December 6, 2012

Dressing up for the holidays (3 cookies)

The holidays are a time for dress-up.  Personally, I love to dress up once in a while for a night out, for a special dinner that I'm looking forward to.  Most of us love an excuse to put on a dress and some jewelry (and use a small purse!) - it's a break from the usual routine, particularly if you're a mom on that treadmill of pick-up/drop-off during the week. 

But this being a baking journal, I'm not talking about dressing up - as in clothes - for the holidays.  I'm referring to "dressing up" your usual treats, taking a spin on them, fancying them up just a bit for this special time of year!
A small sample of my holiday cookie decorating supplies
'Tis the season when people break out the colorful sprinkles, sanding sugar, royal icing, and cookie cutters.  That's the case for me and I like to make some of our family favorite and try a few new cookies, cakes, or candy recipes without going too crazy.  Narrowing down the choice of recipes to try is a difficult process given limited time.  While I'm drawn to new recipes, I also want a sure thing during the holidays.  I think one of the solutions to that is to call up some of your favorite recipes and "dress them up"!

So today, I'd like to talk about three cookie recipes.  They're based on recipes I've made before that my family enjoys, but with a little holiday twist.  Maybe it'll inspire you to call up old favorites and add a little something special to them.

Cherry-Almond Cookies

First up, cherry-almond cookies.  I could write an ode to almond paste - I love it that much!  I love the smell, the taste, the chewy texture it brings to cookies like this one.  I make almond macaroons pretty often, it's one of my favorite cookies, and I also love the pignoli version.  For my holiday spin, I made this cherry version, which is essentially the same almond cookie base topped with a festive-looking candied cherry.  These jewel-like candied cherries are pretty easy to find in the supermarket at this time of year.  My little guy choose green but red is the other option, or a combination of both would be beautiful on a plate.
These almond cookies are easy to make, with just a handful of ingredients.  If almond paste was cheaper, I'd make them every month!  For this cherry version, the only change up I made was to add the candied cherry on top instead of the usual almond slices that I, personally, prefer. 

I was inspired to make a batch of these, thinking of my son.  These are the cookies he'd always pick from the local Italian bakery I used to take him to fairly often.  My husband also likes the cherries but I prefer the basic almond or nut-all-the-way version.  Luckily, there's room for everyone's preference because who says you can't mix the old with the new!  I made a few traditional almond ones for myself but I have to say I love the look of those shiny green baubles on top of these almond cookies for the holidays.

Tuiles with Dark Chocolate

This is a no-brainer and pretty much my life motto when it comes to dessert: Add chocolate! 

Yes - when in doubt, add dark chocolate.  I am a bonafide chocoholic, someone who rarely orders a non-chocolate dessert at a restaurant.  But beyond just that pure love of the stuff, I've been wanting to add a dose of chocolate to a batch of crisp tuile/lace cookies for some time.
My experience with chocolate covered tuiles goes back to that first cooking class I took as a teenager in school.  I adored those cooking classes where I first learned to cook in a kitchen by following recipes.  As I've mentioned before, I used to stop by on my free periods to hang out in the kitchen, help wash dishes (seriously!), and generally soak in the atmosphere.  I distinctly remember a batch of tuiles sitting on the counter there one day and some students drizzling chocolate over them.  I was offered a taste and was amazed by how good they were!  

So calling up those fond memories, I made a batch of almond-butterscotch tuiles, which I like very much.  For the chocolate pizazz, I drizzled (the way I remembered it that day in that class kitchen), dipped, spread, and sandwiched them in bittersweet chocolate.  Any way you do it, you can't go wrong with the addition of dark chocolate against this crisp, sweet, caramelized cookie studded with chopped almonds.  If you like toffee (yum!), you'll like this!
Chocolate adds an extra level of indulgence, richness, and decadence to treats like these.  Beyond tuiles, so many cookies would benefit from a little chocolate dip or coating!  I think the extra step is absolutely worth it during the holidays.
I usually like to make these crisp tuiles to serve along with ice cream, or shape them into serving containers to hold ice cream, but I think they make a very special addition to any Christmas cookie platter whether you add chocolate or not.

Sugar Doily Cookies

Now, finally...sugar cookies; they practically symbolize Christmas to me as far as cookies go, and because of that, I always make some at this time of year.  This is where, the star/tree/Christmas stocking/gingerbread men-type cooking cutters come out, along with a variety of sprinkles and maybe some royal icing.
To dress them up in a different way this year, I went with an idea from Martha and cut them to mimic a doily or lace pattern using small aspic cutters and pastry tips.  I've been drawn to the graceful look of those doily-looking sugar cookies for a while and wanted to give it a try for a special occasion. 

I have to say mine may not be exactly doily or lace like since I don't have enough cutters to make more intricate designs (general skill and patience also lacking).  But this is my interpretation and I really like them; I also wanted to make these cookies now because they remind me of snowflakes.
I think of these as a more elegant spin on sugar cookies.  But that's not to say I didn't put my holiday cookie cutters and sprinkles to use.  Traditions need to be honored!  And no matter what they look like, sugar cookies taste great and always smell delicious when baking.  All you need is a cup of hot chocolate to go along with a few of these.

When I eat a homemade sugar cookie, I'm reminded of how good simple things are...

Just another thought: If you like peppermint (and I do!), adding some peppermint extract to your treats is a great way to dress up old-favorites for the holidays.  In the past, I've taken one of my favorite chocolate cookies and turned them into chocolate peppermint chip cookies.  Many recipes that call for almond or vanilla extract could be tweaked to use peppermint in its place.  Time permitting, I'm thinking about some chocolate crackles with peppermint this year.


Cherry Almond Cookies
Adapted from Martha Stewart (very similar to these)

- Makes approximately one dozen cookies -

5 ounces almond paste (I use Love 'n Bake brand, which comes in a 10oz. can)
Scant 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
Pinch of coarse salt
1 large egg white, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
12 green and/or red candied cherries

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

Put almond paste, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Mix on medium speed until almond paste and sugar are combined and mixture is crumbly, about 3 minutes.  Add egg white and vanilla.  Continue mixing for about 3 minutes, until mixture is smooth and thickened.

Drop batter by almost a tablespoon-full (I use a small level ice cream scoop) onto the baking sheets, spacing them about 2 inches apart.  Wet your thumb with some cold water and press an indentation into the center of each cookie.  Place a candied cherry on top of each.

Bake until cookies are lightly golden brown, about 20-25 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through.

Let cookies cool completely on wire racks before removing.  They will release easily once completely cooled.  Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Almond-Butterscotch Tuiles with Dark Chocolate

Recipe from David Lebovitz can be found here 

- For a little bit of a neater look, I tried cutting the cookies, while they were still warm, using a round cutter.  Unfortunately, it did not work well so I don't recommend it.  I would suggest simply baking the cookies using 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons of batter (so they're not too large) and leaving them free form.

- To add the chocolate accent, melt 3 ounces of semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (you can do it slowly, stirring frequently, in the microwave) and drizzle it over the top of the cooled cookies with a spoon.  If you want to make a neater job of it, transfer the melted chocolate to a small plastic sandwich bag, snip off the corner and drizzle it that way.  Allow cookies to sit on parchment paper until chcoolate sets.  Please note the amount of chocolate you need depends on whether you intend to simply drizzle the cookies or if you want to dip or spread them with chocolate, in which case you'll likely need a bit more.

Sugar Doily Cookies

I use a recipe from Martha Stewart you can find here

- I like these a bit on the thinner side (for crunch) so I roll the dough out just slightly thicker than 1/8 of an inch thick.

- Use fluted cookie cutters to cut out cookie rounds.  Make the doily or lace-like patterns using a combination of aspic cutters (basically very small cookie cutters) and pastry tips.  I find it helpful to have a toothpick or cake tester nearby so you can use it to poke the pastry tip and remove bits of sugar cookie dough collecting inside as you use it. 

- You might want to sprinkle some white or lightly colored coarse/sanding sugar on top of some these cookies before baking.  I really like additional crunch with these sugar cookies. 

Have a sweet Holiday!
Enjoy your cookies! 


  1. Hi Monica!

    It's meeeh, Arlene.

    Great job! As usual. :)

  2. Arlene - Hi!!! Thanks for stopping by and for the kind comment! I hope all is well and you are enjoying the Holidays! : )

  3. These all look so pretty and festive! I especially love the look of those tuiles...yum!

  4. Hi Sara - thanks so much! Those tuiles are great with a little dark chocolate on them and I enjoyed going a little "Jackson Pollock" with the drizzling. : )

  5. Oh those tuiles look incredible! Happy feasting!



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