Thursday, December 16, 2010


I love cookies. I LOVE COOKIES!!! I just do. I like to eat them, I like to bake them, I even like to look at them, although that often leads to eating them.

I know many people that know me will now say SHUT UP! But I’ve been trying, somewhat unsuccessfully lately, to watch my weight. It’s been creeping up a little, and I don’t really know why. I’ve been hungry, and I’m home a lot, and I’m not marathon training any more. Probably all of those things are a factor. But when I started baking Christmas cookies this year, I knew that if I didn’t put them away, they would never make it to Christmas. So the ones I’ve made so far are in the freezer downstairs. That’s working pretty well, except for the past couple of days while I was cleaning the basement, they were awfully close by, and occasionally I could hear them calling to me…I’ve resisted so far, but it’s a good thing Christmas will be here soon; I’m not sure I can last much longer.

I really love almost all cookies, but there are some I love more than others. Of course there’s Girl Scout Cookies – especially Samoas and Thin Mints. And then there’s Christmas cookies. We’ve experimented with different Christmas cookies over the years. I used to make these really cute gingerbread men. They were fun to decorate, but they weren’t that great to eat, so I’ve stopped making them. And we used to make cookie-cutter cookies, again because they were fun to make and decorate. But we all really like cookie-press cookies better, so I’ve stopped making the cookie cutter cookies, at least until I have grandchildren.

And then there’s Lep Cookies. My husband’s family makes these every thanksgiving in a huge batch. Some years they have made as many as 600 cookies, to divide throughout the family.

This year we only made a half recipe, so there were only around 300 cookies. A cookie that is something like a dried fruit bar, only more flavorful, chewy and delicious, I can eat enough Lep cookies to make myself sick. We brought a boxful back with us from Missouri this thanksgiving and yes, they too are relegated to the freezer until next week.

Cranberry-Orange and Cherry-Pecan Butter Cookies
But the butter cookies from Gourmet Magazine, December 1995, are a must.  With these cookies, you make a basic butter cookie recipe and then add various ingredients to make different sorts of cookies. A week ago I was going to a Christmas party that included a cookie exchange. I made two different types of the butter cookies for the party.   I’ve also made gum drop cookies, from an old Schnell family recipe.

Gumdrop Cookies

I’m waiting until the kids get here to make more butter cookies, and then we’ll make some cookie-press cookies too. I’ve also been fantasizing about Pecan Tassys, those scrumptious little pastry tarts that are like a mini pecan pie. I’ve never made them before, because my mother-in-law does such a fine job of it, and they look pretty labor intensive. But maybe I’ll try my hand at them next week as well.

Then there are the cookies from my family, especially my mother’s delicious kumish bread. I don’t have my mom’s recipe; maybe the next time I’m in St. Louis I should try to get it.

So here, in the spirit of the season, are a few of my favorite cookie recipes:

Basic Butter Cookie
4 sticks unsalted butter
1 1/3 cups sugar
¾ tsp salt
3 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 2/3rd cups all-purpose flour

In large bowl of a standing electric mixer, beat together butter, sugar, and salt until light and fluffy. Beat in yolks, 1 at a time, and vanilla and beat until smooth. Beat in flour gradually, beating dough until just combined well. Makes about 3 pounds dough, or enough for 2 of the following recipes.

Chocolate Coconut Butter Cookies - Photo from the Cover of Gourmet Magazine, Dec. 1995

Chocolate-dipped Coconut Sticks

2 ½ cups sweetened flaked coconut, toasted golden and cooled
½ prepared basic butter cookie dough at room temperature
2 cups chopped semisweet chocolate chips

In bowl of a standing electric mixer beat coconut into basic dough until just combined well. Halve dough and on 2 pieces of wax paper pat into 11 by 2 ½ inch rectangles. Chill dough, wrapped in wax paper, until firm, about 30 minutes. Preheat over to 350F. Working with 1 rectangle of dough at a time, on a cutting board cut dough crosswise into ¼-inch slices, arranging slices 1 inch apart on baking sheets. With a sharp knife halve each slice lengthwise to form sticks, separating them slightly with a knife.

Bake cookies in batches in middle of oven until pale golden, about 12 minutes. Cool cookies on baking sheets 2 minutes and transfer carefully to racks to cool completely.

In a small metal bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water, melt chocolate, stirring. Gently dip 1 end of each stick in chocolate, dragging underside against bowl’s rim to remove excess chocolate, and transfer sticks to sheets of wax paper. When chocolate has hardened, cookies may be stored between layers of wax paper in airtight containers up to 6 weeks frozen. Makes about 15 dozen cookies.

Orange Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies

1 cup dried cranberries
¾ cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 ½ teaspoons freshly grated orange zest
½ prepared basic butter cookie dough at room temperature
About ½ cup sugar

In a bowl soak cranberries in warm water to cover 15 minutes. Drain cranberries well and chop fine.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In bowl of a standing electric mixer beat cranberries, oats, and zest into basic dough until just combined well. Form dough into 1 inch balls and roll balls in sugar to coat. Arrange balls 2 inches apart on baking sheets and flatten to 2 inch rounds with bottom of a glass wrapped in wax paper to prevent sticking.

Bake cookies in batches in middle of oven until pale golden, about 12 minutes, and cool on racks. Cookies may be stored between layers of wax paper in airtight containers up to 6 weeks frozen. Makes about 7 dozen cookies.

Gum Drop Cookies

4 eggs, beaten
2 cups brown sugar
2 tablespoons milk
2 ½ cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
½ cup chopped pecans
1 cup gum drops (small, spiced)
1 cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 375F. Beat eggs, add brown sugar and beat until fluffy. Add milk. Add flour and cinnamon and beat until combined. Add pecans and gumdrops. Pour into a well-greased and floured 9x12 inch pan. Bake 30 minutes, until toothpick in center comes out clean. Cut into small squares while warm. Remove from pan and roll in powdered sugar. Cool completely before storing.

This recipe differs slightly from the one handed down in my husband’s family. I added ½ flour, increased the temperature of the oven to 375 and cook the cookies for an additional 10 minutes.

Lep Cookies

Don’t even THINK about making these cookies unless you have 4 or 5 people to help you! A half recipe is more manageable but still requires a very large bowl and lots of cookie sheets to keep things moving.

1 Quart Crisco
2 eggs
3 pints molasses
2 cups brown sugar
1 ½ tsp salt
½ pint sour cream
1 TB cinnamon
1 ½ # candied fruit in ½ pint brandy
½ tsp allspice
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp ginger
3-5 lb flour
¼ cup baking soda
1 # dates
1 # figs
2 # raisins
2 ½ quarts nuts

Chop and combine the dried fruit, brandy, dates, figs and raisins the night before. Not a bad idea to chop the nuts the night before either.

Combine the Crisco, eggs, and brown sugar and beat until fluffy. Add salt, sour cream, spices. Gradually add flour until it becomes too stiff and massive for a standing mixer to handle. Transfer the flour mixture to a very, very, VERY large bowl. Go ahead and add the fruit and nuts at this point.  Continue to add flour gradually, mixing it in by hand, until you have a stiff cookie dough that can be rolled out. Most of the flour will have been added at this point, but you will add more as you roll it out.

Using about 2 cups of cookie dough at a time, roll the dough out on a well floured surface, adding more flour as needed, to about ¼ inch thickness. Cut into bars, about 2x4 inches in size. Transfer to ungreased cookie sheets and bake at 350F for 10-12 minutes. Spread newspaper on a large surface and let cookies cool completely before storing. Can be frozen for months and get better with age!


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