It's cookie baking season. While time-honored classics are great, Splendid Table host Lynne Rossetto Kasper has some tips to make your holiday treats even better. She also shares recipes for some of her favorite treats.
1. Careful measuring matters. Invest in a food scale and look for recipes that include weights. If a recipe calls for a cup of flour, you can get between three and five ounces of flour, depending on how you measure it (scooping, spooning, sifting). But if you weigh it, you'll get just the right amount.
2. If it's possible use, real, high-quality chocolate. Lynne likes Lindt semi-sweet or 72 percent, Valrhona 64 percent, Ghirardelli 64 percent and Scharffen Berger chocolates. The percentages correspond with the amount of chocolate. Higher amounts mean the chocolate will be less sweet and more intense.
3. The same goes for butter — it should be unsalted and have a good aroma. Make sure it's at room temperature because when you're beating butter, you're building up volume.
4. Good quality candied fruits are worth it. Though they can be hard to find, having some will help if use a lot of them in your cookies. You can mail order them from a variety of sources if your supermarket's selection isn't up to par.
5. Use shiny cookie sheets. The dark ones will brown the cookies too quickly and can throw off the baking time. The exception, of course, is if the recipe calls for a dark non-stick sheet.
6. Age counts in cookie making. If you can, age your dough at least 24 hours. Aging for four or five days is even better for most dense cookie recipes. Cookie dough ripens, deepening and intensifying the flavors and improving the texture, just the way bread dough will.
Here are two of Lynne's favorite recipes:
Makes 3 to 5 dozen, depending on size.
Notes from Lynne: This is a non-butter cookie, and it calls for oil instead. If she had to pick just one cookie to make for Christmas, this is it.
1-3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (8.2 oz/232 g) spooned and leveled bleached all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons (7 g) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (3 g) salt
8 ounces (227 g) semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
2-3/4 cups (19.3 oz/547 g) sugar, divided
1/3 cup (79 ml) canola oil
2 tablespoons (30 ml) light corn syrup
2 large eggs (3.5 oz/99 g)
1 large egg yolk (0.65 oz/18 g)
2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
1 cup (4 oz/120 g) confectioners sugar
1. In a medium bowl, beat together well the flour, baking powder and salt, then set aside.
2. Melt the chocolate in the microwave on 50 percent power for 1 minute, stir and microwave for 15 seconds more and stir.
3. In a mixer with the paddle attachment, beat together 2-1/2 cups (17.5 oz/496 g) of the sugar, the oil, and corn syrup to blend. Beat in the eggs, egg yolk and vanilla. Then on low, beat in the melted chocolate. Add the flour mixture and beat in on low speed.
4. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
5. About 30 minutes before you are ready to bake, arrange a shelf in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F/163°C. Line a baking sheet with Release foil (nonstick side up).
6. Take out about one-quarter of the dough at a time to shape. Roll the dough into 1-1/2 to 2-inch (3.8 to 5 cm) balls. Pour the remaining 1/4 cup (1.8 oz/51 g) granulated sugar into one bowl and the confectioners sugar in another bowl. Roll each cookie dough ball lightly in granulated sugar first, then very heavily in confectioners sugar. (By rolling in plain sugar first, the confectioners sugar does not soak in so much and stays on the surface better.)
7. Arrange cookies 2 inches (5 cm) apart on the foil. For crisp cookies, bake 12 to 14 minutes. You can have several sheets of foil covered with cookies ready.
8. When one sheet is done, you can pull off the foil and cookies to a cooling rack. Rinse the baking sheet with cold water to cool and then slip the sheet under another sheet of foil with cookies on it and get it right back into the oven. Allow the cookies to cool for 2 minutes, then remove to a rack to cool completely.
Makes 10 large or 36 small.
Notes from Lynne: This is a big sugar cookie that Lynne does as little discs. Before baking, grate lime and orange rind shreds over the cookies. It makes them really colorful and adds a nice snap of tartness with the sweet cookie. And then when they are hot out of the oven, brush them with a glaze of fresh lime juice and sugar.
21 oz / 600 g / 4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
12 oz / 340 g / 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter
4 fl oz / 120 ml / 1/2 cup canola oil
8 oz / 225 g / 1 cup granulated sugar
7 oz / 200 g / 1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 large eggs
4 teaspoons of vanilla extract
additional granulated sugar or sprinkles for rolling
1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter on medium speed for about a minute. With the mixer on, slowly pour in the oil, and then add the two sugars, the eggs and the vanilla. Make sure to stir well after each addition.
3. Slowly add the flour mixture about a quarter at a time. Mix only until the flour disappears. Don't be alarmed as this dough is quite soft when you're done.
4. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to several days before baking.
5. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment.
6. Using a large ice cream scoop, divide the dough into balls approximately 5 to 6 oz (150 to 175 g) each. Place 4 balls per baking sheet and stagger them so they won't spread into each other as they bake. Using your fingers, flatten the balls slightly and sprinkle each one with sugar. If glazing, leave the sprinkle off altogether. We've also just rolled the balls in granulated sugar or sprinkles before flattening them on the baking sheet.
7. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the edges start to turn golden. The middles will appear soft but will firm up as they cool. If you prefer crisper cookies, add another minute or two.
8. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring them to wire racks to cool.