Monday, December 30, 2013

Total and Complete Cookie Domination

Ah, the holidays. There are many things to love about them: the brisk air and chance of snow, reconnecting with friends and family, all the lights and decorations....but come on. We all know what the best part is: THE COOKIES.

Every year, I host a cookie swap. It has gotten...shall we say, larger as the years go on, and this year I think we might have finally outdone ourselves. Squeezing 25 people into my one bedroom apartment is something of a challenge, but my god, the cookies. We had about 30 types of cookies and it was a beautiful thing.

Table #1 at the swap (as much of it as would fit in the camera frame)...

...and table #2, complete with gingerbread house centerpiece!

In case you are unfamiliar with a cookie swap, it's pretty simple. Every person bakes a large batch of one type of homemade cookies. Everybody's cookies are placed on a table and then you walk around with an empty container and fill it with all different types of cookies. So you come in to the swap with one type of cookie and leave with dozens and dozens of different types! Your holiday baking = done.

Your waistline = huge, but that's a post for another day. This is the holidays and even I allow myself some indulgences.

We had an amazing spread this year; several people brought more than one type of cookie so the tables were practically groaning from all the cookie goodness. But that's what you want from a successful swap: lots of cookies, smiles, and laughs and we had all that in spades.

So what did I make? I decided to try some new recipes this year. First, I wanted something a little more standard for the holidays, and this Peppermint Meltaways recipe from the Cooking Channel website looked fun (full recipe below). It's a crumbly shortbread style cookie with a Hershey chocolate kiss hidden in the middle. You then roll the cookie in powdered sugar and crushed candy canes. Yum!

For my second cookie, I decided to try something a little more unusual. There were more boys than usual planning to attend the swap, so I thought something using bacon might be fun to try. Bacon is also a big trend in baking right now, and hello, it's bacon. So when I came across this Candied Bacon and Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookie recipe, it seemed perfect. All in all, I think they came out pretty splendidly. And when I caramelized the bacon in the oven it made the entire house smell AMAZING.

More pictures, links, and recipes for cookies I have made this holiday season below. You've only got two more days before those New Years resolutions kick in, so happy baking!

Peppermint Meltaways

1 cup powdered sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter (1 cup), softened
1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup finely crushed peppermint candies or candy canes
24 chocolate Hershey's Kisses

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer, combine 1/2 cup of the powdered sugar and the butter and mix until light and fluffy. Add the peppermint extract and mix to combine. Next, slowly add the flour and salt, mixing until just combined. In a separate mixing bowl, combine remaining 1/2 cup powdered sugar and the peppermint candies. Roll the dough into twenty-four 1 1/2-inch balls. Insert 1 chocolate morsel into each ball and re-roll to ensure that the cookie dough encases the chocolate. Next, transfer to the bowl with the powdered sugar and crushed candies rolling each to coat. Place the balls on an ungreased baking sheet, spacing them about 1-inch apart. Bake until they start to turn golden brown on the bottom, about 20 minutes. Remove and transfer to wire cooling rack. Cool until they are just cool enough to handle, 5 minutes. Return the cookies to the bowl with the powdered sugar and crushed candies and toss gently until each cookie is coated.

Candied Bacon and Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies

8 strips applewood-smoked bacon
1/4 cup raw sugar
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper


1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
3/4 cup melted unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup raw sugar, pulverized
2 egg yolks
1 to 2 teaspoons maple extract
1 cup dark chocolate, chopped

For the candied bacon: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, and set it aside. Lay the bacon strips in a single layer on a wire rack, and coat the tops completely and evenly with the raw sugar. Lightly press the sugar into the bacon strips, sprinkle them with the cayenne, and transfer the rack to the lined cookie sheet. Bake for about 12 minutes, or until the bacon is deep red and very caramelized. Check on the bacon frequently; the cooking time may vary depending on the thickness of the bacon. Use tongs to remove the candied bacon from the baking sheet, and transfer the slices to a wire rack to cool completely. Once cooled, roughly chop.

For the cookies: With the oven rack in the middle position, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper. In a bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside. In another bowl, combine the melted butter, brown sugar, egg yolks and maple extract with a wooden spoon, until the mixture is well blended. Stir in the dry ingredients and the dark chocolate chunks. With a spoon, drop 2 tablespoons of dough per cookie onto the baking sheets, leaving 2 inches between each cookie. Flatten lightly with your fingers, then press your thumb down the center of each cookie to make a slight indent. Add a tablespoon of chopped candied bacon to the center of each cookie. Bake for 11 to 12 minutes. Let cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes then transfer to a cooling rack. The cookies will be a bit soft but will firm up when cooled and become chewy. For crunchier cookies bake for 15 minutes, taking care not to burn the bacon by covering the cookies loosely with aluminum foil.

My grandmother's puffy and silky Ricotta cookies (from my cookie swap blog post last year).

The best cookie ever: Andes Chocolate Mint Cookies (originally from Cook's Country, but reproduced on my blog).

Bonus cookie porn from my work cookie swap: the aftermath!