Want to give a gift that shows how much you care? Then put down that fruitcake catalogue. For a personal touch – and a relaxing, get-in-the-spirit couple of hours – consider baking a batch of cookies from scratch. Not just run-of-the-mill cookie-cutter Christmas confections, mind you, but festive holiday sweets from the likes of François Payard (chocolate-coated candied citrus peels), Fauchon’s Florian Bellanger (orange-glazed cocoa-almond shooting stars), and Citarella’s Bill Yosses (nut-studded, sugar-dusted Russian tea cakes with a cardamom zing). A recipe for buttery sablés au citron comes from Paris (via cookbook writer Dorie Greenspan). And Craft’s Karen DeMasco gets in the sugar-and-spice spirit with a trio of temptations – crunchy peanut brittle, zest-laced linzer cookies, and the thinnest, spiciest ginger snaps we’ve ever had. Tie them up in a tumbler or nestle them in wooden boxes, and they’re perfect to bring to a holiday party. That is, if you’ve been able to resist devouring them yourself.
Craft and Craftbar
Makes about 2 dozen 1-inch chunks.
2 cups sugar
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
1⁄3 cup light corn syrup
1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda
1 and 1⁄2 tablespoons salt
12 ounces dry-roasted salted peanuts (do not chop)Spray a 12-by-16-by-1⁄2-inch sheet pan lightly with vegetable oil. Add the sugar, butter, corn syrup, and 1⁄2 cup plus 2 tablespoons water to a large saucepan, and stir together until all the sugar is wet. Cook over high heat until the mixture turns a medium golden. Immediately remove from the heat, and carefully whisk in the baking soda followed by the salt (taking care, as the caramel will rise in the pan and bubble). Switch to a wooden or metal spoon, and fold in the peanuts. Quickly pour the mixture onto the sheet pan, and spread it out over the pan using the back of the spoon before it starts to harden. (It may not cover the whole pan.) Once the brittle is completely cool, break it into bite-size pieces with the back of a knife or other blunt object.
Makes 3 to 5 dozen.
2 and 1⁄3 cups granulated sugar
4 tablespoons light corn syrup
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate (preferably Valrhona or Callebaut), finely choppedTo prepare the rinds: Slice each fruit in half, squeeze out the juice, and remove and discard pulp. Stir together sugar, corn syrup, and 4 cups water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Add the citrus peels, and place a saucer on top to keep them submerged. Cook for 5 hours just below the boiling point. (Use a flame tamer to keep the temperature down.) After 5 hours, the syrup will be twice as thick as when you began. Transfer peel and syrup to a bowl, and set in the refrigerator overnight. (Candied peel will keep in the syrup for one year.) Drain the peel, scrape out most of the pith, and cut into 1⁄4-inch strips. Dry on a rack for 2 to 3 hours. (They must be thoroughly dry before you begin dipping.) To temper the chocolate: Melt 8 ounces of the chocolate in a bowl placed over simmering water, until the temperature gets to 110 degrees (it will feel warm when touched to the lips). Remove the bowl of chocolate from the heat, and dry the bottom. Using a spatula, stir in the remaining chocolate. When it has all melted and no lumps remain, return the bowl to the simmering water, and heat for 3 to 5 seconds until it feels warm on the lips again. Remove from heat. To coat: Dip each fruit strip into the chocolate, coating three quarters of the strip, and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Reheat the chocolate over the hot water if it cools and stiffens. Allow the dipped citrus to set in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.
From Paris Sweets by Dorie Greenspan
(Broadway Books; $26)
Makes about 4 dozen.
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2⁄3 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Grated zest of 1 to 1 and 1⁄2 lemons, to taste
2 cups all-purpose flour
1⁄2 cup granulated sugar, for coating Beat butter in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment at medium speed until it’s smooth. Add confectioners’ sugar, and beat until silky. Beat in 1 of the egg yolks, following it with the salt, vanilla, and lemon zest. Reduce speed, and add flour, beating just until it disappears. (It is better to underbeat than overbeat; if streaks of flour remain, blend with a spatula.) Turn the dough out onto the counter, form it into a ball, cut in half, wrap each half in plastic, and chill until firm, about 30 minutes. Form each piece of dough into a 11⁄4-inch-diameter log. Wrap the logs in plastic, and chill for 2 hours. (The dough can be wrapped and refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 1 month.) Position racks to divide the oven into thirds, and preheat to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Whisk the remaining egg yolk in a small bowl until it is smooth and liquid. Spread the sugar on wax paper. Remove logs from the refrigerator, unwrap, and brush lightly with egg yolk. Roll the logs in the sugar, pressing gently so it sticks. Slice them into 1⁄4-inch-thick rounds. (If you make them thicker, bake them longer.) Place on cookie sheets, leaving about 1⁄2 inch between them, and bake for 12 to 14 minutes, or until they are set but not browned. (It’s fine if the yolk-brushed edges brown a bit.) Transfer to cooling racks. Note: Because the sugar coating will melt, these cookies are not suitable for freezing. For Christmas, roll dough in larger-grained, crystal, or colored sugar.
Craft and Craftbar
Makes 2 to 3 dozen.
6 ounces (11⁄2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup powdered sugar
Zest of 1 lemon, grated fine
Zest of 2 oranges, grated fine
1 and 1⁄4 cups all-purpose flour plus extra for board and rolling pin
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1⁄2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
3 egg yolks
1 and 1⁄2 cups finely ground almonds (almond flour, or blanched almonds pulsed in a food processor until very fine)
1 cup raspberry preservesPreheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Beat butter, sugar, and zests in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment at medium speed until they are smooth. Sift together flour, baking powder, spices, and salt. Add the yolks to the mixer bowl, and beat until they are incorporated. Reduce the speed, and slowly add the dry mixture, then the ground almonds, beating until they’re incorporated. Turn the dough out onto the counter, form it into a ball, cut in half, wrap each half in plastic, and chill until firm, about 1 hour. (The dough will keep for 3 days at this stage, and can be frozen for 1 month.) Flour the board and rolling pin, and roll out half the dough to 1⁄8-inch thickness. Cut the cookies into desired shapes using a 11⁄2-inch-diameter cutter. Cut 1⁄2-inch holes in the centers of half the cookies. Transfer the cookies to prepared cookie sheets with a spatula, and chill them for 30 minutes.Bake for 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a rack. Once they’ve cooled, sprinkle the cookies that have cutouts with confectioners’ sugar. Spoon a little raspberry preserves on each of the solid cookies, and top each with a powdered cookie.
Makes 2 to 3 dozen.
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1⁄2 cup confectioners’ sugar plus extra for rolling
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups shelled, chopped nuts (suggested: 1⁄2 cup each of pecans, walnuts, almonds, and hazelnuts)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cardamom Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Beat butter and confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment at medium speed until it’s smooth. Add the flour, nuts, vanilla extract, salt, and cardamom and continue mixing until a smooth paste forms. (The dough will keep in the refrigerator for 2 weeks.)Form dough into 3⁄4-inch balls and place on cookie sheets. Bake for 6 minutes or until edges brown.While the cookies are still hot from the oven, roll them in a dish of confectioners’ sugar. Cool on a rack. Wrap well with plastic, and place in an airtight container.
Florian Bellanger Fauchon
Makes about 1 dozen.
1 and 1⁄2 cups cake flour
1⁄2 cup granulated sugar
1⁄4 cup cocoa powder
1⁄3 cup almond flour
1⁄4 teaspoon fine salt
4 ounces plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
2 egg yolks
1 and 1⁄2 cups of confectioners’ sugar, sifted
Zest of 1 orange, grated
1⁄4 cup fresh orange juice Cookies: Beat flour, sugar, cocoa powder, almond flour, and salt in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until combined. Add the butter in chunks, one at a time, while running the machine on low, until the mixture becomes sandy. Add the egg yolks and 2 tablespoons water, and mix until combined. Form it into a ball, cut in half, wrap each half in plastic, and chill for 2 to 3 hours until the dough is firm.Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Sprinkle your work surface and rolling pin with flour, and roll out the dough in batches to a thickness of 1⁄3 inch. Cut out the cookies with a shooting-star- or star-shaped cutter, dipping the cutter in flour if it sticks. Place on cookie sheets and bake for 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a rack.When cookies have cooled to room temperature, spread the orange icing (recipe below) over the top of each with a spatula. Orange icing: Blend sifted sugar and zest in a mixing bowl. Whisk in the orange juice. Cover with plastic wrap, and set aside.
Craft and Craftbar
Makes about 3 dozen.
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for board and rolling pin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon baking soda
6 ounces (1 and 1⁄2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1⁄4 cup molasses
2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger
Decoration: Gold dragées or granulated sugarSift together flour, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda. Beat butter, sugar, molasses, and ginger in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment at medium speed until it’s smooth. Add the egg, beat until combined, and gradually beat in dry ingredients. Form dough into a ball, cut in half, wrap each half in plastic, and chill overnight. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Lightly flour the work surface and rolling pin, and roll out the dough in batches to 1⁄8-inch thickness. Cut the cookies into desired shapes. Transfer them to cookie sheets with a thin spatula. Sprinkle with sugar or decorate with gold dragées, and chill 30 minutes. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until golden brown. They will crisp as they cool.