Last year I had the craziest plan ever. I decided to make gingerbread houses for all of our friends and family. Not crazy at all, you say? But wait, there's more, like they say on television. Not happy with plain old gingerbread houses, I decided to fill all of them with a selection of different Christmas cookies. While trying to raise a busy and active 5 month old. And looking after a husband, whose birthday happens to be at the very inconvenient date of 23 December (yes, we had 14 people over for dinner, and fights broke out over the leftovers of the cherry cake I baked, thank you very much). 20 people were coming for Christmas lunch (turkey, ham, trifle, the works), and around 40 guests for Christmas dinner (thankfully only leftovers and drinks, no more cooking). Actually, crazy is not the word. I think psychotic is a better description.
The cookies were baked in the weeks preceding Christmas, some lovingly, others not so much, the gingerbread houses assembled and iced, and everything handed out with instructions to enjoy, as I was never ever in my whole life going to do it again. Ever.
So what am I doing this year? That's right: New and Improved Gingerbread Houses filled with an even wider selection of Christmas cookies. I can't explain it, but Christmas brings out the baker in me. More than usual, that is. No other time of year do you have all your friends and family to spoil with food, and I can't resist. So, the plan is to make 12 different types of cookies (including the gingerbread houses), pack them lovingly, and hand them out amidst ooh's and aah's.
Now, just because I say here that I'm going to do this, doesn't mean I'm going to do it. As far as I know, blogs aren't legal and binding, which means you can say whatever you want in some delirious moment, and the next day pretend nothing has happened at all. But seriously, life tends to get in the way sometimes, and you never know when your carefully made plans will be thwarted. If in a couple of days this grand vision of mine is brought to an abrupt end, I'll just have to pretend that nothing has happened. Hopefully not, though. Surely, if I could do it last year, I'll be able to do it this year? I think the secret lies in the planning. I tried to choose cookies that can be made ahead and frozen. I'm not a fan of freezing food, but last year's freezer cookies all tasted delicious. Thank goodness for technology.
The cookies I'm going to start this wonderful cookie journey with is the World Peace cookies from Dorie Greenspan, via Smitten Kitchen, so-called because supposedly a couple of them a day will take the will to be nasty out of anybody. With a name like that it's got Christmas cookie written all over it, methinks. Initially I was a bit apprehensive. I've made cookies from Smitten Kitchen before which I was less than impressed with, and as I am a bit restricted schedule-wise, I don't really have the time for trial and error. So while I mixed and rolled and cut I was willing these cookies to be fabulous.
Thankfully the cookies obliged. More then obliged, as a matter of fact. They turned out absolutely fabulous. I had a couple. The Little Girl had a couple. I was tempted to have a couple more, but remembered that they were actually meant for somebody else, and packed them away promising that we'll meet again.
As good as these are, they are a pain to make. The dough is VERY crumbly, and I had to push together bits of cookie dough with every slice I cut. Don't let this deter you, dear reader, because it will be more than worth while in the end. I promise. I think they are best eaten warm out of the oven with a glass of cold milk, but cold is pretty awesome as well. Make a batch and decide for yourself.
Dorie Greenspan's World Peace Cookies
Recipe from Smitten Kitchen
Makes about 36 cookies
1 1/4 cups (175 grams) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (30 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (11 tablespoons or 150 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup (120 grams) (packed) light brown sugar
1/4 cup (50 grams) sugar
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 ounces (150 grams) bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips, or a generous 3/4 cup store-bought mini chocolate chips
Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together.
Working with a stand mixer, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more.
Add the flour to the mixture, and mix at low speed, just until the flour disappears into the dough — for the best texture, work the dough as little as possible once the flour is added, and don’t be concerned if the dough looks a little crumbly. Add the chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate.
Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are about 4cm in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you’ve frozen the dough, you needn’t defrost it before baking — just slice the logs into cookies and bake the cookies 1 minute longer.)
Preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C). Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.
Working with a sharp thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are 1/2 inch thick. (The rounds are likely to crack as you’re cutting them — don’t be concerned, just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.) Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving a couple of centimetres between them.
Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes — they won’t look done, nor will they be firm, but that’s just the way they should be. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest until they are only just warm, at which point you can serve them or let them reach room temperature.