Solstice Cookies – Now and Forever (with recipes)
Clockwise from upper left: spritz, pfeffernüsse, sugar cookies, gingerbread springerle, more sugar cookies, fruit/nut/chocolate jumbles.
This post is appearing because the cookie recipe roundup (12/12) made me fear you might be thinking I don’t bake cookies very often or very many or very anything.
Very shaming and not very accurate, especially at the turn of the year when there’s no WAY I’m not crankin’ ’em out, though I don’t pretend to be in the same league as those indefatigable ladies who make hundreds of dozens and pride themselves – secretly or not – on the length of the recipient list. Every year, food editors have to find a reason to publish some cookie recipes, so holiday stories about these people are as reliable as the cookies themselves. And like the cookies the stories tend to have the same ingredients:
The baker is always a general do-gooder, always female. She has a vast repertoire. She has a wryly amused husband who’s ham-handed, cookiewise, and not permitted in the kitchen. The kitchen itself is as modest as the baker
etc.. This year’s New York Times cookie lady story is a typical example. And so are the recipes which I guess is how it should be, on the Turkey at Thanksgiving principle. Tradition is pretty much the whole point; this is not the time to get unduly creative except possibly with the decorating.
On the other hand, there’s tradition and tradition. My spritz recipe for instance is about as far from the cookie lady’s as a classic spritz recipe can be. It’s written on the back of an envelope – under the title ” Spritz Bill really liked” – so I have no idea where it came from, but it’s the best I’ve ever found. Not too sweet, extremely tender and buttery. Also extremely easy if you use the star tip instead of trying to fiddle around with cold sheets and cool dough to be sure the shapes come out neatly.
Spritz Bill Really Liked
for about 7 dozen 3 inch sticks or little rings:
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 ounces unsalted butter
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon brandy
1 teaspoon vanilla ( I use the double fold vanilla sold by Penzey’s)
1. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
2. With an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy. Use the paddle if that’s an option.
3. Beat in the yolk, brandy and vanilla, then stir in the flour, stopping as soon as the dough comes together smoothly.
4. Heat the oven to 350. Fit a cookie press or pastry bag with a 1/4 inch star plate/tip. On parchment paper lined cookie sheets, pipe sheet-length strips of the dough, then cut at 3 inch intervals and move sticks slightly so ends don’t touch. ( If you’re using colored sugar or nonpareils, apply them now). Bake until set and just starting to turn gold, 8 to 10 minutes. Cool on wire racks.
Old Fashioned Pfeffernüsse
These are also quite different from the Times’ cookie lady’s and, it must be confessed, from most commercial pfeffernüsse – a little spicier and a lot harder, sort of like German biscotti. Almost jawbreaking on the day they’re baked, they soften slightly when stored airtight overnight. Put an apple wedge in the storage jar if you want them even softer.
for about 12 dozen (they’re small):
3 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon EACH ground cloves, mace, ginger, nutmeg and black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
1 cup brown sugar
shredded zest of a large lemon
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup sliced almonds, chopped
1/2 cup tiny dice of candied citron but not the sugared rubber sold in grocery stores. If you can’t get the real deal in big chunks at an Italian grocery probably (or as the Times suggests, at Kalustyan’s), substitute homemade candied lemon peel or just omit this ingredient.
confectioner’s sugar – for this and any use where the sugar will not be baked, I use cornstarch-free glazing sugar. It’s sold in baking supply stores and by King Arthur Flour.
1. In a large mixing bowl, combine everything up to the eggs and stir with a wire whisk.
2. In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the eggs with the granulated sugar until very thick and light; a ribbon should form when you dip in a spoon and lift. Beat in the brown sugar and lemon zest. Switch to the paddle and stir in the spiced flour, then the all purpose flour.
3. Work in the almonds and citron. Transfer the dough to a plastic bag so it doesn’t dry out. It will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.
4.When ready to proceed, work with about a fourth of the dough at a time. Knead briefly, then roll on a very lightly floured surface into a snake a bit less than an inch in diameter. Cut 1/2 inch slices and place slightly apart, cut side down, on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Let the cookies dry at room temperature for 6 to 8 hours.
5. Heat the oven to 325. Dip the soft underside of each cookie in brandy, then replace on the cookie sheet brandy side up. Bake until puffed, lightly brown and dry clear through ( break one apart to check), about 10 – 12 minutes.
6. Roll in confectioner’s sugar, let cool on a plate and store airtight
were an experiment that needs work, a long story you shall be spared until I figure them out. Meanwhile, the mold is from The House on the Hill, land of a zillion neat springerle molds.
I don’t have a favorite recipe because I usually make roll-and-cut gingerbread and that’s enough rolling and cutting, thank you. The recipe used for the ones in the picture was Let’s Sugar Cookies, a James Beard recipe that produces a delightfully workable dough and a crisp sweet cookie that if I ever make again I’ll put in a little more mace.
* Icing for the hearts and stars and white cow parts is glazing sugar (see pfeffernüsse) made into a flowing paste with kirsch, white rum and triple sec, respectively.
* The kirsch icing has rather too much red coloring because even though I put the damn stuff on a toothpick the toothpick went into the icing too deeply. It’s almost impossible to be too sparing with this stuff.
* If you make squares from the always slightly tougher re-rolled scraps you only need to do one re-rolling. Toughness is minimized and you can tell immediately which cookies are for family and which are for reputation building.
* For the dark cow parts: The darker the chocolate, the better; sugar cookies are sweet enough as it is. These have Michel Cluizel 70% couverture chocolate which I melted in the micro and didn’t bother to temper.
* Plastic bags with a corner cut off work fine for piping out whatever designs. Doing the piping while watching the Giants win helps prevent second thoughts about why you’re doing all this diddling around when there are no children in the area.
The Jumbles are
David Shamah’s Jumbles, from Rose’s Christmas Cookies by Rose Levy Beranbaum, a book that would be worth having for the jumbles alone. I found this transcription by googling, then cut, pasted, fixed – I hope – the spelling and made a few remarks about ingredients. Rose’s instructions are much better and much more thorough but I’m a slow typist; it’s almost the 24th and this was good enough to do the job.
For about 3 dozen:
3/4 c. pecan halves
1 1/4 c. unblanched almonds
1 c. + 2 T all purpose flour
1 t baking soda
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/4 c. light brown sugar, firmly packed
8 T unsalted butter, at cool room temperature
1 large egg
3/4 t. vanilla extract (see spritz for my favorite)
1 c. semi sweet chocolate chips ( Not. On account of the better the chocolate the better the cookies. Chop up something in the 65 to 70 percent range)
1 1/2 c. plump tender raisins.
Toast the pecans and almonds at 375 until they have toasted aroma (7 min) – do not let almond skins crack. Cool completely and chop coarsely.
in small bowl sift together: flour, baking soda, salt and whisk.
in mixing bowl: cream sugars and butter until light and fluffy, beat in egg and vanilla, on low speed beat in flour mixture until incorporated.
in a large bowl: stir together chocolate chips, raisins, pecans, and almonds
empty batter into the bowl and mix together with a large spoon or spatula
Drop by rounded tablespoons onto ungreased cookie sheets 1 1/2 in. apart
bake 12-15 min. or until golden brown and barely soft.