A surprising cold snap in North Carolina (we even had snow last weekend, and there are still patches of white in my yard) reminds me of the first time I baked Christmas Cookies. A December snowstorm shut Cleveland schools down for a whole week. To keep us from going stir-crazy, Mom set us to stirring cookie dough. Also rolling, spritzing, frosting, and sprinkling. I still bake most of the recipes we followed.
The cold also sets me thinking about how frequently female MCs must battle Winter along with other antagonists.
My favorite is Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen—I've even produced a stage adaptation—but I'm not posting an image because most book covers feature the ice-hearted Northern Queen, not the doughty heroine, Gerda.
All these chilly memories send me straight to my warm kitchen, to bake two favorite cookies. Both are simple to make, and both will come through a long freeze with tenderness and flavor intact.
Our family votes this the best shortbread in history. These cookies are thin, rich, and so delicate they just about melt in the mouth. Although they do freeze, they're also perfect for those times when you want to bake a quick batch of impressive cookies. You don't even need to bring the butter to room temperature!
The recipe originated in the newsletter The Cuisinart Cook (December, 1986). My sister calculated the versions for the larger size jelly roll pan.
Ingredients for 10" X 15" X 1" pan:
- I cup frozen unsalted butter (cut into 1/2" pats)
- ½ cup sifted confectioner's sugar
- 2 cups flour
Ingredients for 12" X 17" X 1" pan:
- 1 1/3 cup frozen unsalted butter (cut into 1/2" pats)
- ½ cup + 1/3 cup sifted confectioner's sugar
- 2 1/3 cups flour
SET ASIDE 2 cups confectioner's sugar for sprinkling over finished cookies.
Preheat oven to 375.
Insert metal blades into food processor. Place the frozen chunks of butter, sifted confectioner's sugar, and flour into the processor. Pulse-process ingredients for NO MORE THAN 20 seconds, until all ingredients are just blended. The "dough" will be powdery. There should not be any unprocessed lumps of butter.
Pour "dough" powder onto ungreased jelly roll pan, using a spatula to spread evenly. Press lightly with palms of hands, just enough to form the dough in the pan. Use a fork to prick lightly all over dough, but do not expose pan with fork pricks.
Bake at 375 for 5 MINUTES ONLY.
Then turn oven down to 300 and continue baking for 15 to 20 minutes (until dough turns a light golden brown at edges).
Remove cookies from oven and use a butter knife to cut into squares while they are still warm. This will keep the cookies from breaking. Sprinkle them with confectioner's sugar and use a flat spatula to remove from pan. Sprinkle cookies one more time with confectioner's sugar and serve (or freeze).
LIFE'S LESSONS LEARNED: You do store unsweetened butter in your freezer, don't you? I always do. It keeps well for up to 8 months. I store individually wrapped sticks in their original packaging.
The recipe in my scrapbook is brown and brittle. Judging from the font and format, I clipped it out of a Ladies Home Journal in the late1970's. I've baked it every year since then.
The magazine describes these bars as "rich and addictive." No argument here. In the unlikely event that any are left over, store them in the refrigerator. I make in a larger pan, sizing the recipe up, but these are the original stats:
- 1/3 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
- 1 cup unsifted all-purpose flour
- ½ cup chopped walnuts
- 1/3 cup butter or margarine, softened
- 1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350. Grease an 8-inch-square pan. [I recommend lining pan with parchment, too.]
In small bowl mix first 3 ingredients. Stir in melted butter or margarine until well combined. Reserve 1/3 cup crumbs. Pat remaining gently into pan. Bake 12 to 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, in small bowl with electric mixer at medium speed, beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Beat in remaining ingredients. Pour over crust; sprinkle on remaining crumbs. Bake 25 minutes more until set.
Cool on wire rack. When cool, cut into 2-inch squares; cut each square diagonally in half. Makes 32 cookies.
LIFE'S LESSONS LEARNED: Like many gooey bars, Cheesecake Dreams cut most tidily after a quick freeze. If you line the pan with parchment, you can lift the whole batch out and cut on a board.