Chocolate Peppermint Shortbread

Chocolate and peppermint make a great flavor pair. These chocolate peppermint shortbread cookies are an elegant-looking treat that’s very easy to make and great for holiday baking.

You can buy peppermint candy bits at most craft stores and dollar stores around the holidays, but if you can’t find them, simply get some of the traditional red and white “star mint” style peppermints and crush them yourself. Give the chocolate just a moment to start to set once you’ve dipped the cookies; this helps the crushed candies adhere better without sliding off once you’ve placed the cookies on your cooling sheet.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ounce (about 1/3 cup) Dutch-process cocoa
  • 7 1/4 ounces (about 1 3/4 cups) flour
  • 8 ounces chocolate candy coating
  • About 3/4 cup crushed peppermint candies

Preparation

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Lightly grease two 8-inch round cake pans.

In a mixing bowl, cream together butter, sugar, salt, and vanilla, then beat in cocoa powder and flour.

Divide dough into two 12-ounce portions and press each portion into the bottom of the cake pans, using the palm of your hand to flatten the dough as evenly as possible.

Bake for 32-35 minutes, until it appears done around the edges. Remove from oven and loosen the sides with a knife, then cool in pans for 5 minutes.

Carefully turn one shortbread round out onto a cutting board and cut into 16 wedges; place wedges on a wire rack to cool. Repeat with the second round.

Once cookies are cool, place crushed peppermints on a plate or in a shallow dish. Melt your chocolate coating in a saucepan over very low heat, stirring until smooth.

Working quickly, dip the wide edge of each wedge into the chocolate and gently shake off the excess; hold over the pan for about 20 seconds just to let the chocolate begin to set, then dip in crushed peppermints.

Place on waxed paper or parchment and allow to set completely before storing.

Makes 32.

Note: shortbread will break if you try to cut it once it’s cool, so you must cut the rounds into wedges while they’re still warm.

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Amanda’s Holiday Spice Shortbread

What do you do when you’re a baker and your bestie is allergic to cinnamon? You develop a cinnamon-free spice mix just for her. Behold, Amanda’s Holiday Spice: a blend of ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and cardamom. It’s sort of like gingerbread spice meets apple pie spice, a wonderfully warm blend of some dynamite flavors.

I’m a big fan of making your own spice mixes, so here’s how you make this one: take 1 teaspoon ginger, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/8 teaspoon cloves, and about 1/4 teaspoon cardamom; mix it all together and taste. I added a few dashes more of nutmeg and cardamom for a total of about 2 teaspoons of spice. Store homemade spice mixes in small jars right alongside your regular spices so you can toss them into recipes whenever you like.

P.S. – these treats are on their way to Amanda and her family in California right now as a Thanksgiving gift, because I’m more grateful for her than I can say.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 10 ounces (about 2 1/3 cups) flour
  • 2 teaspoons Amanda’s Holiday Spice Blend
  • Demerara sugar, for sprinkling

Preparation

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Lightly grease two 8-inch round cake pans.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter, sugar, salt, and vanilla extract. Add flour and spice mix and beat to combine completely. The dough will be ready when it pulls away from the sides of your mixing bowl.

Divide dough in half and press into the bottom of each cake pan, using the palm of your hand to create an even surface. Sprinkle the top with Demerara sugar, about 1/8 cup on each, then gently press the sugar into the top of the dough.

Bake for 32-35 minutes, until the edges are golden brown. Remove from oven and gently loosen the sides, then allow to cool in the pans for 5 minutes. Gently flip onto a cutting board and slice into 16 wedges, then place wedges on a wire rack to cool completely.

Store at room temperature for up to 5 days (or mail to your best friend).

 

Chewy Maple Cookies

Looking for a cookie with subtle maple flavor? Look no further than this chewy maple cookie, a recipe I adapted from the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion’s Vermont Maple Cookies. They’re crunchy at the edge, but soft and chewy in the middle, making for a wonderful textural experience.

Once you read this recipe, you’ll wonder: just where do I find maple sugar? You can order it online from various sources including King Arthur Flour and Amazon, but local specialty food shops may also be a good source. I got mine at a creamery near Deep Creek Lake in Maryland, which produces its own ice cream and cheese and offers locally made honey, syrup, jellies, and fortunately, maple sugar. Just a few things to note: the next time I make these, I’ll scoop smaller balls of dough; the cookies ended up much larger than I intended.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons pure maple sugar, divided
  • 1/2 plus 2 tablespoons cup granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons maple extract
  • 2 3/4 cups flour

Preparation

In a mixing bowl fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter, 1 cup maple sugar, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, cream of tartar, eggs, baking soda, and maple extract, scraping your bowl often. Add flour and beat until combined.

Cover dough and chill for about 30 minutes, until easier to handle. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line three baking sheets with parchment.

In a small bowl, combine remaining two tablespoons of maple sugar and granulated sugar. Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, scoop dough and roll into balls, then dip into maple sugar mixture to coat. Roll again to press the maple sugar mixture into the dough.

Place on prepared baking sheets about 2 inches apart; cookies spread a good deal when baking. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until cookies are light golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool on baking sheets for about 5 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. Makes 27.

Pumpkin Spice Shortbread

I had to, you see. Less than 24 hours into fall, and I had to bake something pumpkin-themed. These pumpkin spice shortbread cookies, adapted from a recipe from The Cafe Sucre Farine, sounded too delicious to pass up.

While the original recipe called for adding a candy pumpkin (the delicious cousins of candy corn) to each baked cookie, I chose to leave mine plain, with just the recommended coating of Demerara sugar for a lovely, crunchy texture. You could use turbinado sugar if you don’t have Demerara, but I highly recommend Demerara for its large crystals. You can find it in most grocery stores in the baking aisle. I also highly recommend eating candy pumpkins!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin spice*
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Demerara sugar, for rolling

*You can make your own pumpkin spice by combining 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon each ginger, allspice, and nutmeg. This makes more than 1 1/2 teaspoons, so just save whatever you have left in a small jar. 

Preparation

In a medium bowl, combine flour, pumpkin spice, and salt; set aside

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter, brown sugar, and vanilla extract. Add flour mixture and beat until completely combined.

Chill dough for about 15 – 20 minutes, allowing it to firm up slightly. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line three baking sheets with parchment paper. Place Demerara sugar in a small bowl.

Using a 1-inch cookie scoop, scoop dough and roll into balls, then dip each ball into Demerara sugar. Place about 2 inches apart on the baking sheets and bake for 14-16 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow to cool on baking sheets for about 5 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Makes about 30 cookies.

Lemon Poppy Seed Shortbread

My friend Carrie has had a challenging time lately. And because I show love and support to the folks in my life through baked goods, I made her these lemon poppy seed shortbread cookies. As women of Eastern European descent, we have a mutual appreciation for poppy seeds. Carrie is also a fan of tea, and I thought these treats would make a comforting addition to her daily cup.

The base of this shortbread is simple; just five ingredients. Add some lemon zest, lemon extract, and poppy seeds, and you’ve got a fancier version of a basic treat. Next time, I’d like to add a zest lemon drizzle icing to these for an extra flavor kick.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
  • zest of 1 small lemon
  • 10 ounces (about 2 1/3 cups) flour
  • 1 tablespoon poppy seeds

Preparation

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Lightly grease two 9-inch round baking tins.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter, sugar, salt, extracts, and lemon zest until light and fluffy. Add flour and beat until completely combined; the dough will pull away from the sides when it’s ready. Stir in poppy seeds.

Divide dough in half and press into the bottom of each cake pan, using the palm of your hand to create an even surface.

Bake for 32-35 minutes, until the edges are golden brown. Remove from oven and gently loosen the sides, then allow to cool in the pans for 5 minutes. Gently flip onto a cutting board and slice into 16 wedges, then place wedges on a wire rack to cool completely. Note: shortbread must be cut when it’s still warm, otherwise it will break.

Store at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Honey Cookies

Shanah tovah, friends! Rosh Hashannah begins tonight at sundown, and I’m getting ready with some honey cookies. Although I grew up Catholic, I love the belief that our fates for the next year are written at Rosh Hashannah and sealed in the Book of Life on Yom Kippur. Honey and other sweet foods play a big part in Rosh Hashannah, as we wish friends and family shahah tovah, or a sweet new year.

My friend Inbal, who grew up in Israel, shared her mother-in-law’s honey cookie recipe with me, and it turned out incredibly well. I cut the original recipe – which called for five cups of flour – in half, but now I wish I’d made the whole version. These treats are absolutely delicious, and I can see why the original recipe included a line that read “this makes a lot of cookies, but they go fast.”

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 6 tablespoons vegetable oil*
  • 1/2 cup honey*
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon coffee
  • zest of half a small lemon

*Note: I poured my vegetable oil into a glass measuring cup, then added it to the bowl for the liquids, so that I could use the same measuring cup for the honey and have it slide out easily. This is a great trick. 

Preparation

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and cloves. In another bowl, stir together vegetable oil, honey, melted butter, eggs, coffee, and lemon zest; it works well if you use a fork instead of a spoon.

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until completely combined and no dry streaks remain. The dough will be very soft, but that’s normal; don’t add more flour or the cookies will turn out hard. Chill dough for 1 hour in the refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 365 degrees. Remove dough from fridge and line three baking sheets with parchment paper.

Break off pieces of dough about the size of a walnut and roll into balls, then place on baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until cookies are just golden.

Remove from oven and allow to cool on the baking sheets for a few minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature. Makes about 3 dozen.

Apple Sugar Cut-Outs

It’s back to school time. Even those of us without children feel it, that change in rhythm from summer to fall, a time of promise and preparation. Each morning I see our neighborhood kids waiting for the bus, remembering what it was like when life revolved around the months of September throughMay.

My goddaughter Mo went back to school very recently, and her little sister Margo just began preschool. I know everyone says “oh, they grow up so fast,” but it seriously feels like about five minutes ago that Mo learned to crawl and that Marg wanted her mom, and only her mom, to hold her. These fun apple sugar cut-outs are on their way to my favorite little girls in Maryland; I hope they enjoy them, and that everyone has a good school year.

Ingredients

  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla
  • Red sugar
  • Green sugar

Preparation

Stir together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.

Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add egg and beat well. Add vanilla and about half the flour mixture, beating until combined; beat in remaining flour. Form dough into a ball, then flatten out into a square; refrigerate until just barely firm, about 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line several baking sheets with foil or parchment.

Roll dough to about 1/4 inch thickness and cut into apple shapes; place cookies on baking sheets about 1 inch apart. Using a 1/4 teaspoon measuring spoon, scoop red sugar onto each cookie and fill in the apple part, then scoop green sugar onto the leaf part. Note: I left my stems plain, but you could use brown sanding sugar if you have it.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until just golden. Cool on a wire rack.

Makes about 2 dozen.