107 Cookbooks Rotating Header Image

cookies

Holiday baking and catching up

BagsOfCookies

I’m not one of those people who goes bonkers for Christmas; I don’t string the entire apartment with lights or wear comical red-and-green sweaters or collect creche figures. We’ve put up a tree exactly once in our marriage, the one year we were in an apartment that was large enough to accommodate it (and we were as surprised as anyone that the cats didn’t knock it over; we were quite proud of them). But I do enjoy a lot of the more social, friendly aspects of the season, and my own little annual tradition is my cookie baking extravaganza.

PecanCookiesToBake

Yes, the thing I like best about the holidays involves cooking. Don’t act so surprised.

Brittles2

For the past several years I’ve been shipping cookies to distant co-workers. I have a lot of the key details figured out now. The optimal plan is to bake on the Sunday after Thanksgiving and get my boxes into the mail on Monday; I had to juggle my plans a bit this year and ended up baking on Tuesday and Wednesday, then getting the boxes into the mail Wednesday afternoon. It turns out that if you can get the Priority Mail boxes dispatched by the Wednesday after Thanksgiving you can still hit the two-day delivery target. (Possibly you can on Thursday and Friday as well but they’ll spend the weekend sitting somewhere in transit.) I’ve found in the past that the two-day promise becomes very elastic the further you get into December. One year I sent cookies that took a good 10 days to arrive; I started getting emails raving about the goodies, and was about to hit send on a message saying “took them long enough” before it occurred to me that the recipients didn’t want to know that. So I just said thank you, and then shut up.

BagsOfCaramelCorn2

But anyway, the week after Thanksgiving, things are in motion. I take that week as vacation every year, so it’s a fine time to spend the better part of a day in the kitchen. This year was my first baking marathon while still recovering from plantar fasciitis, of which I can say: ouch. Maybe a few other words. I won’t repeat them here. It turns out that standing all day is not optimal for the still-sore plantar fascia. So if you’re my podiatrist and you’re reading this — well, you already know I’m not very good at taking care of my feet, so you won’t be surprised.

GatheringIngredients

This is the kind of project for which a little planning goes a long way. When I was in junior high and we took home ec, we had to write cooking plans, which seemed laughable when we were doing single-dish projects through which we were already being coached. A friend and I lampooned the cooking plan concept for after-school snacking. “3:31: Open the freezer door. 3:32 — no, better make that 3:31:30 — remove ice cream carton and put on counter. Wait, did we say when to get out bowls? Oh, god, this is going to be a DISASTER.” But it turns out that when you’re trying to do, say, five cookies, two nut brittles and caramel corn, a cooking plan helps you save a lot of time and difficulty. If you’re smart, by the second or third year you’re making sure that you mix your doughs that need to chill the night before, and you plan to bake the cookies in ascending order of baking temperature, and you think about how much parchment you need before you go to the store.

CranberryPecanChocCookieDough

I have several favorite recipes, but I wanted to try a new one this year for the sake of the blog. I picked one from the Martha Stewart Cookies special magazine, a cherry and chocolate chunk cookie with toffee pieces that sounded yummy. Of course that meant that I couldn’t find toffee pieces at the store, and dried cherries cost the earth, and I thought, the hell with this. I already have pecans and dried cranberries, I’ll do my own chunk cookie. So I mixed up the regular base dough that I use for chocolate chip cookies and stirred in dried cranberries, pecans, and chocolate chunks. And they were good. Fragile, but good.

ChocolateCookiesBeforeAndAfter

The same Martha Stewart magazine is the source of two of my other favorites, Grammy’s Chocolate Cookies and Cranberry-Oatmeal Cookies. They’re molded in much the same way — you shape them into balls — and they bake at the same temperature. They’re very easy and they taste great.

CaramelCornBaked

That magazine is also where I get the caramel corn. No major spillage of caramel this year, and only one small caramel burn on my hand! A success!

SugarCookiesBaked2

I ran out of time this year, and so I decided to throw the undecorated sugar cookies into the freezer instead of delaying the mail shipments while I frosted and sugared. I’ll decorate those later this week and perhaps make another batch of cookies or a pan of brownies, and bring them into my own office.

BagsOfBrittle5

It’s actually a lot of fun to turn out large quantities of goodies like this, assembly-line style, lining up the unbaked nuggets of dough, lifting the cooling cookies onto the second rack, stuffing the baggies. And it’s a blessing to have people to mail them to; we’d be eating cookies until Fourth of July if we didn’t get them out of the house.

First taste of the pickles

I came back to the office on Tuesday; I’d worked from home Monday because my subway line was still on limited service Monday morning, as the MTA cleaned up after the hurricane, and I opted not to fight the crowds. I thought I’d mark the occasion by bringing in most of the cookies I’d made on Sunday, and also brought in two jars of my pickles: one jar of regular dills and one jar of hot-pepper dills.

OfficeSnacks3

I opened the regular jar and ate one of the pickles before announcing their presence to my co-workers, just to make sure something hadn’t gone horribly awry. (“Are they supposed to taste like oven cleaner? Is that a thing?”) They’re very sour; it’s only been three weeks since I canned them, and I think they might mellow slightly in the next few weeks as the flavors continue to blend. But they’re dilly with a pepper and cumin undertone, and reasonably crunchy except for the seedy middle part. You can taste the garlic. I was pleased.

OfficeSnacks7

Later in the day I thought I’d snap the pictures here, and used the fork to hold one of the hot-pepper dills out of the brine. Once I’d finished shooting, I ate that pickle, my first taste of that variety. Wow. That is a pickle that challenges you. That is a pickle that walks up to you and thumps you on the chest to get your attention. It’s got all the sour punch of the regular dills, with a slow-burning fire coming in after the initial taste. If you don’t like hot or sour food you’d probably hate it, but I was thrilled.

OfficeSnacks2

A number of my co-workers were pleased too; I may have converted at least two to pickling. (There’s still time! There are still cucumbers and celery and other good things in the Greenmarket!) Those who weren’t into pickles enjoyed the cookies. Judging from the paucity of crumbs left by late afternoon, nobody was bothered about the fact that the cookies weren’t magazine-pretty.

Hurricanes and cookies

chocolate chip cookies

I live in New York. If you’ve been following the news you know that Hurricane Irene passed through here in the early hours of this morning. More accurately, it was Tropical Storm Irene by the time it reached us, and not as big and awful as it might have been. It was still big and awful enough for plenty of people in the area; there are numerous reports of downed power lines, flooding, and fallen trees, as well as a few deaths. Here at Chez 107 we were lucky to come through virtually unscathed; the only problems we encountered were a minor leak in the skylight above the hall stairs, the possibly coincidental death of our cable box/DVR, and serious disruption to our sleep.

We were not so confident that it would be this easy in the days leading up to the storm. Forecasts suggested it could be a Category 2 when it hit the city, which could cause serious damage. We don’t live in one of the evacuation zones so we prepared to shelter in place, and that included stocking up on food we could eat if the power went out. We’ve never lost power here in a storm before but a Category 2 hurricane seemed like a good candidate for the first time. So I went to our regular grocery store on Friday night, not sure what would be left. Bread was almost cleaned out, but I found a number of other things: peanut butter, crackers, hummus (one package, which we could finish off in short order if the power went out), salsa (ditto), chips, cereal, and a few other little things. I was pretty sure that if we did lose power we wouldn’t be without it for very long, so I made sure to only get things that we would use anyway.

I understand not everyone kept that in mind when preparing for the storm. If you’re someone who stocked up on non-perishable food that you no longer thrill to now that the crisis has passed, you might donate your excess to a local food bank (such as Food Bank for New York City).

We had completed our preparations by midday Saturday, and then we were left to wait. The storm was moving slowly, and it had an entourage in the form of massive TV coverage, a pretty well-mixed blend of the informative and the sensational. Waves of rain washed through, all a prelude for what was to come. The worst of it passed through overnight; we tried to get some sleep but were repeatedly awakened by alerts and our own anxiety. By this afternoon, when it was mostly through except for some intermittent showers and gusts of wind, I was ready for things to be normal again.

Cookies

Which is probably why I made chocolate chip cookies. My original plan was to make chili for dinner as well, but I seem to be out of beans. (Well, I suppose they wouldn’t have been high on my list of things to make without refrigeration or a stove.) So we foraged on room-temperature food for another night and I’ll be making a pot of chili for tomorrow’s dinner. But I found comfort in the process and the taste of cookies. I was a little imprecise with the soda and salt measurements, so they’re a bit flat, but you know what? They still taste good. They taste like normality, and comfort, and safety from disaster.

Off-Book Post: Chicken Soup, Breadsticks and Cookies

chicken soup with stars, garlic breadsticks, chocolate chip cookies

SoupSimmeredI’ve had a pretty hectic few weeks. Months. I lose track. Work has been reasonably busy, plus I’m volunteering, I’m writing, I’m trying to get any number of other things done. And I have been slacking off on the blog. Last Sunday on Oscar night, I knew I wasn’t going to get through any blog recipes, but I did want to cook. So I turned to some of the SticksBakeddishes I can make without using a recipe.

I started with dessert, chocolate chip cookies. I do this one by ear now, loosely basing it on the recipe from the bag. Having it memorized is handy when you buy a bag that doesn’t have a recipe printed on it. Blend flour with salt and baking soda, cream butter with sugars and add eggs ChocolateChipCookies4and vanilla, mix it all together, stir in chips, scoop and bake. I think this was the first batch of standard chocolate chip cookies that I’ve made with the Kitchen Aid. It saves quite a bit of work. I didn’t think to take pictures before baking, but then there’s probably nothing that new to show about chocolate chip cookies.

LilPotatoesOnce the last of the cookies were in the oven, I washed the mixer bowl and started a simple pizza dough for breadsticks, throwing in a bit of basil and oregano to liven it up. I let the dough rise for an hour, shaped it into twelve sticks, let those rise for about half an hour, then brushed them with garlic butter and baked them for 15 minutes.

ParsleyOnce the breadstick dough was rising I began chopping vegetables for soup, then chopped up some chicken breast, and then began to cook. I sauteed onions in olive oil, added the chicken chunks and browned them, and then began adding items in turn. I follow a sort of loose order, starting with things that either will benefit from close-to-the-pan sauteeing SoupInProcess(like mushrooms) or need longer cooking (like potato chunks), and adding things until the pot is basically full of vegetables steaming in their own vapors. Finally I add broth, bring it all to a boil, and let it simmer until I’m ready to add the pasta. It’s never quite the same soup twice, but it’s always good.

I wasn’t trying to make a AddingSpicescomplicated meal; I was going for simple, really. Hearty and basic. Comfort food. It still took a fair bit of effort: chopping vegetables, stirring, cooking, and washing dish after dish after dish. I will never have a dishwasher in this apartment; the lease and the building structure ensure that. But some day…

I swear I really did not think SoupBowlsabout the fact that chicken soup with stars would be appropriate for Oscar night until I was ladling it into bowls. Everything was great, and it was nice to be cooking.

Cookies: When Things Don’t Turn Out as Expected

pistachio sugar cookies

PlateOfBlobs4It’s been an awfully long time since I made a post to this blog. I last wrote on October 4, and that was the end of a series of sparse entries. Things got a little crazy this fall; blogging fell by the wayside. It’s now just over a month to the end of the year and I have 18 more books to cover. Right. I decided to ease myself back into the effort with my remaining cookie book, Cookies, CookieIngredientswhich I got from Sears when my sister was working there years ago and the booklets were part of a special holiday promotion. I thought it would be easy to add pistachio sugar cookies to my holiday baking for this year.

The cookies are simple: a basic sugar cookie made of butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, flour, baking powder and salt. I mixed the flour CookieDoughwith the powder and salt and set it aside; I creamed the butter with the sugar, then beat in eggs and vanilla, and then gradually added the flour mixture. The mixing got a bit messy; this was the last of the doughs for my  holiday baking, and my three-speed mixer suddenly decided to operate at only the top speed. This is not ideal. But I managed to form a dough without CookieDough2spraying too much sugar and butter around the kitchen, and wrapped the dough in wax paper to chill overnight. I then chopped some pistachios, and set them aside for the cookie shaping.

The next day, I rolled out the chilled sugar cookie dough and cut it into shapes as directed. I’d gone through my cookie cutter collection and decided that I PistachiosChopped3wanted to have a fair number of pigs in the mix; I’d dub them “pig-stachio” and take pride in the cute, silly presentation. When I’d arranged cut-out shapes on parchment on the baking sheets, I sprinkled the cookies with the pistachios, and put them into the oven to bake: 5 minutes at 375, “or until edges start to brown.” I checked the first set at 5 minutes expecting them to be underdone. CuttingOutPigsWhat I didn’t expect was for them to be spread out, having lost the distinct shapes I’d cut. No pig-stachios here; blob-stachios, more like. And yes, they were slightly underdone, but adding a minute or two to the baking time was not going to change misshapen blobs back into diamonds and pigs and bells. Ugly, I thought. Disaster.

CuttingOutBellsSeething with frustration, I removed the baking sheets from the oven and let them cool briefly before moving the cookies to cooling racks. I dropped a few of the cookies, to my exasperation. What had I done wrong? Too much baking powder, or too little, or too old? My other cookies with baking powder had turned out fine. Too much butter, not enough flour? Were the eggs too big? It CookiesToBakedidn’t seem to matter how long the dough had been out of the fridge when I cut it; pigs and holly leaves cut from chilly dough were no less distorted and unrecognizable than those cut from warmer, re-rolled dough. I’d just wanted these to be simple and cute; why hadn’t I succeeded?

As I juggled cookies and sheets in CookiesToBake4the kitchen, I could hear my husband coughing in the next room. This shifted my attitude a bit. You see, back in early October — about a week after my last blog post — my husband came down with a fever and what seemed to be flu. By that weekend he was tired, hot, and miserable, and we made an early-morning trip to the ER (on a day that I should have gone to a CookiesToBake5knitting festival, because illness is funny like that). He was diagnosed with “flu-like syndrome,” which a friend later told me might just mean they hadn’t done a definitive test to confirm that it was the influenza virus, but it probably was. The blood test and X-ray showed no signs of pneumonia, and several hours later — after he’d been given two bags of IV fluids, some BakedBlobs2breakfast, and directions for alternating prescription-strength ibuprofen with Tylenol to bring down the fever — we came out into the bright sunny midmorning feeling grateful that he was on the mend. And he was getting better, for nearly a week, until suddenly he became weak and achy again and developed a violent, uncontrollable cough. Another ER visit brought a new BakedBlobsdiagnosis of pneumonia, and admission to the hospital for what turned out to be a four-night stay. This was pretty alarming, in an age when people with broken bones and birth complications barely get to spend one night before getting the boot. But Scott was very sick, and the hospital was where he could get IV fluids, IV antibiotics, and frequent monitoring of his condition.

BakedBlobsCoolingOur second ER visit was in the evening, and by the time Scott was diagnosed and admitted, and I was able to go back to see him before heading home, it was nearly 11 pm. I stopped at a corner diner to wolf down a burger, not having eaten since breakfast, then went home and briefed our houseguest on Scott’s condition. Oh, yes, did I mention our houseguest? I did mention BakedBlobsCooling2her in the last blog post. She and her cats had arrived on Sept. 10 after her place was smoke-damaged by a fire that gutted the restaurants adjacent to her building. Now it was Oct. 26, and her building management had finally completed the work that needed to be done before they could send in professional cleaners to eradicate the smoke residue. Who had to work from PlateOfBlobs2bottom to top, and did I mention her apartment was on the top floor? So we had become accustomed to having our friend occupy the couch; we’d worked out a good balance for sharing the bathroom, and had prepared some terrific dinners together. Our cats had gotten pretty comfortable with one another; my girl was still a bit indignant at interlopers in her territory, but HolidayBakingProgress2otherwise they were one big happy family. And as I headed home, I thought, I need to make sure she’s OK. I need to wash all the blankets tomorrow, clean the bathroom. Good grief, I need to throw away Scott’s water bottle, it’s got to be a cauldron of disease. I need to make sure everyone stays healthy.

While Scott was in the hospital I CookiesBaggedbalanced my time between work and housecleaning and visiting him. His hospitalization actually gave me more flexibility; I wasn’t working from home and punctuating document edits with water-bottle refills and other on-demand requests. I was able to go in to the office, and even to take part in the Halloween cooking contest, for which I’d made pumpkin ice cream over the CookiesBagged2weekend. My original plan was to make a sandwich cookie: ginger cookies filled with pumpkin ice cream and rolled in a combination of chopped pecans and crystallized ginger. But I would have had to do my baking on the night we went to the ER, so that didn’t happen. I thought, I’ll find a ginger cookie with which to make sandwiches. Only I couldn’t find any in the places that were on the way to work. Then I thought, I’ll find something I can serve with the ice cream. And then finally I thought, I made homemade ice cream, for heaven’s sake; if that’s not enough to impress people, cookies aren’t going to help. So I presented the ice cream and helped carve a pumpkin and won a prize (for the ice cream; decidedly and deservedly not for the pumpkin carving), and thought, sometimes things can give and it’s still OK.

One thing that gave was the blog. I didn’t want to take the extra time to choose and experiment with new recipes, especially since the odds of success aren’t great in quite a number of the books that remain. I wanted to make easy, comfortable standbys. I made a lot of chicken soup, which isn’t from any recipe at all: prep your vegetables and chicken, saute onions and garlic, add chicken to brown, gradually add other vegetables until you’re really kind of steaming everything in its own escaping moisture, then pour on chicken stock, cover, and let simmer for about half an hour. Or more, if you like, but half an hour ensures the potatoes are sufficiently cooked. Couldn’t be simpler, and never the same twice. I made roasted chicken breasts from a Martha Stewart recipe, in which you rub bone-in/skin-on chicken breasts with a spice mixture and then roast in a cast-iron skillet, atop onion slices, for about 40 minutes. (Martha says to peel away the skin before serving but I find the skin a decadent indulgence.) I poached fish with our houseguest. We ordered Thai food. I got a lot of take-out empanadas. We even turned to canned soup when it seemed warranted (never as an ingredient, only as a dish in itself). Everything was geared toward comfort and convenience, and we were in sore need of both.

When Scott got home from the hospital that Saturday he was tired, and coughing, and in immeasurably better shape than he had been before. He slept for most of the next day and a half, grateful to be somewhere where they don’t wake you up every 20 minutes to poke you with something. (Well, the cats sort of do that, but he’s used to it.) And then he began to have more energy, and was able to be up and about and take naps during the day instead of sleeping most of the time. And I began to breathe a sigh of relief, because not only was he continuing to get better without relapsing, he was getting strong enough to take care of himself for a few days while I was going to be out of town at a professional conference. I had been distractedly grading homework and doing course prep for the workshop I was co-teaching, afraid to even admit to myself that I was worried he might need me to stay home. I missed Sheep & Wool, and that’s fine, I thought, but I can’t miss this. Can I? At some point a bit more than a week before my scheduled flight, I became confident that he really could manage those few days on his own. Our houseguest was now on track to go home herself — the day before I left for the conference, as it turned out — and while we were grateful for her offer to look in on him during my absence, and quite ready to take her up on it if needed, Scott was also excited at the prospect of resting alone, all by himself, without worrying that his coughing was distracting her, or that he was going to be woken up by one of my phone meetings.

We canceled our Thanksgiving party. Usually we host a big vegetarian get-together, but this year about three weeks ahead of the holiday we took Scott in for a follow-up visit to his doctor, who assured us that Scott was well on track for a very slow recovery, and we would have to be patient. And we realized that we couldn’t be confident Scott would have energy for a day of guests, so we alerted our regulars that they would need to make other plans. We were right to do so: by the time the holiday rolled around, he was doing a lot better — able to get to the neighborhood Starbucks for a writing session during the day and not necessarily have to take a nap afterward — but an entire day of cooking and guests, with nowhere to really isolate himself in our little apartment, would have been beyond him. I kind of missed the company, but was also glad of a chance to rest. It was the first Thanksgiving in at least five years that I haven’t had to set an alarm and basically cook all day, or spend the whole preceding weekend scouring the apartment and cooking ahead. I realized that I needed to recover a little myself.

And so we are continuing to get better here at Chez 107, day by day. Every day I cross a few things off my to-do list and move forward. Every day Scott coughs a little less, a little less often, and has a little more energy. Every day I give thanks for his health, and for my own health (I fought off a cold during all that but managed not to carry some lethal variant of pneumonia to the conference — whew). And I think about the lessons I’ve learned and am still learning, about what really matters, about how people will step up to help when you ask, about how you can’t be too proud to ask when you really need the help.

Oh, and the pistachio cookies? Ugly, I had originally said, but delicious. While I was still frustrated about their appearance I mentioned them in a Facebook post and said I was having second thoughts about whether they’d go into the boxes I was packing to ship to friends. One friend said, “Surely there is room in the goodie boxes for some Charlie Brown Christmas Cookies.” And she was right. To me they were ugly because they didn’t turn out as I meant them to. But objectively — well, they still weren’t magazine-pretty, but they were kind of cute in their way, and they were good enough. There was room.

Verdict: Not up to expectations, but good enough. And I am grateful that they taste good. I’m still not sure why they spread as they did, but I think I might try the recipe again, only instead of rolling out and cutting shapes I’ll try forming the dough into balls, rolling them in chopped pistachios, and setting them to bake that way. It’s worth a try.

Special Dork Tower Recipe Entry: Igor Bars

Igor Bars

BarsCutOutDork Tower is a wonderful comic strip by John Kovalic. Its characters make their way through the world with the help of gaming, geekdom, puns, and one another. One of the central characters is Igor, whose role in the strip is to represent reckless abandon. To Igor, anything worth doing is worth overdoing. He’s the kind of gamer who will stay firmly ensconced at the table for the DoughMixedlongest, most complicated, most exhausting RPG at the con. If it’s excessive, it’s right up Igor’s alley.

And nothing is more excessive than Igor Bars.

John is contributing to the book “Geek Dad II” from the Geek Dad blog folks, and because recipes should be tested before they are printed in books, he CookiesBaked3asked for volunteers to test the recipe for Igor Bars. I’ve been curious about them for ages, so decided to go for it, with a degree of trepidation more appropriate to skydiving. That’s a silly comparison, I guess, though if I did go skydiving I’d be more likely to admit it to my doctor at my next checkup.

As John explains in the recipe, CaramelsPanMilkSaltCloseupmaking Igor Bars is a great family activity because kids of different ages can all help, and because there is endless opportunity for improvisation. Little fingers can unwrap the caramels; older children can cook the sauce or melt the chocolate. Everyone can suggest improvisations and additions: more nuts! Reese’s Cups! Milk Duds! There is no wrong variation on an Igor Bar. CaramelSauceMostlyMeltedHow can there be? When something is nutritionally wrong, all the rules fly out the window.

I decided to follow the classic structure for Igor Bars and add just one variation. So I began by lining a baking sheet with parchment and preparing a batch of chocolate chip cookie dough to bake as a slab. John spells out the recipe in the version for the CaramelAndPeanutsbook, but I already know it by heart: cream butter with white and brown sugars, add vanilla, add eggs, add flour that’s been stirred with salt and baking soda, add chocolate chips, bake in a 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes. (Slightly underdone is better than overdone here.)

While the cookie layer baked I began the next part: the caramel StirringMarshmallows2sauce. I unwrapped two bags’ worth of Kraft Caramels. This is a tedious task, but soon enough I had a heavy saucepan full of little golden nuggets. I added three tablespoons of milk and 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt, and heated the mixture slowly until it melted into a smooth sauce, stirring constantly. I spread the caramel sauce over the slightly cooled pan of cookies, then MarshmallowSaucesprinkled on a cup and a half of salted, roasted peanuts.

AddingRiceKrispies3Now it was time for the third layer: Rice Krispie treats. I melted three tablespoons of butter in the same heavy saucepan (washed out), then added a 10-ounce bag of mini marshmallows. (Sure, now that it doesn’t matter which kind of marshmallow I use, I can find mini marshmallows.) AddingRiceKrispiesToCookiesI stirred until the marshmallows were melted, then added six cups of Rice Krispies; when I’d fully incorporated the cereal into the marshmallowy mess I scooped it out onto the top of the caramel and peanut layer and used wax paper to press and spread it more evenly across the surface.

Now it was time for the variation I’d chosen: I spread a bag of peanut butter M&Ms across the top, pressing them lightly into the Rice Krispie treat layer to keep them from rolling off. They made a cheery and colorful addition.

And finally, the top layer: I melted a bag of semisweet BarsToppedWithKrispieschocolate chips and drizzled the melted chocolate over the top of the bars. I was hoping for a kind of artistic line-drawing effect, but there’s quite a bit of chocolate in a bag of chips, and my final artistic effect was more Pollock than pointillist.

I let the structure cool for a while, then cut it into more-or-less even squares (a messy business); I AddingPeanutButterMMs3just cut to a size that seemed reasonable to me and yielded 28 pieces. I put one each on plates for me and Scott, and we dug in.

Wow. Igor Bars are overwhelming. The juxtaposition of the caramel and the Rice Krispie layer is brilliant, and the contrasts are numerous: sweet and salty, chocolate and cookie, nut and sugar, marshmallow and MeltedChocolate3butter. I felt slightly dizzy after finishing my square. I began to think that John’s recipe estimate of “serves 20” was conservative; 40 might be more like it. Of course, I thought, I might see it differently if I were 13 instead of 43. When I was 13 I could drink Mountain Dew without feeling queasy, which is not true today. So serving count may vary by average age of the party.

ToppedWithChocolateA friend who has been staying with us was out on Saturday night when I made the bars, but she sampled the concoction last night. I didn’t realize that’s what she was doing in the kitchen until I heard a shout of “Oh, my god!” that had me afraid she’d managed to cut off an arm with a kitchen knife. But no, she was just swooning at the excess of Igor Bars.

BarsCutOut2Ken’s reaction in the Dork Tower strip turns out to be remarkably accurate.

I brought most of them in to work today. The dieters took one glance and determined not to come anywhere near them; others were drawn to them a moths to a flame. Nobody’s head exploded during the course of the day, so that’s good.

Verdict: Success, of the “What hath God wrought?” variety.

McCall’s Cookie Collection: Two New (to Me) Holiday Cookies

coffee-almond lace wafers, glazed fudge drops

RolledWafersThis is the third and last Christmas cookie post. I’ve come back to McCall’s Cookie Collection, which I used in June only to realize I’d made that recipe before, and so this time I was careful to choose things I know I’ve never made. From this book or any other, in fact. As is my wont, I tried to choose cookies that would be a little bit tricky, but both recipes were surprisingly GlazingFudgeDropseasy.

The first one I attempted was coffee-almond lace wafers. The batter itself is simple: Combine ground almonds (I used a coffee grinder to grind my own), butter, sugar, instant coffee, milk and a bit of flour in a saucepan, and stir them together over low heat until the butter is melted.

IngredsForCoffeeAlmondLaceHere I must make an FTC-guidelines-style disclaimer: The instant coffee I used was Starbucks VIA, Colombian, and I got it free from another far more popular blogger, Clutch 22, who is a co-worker; Starbucks had sent her a generous supply of both Colombian and Italian varieties and encouraged her to blog about it, share samples with others, and encourage them to blog about it MeltingButteras well. So Starbucks has indirectly provided me with free samples in hopes that I will endorse it. I drank some in October and enjoyed it, but never wrote about it. But I was very glad to have it on hand for this recipe, because I was not inclined to go out and buy other kinds of instant coffee for the sake of the recipe. Unlike other brands that I’ve tried when stuck in cheap LiquidBatteroffice settings or motels, VIA actually tastes like real coffee. And it imparted a very good coffee flavor to these cookies. Plus, the little single-serve packet was exactly the right amount for the recipe. So, OK, I’m endorsing it.

Once the batter was a smooth liquid, I poured little rounds of it onto parchment on cookie sheets, BatterToBakeabout five rounds per cookie sheet. I baked them one sheet at a time for about 8 minutes, during which time the batter spread in a lacy pattern; then I let the sheet cool for about a minute.

Now came what I thought would be the tricky part: I picked up each round in turn and rolled it around the handle of a wooden BakedFlatWafersspoon, then placed the cylinder on a cooling rack to finish setting. In fact the cookies began to stiffen up as soon as they were lifted from the cookie sheet, and if I didn’t move quickly enough the last cookie would harden too soon and shatter when I tried to roll it. But once I got a feel for the pace at which I needed to lift and roll, this part became very easy. I love it when you can follow some IngredsForFudgeDropssimple steps and produce something that looks complicated and elegant.

The cooled cookies were delicious, with a rich coffee and almond flavor, but quite fragile. I decided not to ship any because I did not think they would survive handling by the Postal Service, so those we didn’t eat at the party went in to the office, where they were very MixingFudgeBatterwell received.

The other recipe I tried was for glazed fudge drops. These were fairly easy as well, and may be the only cookie I’ve made in years that doesn’t call for butter. In one bowl I mixed flour, unsweetened cocoa powder, salt and baking powder. In another bowl I beat eggs with vegetable oil, vanilla, almond extract and FudgeBatterWithNutssugar; I then stirred in the flour mixture and chopped walnuts, and chilled the resulting stiff dough for 30 minutes, during which time I sifted powdered sugar and beat it with a bit of milk to make a glaze.

I took the dough out of the fridge and scooped spoonfuls of it onto parchment on cookie sheets, and baked them for about 10 minutes. FudgeDropsToBakeI let them cool on the cookie sheets for a minute or two, then transferred the cookies to a cooling rack set over parchment and spooned on glaze, then sprinkled on chocolate jimmies. I made the mistake of glazing too many at first without adding the jimmies right away; the glaze hardens fast, so you really have to glaze and then sprinkle about four at a time to keep the jimmies FudgeDropsBakedfrom just bouncing right off. I was quite pleased to see that the glaze was almost exactly the right amount for the number of cookies the recipe produced, with barely a cookie’s worth left in the bowl when all were coated. The resulting cookies were tasty — nutty and chewy, with a good chocolate flavor — and everyone seemed to enjoy them.

Verdict: Success. I’ll be adding these to my repertoire, and maybe I can even figure out a way to securely pack the coffee-almond lace wafers for shipping.

Christmas Cookies: First of Three Holiday Cookie Posts

Christmas sugar wafers

DecoratedShapes2Christmas Cookies is a pretty little volume published by Oxmoor House, which also puts out a lot of Martha Stewart titles. The photography is lovely, and the recipes are very nice. I’ve used this book before; last year I made a pecan-butter cookie that was truly delicious and very easy. I may make some of those this coming weekend, now that I think about it. But this past weekend I SugarWaferIngredientswas determined to take advantage of my holiday baking frenzy to check a few blog titles off the list, and the rules call for new recipes, so the pecan-butter cookies did not make the cut. Instead, I decided to try Christmas sugar wafers, which have earned themselves a place near the head of my sugar cookie list.

BeatenWetMixtureNot that this list is terribly long, mind you. Most sugar cookies are not too exciting. Bakery sugar cookies are usually forgettable, and the ones from the plastic tube are execrable. But they’re fun. If you’re baking cookies for the holidays you need to have some that you can cut into shapes and decorate, and it’s silly to add creamy frosting and colored sprinkles to a cookie BeatenDoughthat’s flavorful enough to stand on its own. Sugar cookies do not need to be strongly flavored, but they should be buttery rather than cardboard-y. For years I’ve made my Christmas cutout cookies from a sour cream cookie recipe, which provides a nice rich undertone to the chocolate jimmies and icing squiggles and red hots.

DividingDoughThe challenge with sugar cookies is that they’re easy to overwork. The dough at its best is delicate and buttery, but rolling it repeatedly on a floury surface can make it tough and dull the flavor. There are two main ways to minimize this risk: chilling the dough so that it is not overly soft and kneadable when it is rolled, and rolling it between sheets of parchment or wax paper to DividingDough2minimize the use of flour. This recipe takes advantage of both techniques quite cleverly: once you have mixed the dough you roll it, between sheets of waxed paper, into four rounds, then put it into the freezer for at least half an hour (overnight turns out to be fine too); when you are ready to cut, you can get right to it without additional rolling, and the RollingSugarCookiesstill-cold cookies will not stretch or tear as you transfer them to the baking sheet.

Making the dough was fairly easy. I started by combining the dry ingredients: flour, some cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda and salt. I think the cornstarch helped mitigate toughness too, by helping to stiffen the dough without gluten. CookieShapesThen I beat together some butter, white sugar and brown sugar. When it was fluffy, I added vanilla and egg whites (the absence of yolks was another factor in a lighter, airier dough). I beat in the flour mixture, then divided and rolled the dough and chilled it. I took only one circle out of the freezer at a time, and did my best to cut the shapes as close together as possible to ensure the CookieShapes2least possible scrap dough to re-roll.

I baked the cookies until they were lightly browned and let them cool. That evening I hosted a cookie party; I’d invited people only a few days before (I’d sort of overlooked that detail in the midst of a crazed week back at work) and so there were only a few of us, but we had a good time BakedCookies2frosting and adorning the shapes. We also had a good time drinking the delicious Belgian-style beer that one guest brought, with up to 12% alcohol, which is the sort of thing that you don’t notice at the time but are acutely aware of the next morning when you have to get up and go to work. Fortunately, decorated sugar cookies can help restore one’s spirits, though not quite as BakedCookieseffectively as lots of water and a large coffee.

I invited guests to take home cookies, then packed what was left into little bags and sent most of them off to distant friends. Fingers crossed they will arrive in good time, still recognizable as trees and pigs and bells rather than crumbs and clumps. (Yes, pigs. I have a pig cookie cutter DecoratedShapesand I use it. Those of you who are Discworld fans can take this as a¬† nod to Hogswatchnight, the night that the Hogfather travels around the world giving gifts, assuming things haven’t gone awry.)

Verdict: Success. The cookies were light and buttery, and took well to decoration — better than the sour cream cookies, in fact. I may have to make these my holiday decorating standards.

McCall’s Cookie Collection: The next-to-last party book

crisscross peanut cookies

PBCookieDoughI knew that when it came to sweets, the Black and White Cupcakes would be the big hits of the party. Different, dramatic and delicious ‚Äî and did I mention they were chocolate? I am a rabid fan of chocolate. (I hesitate to use the term ‚Äúchocoholic‚Äù because there‚Äôs no alcohol in the stuff, and also I don‚Äôt have a problem and can quit any time I want.) I am such a rabid fan of chocolate, in fact, that I reflexively feel guilty when it comes to dessert. Any time I am planning dessert my immediate, powerful impulse is to choose something with chocolate. And then I have a momentary surge of doubt: Am I being too narrow when I choose chocolate? What about all those other delightful non-chocolate desserts, such as cr?®me brulee and blueberry pie and coffee ice cream? Am I missing something if I choose chocolate?

PBCookieDough2Most of the time I would say no, I’m not. (Though on mid-priced restaurant menus I am prone to choosing just about anything other than the inevitable Death by Chocolate Torte, especially if there’s a local or regional specialty to be had.) But I do try to be cognizant of the fact that not everyone is as wild about chocolate as I am, and to provide alternatives. In this case I didn’t want to do something very labor-intensive or fragile, nothing that would seem like it was competing with the cupcakes, so I opted for cookies.

I’ve had the McCall’s Cookie Collection book for decades — certainly since high school, possibly longer. I was the family’s designated cookie baker from about kindergarten, the year my mom PBCookiesRawdiscovered that I liked that particular task a lot more than she did, which also happened to be the year I discovered that people will ooh and aah over your cleverly decorated Christmas sugar cookies and then pass them over for the far tastier chocolate chip. Which is probably also a lesson for life: the pretty ones will get a lot of attention, but people quickly figure out who they need to rely on to get the job done right.

I have no idea where I got the book; a slim, battered paperback that might be better called a pamphlet than a cookbook, it looks like something that might have come free with a holiday bakeware purchase at a department store. There are a number of oddly lit photos of the finished cookies, all arrayed on trays or in large glass jars, PBCookiesplus some photos of a doll preparing and baking cookies. It must be a very large doll, because it appears to be in a full-scale kitchen, and in one of the shots there’s a real person in the background at the sink. All of which makes me wonder why they chose to use a doll instead of a person. Have some creepy with your Christmas cookies!

Not all of the recipes in the book are holiday cookies, but naturally quite a lot of them are. I’ve used this book a few times for my holiday baking, and I had to search for a while before finding a recipe I thought would be appropriate for summer. Peanut-butter cookies are a favorite of mine, so I settled on the recipe titled “Crisscross Peanut Cookies.” And it wasn’t until I was sliding the cooled cookies into zipper bags to hold until the next day that I had a sudden realization: Hadn’t I made these before? I might have. I’m not sure. I racked my brain but I could not be certain. PBCookies2So to err on the side of completeness, this book will have to go back into the 107 Cookbooks hopper; I’ll add it to the December cookie roundup, and will be sure to make something I know I’ve never made before, like Filbert-Chocolate Drops  or Walnut-Topped Cookies. (But not the sugar cookies; I’ve made them before and they’re boring.)

Verdict: Partial success. The cookies were delicious, but I didn’t ensure that I was using an untried recipe.