Monday, December 13, 2010

The Christmas Cookie Cookbook: Review

Now that it's cold outside and Christmas is almost here, spending the afternoon baking sounds just about perfect. Ann Pearlman and Marybeth Bayer's The Christmas Cookie Cookbook offers plenty of options for festive winter baking.

The book's emphasis is on holiday cookie exchange parties, offering tips on everything from how to get started to how to package them for gift giving. In the era of even so-so home cooks obsessing over Bon Appetit and regularly entertaining, it's a bit funny to have to read about how to set a date (they suggest picking the same date annually) or ground rules (no chocolate chip, no gooey icing). I've never had the pleasure of throwing or attending a cookie exchange party, but they do sound delightful!

As I read through this book, I envisioned Ann as a sweet little grandma. The tone is warm and fuzzy, and she shares anecdotes about the people who created some of the recipes. But occasionally she would catch me off guard with a line like, "Occasionally we have a cookie virgin at the party. Initially, new cookie bitches can be a little intimidated by the rules and worry that their cookies won't be "good enough." Love it...who's grandma says stuff like that?!

Turns out Ann is indeed a grandmother, but not quite what I would have imagined. A quick Google search turns up that she's in addition to this cookbook, she's also written books about gang bangers, how to keep the fires burning at home, and even her own experience with infidelity. Cooking and eating together is really just a form of therapy, so it's fitting that she's a licensed psychotherapist. I bet they have some awesome conversations over those seven layer bars.
The book has a wide variety of options, so there's something for everyone - including drop cookies, hand formed, candy, and even savory appetizers. I was baking cookies for my office, so I needed a gluten free option for one coworker, opting for the Chocolate Chip Kisses. For the other batch, I figured the rest of us where chocolate-fiends, too, so George's Love Cookies were just the thing. Even better, I had all some of the ingredients for these cookies in my pantry so I didn't even have to face the freezing weather!

Since I didn't have a party planned, I figured I could at least have some company, so the little sister joined me as I baked. Alas, my focus is lousy when also talking so I made a few mistakes, starting with halving some of the ingredients for George's Love Cookies and not others. I had to do some last minute scrambling to add in the lacking ingredients, including having to use some salted butter when I ran out of unsalted. The perils of baking without grocery shopping first! Fortunately both batches of cookies came out well and they were quickly dispatched with at our office today.

George's Love Cookies

12 Tbsp unsalted butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp milk
2 Tbsp. vanilla
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 egg
1 3/4 cup flour
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
1 cup walnuts or pecans (optional)

Cream the butter with the sugar and add the milk and vanilla. Beat in the cocoa, egg and the flour, salt, soda. Stir in the chocolate chips. Add walnuts or pecans if you wish. Drop rounded Tbs. of batter on cookie sheet 3 inches apart. Bake at 375 for 9 minutes. Let sit for a few minutes, remove from sheet and cool completely.

Because I used some salted butter, I left the additional salt out. I'm not a huge fan of nuts in cookies, so I opted out of those, too. These cookies weren't my favorite as they were more cake-like than I prefer, but still they were simple to make and had great chocolaty flavor. Their resemblance to cake certainly did not inhibit me from eating plenty of them!

Chocolate Chip Kisses

2 2/3 cup shredded sweet coconut
2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract 
1 cup (6 oz) semi-sweet chocolate chips

Pre-heat oven to 350. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper (oh, I forgot that part, no wonder they got stuck!) In a medium bowl combine coconut, condensed milk and vanilla. Stir in chips.  Drop a well rounded teaspoon onto cookie sheets.

Bake for 10 - 12 minutes  or until edges are slightly browned.  Cool before removing. Makes about 2 dozen 2-inch cookies.

I ran out of vanilla during the recipe halving incident above, so I just made this recipe without it. These were even easier and delicious despite missing one out of four ingredients. I love macaroons, and these are like a simpler version or a fresh baked mounds bar. Either way...yum!

So invite some gals over and start baking. Christmas is a perfect excuse to bond over shared love of sweets.



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