistachios and cherries.

Divide dough into two portions. Turn one portion onto a piece of wax paper and shape it, rolling it inside the paper, into a log about 14 inches long and 1 inch in diameter. Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least two hours, or for up to 24 hours. Repeat with remaining dough.

Spread remaining 1 cup chopped nuts on a rimmed baking sheet. Brush 1 of the dough logs with egg white, then roll in nuts to coat. Repeat with remaining dough log.

Slice dough into 1/2-inch-thick rounds, rotating the dough often so it doesn’t become flattened on one side as you cut. Place cookies on parchment-lined baking sheets at least 2 inches apart. Bake them until they are pale golden around the edges but still soft on top, 12 to 14 minutes. Let stand on baking sheet for five minutes, then remove them with a metal spatula to a wire rack to cool completely.

Chocolate-Chip and Candied-Orange Cookies

Makes 48 cookies

2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

10 tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1-1/2 cups mini semisweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup candied orange peel, finely chopped

1/4 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a medium mixing bowl.

Combine butter and sugars in a large mixing bowl and cream together with an electric mixer on medium-high until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla, and beat until smooth. Stir in flour mixture until just incorporated. Stir in 1 cup chocolate chips, orange peel, and crystallized ginger.

Divide dough into two portions. Turn 1 portion onto a piece of wax paper and shape it, patting it inside the paper, into a log about 9 inches long, 1 inch high, and 3 inches wide. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least two hours or for up to 24 hours. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Slice the dough into 1/3-inch-thick rectangles. Place cookies on baking sheets at least 2 inches apart. Bake until they are pale golden around the edges but still soft on top, 10 to 12 minutes. Slide them, still on paper, onto wire racks to cool completely.

Place remaining 1/2 cup chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high until just melted, 30 seconds to one minute, depending on the power of your microwave. Dip a fork in chocolate and drizzle with a wave back and forth over cookies for a decorative effect. Let stand until chocolate hardens, 30 minutes to one hour.

Cinnamon-Pecan Cookies

Makes 48 cookies

1-3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 cup finely chopped pecans

1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar

1 large egg

1/3 cup turbinado sugar

48 pecan halves, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, chopped pecans, cinnamon and salt in a medium mixing bowl.

Combine butter and confectioners’ sugar in a large mixing bowl and cream together with an electric mixer on medium-high until fluffy, two to three minutes. Add egg and beat until smooth. Stir in flour mixture until just incorporated.

Divide dough into two portions. Turn one portion onto a piece of wax paper and shape it, patting it inside the paper, into a log about 8 inches long and 1-3/4 inches in diameter. Wrap dough in plastic. Repeat with remaining dough. Refrigerate logs for at least two hours or for up to 24 hours.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the turbinado sugar in a small bowl. Slice dough into 1/3-inch-thick rounds. Press each round into the sugar and then place the rounds, sugared sides up, on the prepared baking sheets. Press a pecan half into center of each cookie. Bake cookies until they are pale golden around edges but still soft on top, 13 to 15 minutes. Slide them, still on the paper, onto wire racks to cool completely.

Triple Ginger Snaps

Makes 42 cookies

2-1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup packed light brown sugar

1/4 cup dark (not blackstrap) molasses

1-1/2 tablespoons peeled and grated fresh ginger

1 large egg

1/2 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger

1/3 cup turbinado sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg in a medium mixing bowl.

Combine butter, brown sugar, molasses and fresh ginger in a large mixing bowl, and cream together with an electric mixer on medium-high until fluffy, two to three minutes. Add the egg and beat until smooth. Stir in the flour mixture until just incorporated. Stir in crystallized ginger.

Divide dough into two portions. Turn one portion onto a piece of wax paper and shape it, rolling it inside paper, into a log about 7 inches long and 2 inches in diameter. Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least two hours or for up to 24 hours. Repeat with remaining dough.

Place sanding sugar in small bowl. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper. Slice dough into 1/3-inch-thick rounds. Press one side of cookies into sanding sugar and place, sugared sides up, on baking sheets, at least two inches apart. Bake until cookies are set around edges but still soft on top, 10 to 12 minutes. Slide them, still on the paper, onto wire racks to cool completely.

Hazelnut Espresso Triangles

Makes 48 cookies

2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour

1-1/2 tablespoons instant espresso powder

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

10 tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup finely chopped skinned hazelnuts

4 ounces milk chocolate, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, espresso powder, baking powder and salt in a medium mixing bowl.

Combine butter and sugars in a large mixing bowl and cream together with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy, two to three minutes. Add eggs and vanilla, and beat until smooth. Stir in flour mixture until just incorporated. Stir in nuts.

Divide dough into two portions. Turn one portion onto a piece of wax paper and shape it, rolling it inside the paper, into a log about 8 inches long and 2 inches in diameter. Press log flat against the counter, flattening it on three sides to create a triangle shape. Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least two hours or for up to 24 hours. Repeat with remaining dough.

Slice dough into 1/3-inch-thick triangles, rotating dough log often so it doesn’t become flattened as you cut. Place cookies on ungreased baking sheets at least 2 inches apart. Bake them until they are pale golden around edges but still soft on top, 10 to 12 minutes. Let them stand on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then remove them with a metal spatula to a wire rack to cool completely.

Place milk chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high until just melted, 30 seconds to 1 minute, depending on the power of your microwave. Stir until smooth. Dip one tip of each triangle cookie into the chocolate, scraping underside of triangle against rim of bowl to remove excess, and transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Let stand until chocolate is set, 30 minutes to one hour.

Note: To skin hazelnuts, bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Add the nuts and 2 tablespoons of baking soda, and boil for three minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold running water, rubbing the skins away with your fingers.

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