four days before christmas: mexican wedding cakes and more cookies

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(Left to right) Cherry Garcia and Ginger Cookies, Mexican Wedding Cakes

Because I didn’t have time to bake yesterday, I decided to experiment with refrigerating the cookies for 24 hours before baking. I don’t know if it helped, but I got very plump cookies from all of these recipes.

The first one, Cherry Garcia is named after the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. They are filled with cherries, chocolate white and dark, but no nuts. I left that out–just a preference. The second recipe, Ginger Cookies, I used fresh ginger because I had it on hand. I didn’t notice any difference in sweetness, but then I don’t like a very sweet cookie. The third recipe, Mexican Wedding Cakes, is variously called Snowballs or Russian Tea Cakes. I used almonds to make this batch but the original recipe from The Smitten Kitchen said to use pecans or hazelnuts.

Cherry Garcia Cookies
(From Marcy Goldman, Pastry Chef, Montreal, Canada, for About.com)

Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 10-14 minutes

Ingredients:
1 cup dried cherries
1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (113g) butter, at room temperature
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 or cherry liqueur for a few minutes to plump them up. Drain well or squeeze out the liquid.
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 drained 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 silicone 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.

Baker’s Note: I roll each dough ball lightly in my hands to round the cookies evenly.

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.

Ginger Cookies (adapted from: foodnetwork.com)

Ingredients
2 1/4 cups (281g) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
5 turns freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup (170g) unsalted butter or vegetable shortening, at room temperature
1/2 cup (112g) white granulated sugar (use 1/2 cup brown sugar if you’re using maple syrup)
1/4 cup (50g) dark brown sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsulphured molasses, honey, or maple syrup
2 tablespoons ginger preserves or grated fresh ginger
1/2 cup demerara sugar for rolling cookies

Preparation:
In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, ground ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, mustard, salt and black pepper together.

In a large bowl, beat the butter/shortening and the sugars with an electric mixer on medium-high until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and beat on medium speed until just incorporated, about 20 seconds. Add the molasses and ginger preserves and continue beating until the batter is an even light brown color, 30 seconds more.

Add the dry ingredients all at once, beating slowly to make a soft, smooth dough. Use a rubber spatula to make sure all ingredients are combined. Then beat again for 20 seconds. Cover the bowl with plastic and refrigerate the dough until firm, about 25 minutes.

Put about 1/2 cup demerara sugar in a small bowl. With a cookie scoop or a small ice cream scoop, portion the dough into a slightly heaping tablespoon for each cookie. Roll the dough, by hand, into balls. Roll the tops of the balls in the sugar, and space them 2 inches apart on a nonstick or lightly oiled cookie sheet. Alternatively, line the pan with parchment and do not grease. Refrigerate until firm, about 25 minutes. (The chilling is what gives this cookie a beautiful, crackly crunch on top, and a soft, chewy center.)

Preheat oven to 375˚F. (Preheat convection oven 180˚C). If using a pan with a dark non-stick finish, reduce heat to 350˚F.

Bake until the top is crackly, and the insides peeking through the cracks are dark and moist but not raw, about 15 to 20 minutes (10-15 minutes in convection oven). Cool the cookies 5 minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Serve or store in a tightly sealed container for up to 3 weeks.

Baker’s Note:
ϖ Ginger preserves give lots of flavor without the hard chunks of crystallized ginger. It is found in Asian grocery stores.
ϖ To substitute for preserved ginger, use grated fresh ginger. Add sugar to taste for every tablespoon of fresh grated ginger. I didn’t add any extra sugar and the taste was just fine!
ϖ Makes about 30 cookies using a 1 1/2 inch scoop.

Mexican Wedding Cakes (adapted from The Smitten Kitchen)

Ingredients:
1 cup (227g or 2 sticks) butter, room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar, divided
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup almonds, toasted and finely ground (it will be the texture of demerara sugar)

Preparation:
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 almonds. Divide dough in half; form each half into ball. Wrap separately in plastic; chill until cold, about 30 minutes.

Baker’s Note: If you refrigerate the cookie dough overnight, let it sit 5 minutes on the counter top before scooping them into balls. This will allow the butter to soften.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk remaining 1 1/2 cups powdered in pie dish. Set 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 1/2 inch apart. Bake cookies until golden brown on bottom and just pale golden on top, about 17-18 minutes. Cool cookies 5 minutes on baking sheet. Remove to wire rack to finish cooling. Gently toss cooled cookies in sugar to coat completely. Repeat procedure with remaining half of dough.

Baker’s Note: I used 1 1/2 inch scoop.

Sift remaining sugar over cookies and serve. Makes about 4 dozen. With scoop I got about 3 dozen cookies.

Cookies can be prepared 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature; reserve remaining sugar.

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