Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas cookies redeemed.

Sam and I spent Christmas in San Antonio with just the two of us for company, which was wonderful and calm and relaxing. Except for one thing. On Christmas Eve there was a definite lack of Christmas cookies in our house. With only two of us, I refrained from much baking this year. After all, the two of us alone hardly needed tins upon tins of sweets. But, at 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve, I just felt like something was missing. It wasn't that I was lonely, but I was worried about having an empty plate for Santa. So I baked cookies.

In fact, I baked two batches of cookies. At least I restrained myself from doubling the batches. The first was an old classic and family favorite known as Russian Tea Cakes, or Mexican Wedding Cookies, or even sometimes butterballs (due to the excessive and delicious butter content). The second cookies was a new recipe, not designed especially for Christmas, but it has become my new favorite Christmas cookie. It is orange shortbread sandwiched together with chocolate ganache. Yum.

I like to focus on citrus for Christmas. It reminds me of Little House on the Prairie. During their Christmas on the cold plains, both girls get an orange in their stocking, and it is such a treat during that winter in their little house on that big, cold prairie. These days we all take our citrus for granted. But just think, little Laura and Mary each received one orange, which they cherished section by section. At my house we currently have a five pound box of Mandarin cuties, and I peel three or four a day if I feel like it (no scurvy here!). And their oranges were not even genetically modified to eliminate seeds!

The cookies are minimally sweet, rich with the ganache, and have a heft that makes you feel like one is enough. The orange provides a sweet scent and a demure, delicate flavor that compliments the chocolate filling. The sandwiches are also sturdy with a good shelf life, which makes them a great choice for the holidays. You can easily whip up a triple batch to package for friends and family without fear of spoilage or crumbs. We ate ours up to a week after baking, and it was only at day nine that they lost their luster. You could also make the dough alone as single cookies, sprinkled with sugar and served up with tea or wassail or just a cold glass of milk.

Next Christmas Sam and I may find ourselves surrounded by family, or with friends, or again sharing each others quiet, lovely company along. But no matter who we spend it with, there will be homemade sweets and this cookie. And every time I eat it I will remember Little House on the Prairie, and the simple pleasures in life, like citrus and a warm home on a cold night and a family that cares whether near or far. They are simple pleasures that should not be taken for granted. So, until next year, happy holidays and good luck with the New Years Resolutions.

Orange Shortbread Cookies
modified from Bon Appetit, with the addition of chocolate ganache for sandwiches

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons (packed) grated orange peel
1/2 teaspoon orange extract
1 large egg yolk
3 tablespoons whipping cream

Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 350°F. Butter and flour large baking sheet. Whisk first 3 ingredients in medium bowl. Beat butter, sugar, orange peel, and orange extract in large bowl until fluffy. Beat in yolk, then cream. Add flour mixture; beat until dough comes together in moist clumps.

Gently roll dough out to ½ inch sheet and cut circle using biscuit cutter. Place on baking sheet, spacing 3/4 inch apart. Bake cookies until golden, about 18 minutes. Transfer to rack; cool.

When ganache is cool and think, spread generously on cookies and gently sandwich together. Pack into cute Christmas tins if desired and deliver to friends and family (recommended).

Chocolate Ganache Filling

1 1/2 cups (12 fluid ounces or 360 milliliters) heavy cream
1 lb (454 grams) semisweet or bittersweet dark chocolate

In a heavy saucepan, boil heavy cream. Turn off the heat. Add chopped chocolate pieces and let it rest until melted. Use a rubber spatula to stir the mixture until all the pieces are melted.

Pour it into a room-temperature bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate the frosting until thick but still spreadable. Fill cookies and enjoy.


Carmen said...

I totally remember that part of Little House on the Prairie and how excited they were about their tin cup, peppermint candy, penny, and orange!

Also, I am totally bookmarking that recipe because those cookies were DELICIOUS.

Nicknamed...Annie said...

No shout-out??? I like the Little House on the Prarie reference. I also think about how Ma made white flour cakes (not buckwheat) on very special occasions.

That reminds me, I've always wanted to try Ma's "Vanity Cakes".

Joy said...

Hi Kate!
I can't remember where exactly I found your blog, but I've been following you this past year. Thanks for all the lovely and yummy things you talk about. Thanks to you, I have bought the first two Stitch magazines, the third came free with the cover ripped off from my enterprising little sister who works at Hobby Lobby and rescued it from the dumpster. I can't wait to make the wrap skirt for summer and this orange cookie sounds scrumptious. Thanks for all the inspiration to be a happy homemaker.


Liz said...

My parents still put an orange in our stockings every year. Since I spent Christmas abroad this year, I followed the tradition at home. With a cutie of course.

Kate - where'd you find that amazing christmas "tree"? I love it!!

cza said...

I totally enjoy your blog and check back often to see what you are thinking and doing.

The cookies look totally yummy but the tree that was in the photo is great. How is it made and did you make it or buy it. I love it.

Kate said...

Thanks for the nice comments, and yes, the tree is amazing. It is made of thick white paper leaves formed into wreathes, and spotted with metalic "cranberries" all over. It is on a red metal base. I bought it off of Starbucks a few years ago when I worked for the company. After Christmas they were supposed to get rid of everything, but my manager was very kind and sold me the tree, three mini wreaths with stands, and a large door wreath for something like $15 bucks. The best part is that it all dissassembles (think shipping) so it can be packed down into a plastic box for storage.

Sometimes people feel sad for me when I describe our modern tree - they think it is cold and lifeless - but truthfully my husband and I love it. In fact, I worry about the day it gets too dingy and old to put up.

p.s. The cookies are really good, and probably appropriate for January chill, so get baking!