November 29, 2017

Dear friends,

Bah, no cookies for me. I had plenty of cookies in the last few months, from Japanese ginger and peanut cookies at Tink Hol market in Cleveland to giant West Point Market chocolate chip and ginger cookies at my monthly writer’s group meetings thanks to the thin and sadistic Ann. So in a case of extremely bad timing, I am following a high-protein, low-carb eating plan during the holidays.

I can eat caviar, prime rib and shrimp out the kazoo, so I don’t feel too bad. But I cannot make even one batch of cookies for a photo for this newsletter because I would gobble them all up. I can dream, though.

This week I’m dreaming of the dozens of cookies I plowed through in my career, in our frequent holiday cookie contests.  If I could bake a few batches of holiday cookies, I would make the delicate Almond Cremes sandwich cookies that won the Beacon Journal’s 2002 contest; the sophisticated, chocolate-tipped Mocha Viennese Shortbread cookies from the 1998 contest, and my long-time favorite, Jam Poppits from the 1980 contest, before I was food editor. What a cookie tray that would be.

The cookies are not quick and easy to make. They are fancy cookies, meant for a special occasion. They are cookies you may make just one time a year, and that time is now.

Enjoy.

ALMOND CREMES

• 1 cup flour
• 6 tbsp. chilled butter
• 3 1/2 tbsp. half-and-half, divided
• 3/4 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar, plus extra for dipping
• 1 tbsp. softened butter
• 1/8 tsp. almond extract

Place flour in a medium bowl. Cut chilled butter into small pieces. Cut into flour with a pastry blender until crumbs are the size of small peas.

Reserve 1 tablespoon half-and-half for use in the filling. Sprinkle one of the remaining tablespoons over part of the flour mixture and toss with a fork to moisten. Sprinkle another tablespoon over more of the flour mixture and toss with a fork. Sprinkle the last half-tablespoon over the flour mixture and toss to moisten.

Gather dough into a ball. Do not knead or handle the dough more than necessary. Divide dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll out to slightly less than 1/8-inch thick. Cut into 1 1/2-inch squares.

Dip one side of each dough square in confectioners’ sugar. Place a half-inch apart, sugared sides up, on ungreased cookie sheets. With a fork, prick each cookie in parallel rows. Bake at 375 degrees for 8 minutes, or until golden and puffy. Cool on wire racks.

While pastry cools, make the almond filling by combining the 3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, softened butter, almond extract and reserved 1 tablespoon half-and-half. Beat until smooth, adding liquid or sugar if necessary to achieve a thick spreading consistency.

When the cookies are completely cool, sandwich in pairs with almond filling. Store at room temperature, loosely covered. Makes 2 1/2 dozen.

MOCHA VIENNESE SHORTBREAD

• 1 cup plus 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
• 1/2 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar
• 1/2 tsp. vanilla
• 2 cups all-purpose flour (unsifted)
• 1/4 tsp. baking powder
• 2/3 cup unsifted confectioners’ sugar
• 1 tsp. instant coffee dissolved in 1 tsp. water
• 6 oz. coating chocolate (available in cake-supply shops) or semisweet chocolate chips

In a medium bowl, cream 1 cup of the butter with the 1/2 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar and the vanilla until fluffy. In another bowl, stir together the flour and baking powder with a whisk until thoroughly mixed. Stir the flour mixture into the creamed mixture.

Using a cookie press and a medium star No. 32 tip (or a pastry bag with a star tip, or a plastic bag with one tiny bit of a corner snipped off), make dough strips 3 inches long on an ungreased baking sheet. Place strips 1 inch apart. Bake about 7 minutes, or until very lightly browned around the edges. Cool.

Meanwhile, mix remaining 2 tablespoons butter with the 2/3 cup unsifted confectioners’ sugar and the instant coffee mixture. Beat until creamy. When cookies are cool, spread a small amount on the flat side of one cookie and cover with the flat side of another cookie, making a sandwich. Repeat until all cookies are used. Melt coating chocolate or chocolate chips. Dip about one-half inch of both ends of each cookie in the chocolate, and place on a tray lined with waxed paper. Chill until chocolate is firm. Store in a tightly sealed container. Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

JAM POPPITS

• 1 cup (2 sticks) cold butter
• 1 1/2 cups sifted flour
• 1/2 cup sour cream
• 3 tbsp. sugar
• 1 tbsp. water
• Assorted jams and jellies

Cut butter into flour with pastry blender until completely mixed. With a fork, stir in sour cream until thoroughly blended. Divide dough into 2 equal parts. Wrap each and refrigerate eight hours or overnight.

Roll each piece of pastry to 1/16-inch thickness on a well-floured cloth. Cut into 2-inch rounds. Refrigerate scraps before re-rolling.

Cut a small hole in the center of half the rounds (the top of an old-fashioned salt shaker works well). Place rounds without holes on ungreased baking sheets. Combine sugar and water and stir well. Dip out some of the sugar water with a fingertip, and moisten the edges of each pastry round.

Top plain rounds with cut-out rounds. Moisten top with sugar water. Fill hole in center with about a half-teaspoon of jam. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. Makes about 40 cookies.

MICROWAVE DESSERT

Today I’m sharing a recipe for a festive peppermint-chocolate cheesecake I developed for my almost-book. I learned that when making cheesecake in the microwave, you must not cook it until it looks done. If you do, it will be rock-hard when it sets up. Instead, cook it until the edges are set but the center is still very liquid. You’ll have to be patient while the cheesecake cools, but the reward is a creamy cheesecake that tastes oven-made.

Red-striped peppermint lozenges or candy canes tint this batter a fun pink. The combination of cool mint and dark chocolate rocks.

PEPPERMINT-CHOCOLATE MUG CHEESECAKE

• 4 oz. cream cheese (half of an 8-oz. package)
• 1 tbsp. (1/2 oz.) finely crushed peppermint hard candy
• 1 egg white
• 2 tbsp. sugar
• 1/8 tsp. vanilla extract
• 1 drop peppermint extract
• 1 tsp. all-purpose flour
• Pinch of salt
• 2 tbsp. miniature bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chips

Place cold cream cheese in a 12-ounce pottery mug and microwave on high power for 10 to 20 seconds or until cheese is warm on the edges but still cool in the center. Beat with a fork until smooth. Stir in candy and distribute evenly. Add egg white, sugar, vanilla and peppermint extract. Beat until the egg white is thoroughly incorporated, about 50 strokes. Use a spoon or small rubber spatula to scrape any unmixed ingredients from bottom of mug, and stir them in. Add flour and salt and beat until smooth. Stir in chocolate chips.

Microwave at 50 percent power for 2 minutes, 45 seconds in a 1000-watt oven or 2 minutes in an 1100- or 1200-watt oven.

The cheesecake is done when the edges are set and the top is covered with tiny bubbles but the center is still very wet. It will firm up as it cools. Place in freezer for 15 minutes for soft-set or in refrigerator until cool and firm.

Dress it up: Drizzle one tablespoon of warm fudge sauce over the top of the cheesecake.

Even better: Scatter a half-teaspoon of coarsely crushed peppermint hard candy over the warm fudge sauce or, at holiday time, a whole miniature candy cane.

GUT CHECK

What I cooked at home last week:
Grill-smoked turkey, pureed cauliflower, baked Japanese sweet potato; 1 turkey and cranberry sauce sandwich; pan-grilled strip steaks with wine sauce; chopped lettuce and turkey salad; turkey soup.

What I ate away from home last week:
Wendy’s chili; fried fish and watery steamed carrots at Alexandri’s in Wadsworth; brined and bacon-wrapped roast turkey, pecan-apricot cranberry sauce, creamy green beans, whipped sweet potatoes with candied pecan topping, 3 kinds of stuffing, mashed potatoes with incredible gravy, pumpkin and pecan pies and a Coppola claret at my niece Heidi’s in Columbus. She takes after me.

THE MAILBAG

From J.D. Switzer:

(In response to the item about off-price cookbooks) The Library Shop at Main (in downtown Akron) always has a couple shelves of used cookbooks for about $2 each.

Dear J.D.:

I thought the old cookbooks got snapped up as soon as they were shelved. Thanks for letting us know there are plenty to browse. Second-hand shops are also good sources of used cookbooks. I’ve bought a few myself.

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