Every December for the last 15 years, my wife and I have hosted a holiday cookie party. We won’t be able to do that this year, of course, and of all of the many things we’ve had to give up in 2020, this one might sting the most. While we won’t have a crowd of people sandbagging their black sweaters with powdered sugar, I’m still going to make a big assortment, which will include the three cookies below, one of my own devising, the others from some of the best cookbooks of fall.
Instead of gathering friends to eat them, my plan is to fill tins and drop them off on doorsteps. I generally find shipped cookies to be disappointing — it’s hard to ensure they’ll arrive in good condition, no matter how well they’re packed. Instead, consider sending a favorite recipe (or a cookbook containing a favorite recipe, like one of the ones mentioned below), along with some of the ingredients or tools needed to make them.
I spent the fall tinkering with a recipe for cannoli cookies, which I’ll be adding to my tins this year. These are cakey and tender, plush little pillows that get their texture from the addition of ricotta to the batter. While traditional Italian cookies are most often flavored with either lemon or anise, I instead added orange zest and juice and chopped chocolate-dipped orange peel, then dipped each cookie in icing and sprinkled them with toasted pistachios.
If you’re searching for more new cookie ideas of your own, we’ve included a few more below from cookbooks that came out this year, tested and selected by Chronicle staff writer Janelle Bitker. The Neapolitan Cookies from food blogger Sarah Kieffer are a fun, beautiful and highly giftable riff on sugar cookies, with three slightly altered doughs pressed together. The buttery, nutty Pistachio Pinwheels from Claire Saffitz give off an air of elegance despite being fairly easy to execute — and with the green from pistachios, they look festive for the holiday season, too.
I hope next year is different, and that on some Sunday in December my friends and I are gathered together again. There will be so much to celebrate, great cookies will be the least of it.
Makes about 20 cookies
Food blogger Sarah Kieffer’s new cookbook, “100 Cookies” (Chronicle Books), came out in October and is already on its third printing. Consider it a must-get for the cookie obsessed, with a mix of classic-yet-perfect and inventive cookie recipes from the creator of the viral pan-banging cookie technique. For the uninitiated, that’s when you take the cookies out midway through baking and slam the sheet on your counter several times to produce a flat, rippled and extra-chewy cookie. Kieffer recommends using a black cocoa powder and red food coloring to make the colors really pop, as well as rolling each individual color of dough into the same color of sprinkles — but the cookies will still be delicious without these flourishes. She also suggests storing the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two days. — Janelle Bitker
2½ cups plus 1 tablespoon (364 g) all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
½ cup (8 g) freeze-dried strawberries
1 cup (2 sticks or 227 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1¾ cups (350 g) granulated sugar
1 large egg plus
1 large yolk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 or 3 drops red food coloring (optional)
2 tablespoons Dutch process cocoa powder
White, pink and brown sprinkles, for rolling (optional)
Instructions: Adjust an oven rack to the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line three sheet pans with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt.
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade, pulverize the strawberries into a powder.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy, about 1 minute. Add the sugar and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the egg, yolk and vanilla, and beat on medium speed until combined. Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until just combined.
Dump the dough onto a work surface and divide it into three equal portions. Put one-third of the dough back into the mixer and add the powdered strawberries and food coloring, if using. Mix on low speed until totally combined, then remove the dough and quickly wipe out the bowl of the mixer.
Add another third of dough to the mixer. Add the cocoa powder and mix on low speed until totally combined.
Pinch a small portion (about ½ ounce (15 g)) of each of the three doughs, and press them gently together so they adhere to each other but keep their unique colors. Press the piece into a cookie scoop or roll it into a ball, then roll the ball into sprinkles (if using). Place six or seven cookies on each sheet pan. Bake the cookies one pan at a time, rotating halfway through baking. Bake until the sides are set and the cookies are puffed, 10 to 11 minutes.
Transfer the sheet pan to a wire rack and let the cookies cool for 5 to 10 minutes on the pan, then remove them and let them cool completely on the wire rack.
Makes 32 cookies
The recipe comes from former Bon Appetit star Claire Saffitz’s new cookbook, “Dessert Person” (Clarkson Potter), which is one of many strong baking releases this year. As Saffitz notes in the book, there are plenty of ways to get ahead on these cookies if you’re baking several different kinds. You can wrap the log of uncut dough in plastic and keep it in the fridge for two days, or in the freezer for up to two months. (If freezing, thaw in the fridge for 24 hours before slicing and baking.) The finished cookies also keep well in an airtight container at room temperature for up to five days. — J.B.
⅔ cup (90 grams) shelled pistachios, ideally blanched
12 tablespoons (170 grams) unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces, at room temperature
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons (105 grams) powdered sugar
2 large egg yolks
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 cup (130 grams) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt
1 ⅓ cups (160 grams) almond flour
½ cup demerara sugar, for rolling
Grind the pistachios: In a food processor, pulse the pistachios until they’re very finely ground but not yet forming a paste, about 25 pulses. Transfer the ground pistachios to a small bowl and set aside.
Make the dough in the food processor: To the same food processor (no need to wash after grinding the pistachios), add the butter and powdered sugar and process until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Add the yolks and almond extract and process until the mixture is smooth and light. Add the flour and salt and pulse, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice, until you have a stiff, uniform dough.
Mix the almond dough: Transfer two-thirds of the dough to a medium bowl and add the almond flour to the bowl (if you want to weigh the dough, it should be about 10 ounces / 283g). Use a flexible spatula to work the almond flour into the dough until you have a uniform mixture.
Work the almond dough into a slab: Scrape the almond dough onto a piece of parchment paper. Pat it down with your hands into a thinner layer, then place a piece of parchment paper on top. Roll out the dough between the sheets of parchment into a slab measuring about 12 by 8 inches and ¼-inch thick (uncover the dough and use a small offset spatula to shape the dough into a rectangle if necessary). Slide the parchment paper onto a baking sheet and refrigerate the slab until firm, 10 to 15 minutes.
Mix the pistachio dough: Meanwhile, add the ground pistachios to the food processor with the remaining dough and pulse until the mixture is thoroughly blended and the dough has taken on a green color, about 7 pulses. Set aside at room temperature until the almond dough is firm.
Form the pinwheels: Remove the almond dough from the refrigerator and plop tablespoon-size pieces of the pistachio dough across the surface of the slab. Use the offset spatula to spread the pistachio dough across the length of the slab in an even layer, leaving a ½-inch border along the longer sides. Starting at one of the longer sides and using the parchment paper to help you, roll the dough into a tight spiraled log. Wrap the log in parchment paper and transfer to the refrigerator. Chill until the dough is very firm, at least 1 hour.
Prepare the pans and preheat the oven: Meanwhile, arrange two oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line two large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
Roll the log in the demerara sugar and slice: Sprinkle the demerara sugar across a cutting board. Remove the log from the refrigerator, unwrap, and roll across the board in the sugar, pressing down very firmly as you roll so the sugar adheres. Continue to roll and press until the entire log is coated. Using a sharp knife, shave a thin crosswise slice off of each end so you have straight sides with the full spiral exposed. Cut the log in half crosswise, then cut each half in half again to make quarters, and cut each quarter in half again for eighths. As you cut, rotate the pieces on the cutting board to prevent the pinwheels from gaining a flat side and losing their round shape. Cut each piece into 4 equal slices to make 32 cookies.
Bake: Arrange the cookies flat, dividing them between the two prepared baking sheets and spacing evenly. Bake the cookies on the upper and lower racks until they are golden around the edges, 15 to 20 minutes, switching racks and rotating the sheets front to back halfway through baking. Remove from the oven and let cool completely on the baking sheets.
Makes about 70 small cookies
This recipe is from Jessica Battilana, who says these cookies don’t have the crunch and squish of a real cannoli, but they do share its flavors. She writes: The batter has to be chilled for a couple of hours before you roll and bake them, but it will keep up to a week in the fridge, so you can bake a pan of them at a time. The dough is very sticky, so you should wet your hands before you roll the batter into balls, and do try and resist the temptation to make them larger than I specify: They puff and expand when baked, and are the perfect two-bite cookie. You can freeze the baked cookies, too, but don’t ice them beforehand, as the icing will crack and flake off.
1½ sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1½ cups (297 grams) sugar
15 ounces whole milk ricotta cheese
1 tablespoon orange juice
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
3¾ cups (450 grams) all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2½ ounces chocolate-dipped orange peel, finely chopped (about ½ cup)
2 cups (227 grams) confectioners’ sugar
¼ cup milk
1 tablespoon orange juice
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons toasted pistachios, finely chopped, for sprinkling
To make the cookies: In the bowl on a stand mixer, combine the butter and sugar and beat on high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the ricotta, orange juice and zest and mix on medium speed until combined; scrape down the sides of the mixer bowl again. With the mixer on low, add the eggs one at time and mix until just combined.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. With the mixer on low, gradually add in the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until combined. Stir in the chopped candied orange peel by hand until evenly distributed throughout the batter. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to one week.
When you are ready to bake the cookies, arrange the oven racks in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with silicone pan liners or parchment paper. Wet your hands and use a teaspoon to scoop 1 tablespoon of batter; roll into a ball and set on the prepared baking sheet, spacing the cookies 2 inches apart. Return the remaining batter to the refrigerator while the first batch bakes.
Bake for 7 minutes, then rotate the pans from top to bottom and bake for 7 to 8 minutes more, until the cookies are browned on the edges and light tan on top. Let cool on the pan for 5 minutes, then use a spatula to transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. The baked cookies can be transferred to a ziptop plastic freezer bag in a single layer and frozen; thaw and glaze them before serving.
To make the glaze: When the cookies are completely cool, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, milk, orange juice and vanilla in a medium bowl until smooth. Working with one cookie at a time, dip it top-side down into the glaze, then twist it slightly as you invert it (this keeps the glaze from dripping off the edges. Return to the cooling rack and sprinkle with some of the toasted pistachios.
The cookies will keep in a tin for a few days, though the icing will crack and the cookies will get softer with time.
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