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Christmas Cookies

Photographs by Corinne Planche

Apricot Almond BarsApricot Almond Bars
Makes 24 bars

A duet of apricot and almond plays sweetly in these rich, buttery bars.   You'll find that these treats are a wonderful addition to cookie platters for holiday brunches and festive open houses as well as piled into gift boxes to give to friends and family.






14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 ounces (scant 1/2 cup) almond paste
1/3 cup sliced almonds, plus 2 tablespoons for sprinkling
1 cup apricot preserves

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 9 x 9-inch baking pan with foil so that it extends about 2 inches over two opposite sides. Generously butter the foil, making sure the sides and the bottom are well coated to prevent the bars from sticking.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl until creamy. With the beaters on low speed, mix in the flour and salt just until blended. The dough will be crumbly, but it will feel moist when pinched.   Scoop out 1 cup of the dough and set it aside in a small bowl. Press the remaining dough evenly into the prepared pan. (Flour your fingers if the dough sticks to them.) Bake the crust for 23 to 25 minutes or until golden. Cool 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, crumble the almond paste into small bits and toss with the reserved dough in the bowl. Mix in 1/3 cup of the almonds.

Spread the apricot preserves over the baked crust. Sprinkle the almond paste-crumb topping evenly over the preserves. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of almonds. Bake for 32 to 35 minutes or until the preserves are bubbling and the topping is nicely golden. (Take a whiff when the bars come out of the oven...they are incredibly fragrant!) Cool completely in the pan on a rack.

Holding on to the foil overhang, lift the bars from the pan and place on a cutting board. Peel the foil away from the sides of the bars, using a knife to remove the foil, if necessary. Using a sharp knife or a bench scraper, cut into 4 equal strips, then cut each strip crosswise into 6 bars.

STORE, layered between sheets of wax paper, in an airtight container for up to 4 days; or refrigerate for up to 2 weeks; or freeze for up to 2 months.

Copyright © 2008 by Lisa B. Zwirn


Pecan ButterballsPecan Butterballs
Makes about 40 cookies

Tender, crumbly, melt-in-your-mouth cookies appear in many international cuisines: they might be Greek kourabiedes, Mexican wedding cookies, Russian tea cakes, or what are more commonly known as snowballs or butterballs. The recipes rely on at least one cup of butter, finely chopped or ground nuts, and a generous coating of snow-white powdered sugar (hence the reference to snow or weddings in some of their names). I grew up calling them "pecan butterballs," which perfectly describes these chubby, buttery, pecan-studded treats.

16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, plus about 1 1/4 cups for coating the cookies
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup finely chopped pecans

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter in a large bowl until creamy. Add 1/2 cup of confectioners' sugar and beat until smooth. Beat in the vanilla and salt. With the beaters on low speed, mix in the flour just until incorporated. Mix in the pecans. Using your hands, gather the dough into a ball, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for about 30 minutes. (The dough becomes very firm when refrigerated for a longer time, but will soften again at room temperature.)

Preheat the oven to 375 ° F. Line 1 or 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Pinch off small clumps of dough and roll into 1-inch balls, arranging them about 1 1/2 inches apart on the sheet(s). Bake for 11 to 12 minutes or until the cookies are lightly golden on the bottom and just barely beginning to color on top. (If using 2 cookie sheets, rotate them from top to bottom and front to back halfway through baking.) Let the cookies cool on the sheets for about 5 minutes.

Place the remaining 1 1/4 cups of confectioners' sugar in a shallow bowl. While the cookies are still warm, roll them in the sugar to coat. (Be gentle, because the cookies are fragile.) Set them on a rack to cool. Just before serving, recoat the cookies with sugar.

STORE, layered between sheets of wax paper, in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks; or freeze for up to 2 months.

Copyright © 2008 by Lisa B. Zwirn


Chocolate CrinklesChocolate Crinkles
Makes about 55 cookies

The dough is easy, but the waiting is hard. Yes, this dough, which is more like a thick, creamy batter, really requires a thorough chilling that is best accomplished overnight. It needs to be firm enough to roll into balls and cold going into the oven in order to puff and crack as intended.   Don't overcook these treasures -- they should be tender and fudgy.






8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup lightly packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup confectioners' sugar, for coating the dough

Melt the butter and chocolate in a medium, heavy saucepan set over very low heat. Stir constantly until almost fully melted. Remove the pan from the heat and stir until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.

Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs in a large bowl until frothy, about 45 seconds. Add the granulated and brown sugar and beat until thick and smooth, about 1 minute. Beat in the melted chocolate mixture and the vanilla. With the beaters on low speed, mix in the flour mixture just until completely blended. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the dough is firm, at least 4 hours but preferably overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 1 or 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Place the confectioners' sugar in a medium bowl. Set a sheet of wax paper on the work surface in front of you. Using a small spoon, scoop chunks of dough and roll them between your hands into 1-inch balls. Place the balls on the wax paper, forming enough for 1 cookie sheet. (There's no getting around messy, sticky hands; just wash them after each batch.) Drop about 5 balls at a time into the confectioners' sugar and shake the bowl to fully and generously coat them. Arrange them about 2 inches apart on the prepared sheet(s).

Bake for 11 to 12 minutes or until the cookies are puffed and crackled on top. The tops should be soft, even a little wet looking, but the edges should feel mostly firm. (If using 2 cookie sheets, rotate them from top to bottom and front to back about halfway through baking.) Slide the parchment off the sheet and onto a wire rack. After a few minutes, remove the cookies from the paper using a thin metal spatula and place them directly onto racks to cool.

STORE, layered between sheets of wax paper, in an airtight container for up to 4 days; or freeze for up to 2 months.

Copyright © 2008 by Lisa B. Zwirn
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