a christmas cookie sampler

IMG_4370.JPG
Clockwise from the top: black and white and green cookies; Mexican wedding cakes rolled in strawberry sugar and plain; Cranny Garcias (a riff on Cherry Garcias); chewy cinnamon snickerdoodles; and in the center, iced gingerbread stamped cookies

These cookies have the slightly bitter taste of mint, the sweetness and crunch of coarse sugar, and the smooth caress of chocolate. To ramp up the peppermint flavor, I have added a drop or two of peppermint.

Black and White and Green Cookies (adapted from Bon Appétit)

2 teaspoons baking powder
2 1/2 cups (320 g) all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon salt, plus more (1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt)
2 cups (packed; 45 g) fresh mint leaves
1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks or 284 g) frozen unsalted butter, grated
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1-2 drops peppermint extract, optional

Toppings
Coarse white sanding sugar
1 cup (120 g) powdered sugar
2 tablespoons (20 g) Dutch process or unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon light corn syrup*
*Substitute golden honey or simple syrup (1 cup sugar to 1/4 cup water, heated until dissolved)

Special equipment:
One 3-inch diameter cookie cutter

Line a cookie sheet with parchment or silicone baking mat and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk to combine 2 teaspoons baking powder, 320 g flour, and 1 teaspoon salt. Pulse 45 g mint and 200 g sugar in a food processor until mint is finely chopped. Add peppermint, if using. Add 284 g butter and pulse until just combined; butter will still be visible. Add dry ingredients and pulse to combine. Add egg and egg yolk. Pulse until a shaggy dough forms.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead just until dough holds its shape. Divide dough in half; pat each portion into a one-inch thick disk. Wrap disks in plastic and chill until firm, at least 2 hours. Can DO AHEAD.

Place rack in middle of oven. Preheat to 350˚F/175˚C. Working with one disk at a time, roll out dough on a silicone baking mat to about 1/4 inch thick. Dusting mat with flour may not be necessary. Cut rounds with lightly floured cookie cutter and arrange on prepared baking sheet, spacing 1-inch apart. Only make enough rounds to fill one baking sheet. Refrigerate the left overs until ready to use. Pat dough scraps into a 1-inch thick disk, wrap in plastic, and chill 10 minutes if soft. Repeat process with scraps.

Hold a bench scraper upright 1-inch from the edge of the cookie to mark off a shallow semicircle (see picture above) but do not press down into the dough. While holding the scraper steady, sprinkle sanding sugar within the semicircle, gently pressing to adhere. Lift up the scraper. You should have a tidy sugared edge. Repeat with remaining cookies.

Baker’s Note: You’ll be making a “V” with a sugared edge on one wide and chocolate on the other

Bake cookies one batch at a time. Rotate baking sheet halfway through until edges are lightly browned, 10-12 minutes. Cool 10 minutes on baking sheet then transfer cookies to a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet. Cool completely. DO AHEAD: 1 day. Store tightly wrapped on a rimmed baking sheet at room temperature.

In a medium bowl, sift powdered sugar and cocoa powder. Add corn syrup/honey/simple syrup, pinch of salt, and 2 tablespoons warm water. Stir until smooth and glossy.

Position bench scraper to make another shallow semicircle on the other side of the cookie, angling it so that it forms a V with the sugared edge. Lightly press the scraper into the cookie to make a barrier. While holding the scraper, spoon 1 teaspoon glaze on the exposed semicircle. Use a toothpick to help coat evenly, letting the excess chocolate drip over the edges onto the baking sheet below. Lift scraper straight up and over the chocolate side to create a neat edge. Repeat with remaining cookies. Let sit until glaze is set, at least 2 hours.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Mexican wedding cakes also called Russian tea cakes, are a favourite during the holidays. Lightly sweet with every bite the taste of almonds. This year, I rolled them in strawberry powdered sugar.

Mexican Wedding Cakes

1 cup (2 sticks or 227 g) frozen unsalted butter, grated
2 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup pecans, hazelnuts, almonds, or other nuts, toasted and finely ground (if using hazelnuts, wrap in a dishtowel while still warm and roll about until most of the brown skins come off)
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)

Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until light and fluffy. Add 1/2 cup powdered sugar and vanilla; beat until well blended. Beat in flour, then nuts. Divide dough in half; form each half into ball. Wrap separately in plastic; chill until cold, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F/175˚C. Whisk remaining 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar and cinnamon, if using, in pie dish to blend. Set cinnamon sugar aside.

Working with half of chilled dough, roll dough by 2 teaspoonfuls between palms into balls. Arrange balls on heavy large baking sheet, spacing cookies 1/2 inch apart. Bake cookies until golden brown on bottom and just pale golden on top, about 18 minutes. Cool cookies 5 minutes on baking sheet. Gently toss warm cookies in cinnamon sugar to coat completely. Transfer coated cookies to rack and cool completely. Repeat procedure with remaining half of dough. (Cookies can be prepared 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature; reserve remaining cinnamon sugar.)

Sift remaining cinnamon sugar over cookies and serve. Makes about 4 dozen.

Variation:
Pastel Mexican Wedding Cookies:
½ cup freeze dried fruit, e.g. strawberries, kiwi, blueberries, mango
½ cup powdered sugar
Process the freeze dried fruit and powdered sugar together until very fine. Roll the warm cookies in the sugar then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

This year, I substituted a cup of cranberries soaked in a tablespoon or two of rum (exact measurements don’t matter!) and warm water. Result: “Cranny” Garcia cookies!

Cherry Garcia Cookies

Ingredients:
1 cup dried cherries (or cranberries)
1-1/2 cups (192 g) flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (113g) frozen unsalted butter, grated
1/2 cup granulated white sugar [substitute superfine or caster sugar]
1/2 cup light brown sugar, (packed then sifted)
1 egg
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup coarsely-chopped unsalted macadamia nuts or almonds (optional)

Preparation:
1. Place dried cherries on a cutting board and coarsely chop. For a moister cookie, soak the cherries in hot water for a few minutes to plump them up. Drain well or squeeze out the water. For more of a kick, soak cherries in rum or brandy.
2. Sift together flour, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl. Set aside.
3. In a separate large bowl, cream together butter and the sugars on low speed. On low speed, beat in egg, vanilla, and almond extract. Add flour mixture to butter mixture half at a time and mix on low speed until combined. By hand, fold in cherries, white chocolate chips, semi-sweet chocolate chips, and nuts, if using.
4. Refrigerate cookie dough 30 to 45 minutes to firm up.
5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or Silpat liners.
6. Using a cookie scoop, drop dough onto prepared baking sheets, placing cookies about 1-1/2 to 2 inches apart. Bake one batch at a time.
7. Bake each batch 12 to 14 minutes (10-12 minutes in a convection oven) until lightly browned around the edges. Cool 10 minutes on cookie sheets before removing to racks to cool completely. Store air tight in a covered container.

There’s nothing that says “Christmas is here” than these chewy cinnamon cookies.

Snickerdoodles

1 cup (2 sticks, 227 g) frozen unsalted butter, grated
1 1/2 cups (300 g) superfine sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups (352 g) all purpose flour
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Cinnamon sugar
3 tablespoons superfine sugar
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Heat oven 375˚F/200˚C. Prepare a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone liner.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time. Add vanilla. Mix until fully incorporated. With the mixer on low, add the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt. Using a small cookie scoop, scoop out rounded balls and put them close to each other on the cookie sheet. It’s recommended to do one batch at a time.

Mix together the 3 tablespoon sugar and cinnamon in a medium sized bowl. Roll each ball in the cinnamon mixture and place on the baking tray about two inches apart. Bake 6-8 minutes. Remove cookies from baking sheet and let cool on wire cooling racks.

I had plans to make and decorate gingerbread this year. But it was not to be! The cold weather abruptly left me with a hot kitchen. Chilled cookie dough rapidly softened in the heat. So instead I made iced gingerbread stamped cookies using the stamps from a moon cake mould I bought on Amazon.

Iced Gingerbread Stamped Cookies

wet ingredients
Servings: 14 cookies
Cook Time 10 mins
Calories: 154kcal
6 tbsp 85 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 packed cup plus 2 tbsp (90 g dark brown sugar), sifted to get out the lumps
1/3 cup 100 g molasses
1 large egg yolk
dry ingredients
1 3/4 cups plus 2 tbsp (235 g all-purpose flour) 1 tbsp Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
glaze
1 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar 1 Tbs/15g unsalted butter melted 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp warm water
Instructions
1. Preheat the oven to 375F/190C Put your cookie stamps in the freezer to chill. Skip this step if the stamps are plastic.
2. Cream together the butter, sugar, and molasses in a stand mixer or with electric beaters. Beat in the egg yolk.
3. Sift together the dry ingredients. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture, beating on low until the dough comes together.
4. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead it until all the floury crumbles are incorporated. Flatten the dough into a disk and then roll out to about 1/4 inch thickness. I did not have to chill my dough before rolling, but if yours is very soft, you may want to.

5. Dip the cookie stamps in a little flour. Press the cookie stamps firmly into the dough, and then use a round cookie cutter slightly larger or slightly smaller than the stamp itself to cut out the cookies.
6. Transfer the cookies to a lined baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes. You don’t want to over bake these cookies, so do a test cookie or two to figure out the best timing for your oven. The cookies will be soft when you remove them from the oven, but will firm up as they cool.
7. While the cookies are baking whisk the glaze ingredients together until they become a smooth thin glaze. Add more water if the glaze is too thick, it should have the consistency of maple syrup or a thin honey.
8. Put the cookies on a cooling rack and brush them with the glaze while still slightly warm. The glaze will dry in about 30 minutes.

Happy Holidays!

tropical christmas crack

IMG_4379.JPG

This is my take on that Southern American Christmas treat called variously Christmas Crack or Crackle. It looks complicated but it is actually very easy to make, and would make great gifts. The base layer is a box of saltine crackers. I sprinkled bits of dried tropical fruit and crushed cashew nuts on top of the chocolate layer, and that was it.

Christmas Crack (adapted from Southern Living)

40-48 saltine crackers (1 box of Haitai brand crackers has 42)
227 g unsalted butter
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar*
12 oz bittersweet chocolate chips or a mix of bittersweet and semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup dried tropical fruit, diced fine
1/2 cup crushed salted cashew nuts

*Recommend sifting the brown sugar in Thailand as it is lumpy

Preheat oven 325˚f/165˚C.

Line one 15.5 inch baking tray with parchment paper. Place crackers in a single layer on the parchment paper. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, melt butter and brown sugar on medium-low heat. When it starts to bubble, stir constantly for 3 minutes until the mixture emulsifies. Carefully pour the caramel all over the crackers, making sure to cover the edges. If any crackers are displaced or if there are any bare spots, use a knife tip to straighten and cover any bare spots with caramel.

Bake 15 minutes in the oven. Remove from the oven and sprinkle the chocolate chips evenly over the baked caramel. Put the tray back in the oven for 1 minute more to melt the chocolate. Remove the tray from the oven. Using an offset spatula, spread the melted chocolate to cover the crackers and the caramel. Sprinkle diced fruit evenly on top of the chocolate layer, followed by the nuts. Cool on the countertop to room temperature. Chill in the refrigerator until set, about 2 hours.

Remove the tray from the fridge and using your hands, break up the crack into shards, about 2-4 inches. This being Bangkok, store airtight in the refrigerator until ready to eat.

a chimaicanese christmas

(Thank you, Andrew Zimmern for coining that original tagline for Chinese-Jamaican.)  These are my Aunt Cela’s recipes that I grew up enjoying all these years. I brought them with me to the US and then to Thailand.

The first thing I used to do was make the dark fruitcake or black cake. I started soaking the fruits in brandy back in September and baking the cakes in early December so they could soak in rum. But fruitcakes being what they are–heavy, sticky, and sweet– I could never get the family to take to the idea of eating a slab of rum-soaked fruit baked in  a cake and topped with brandy butter sauce.

In the family, I had greater success with the roast turkey and the accompaniments: giblet gravy, bread-potato stuffing, potato salad, baked ham, and cranberry sauce. Now that my daughter is married, she is making her own Christmas traditions. Hopefully someday she will turn to her own multicultural heritage for inspiration.

DSC05356.jpg

Roast Turkey

1 roasting turkey, about 7kg, thawed 3 days in the refrigerator (estimate 1 pound per person)
1 teaspoon salt/pound
2 teaspoons black pepper/pound
1 teaspoon garlic powder/pound
1 stalk scallion/pound, cut into 2 inch lengths

Bread Potato Stuffing
Giblet Gravy
Potato Salad
Baked Ham
Cranberry Sauce

  1. Dry turkey inside and out. Put turkey in a large roasting pan with a folded cheesecloth underneath it to soak up the water. If this is a pre-basted turkey, skip this next step. In a small bowl, add salt, black pepper, and garlic powder. Mix well. Rub well inside and outside turkey. Crush and rub turkey with scallion. Leave inside and outside the turkey. Loosely cover the turkey with a doubled cheesecloth and place in the fridge overnight.
  2. Cook’s Note: Resting in the refrigerator helps to dry out the skin so that the turkey skin roasts golden and crisp.
  3. Next morning, while baking the ham, prepare the stuffing. Preheat the oven to the recommended temperature. Heat oven to 325˚F.
  4. Scrape out all scallion inside and outside the turkey. Stuff the bird loosely and sew up the cavity. Stuff the neck too and pin it closed.
  5. Brush the skin with oil. If it is a self-basting turkey, no need to brush the skin with oil. Cover the breast with foil until 1 1/2 hours before cooking time is up. Set bird on a rack with a pan to catch the drippings.
Approximate Roasting Times for Stuffed Turkey
Turkey Weight Before Stuffing Roasting Time
6-8 pounds 3-3 1/2 hours
8-12 pounds 3 1/2 -4 1/2 hours
12-16 pounds 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 hours
16-20 pounds 5 1/2 to 6 hours
20-24 pounds 6-6 1/2 hours
Approximate Roasting Times for Unstuffed Turkey
Turkey Weight Roasting Time
6-8 pounds 2 1/2 -3 hours
8-12 pounds 3-4 hours
12-16 pounds 4-5 hours
16-20 pounds 5-5 1/2 hours
20-24 pounds 5 1/2 -6 hours

DSC05348.jpg

Baked Ham with Five-Spice Cherry Sauce

I used to make this with pineapple slices but I found this recipe on the Better Homes and Gardens website and loved it, so I make it instead. Some traditions, unlike the fruitcake, are easy to adapt.

1 tablespoon whole cloves
3-5 pound smoked ham, preferably Virginia ham
1 cup mango preserves, or marmalade (peach preserves in original)
1/2 cup chopped tart dried cherries, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup unsweetened pineapple juice, orange or apple juice, or water will do
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons five-spice powder

Special Equipment: roasting pan with lid

  1. Put the ham in the pan, uncovered. Or use a pan lined with heavy duty aluminum foil for easier clean up. If the ham has no skin, skip to step 3.
  2. If the ham has a skin, you have to roast the ham to remove it. So heat the oven to 400˚F/200˚C. Roast the ham, uncovered, skin-side up, for about 30-45 minutes or until the skin browns and shrinks away from the ham, revealing the fat underneath. Remove the ham from the oven and carefully trim away the skin, leaving some fat behind, then discard the skin. Do not turn off the oven. Reduce heat to 325˚F/175˚C and continue with step 4.
  3. Heat the oven to 325˚F/175˚C. Score the fat diagonally with a knife to make a diamond shaped pattern. Stick cloves in the center of each diamond.
  4. In a small bowl, combine preserves, cherries, juice, mustard, ginger, and five-spice powder. Pour over the ham. Cover with lid or cover loosely with parchment, then cover with aluminum foil, if using a foil-lined pan. Tuck the ends under the edge of the pan to create a seal.
  5. Bake for 1 to 1 1/4 hours or until the ham reaches an internal temperature of 140˚F on an instant read thermometer.

DSC05355.jpg

Bread-Potato Stuffing for Roast Turkey

This stuffing is not heavy; it has interesting herbal flavors that have been  absorbed by the bread and the potato.

1 1/2 lb potatoes/ 5 pound turkey, boiled and mashed
3/4 lb (12 oz) bread cubes/5 pound turkey
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup onions
1/2 cup scallions
1/2 cup garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped
1/4 cup Chinese celery stems (discard the leaves), finely chopped
water

  1. To boil potatoes: bring water and potatoes to a boil. Cover pan, reduce heat, and boil gently 15-20 minutes.
  2. Melt butter in a large skillet. Sauté onions, scallions, garlic. When onions are transparent, add bread cubes. Stir well. If too dry, add up to 1/4 cup water. The cubes should be softened. Add potatoes and mix well. Add cilantro and celery. Mix well.
  3. Stuff bird and prepare to roast.

Cook’s Notes:
• Instead of stuffing the bird, season the stuffing with poultry seasoning or Lawry’s seasoning salt to taste. For a moist stuffing, add a cup of chicken broth. If using chicken broth, reduce the amount of poultry seasoning. Spoon into a buttered 1 ½ -3 quart baking dish. Dot with butter. Bake 350˚F before roasting the turkey or if there is room in the oven, bake it with the turkey for about 30-40 minutes or until lightly browned.
• Make Stuffing in a Bundt Pan. Mix the bread potato stuffing recipe with 3 eggs lightly beaten with salt and pepper. Then brush the inside of the pan with 1 tablespoon melted butter mixed with 1/2 tablespoon flour, making sure to brush inside the crevices. This will help your Stuffing in a Bundt Pan come out of the pan. Pack stuffing into the pan. Then bake 25-30 minutes @350˚F and cool in the pan. Unmold in a plate and serve at once. (from Food Network and A Spicy Perspective)

 DSC05357.jpg

Spicy Giblet Gravy (15 pound turkey)

The giblet gravy is high in iron; it has a complex flavor,  from the tang of the cilantro and kunchai (Chinese celery) to the spicy savory appeal of the Scotch Bonnet/habañero pepper.

Turkey giblet broth
Neck and giblets finely chopped
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup onions, finely chopped
1/2 cup scallions, finely chopped
1/2 cup garlic, finely chopped
flour to thicken
Powdered Colman’s Mustard
Pickapeppa or A1 Steak Sauce
Worcestershire Sauce
Salt and Pepper to taste
6-8 Red chilies, seeded and chopped (or 1 Scotch Bonnet) or discard seeds and chop
1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped
1/4 cup Chinese celery, stems only, finely chopped

  1. In the morning, boil the neck and giblets in a saucepan with enough water to cover. Reserve broth. Chop neck and giblets fine in a food processor.
  2. Melt butter. Sauté onions, scallions, and garlic. Add flour a tablespoon at a time, stirring, until the mixture is thickened. Turn heat to low.
  3. Gradually add the giblet broth. Gravy should be thick. Add more flour and water as needed, stirring after each addition.
  4. Mix Colman’s into a thin paste with water. Add to gravy, stirring well. Add Pickapeppa or A1 and Worcestershire sauces. Add salt and black pepper to taste. Add parsley and celery. Add giblets. At this stage, if there are any children or adults that do not like pepper, divide the gravy and add the chili pepper to one but not the other. Serve hot.
  5. Cook’s Note: Because this is so popular, make extra giblet gravy out of chicken giblets.

DSC05359.jpg

Cranberry Sauce (Food Network)

I always used to use the tinned jellied cranberry sauce. No more! As they say, fresh is always best.  I had saved a frozen bag of cranberries from last year, and they still  taste fresh!

12 oz bag fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon zest of lemon
2 tablespoons water, plus more if needed
sugar, salt, and pepper to taste

Rinse the cranberries and set aside 1/2 cup. Put the rest in a saucepan with the sugar, lemon zest, and water. Cook for 10 minutes on low heat to soften the cranberries. You may need to add extra water, 1 tablespoon at a time, if the cranberries seem to be dry and stick to the bottom of the pot. Increase heat to medium and continue cooking 12 minutes or until cranberries burst. Reduce heat to low and stir in the reserved cranberries. Taste. Add sugar, salt, and pepper to taste. Best served at room temperature.

DSC05362.jpg

Potato Salad

1 medium potato per person
1 hard boiled egg for every 2 people
unsalted butter, room temperature
mayonnaise
1 small shallot, halved and thinly sliced
salt and pepper to taste
Green peas, corn, red and green sweet peppers

Boil eggs and potatoes as directed. Peel and place in a large bowl. Add shallots.

In another bowl, add the butter and mayonnaise at a ratio of 1:2. Whisk well to combine. Add to the bowl and mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Garnish with one or more: frozen green peas, thawed; corn kernels, fresh or canned, well drained; chopped red and green peppers. Mix well to combine.