Cookies make great holiday gifts

Published 11:36 pm Friday, December 19, 2008

It is a good time of the year to bake cookies. I am not a cookie baker, but decided to give it a try this year and give some as gifts. They are pretty inexpensive to make and in this economy I thought cookies might be the thing to give this year. Giving a baked item shows that you care enough to make the effort to make something special for that person.

I had to go back and do a little brushing up on cookie baking. These tips I thought I would share before the recipes:

Liquids: Always use liquid measures (spouted cups and beakers with cup measurements and fluid ounces) unless you’re measuring tablespoons and teaspoons. Put the cup on a level surface and get yourself at eye level with the measure before assessing the amount of liquid.

Flour: Weighing the flour is the best way to measure flour, which is why most recipes give a weight first. If you must measure by cups, always stir the flour a little and then spoon it into the cup before leveling with the flat side of a knife. Scooping the cup directly into the flour compacts it and you will get too much. The main reason cookies do not come out the same every time is due to the inconsistency of the measuring of the flour. If the recipe calls for sifting, that means sift! Follow the directions as to when to sift, before or after measuring. Flour is usually unbleached all-purpose flour.

Sugar: It does not make much difference if you scoop or spoon granulated white sugar into the cup. But treat confectioner’s sugar like flour. For brown sugar, measure by scooping the cup into the sugar and packing it in.

Dry goods: Always use dry measure (measuring cups and spoons that hold the exact amount) for dry ingredients like flour, sugar, spices, grains, cornstarch, baking powder, etc. Unless the recipe calls for a “heaping” measure, level it.

Ready to go now? Always read the recipe from start to finish so there are no surprises.

When checking for doneness, consider the time given, only as a guide. Ovens vary, but practice will help you to know when things are done.

This drop cookie recipe reminds us of our childhood. The secret for shaping is to scoop up some dough in a spoon and drop. Children can do this with you.

Chocolate Soufflé Cookies

8 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

2 large egg whites, at room temperature

1/8 tsp. cream of tartar

½ tsp. pure vanilla extract

¼ cup granulated sugar

¾ cup finely chopped walnuts

Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment.

Melt the chocolate and set aside. (Can be melted in the microwave). Using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or in a large bowl with a hand mixer), beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until soft peaks form. With the beaters running, gradually add the vanilla and sugar until the egg whites hold stiff peaks but don’t look dry. Pour the nuts and melted chocolate over the whipped whites. Gently fold the mixture with a large rubber spatula, trying not to deflate the egg whites, until the color is just uniform. Immediately drop level teaspoons of the batter on the baking sheets, leaving at least one inch between the cookies. Bake until the cookies are shiny and cracked, 10-12 minutes; they should be firm on the outside but still gooey inside when you press them. Slide the parchment onto racks or use a medal spatula to transfer the cookies to racks and let cool completely. The cookies are best eaten on the day they are baked but will last two to three days if stored in an airtight container. Yields about 40 2-inch cookies.

Molasses Crinkles

9 oz. (2 cups) all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking soda

1 ¼ tsp. ground ginger

1 tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. ground cloves

½ tsp. table salt

¼ lb. (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened; more for the baking sheets

1 cup packed dark brown sugar

2 Tbs. vegetable oil

1/3 cup molasses

1 large egg

Granulated sugar for rolling

Several hours before baking: in a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. With an electric mixer, beat the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the oil until blended. Scrape the bowl, add the molasses and the egg, and beat until blended. Stir in the flour mixture until well combined. Wrap the dough in plastic and chill until firm, about 3 hours.

To Bake: Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease two baking sheets. Measure the dough into tablespoon-size pieces and roll each piece between your palms to form one inch balls. Roll the balls in granulated sugar to coat. Put the balls two inches apart on the prepared sheets. Sprinkle the tops with more sugar and bake until the center surface of the cookies is barely dry, 9-10 minutes; don’t over bake. Let cool on the sheets for five minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Yield: 36 3-inch cookies.

I found these addictive. I started eating them with breakfast and just kept right on eating. Also mine spread out on the cookie sheet and I had a sheet of cookie, so maybe more space between the balls.

These recipes are compliments of the latest issue of Fine Cooking Magazine. This issue is devoted to cookies and there are 101 recipes for cookies included plus other tips for baking. I am sure most of you have your own favorite Christmas cookie recipes, so get going because time is running short!