High Country Baking: Christmas cookies that don’t spread too much in the oven
Christmas cookies are as much a part of the holiday season as Santa Claus. So, this time of year, I get requests for a recipe for cut-out cookies that don’t spread in the oven, a common problem at high elevation. This is one of my favorites. It results in a delicious cookie, with more taste than most and a delicate texture. Because they don’t contain leavening and are baked on an ungreased pan, they are one of the few cut-out cookies that hold their shape perfectly in the High Country. They decorate well and can be frozen, both before and after they have been glazed.
Star Cut-out Cookies
Make on a shiny metal cookie sheet
Works at any elevation
Yields about 2 dozen 2-inch cookies
1 1/4 cups bleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 ounces cream cheese, softened
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar, preferably superfine
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla paste or extract
Chocolate Glaze (optional)
2 ounces good semisweet chocolate
1/2 teaspoon canola oil
Vanilla Glaze (optional)
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 pinches salt
2 teaspoons cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon unsalted butter, melted
Get ready: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, with a rack in the middle position. Line your cookie sheet with parchment paper. Don’t grease the pan.
Make the cookie dough: Put the flour and salt in a small bowl and whisk until thoroughly combined, set aside. Cut the cream cheese and butter into small pieces and cream them until they’re light, preferably with an electric mixer. Add both sugars and beat until the mixture is fluffy. Beat in the egg yolk and the vanilla until well combined. Either by hand or on the lowest speed of an electric mixer, mix half of the flour and salt into the butter mixture until combined. Add the rest of the flour and salt and stir by hand until a dough is formed and comes together in a ball. Pat it into a disc and refrigerate it for about 20 minutes or until it firms up.
Roll the dough and cut the cookies: Place the dough between 2 sheets of lightly floured waxed paper and roll it to about a thickness of 1/4 inch. Cut out cookies and carefully transfer them to the prepared cookie sheet. Re-roll the dough and cut out more cookies. If the dough gets soft, chill it again before re-rolling. Freeze the unbaked cookies on the cookie sheet for about 15 minutes, until they are quite firm, this helps them hold their shape when baked.
Bake the cookies: Bake for about 10-12 minutes. Turn the pan halfway through the baking period so all cookies bake evenly. The amount of time it takes to bake them will depend on the size of the cookies and how cold they are when placed in the oven. They’re done when they start to color around the edges and on the bottom, but the centers of the cookies are still pale. Don’t overbake or they’ll lose their pleasing texture.
Cool the cookies: Place the cookie sheet on a cooling rack. After 3-5 minutes, carefully remove the cookies from the baking sheet and let them cool completely on the rack.
Make the chocolate glaze, if using: Chop and melt the chocolate. It’s easiest to melt it in a small bowl in a microwave oven at a low power level, checking and stirring every minute until there are just a few small lumps of chocolate visible Then, remove it from the oven and stir until it’s entirely melted and smooth. Cool it slightly and stir in the vegetable oil. Cool it some more; when it is just warm, somewhat thickened, but still fluid, drizzle it across the cookies making a diagonal pattern. Put the cookies in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes or leave them at room temperature to set the glaze.
Make the vanilla glaze, if using: Whisk/stir the sugar, salt, cream, and vanilla until combined, adding more cream as needed to create a smooth, thick paste. Whisk in the melted butter. Add more cream and/or melted butter until the mixture reaches a consistency that slides easily off a spoon. Drizzle it decoratively over the cookies and add sprinkles, if using. Refrigerate the cookies for about 10 minutes or leave them at room temperature to set the glaze.
Editor’s note: The cookie recipe is a variation of one published by Dolores Kostelni.
Vera Dawson’s column “High Country Baking” publishes biweekly in the Summit Daily News. Dawson is a high-elevation baking instructor and author of three high-altitude cookbooks. Her recipes have been tested in her kitchen in Frisco, where she’s lived since 1991, and altered until they work at elevation. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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