1) Gingerbread Snowflakes [from the Gourmet Cookbook, page 680]
Dark, crisp and spicy, these fabulous all-purpose cookies will perfume the house while in the oven:
Makes about 4 dozen cookies Active Time: 11/2 hour Start to finish: 21/4 hour
• 2/3 cup molasses (not robust)
• 2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
• 1 Tablespoon ground ginger
• 11/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice v • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
• 2 teaspoons baking soda
• 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces
• 1 large egg, lightly beaten
• 3 3/4 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• Decorating icing (recipe follows)
Special equipment: assorted 2- to 3-inch cookie cutters (preferable snowflake-shaped); a metal offset spatula; a pastry bag fitted with 1/8- to 1/4- inch plain tip (optional)
1. Bring molasses, brown sugar, and spices to a boil in a 4- to 5-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, and remove from heat. Stir in baking soda (mixture will foam up), then stir in butter 3 pieces at a time, letting each addition melt before adding next, until all butter is melted. Add egg and stir until combined, then stir in 3 3/4cups flour and salt.
2. Preheat oven to 325°F.
3. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and knead, dusting with as much of remaining 1/4 cup flour as needed to prevent sticking, until soft and easy to handle, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Halve dough, then wrap 1 half in plastic wrap and keep at room temperature.
4. Roll out remaining dough into a 14-inch round (1/8 inch thick) on a lightly floured surface. Cut out as many cookies as possible with cutters and carefully transfer with offset spatula to 2 buttered large baking sheets, arranging them about 1 inch apart.
5. Bake cookies in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until edges are slightly darker, 10 to 12 minutes total (watch carefully toward end of baking; cookies can burn easily). Transfer cookies to racks to cool completely. Make more cookies with remaining dough and scraps (reroll once).
6. Put icing in pastry bag (if using) and pipe or spread decoratively onto cookies.
Cooks' note: Cookies keep in an airtight container at room temperature 3 weeks.
Decorating Icing Ingredients, Directions
Makes about 3 cups Active time: 10 minutes Start to finish: 15 minutes
Note: Egg whites act as a stabilizer in this icing, allowing it to harden for decorating the cookies. Because the whites are not cooked, we prefer powdered egg whites, such as Just Whites, which are available in the baking section of most supermarkets.
• 1 (1-lb) box confectioners sugar
• 4 teaspoons powdered egg whites (not reconstituted)
• 1/3 cup water
• 1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• Food coloring (optional)
1. Beat together all ingredients except food coloring in a large bowl with an electric mixer at moderate speed until just combined, about 1 minute. Increase speed to high and beat icing, scraping down side of bowl occasionally, until it holds stiff peaks, about 3 minutes in a standing mixer or 4 to 5 minutes with a handheld. Beat in food coloring (if using). If you plan to spread (rather than pipe) icing on cookies, stir in more water, 1 teaspoon at a time, to thin to desired consistency.
2) Stained Glass Teardrops [from the Gourmet Cookbook, page 681]
Stunningly beautiful, these cookies made with crushed hard candies are worthy of Louis Comfort Tiffany:
Active time: 45 min Start to finish: 3 1/4 hr (includes chilling dough)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 to 8 oz individually wrapped assorted fruit-flavored hard candies such as sour balls
Special equipment: a 2- to 3-inch-wide teardrop-shaped cookie cutter; a nonstick baking pad such as Silpat; a 1- to 2-inch-wide teardrop-shaped cookie cutter
Whisk together flour and salt in a small bowl.
Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes in a standing mixer (preferably fitted with paddle attachment) or 6 minutes with a handheld, then beat in egg and vanilla. Add flour mixture and mix at low speed until just combined.
Form dough into 3 (5-inch) disks and chill, each disk wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, at least 2 hours.
While dough chills, unwrap candies and separate by color in small heavy-duty sealable plastic bags. Seal bags, forcing out air, then coarsely crush candies by wrapping each bag in a kitchen towel and pounding bags with a rolling pin.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Roll out 1 piece of dough into a 9-inch round (1/8 inch thick) on a well-floured surface with floured rolling pin (keep remaining dough chilled). Cut out as many cookies as possible from dough with large cutter and transfer to a Silpat-lined baking sheet, arranging about 1 inch apart. Cut out centers from cookies with small cutter and add to scraps. Spoon about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon crushed candy (depending on size of cutout) in center of each cookie. (If you want to use these cookies as tree ornaments, make a hole with a drinking straw in each for hanging.)
Bake in middle of oven until edges are golden, 10 to 12 minutes, then cool cookies completely on baking sheet on a rack, about 10 minutes. Transfer with a metal spatula to a plate or an airtight container. Gather scraps and chill until firm enough to reroll, 10 to 15 minutes. Make more cookies with remaining dough and scraps (reroll once) in same manner on cooled baking sheet.
• Dough can be chilled up to 3 days.
• If dough becomes too soft to roll out, rewrap in plastic and chill until firm.
• Cookies keep, layered between sheets of wax paper or parchment paper, in an airtight container at room temperature 1 week.
Makes about 4 dozen cookies.