Christmas Cookies

Have you heard how many people have been singing about Santa Claus coming to town lately? It’s been pretty much everybody and if that doesn’t stress you out a little bit, well you’re a better person than I. There is only one full work week before Christmas. So you know those Christmas cookies you were thinking would be fun to make this year? It’s time to pull the trigger and make them.

Christmas Cookies for Santa

It’s hard choosing what cookie recipe to make with so many out there to choose from. After I went with my trusted three recipes that I knew I could churn out without thinking, I realized that I could have done so many other things like a sugar and butter-laden shortbread – the kind that induces heart palpitations but is so utterly addictive. Mint Nanaimo bars or even cornflake wreaths topped with a snippet of Swedish Berry would have both been joy making, especially since my cupboard is stocked with so much green food dye.

At this time of year though, it’s better to go with your autopilot if you have one. It helps to avoid tears on Christmas, just as it does to decide not to roast and peel your own chestnuts or over-do-it on the County Nog.

As much as I’d like to experiment with other recipes, I have to give a recipe for this gingerbread. This is what I want to smell baking when I’m making Christmas cookies and I’d be a little disappointed if I didn’t have that familiar scent around Christmas as there’s really no other appropriate time to have them. It’s heavy on the cloves, which is one thing I really like about them. They’re also lighter in colour and crisp. They’re a perfect gingerbread cookie for those that say they don’t like gingerbread because they really don’t resemble any other gingerbread cookie out there.

I’m not one for decorating cookies. I really hate to do it so for these I enlisted a helper to do the dirty work, after I mixed up some icing that consisted of icing sugar and water, with some added red and green food dye. If no one is expecting pretty Christmas shapes, my real preference for these cookies is to roll out small amounts in my hands and smush them onto the cookie sheet, making for an average-looking round cookie that’s uneven in places but tastes just as good as the fussed-over version.

The prune turnovers, I hope I don’t have to convince you too much about. They’re absolutely basic to put together but taste like a Scandinavian Christmas. The instant you pull out the bottle of brandy, and dump in the sugar and prunes, you know it’s Christmas.

Christmas Cookies for Santa

The Peppermint Meringues come from Martha Stewart. I think they were first published in her magazine as a stand-alone holiday cookie issue, before it was turned into the popular Martha Stewart Cookies book. With only three egg whites, some sugar and food colouring, they take no time to put together. Though as a Canadian that flips between Celsius and Fahrenheit from recipe to recipe, I find I always flip the oven temperature in my head to Celsius instead of following it as written, meaning whenever I make this recipe, I inevitably have to run to the oven, remembering that I’ve again turned it up much higher than it’s supposed to be. I skip the chocolate ganache filling because I like them how they are, minty, light, and unfussy.

If you’ve taken the time to read this entire cookie rambling you’re practically done for. Santa Claus is probably reading this with you, over your shoulder and Christmas is about to be over. Just make something quick!

Christmas Cookies for Santa

Gingerbread Cookies

250g unsalted butter, softened
355g granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 tablespoons dark corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
450g all-purpose unbleached white flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons ground ginger

In the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, add the butter and sugar. Cream on medium speed for approximately 3 minutes until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the egg, corn syrup, and vanilla extract and continue to mix until fully incorporated. With the mixer turned off add the flour, baking soda, and spices and mix on low speed until just incorporated, finishing mixing by hand using wooden spoon so as not to over mix the dough.

Divide the dough into two portions and wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour. The dough can be made a couple of days ahead of time or frozen if desired.

When ready to bake preheat your oven to 350°F and remove the dough from the fridge to allow time to warm up and become pliable.

Between two sheets of parchment paper, roll out the dough to approximately 1/8” thickness and cut into Christmasy shapes. Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet or a sheet lined with parchment paper for a little non-stick cookie insurance, for approximately 8-10 minutes. Leave a good 1” of space between cookies as these spread a fair amount.

Christmas Cookies for Santa

Brandy Prune Turnovers

makes 18 turnovers

60g granulated sugar
125ml brandy or Calvados
250g pitted prunes
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
45g fresh bread crumbs
450g package frozen all-butter puff pastry
1 egg, well beaten
coarse sugar, for sprinkling

In a small saucepan, add the sugar and brandy and heat over medium-low, stirring occasionally until the sugar has dissolved. Add the prunes and continue to heat for another minute. Remove the pan from the heat, cover and let stand for 20 minutes. Add the spices and bread crumbs and using an immersion blender or food processor, blend everything to form a smooth paste. Cool completely before using.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Roll the puff pastry out into two equal squares if you’re not lucky enough to have scored some ready-rolled puff pastry. Cut each square into 9 smaller squares and heap about 1 tablespoon of the prune mixture into the centre of each. The filling doesn’t do much in the way of expansion when it’s baked so squeeze as much of the filling in each square as you can, while still managing to seal the edges with some of the beaten egg. Fold over each square to form a triangle and press firmly around the edges to ensure they’re sealed. Place the turnovers on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and stash in the fridge to ensure the pastry remains cold. Right before baking, brush the turnovers with the egg and sprinkle with coarse sugar, then bake for approximately 25 minutes or until puffed and golden brown on top. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Christmas Cookies for Santa

Gazelle Horns

This past Friday, Sarah Skinner’s dance collective, the Sisters of Salome put on a show themed The Tea Room to raise funds for their upcoming Toronto summer 2014 Fantasy Belly Dance show, which will be  a full-length production inspired by the stories of the Arabian Nights. For Friday’s show, the dancers presented a traditional Moroccan tea ceremony to the audience, encompassing mint and rose water tea as well as various Moroccan delicacies.

This sounded like the ideal Crustcrumbs experience to us. I’m not generally a fan of rose or orange water but I could certainly be coerced into liking them in the right setting, like if a belly dancer happen to bring me a tray, spilling over in abundance with fragrant cookies. We also heard that the dancers would be balancing trays of candles on their heads in one of their routines, which meant we really couldn’t miss out on this performance.

Gazelle Horns

When I use rose and orange water at home, I generally use it to clean my counters. Its powerful floral scent overwhelms the white vinegar and water solution I use, masking the vinegar scent, leaving my counters smelling like roses. I think it’s something Martha Stewart came up with, and you know – it’s a good thing.

But given the right setting those floral scents can work wonders and have the ability to transport a person across the globe to another time where the fragrance of roses and orange blossoms hang in the thick night air. When we were invited to contribute to the evenings delights, I knew I had to do something that incorporated those scents. Gazelle Horns fit in perfectly with the theme, as they are scented heavily with orange blossom water and almonds, and their elegant crescent shape would mimic the fluid moves of the dancers.

The pastry for these cookies is not what you might expect. It’s actually much closer to a pasta dough than a cookie dough. As such, I say go all the way and use a pasta machine to achieve the appropriate thinness. You could absolutely roll out the dough by hand, as it’s done traditionally but I’ve found the pasta roller makes a major difference in making this an easy production.

Gazelle Horns

Gazelle Horns

Makes 30-40 cookies

For the filling:
340g jar almond butter, roasted and unsalted
115g icing sugar
25ml cold water
50g unsalted butter
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons orange blossom water

For the pastry:
330g unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
50g unsalted butter, melted
150ml orange blossom water
1 large egg, beaten for egg wash
icing sugar, for garnish

Start making the filling by first draining off any liquid that has separated at the top of the jar of almond butter. In a small saucepan over low heat combine the icing sugar and water and heat just until the sugar is dissolved. Melt in the butter then add the almond butter and continue to stir until the mix is fully incorporated and smooth. With the pan off the heat, add the almond extract and orange blossom water and stir to incorporate. Refrigerate until ready to use. This mix can be made up to a week ahead of time.

To make the pastry, combine the flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the dough hook. With the mixer on low speed add the butter and orange blossom water and mix for approximately 5-10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic, similar to a pasta dough. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes before proceeding.

Divide the dough into four pieces and going one piece at a time, and using a pasta roller be it hand crank or an automatic attachment on your stand mixer, feed the dough through the roller, gradually working up the thinness as you would for pasta, until the dough is very thin, finishing around the 5 or 6 mark if using a Kitchen Aid stand mixer attachment. The idea here is that you want a sheet that’s tissue paper thin.

Preheat your oven to 350°F and line two baking trays with parchment paper.

This next part is a little bit like making ravioli and pierogi. Lay the thin sheet of pastry down on a work surface. Grab a teaspoon of the filling mixture and roll it into a 1 1/2” – 2” log with your hands and place on the end of the pastry sheet, giving yourself approximately a 3” border, and cut the square of pastry using a pastry cutting wheel. Using your finger, dab the egg wash sparingly along three of the four side of the pastry square. Fold the pastry over the log and press firmly to seal the pastry, while also shaping the pastry into a crescent shape. Using a ravioli cutter, cut the crescent, giving yourself approximately 1/4” between the filling and the edge, as the pastry will shrink as it bakes. If there isn’t enough of a border, the chances of the filling exploding out during baking are pretty good.

Place each crescent on a parchment-lined baking tray and keep refrigerated until the trays are full. Bake the trays for approximately 5-8 minutes. The dough will not brown but dry slightly. Transfer the crescents to a cooling rack and allow to cool before dusting with the icing sugar.

Gazelle Horns

Sisters of Salome