A Trio of Christmas Cookies

Christmas Cookies

I told myself I wasn’t going to make Christmas cookies this year. It’s too hard, I thought. I don’t have enough time. Then, in the middle of thinking about how much I didn’t want to make cookies, I found myself driving to the store to buy decorative tins and ingredients for three kinds of holiday treats. It sortof felt like holiday auto-pilot.

It’s easy to go on baking auto-pilot when you’re using easy, familiar recipes. These Lemon Bars and Ginger Crackles come together in less than half an hour, and the Chocolate Mousse Cookies are much less work than similar sorts of ‘chocolate brownie cookies’ that call for long whipping and dough resting times. In the end, they didn’t take much time at all.

With all three of these recipes, you’ll spend most of your time waiting for things to bake or cool. Two are from Abby Dodge’s website (Dodge’s The Weekend Baker is one of my favorites, and she has a new book in the works!), and the other is one of my family treasures. If you’re struggling to find some last minute Christmas cookie ideas, give one of these a try.

  1. Lemon Bars
  2. Ginger Crackles
  3. Irene Double Chocolate Mousse Cookies

2011 Edible Gifts for Foodies

White Nectarine & Elderflower Preserves

Bars from Xocolatl de David
In last year’s roundup, I suggested 8 types of gifts to please your foodie friends and relatives. That list is still a good guideline- in fact, everything on this year’s list fits into one of those categories. So, without further ado, here are eight of my favorite products from 2011:

1. Salted Caramel Bar from Xocolatl de David
www.xocolatldedavid.com, $9
To my knowledge, Xocolatl de David is still a one-man operation helmed by David Briggs, a CIA grad based in Portland, Oregon. I happened upon his Salted Caramel Bar at DeLaurenti, an Italian market in Seattle. It’s one of the best dark chocolate bars i’ve had in a while- in mirror-bright perfect temper and filled with a toothsome salted caramel (there are some great pictures on www.ourfoodshed.com.) If you want something savory, try the Almond & Pimenton bar (but be warned, the smoked paprika flavor is strong).

2. Bahlsen Contessa Minis
www.germandeli.com, $3.39 [currently out of stock]
I’m a long-time fan of Bahlsen’s Contessas, a seasonal sugar-crusted, chocolate-bottomed Lebkuchen. I used to think these gingerbread cookies were obscure, until I realized for three years running i’ve only been able to make one purchase before my usual sources run out of stock. Lately I prefer the mini Contessas to the full-sized. They’re great alongside a cup of coffee.

3. Chocolate Marshmallows from Zingerman’s
www.zingermans.com, $25
The chocolate marshmallows are the star of this half-chocolate, half-vanilla gift box. Made with Scharffen Berger cocoa and studded with chocolate chunks, they are hard to resist (I went through an entire bag in about two days). With a peppermint hot cocoa? Heaven. Looking for more flavors? Try Little Flower Candy Co. or Pittsburgh Marshmallow Factory.

4. Preserves from Blue Chair Fruit
bluechairfruit.com, $12+
Sometimes, cookbooks lead me to a food product. In this case, the unique flavors in Rachel Saunders’ massive The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook piqued my interest in her company, and i’m pleased to report that these preserves are as tasty as they look. If you’re looking to impress a preserves-lover, spring for a Jam Club subscription.

5. Ice Cream from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
jenisicecreams.com, $12+
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home was one of my top cookbook picks of the year. After working my way, pint by pint, through the Jeni’s selection at Plum Market and The Produce Station, I made a 3 hour pilgrimage to the scoop shop in Chagrin Falls, Ohio to try her holiday flavors. My personal favorite flavors? Black Forest, Brown Butter Almond Brittle, Brambleberry Crisp, and Lemon Blueberry Frozen Yogurt.

6. Delice de Pommard
www.dibruno.com, $14.99
I have no experience buying cheese online, but I am tempted to try it to get ahold of this mustard-coated, soft cow’s milk cheese from Burgundy. It was an October special at Zingerman’s which they’ve told me they’ll have again after the holidays.

7. Sour Cherry Spoon Fruit from American Spoon Foods
www.spoon.com, $8.50
Since many jams, jellies, and preserves are too sweet for my tastes, I was happy to find this tart cherry ‘spoon fruit.’ Made in Northern Michigan, this cherry-studded spread holds its own on strong flavored breads like rye and pumpernickel. I really want to try it on pancakes!

8. Pralus Barre Infernale Lait
chefshop.com, $19-22
When I asked a Zingerman’s staff member if I could try this chocolate bar, he said “are you sure? It’s dangerous.” He was right- one bite and I knew I couldn’t leave without one. The price tag is steep, but it’s a big bar- a 6.4oz brick of hazelnut-studded praline, coated in the same milk chocolate they use for their fantastic Melissa bars. If you like gianduja and want a slightly cheaper alternative, try Sperlari’s Zanzibar Gianduja Classico (pictured in this post from Serious Eats).

Vegan Apple Pie

Before Thanksgiving, someone (a non-vegan) asked me what kind of pies I was making. My first response (pumpkin) received an mmm of approval. My second response (vegan apple, with an olive oil crust) was met with a look of disgusted incomprehension.

I was uneasy about the olive oil too. For a long time, I considered both vegan baking and gluten-free baking to be, well, inferior. Now, I think it’s more appropriate to say they are scary, particularly for someone who has never tried.

Now, pretend I had never mentioned olive oil. Does this pie look any different from your average buttery, lardy pie?

Vegan Apple PieVegan Apple Pie

Not really. And while the crust certainly tasted differently, it was still a flaky, crisp, complement to the tart apple filling. To my genuine surprise, at a ten-person Thanksgiving dinner with one vegan in attendance, this was the pie everyone wanted, and it was the only dessert to be eaten in its entirety.

If you have never tried vegan baking, I have a few suggestions.
1) Start simple. Don’t pick the strangest, most tricked-out multi-flavor vegan cheesecake you can find.
2) Find a good recipe. Ask your vegan friends for cookbook recommendations, or find a blog/website that seems reputable. Don’t just pick the first thing you found on Google.
3) Don’t get discouraged. Just because one recipe turns out badly doesn’t mean you should forego all vegan baking. Give yourself some time to figure out what you like and how to use potentially unfamiliar ingredients.

I picked this recipe because I’ve had success with Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero’s recipes, and olive oil is more appetizing to me than vegan shortening and margarine products. I hope you enjoy it!
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