Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas Baking Part Two

As I mentioned in my last entry I used to start baking cookies in November, so that most of the baking would be done by mid December and not leave everything to the end and stress myself silly. This year I’ve left it too close to Christmas and I’m now stressing myself silly. You see if I don’t bake cookies that my family are use to it is not left unnoticed and I get comments like “didn’t you bake these” or “are you going to bake these” and “you have to bake these”, and I don’t want to let anyone down so there is a ‘must bake’ list of cookies with one or two new ones thrown in to keep things fresh.

A couple of days ago I baked the 'absolute must bake' Jewel Cookies from Martha Stewart. They are a favourite of both my daughter and son and they are pretty delicious. They are your typical thumbprint cookie rolled in chopped pecans with a raspberry jam center. I don’t use my thumb to make the depression but the end of a wooden spoon. I have to mention also that my husband doesn’t like jam, so I place a chocolate chip in the center of half of the cookies which is fine because they taste just as good, besides it looks like I’ve baked two different batches.

Today I baked three different cookies. The first I baked aren’t a cookie at all but Mini Pecan Raisin Tarts which I’ve been baking for ever. The recipe was given to me by a friend so I don’t know their origins but they are a favourite of mine. The original recipe was call Uva Tarts, (uva translated means raisins), but hubby doesn’t like raisins (are you seeing a pattern here?) so half the filling has pecans only and half has the raisin and pecans. One of the mini tart pans I have is slightly smaller than the other two and I make the raisin pecan tarts in that one and the slightly larger mini tart pans are used for the pecan only tarts, that way there is no confusion to which one is which. Again with the same recipe I get two different tarts. These are time consuming because you have to make the dough and prepare the filling, then roll out the dough, line the pans and fill with fillings and bake and repeat until all the dough and filling are used up. You get about a million tarts with this recipe but could certainly make half the recipe if you wish.

The second I baked were Evelyn’s Christmas Cookies, from John Clancy's Christmas Cookbook, that again I’ve been baking for ever. Evelyn was his friend and neighbour and from whom the recipe came from. They are super simple to make and they are simply flavoured with vanilla and you can’t just eat one. These are also a thumbprint cookie, filled with raspberry jam and yup, you guess it, I place a chocolate chip in about half the cookies. To shape the cookies fast and the same size, I divide the dough into two pieces and roll it out into a long rope and cut it into even pieces that will approximately give me a one inch ball and roll each piece into a ball. It almost looks like I'm making gnocchi doesn't it?

I was left with four egg whites from the last two recipes so I made Amaretti, (Almond Macaroons) a favourite Italian cookie which has a nice crisp exterior and soft chewy interior and are quite delicious. This recipe was also given to me by a friend many years ago and I have been baking them ever since. They are super simple to make with only four ingredients; egg whites, sugar, ground almonds and almond extract. I top half of the cookies with a whole almond and the other half with a whole coffee bean. No picky husband here, he likes both.

I feel good that I have got this baking done, now I only have some cakes to bake.
I don't have the Mini Tarts in my files yet but I have included the recipes for the other three. They all freeze beautifully.
Jewel Cookies
Martha Stewart

1-1/2 cups unsalted butter
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
2 large eggs, separated
2 tsp. vanilla extract
¼ tsp. salt
2-2/3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 cups finely chopped pecans
1 cup thick raspberry jam

Preheat oven to 350 F. and line baking sheets with parchment paper.
Cream butter and sugar. Beat in egg yolks, vanilla, and salt, then the flour. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Brush each dough ball with beaten egg whites, then roll in the chopped pecans. Place balls 2 to 3 inches apart on baking sheets. Press the center of each ball with your thumb, and fill with ½ teaspoon of jam.

Bake until just golden around the edges, 8 to 10 minutes. Cool cookies on rack.
Makes 5 dozen cookies.
Evelyn’s Christmas Cookies
John Clancy's Christmas Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 large egg yolks
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
½ cup raspberry jam

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Cream the butter and sugar until very light in colour. Add the egg yolks and continue to beat until the mixture is fluffy. Stir in the vanilla, and gradually add the flour.

To form the cookies, pat 1 tablespoon of dough at a time into a 1-inch diameter ball and place it on a lightly greased or parchment lined baking sheet. With your fingertip, make an indentation in the top of each cookie. I use the end of the handle of a wooden spoon to make indentations dipping it into some flour from time to time so that the dough doesn’t stick to it. Spoon raspberry jam into each indentation.

Bake the cookies on the middle rack of the oven for about 8 minutes, or until the edges turn a light golden brown.

For a different variation add a chocolate chip in the middle of each cookie instead of the jam.
Amaretti – Almond Macaroons

4 cups ground almonds
1-1/2 cups sugar
4 egg whites
1 tsp. almond extract
Whole Almonds

Beat egg whites till frothy, add sugar and beat until they are stiff. Add extract and ground almonds. Dough should be somewhat stiff. Take about one tablespoon of dough and roll into a 1-inch ball, and roll into granulated sugar. When your hand become sticky rinse with water. Place on parchment lined cookie sheet and top each one with a whole almond.
Note: You can also top the amaretti with a whole coffee bean, or red or green candied cherries that have been quartered.

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