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Merry Christmas! I hope everyone’s having a wonderful holiday.  I just wanted to quickly post one last Christmas cookie recipe before the cookie-baking festivities come to a close.

These sugar cookies are very different from the old fashioned sugar cookies that I usually make. The old fashioned ones are chewy, with a crunchy sugary crust and a delicate lemony flavor. These bad boys are cakey and soft and slightly tangy from the sour cream.

James was really excited when I made these cookies – he loves frosted sugar cookies from the grocery store, which are usually pretty gross with their vegetable shortening and long, chemically ingredient lists. These cookies are buttery and delicious. The recipe makes a ton so I froze a couple dozen unfrosted ones to have later.

Frosted Sugar Cookies

From Brown Eyed Baker

Yield: 5 to 6 dozen cookies

Prep Time: 25 minutes | Bake Time: 7 minutes

For the Cookies:
6 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1½ cups sour cream

For the Buttercream Frosting:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups powdered sugar
Pinch of salt
6 tablespoons milk

1. In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt; set aside.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the flat beater attached, cream the butter and granulated sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated. Add the vanilla and sour cream and beat at low speed until combined.

3. Add the dry ingredients and beat at low speed until just combined, scraping down the bowl as needed. Dough will be a bit “sticky”. Divide dough into two sections. Flatten into rectangles about 1½ inches thick, then wrap with plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator overnight or at least two hours until firm.

4. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line large baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.

5. Flour the countertop and the top of the dough. With a rolling pin, roll the dough out to ¼-inch thickness. Using a 2 1/2-inch round cookie cutter, cut out circles and transfer to a baking sheet. Bake for 7 minutes, until pale golden. Immediately transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool. Cook cookies completely before frosting.

6. To make the frosting, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and vanilla. Slowly beat in the powdered sugar and the pinch of salt. Once smooth and creamy, add in heavy cream, 1 tablespoon at a time, then beat at medium-high speed for a minute or two until light and fluffy. If desired, add food coloring and beat until combined.

7. Once cookies have cooled completely, frost and add sprinkles. Allow frosting to set, then store in an air-tight container. Let cookies sit for several hours before serving to allow the flavors to develop.

I have some savory, healthy things to post about, but right now, all we’re thinking about lately is Christmas cookies, right? I am, it seems. I visited my parents a little bit ago and baked Christmas cookies with them, then when I got home my husband and I baked several different kinds to give to our neighbors. And I’m already looking forward to baking even more cookies while we’re visiting my in-laws in California for Christmas (old fashioned sugar cookies, I’m looking at you).

These cookies are called magic in the middles because, while they have a fairly unassuming exterior, they have a layer of peanut buttery deliciousness tucked inside that really takes them to the next level. They’re rich, chewy cookie perfection. There’s nothing fancy to getting the magic in the middle, either – you make a ball of the filling, then a ball of the chocolate dough, flatten out the chocolate bit and wrap it around the peanut butter filling. Easy peasy. Then you flatten the ball with a glass before baking. You definitely don’t want to skip that last step. Here’s why:

Yup. That’s what I get for not reading the recipe thoroughly before tossing the first cookie sheet in the oven. We ended up with twelve of those lumpy chocolate-peanut butter mountains before I saw the bit in the recipe about flattening the dough balls before baking. Oh well, they still taste great!

If you’re a fan of the chocolate-peanut butter combination, these cookies will be pretty irresistible to you. I know they are for me! (Do you know how hard it was to break that one cookie in half for the photo shoot and not snarf down one – or both – halves when I was done?!)

Magic in the Middles

Adapted slightly from Recipe Girl

DOUGH:
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar (plus extra for rolling)
1/2 cup packed  brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg, room temperature

FILLING:
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1 cup powdered sugar

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats.

2. Prepare dough: In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. In another medium bowl, beat together sugars, butter, and peanut butter until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and egg, beating to combine, then stir in dry ingredients, blending well. Dough will be thick and slightly crumbly.

3. Prepare filling: In a small bowl, stir together peanut butter and powdered sugar until smooth. Roll the filling into one-inch balls.

4. Shape cookies: Scoop out 1 tablespoon of dough and flatten it into a disk. Wrap the dough around one of the balls of filling, then roll between your palms to make smooth. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.

5. Roll each cookie in granulated sugar and place on prepared baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Use the bottom of a drinking glass to flatten each ball to about 1/2-inch thick.

6. Bake cookies for 7 to 9 minutes, until they’re set. Remove them from the oven and cool on a rack.

There are some recipes that, when you find them, you have to make them immediately. This was one of those recipes for me. Rich chocolate cookies rolled in a decadent coating of crushed candy canes? Count me in!

I love this time of year. I love decorating the house for Christmas, I adore putting up the Christmas tree, I love the excitement of buying presents for the ones I love, and I get such a kick out of being able to bake cookies to my heart’s content. These delicious little numbers kicked off the Christmas cookie season for me, and they were perfect for the job. Chocolate and peppermint together are the flavor of Christmas, in my mind.  These cookies definitely rock the chocolate-peppermint thing, and they’ve got a great, almost brownie-like texture to boot. I’ll definitely be adding these to my Christmas repertoire. (The list of cookies I must bake each Christmas keeps growing longer, but that’s not a bad thing, right?)

One note about these cookies: I had a terrible time getting them off my Silpats while they were warm – they just shredded and crumpled up. There was a problem with the candy canes melting onto the Silpat and sticking, even though Silpats are supposed to be stick-resistant. You might have better luck with parchment paper. My solution was to let the cookies cool completely on the cookie sheets before attempting to move them.

Candy Cane Crunch Chocolate Cookies

From Two Peas and Their Pod

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup canola oil
4 ounces 99% unsweetened chocolate, melted (I used 2 oz unsweeted and 2 oz bittersweet)
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
5 candy canes-crushed up (I ended up needing a lot more than 5!)

1. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the oil, chocolate and granulated sugar and blend on medium speed. With the mixer running, add the eggs, one at a time, followed by the vanilla, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary. There may be some small clumps of sugar in the batter at this point. Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed, stopping once to scrape down the sides. Mix until just incorporated, 2 to 3 minutes. The dough will be sticky.

3. Gather the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours or overnight.

4. Position the racks in the lower and upper thirds of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with Silpats or parchment paper.

5. Pour the crushed candy canes onto a plate or into a shallow bowl. Roll the dough into 1-inch balls and roll each ball into the candy cane pieces, so that all sides are covered. Place 2 inches apart on the prepared sheets.

6. Bake for 10 minutes for soft, chewy cookies, or 12 minutes for crisp cookies, rotating the pans halfway through baking. The cookies do set up, so if you want them soft, take them out at 10 minutes. Let cool completely on cooling racks. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for 3 to 4 days.

When I grew up, whenever we had sugar cookies – which I think was only at Christmas – they were decorated exclusively with jimmies and sprinkles and colored sugars, so homemade sugar cookies decorated with frosting always seem extra special to me. Plus, the icing lets you be a lot more creative and artistic than you could ever be with a dusting of colored sugar. Not that there’s anything wrong with decorating cookies that way, but when I want to kick regular sugar cookies up a notch, for a special occasion like Valentine’s Day, I break out the meringue powder and the disposable pastry bags.

These cookies are perfect for making cutouts. The cookies are tender and delicious and have a nice chew to them. They can be a bit tricky to roll out, but I found that when I followed the recipe’s advice to roll it out between two sheets of wax paper, it got easier. Plus, having it on a piece of wax paper made it really easy to pop it into the fridge for 10 minutes when the cut outs were being disagreeable about separating from the paper; once chilled, the dough behaved better.

As for the royal icing recipe and a fantastic tutorial, I refer you to the Brown Eyed Baker – that’s where I learned everything I know about decorating with royal icing.

All Occasion Sugar Cookies

From Brown Eyed Baker, Source: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

Yield: about 50 2-inch cookies

2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 stick plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temp (10 Tablespoons total)

1 cup sugar

1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Whisk flour, salt, and baking powder together. In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, or a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat butter at medium speed for about 1 minute, until smooth. Beat in sugar and continue to beat for 2 minutes, until the mixture is pale and fluffy. Add the egg and yolk and beat for another minute or two; beat in vanilla. Reduce mixer speed to low and and steadily add the flour mixture, until just incorporated. Stop mixer before the flour is thoroughly blended and finish the job with a rubber spatula.

Turn the dough out onto a counter and divide in half. To make roll out cookies, shape dough into disks and wrap in plastic. To make cut-and-bake cookies, roll into a 2-inch diameter log and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate at least 2 hours. (Well wrapped, the dough can be refrigerated for 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.

To bake cookies: Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 350. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.

Roll out cookies: working with one disk at a time, roll out dough between two sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper to 1/4 inch thick, turning dough over so that it rolls evenly. Cut out cookies, saving scraps to re-roll. Place on cookie sheets about 1 1/2 inch apart. This is a soft dough so if you have problems lifting the cookies, chill for 15 minutes and try again. Form the scraps into a disk and chill before rolling out again.

Slice-and-bake cookies: Use a sharp knife to slice to dough into 1/4-inch thick rounds, and place on cookie sheets about 1 1/2 inch between the cookies.

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 9 to 11 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway though.The cookies should feel firm nut should not color much if at all. Let the cookies rest on the cookie sheet for 1 minute before removing to a rack to cool completely. Let the cookie sheets cool between batches.

It snowed this weekend! My husband and I moved from Southern California to Northern Massachusetts this past April, so this was our very first snow. It was magical.

I have cookies on the brain. My Google reader is full of recipies for cookies, Family Circle and Everyday Food have cookies on their covers, I saved the Boston Globe magazine last Sunday because they had a bunch of cookie recipes from local bakeries. So really, it’s no wonder that when I sat down to decide what my next baking adventure would be, I fell immediately upon cookies.

I’m not quite ready for full-on Christmas cookies, though. I have big cookie-giving plans this year, but it’s too early to start the bake-a-thon just yet. I was initially thinking of spice cookies, since I pilfered a sleeve of gingersnaps from my parents’ house at Thanksgiving, and James and I were both really digging the spicy, not-too-sweet goodness. But I wanted chewy spicy cookies. Chewy, moist, tender, warm and molassesy,  coated in a sugary crust… but then, I’ve been seeing a lot of recipes for buttery sugar cookies, and something about the idea of the sweet, simple taste of sugar cookies had me hooked.

James told me that his mother always added lemon zest to her sugar cookies, so I searched for a lemony sugar cookie that would stay chewy after they cooled. And of course, Martha has just the thing.

These are wonderful, wonderful sugar cookies. They have a lovely light lemon flavor, they’re chewy and tender, and that crust of sugar sends them over the top. James said they are “how sugar cookies are supposed to taste” and that they’re the best cookies he’s ever had. I will definitely be adding these to my cookie repertoire.

A couple of notes: the recipe says to use a 2-inch cookie scoop, which I don’t own, so I just made balls with about a 2-inch diameter. The cookies spread like mad and even though I had them the allotted 2 inches apart, they ran into each other and were pretty flat, nothing at all like the picture Martha has on her website. (But they were still amazingly delicious!) For the last bit of dough, I  made 1-inch balls and popped them in the fridge on the cookie sheet for about 15 minutes before going on to the sugar step. Those cookies ended up spreading a lot less and looked more like Martha’s cookies. I also think the trick to the chewiness is pulling the cookies out of the oven before they’re all the way cooked.

Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies

From Martha Stewart

Makes about 20 (3 1/2-inch) cookies

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 3/4 cups granulated sugar

1/4 cup packed light-brown sugar

1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest, plus 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 cup unsalted butter, (2 sticks), softened

2 large eggs

Sanding sugar, for sprinkling (I used a mix of sparkle sugar and regular granulated, but all granulated would be fine)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift flour, baking soda, and salt into a bowl; set aside.

Put sugars and lemon zest in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed 30 seconds. Add butter; mix until pale and fluffy, about 1 minute. Mix in eggs, 1 at a time, and then the lemon juice. Reduce speed; gradually add flour mixture, and mix until just combined.

Scoop dough using a 2-inch ice cream scoop; space cookies 2 inches apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. Flatten cookies slightly with a spatula. Sprinkle tops with sanding sugar, then lightly brush with a wet pastry brush; sprinkle with more sanding sugar.

Bake cookies until golden, about 15 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks for 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to racks using a spatula; let cool completely. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days.

Suzi

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