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What's cookin':'Tis the season that holds great reason - for cookies

Unleash your kitchen creativity with cookies pleasing to the palate and artistic senses.

Although we've finally done away with a real Christmas tree, I still think the scents of Christmas play such an important part in evoking treasured memories of Christmases past. One of those special smells is the fragrance wafting from the oven of the melding of spices used in Christmas cookies. Put on your favorite Christmas music, unload from the cupboards all of the needed ingredients, baking sheets and utensils, gather with family or friends and spend an afternoon baking Christmas cookies and making new Christmas memories.

Caramel Sandies by the Sea

2 c. all-purpose flour

1/4 t. salt

1/2 lb. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2/3 c. light brown sugar, firmly packed

1 large egg

1 t. vanilla

1 c. pecans, lightly toasted and finely ground

20 caramel candies

3 T. heavy cream or whole milk

2 to 3 T. large crystal sea salt, white or pink

1 c. chopped bittersweet chocolate or chocolate morsels (at least 60% cocoa)

Combine the flour and salt in a bowl and set aside. In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla; beat to blend. Add the flour mixture in batches, mixing in between each addition. Stir in the pecans, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and chill until firm, about 1 to 2 hours. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter or line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. With floured hands, roll the dough into 1-inch balls. Place the balls on the prepared baking sheets, at least 1 inch apart. Lightly press your thumb into the center of each ball, forming a small cavity. Bake for 13 to 15 minutes or until the bottoms are brown and set. Cool the cookies briefly on the baking sheets, then transfer them to a wire rack set over a piece of parchment paper. In a saucepan set over low heat, melt the caramel candies and cream together, stirring frequently. Fill the center of each cookie with approximately 1/2 t. of caramel sauce. Sprinkle the warm centers evenly with sea salt, and let sit until firm. Place the chocolate in a bowl and microwave on medium for 30-second intervals. Mix the chocolate between each interval until it is thoroughly melted. Dip a spoon into the melted chocolate and drizzle chocolate criss-crossed across each cookie; add additional salt and allow the cookies to sit until the chocolate has become firm. Makes 2 to 3 dozen. Notes: 1.) To toast pecans, place the nuts in a single layer in an ungreased shallow pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 5 to 10 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the pan to cool. 2.) For gift giving or for decorative purposes, place individual cookies in holiday-themed muffin papers.

Peppermint Candy Cookies

1 c. (2 sticks) butter

1/2 c. powdered sugar

2 1/2 c. flour

1/2 c. chopped nuts

1 t. vanilla extract


1/2 c. crushed peppermint candy

1/2 c. powdered sugar

2 T. cream cheese

1 t. milk

Red food coloring

Cream butter with 1/2 c. powdered sugar. Gradually add flour, nuts and vanilla. Mix well and chill. Remove dough from refrigerator, and shape into balls. Make a deep hole with your thumb in the center of each ball and fill with about 1/4 t. filling. Seal and place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes or until set but not brown. To make filling: Combine candy and 1/2 c. powdered sugar. Blend cream cheese, milk and food coloring and add to candy mixture.

Chocolate Almond Drops

1 c. (2 sticks) butter or margarine, softened

3/4 c. sugar

1/2 c. light corn syrup

2 eggs, separated

1 t. almond extract

2 1/2 c. flour

1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 t. salt

2 1/2 c. chopped blanched almonds

Red candied cherries, halved

Cream butter and sugar with electric mixer; beat in corn syrup, egg yolks and extract. Combine flour, cocoa and salt; blend into creamed mixture. Refrigerate dough, covered, 2 hours. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Using 2 level teaspoons of dough for each, shape into balls. Beat egg whites until frothy. Dip balls into egg whites, then roll in nuts; arrange on greased baking sheets. Press candied cherry half in center of each cookie. Bake until nuts are light browned, about 15 minutes. Cool cookies on baking sheets 1 minute; remove to wire racks to cool. Makes about 6 dozen.

Glazed Pistachio Cookies

6 T. butter or margarine, softened

1/2 c. sugar

1 egg

1 t. grated lemon peel

1 t. lemon juice

2 c. flour

1 t. baking powder

1/2 t. cinnamon

1/8 t. nutmeg

1/8 t. white pepper

1/4 t. anise seed

Dash ground allspice

Dash ground cloves

1/2 c. chopped pistachios

2 T. half-and-half

1/2 c. powdered sugar

3 to 4 t. half-and-half

1/4 t. finely chopped pistachios

Cream butter, sugar, egg, lemon peel and juice. Combine flour, baking powder, spices and 1/2 c. pistachios; stir into creamed mixture. Sprinkle 2 T. half-and-half over dough; stir to combine. Set dough aside, covered, for about 1 hour. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using rounded teaspoon of dough for each, shape into balls. Arrange 1 1/2 inches apart on lightly greased baking sheets. Bake until firm but not browned, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove to wire racks to cool. Combine powdered sugar and 3 to 4 t. half-and-half; dip tops of cookies in glaze, then in pistachios. Makes 4 dozen. Note: Six ounces pistachios in the shell equal 3/4 cup chopped or buy already shelled pistachios in the bag.

Golden Shortbreads

1/2 lb. (2 sticks) unsalted butter

1/2 c. light brown sugar

2 c. all-purpose flour

Decorative colored sugars

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Gradually add the flour, and gather the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for 4 to 5 hours or overnight. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to 1/4-inch thick. Cut with a 2-inch round cookie cutter and place on an ungreased baking sheet. Prick the surface of the dough with a fork or use a bamboo skewer to create simple holiday designs. Reshape any leftover dough and roll. To decorate, sprinkle colored sugar over the cookies. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Makes 3 dozen.