There seems to be no end to the variety of Christmas cookies. But look a little closer and some patterns emerge shaped, rolled, dipped, bars and thumbprints being the most common. Flavors repeat, too, as favorites get rethought and revised.
For the fourth year of the Cookie Corner, we chose four of those flavors to explore: cranberry, molasses, peppermint and chocolate. Each one will require a different technique.
As in years past, the idea is to test slightly more complicated cookie recipes that look good but a home baker might be reluctant to try because she or he doesn't have time for them to fail. The Bee's testing and tasting notes are included at the end of each recipe.
Finding a holiday cranberry cookie recipe was easy the hard part was deciding which one to test. So along with the recipe explored here, we include three others that might be good for a cookie exchange or holiday party.
The testing on those, however, is up to you.
Spiced cranberry stars
Prep time: 4 hours, including at least 3 hours chill time
Bake time: 14 minutes per batch
Makes 32 cookies
This recipe, adapted from the Associated Press, frankly needed some work some of the ingredient amounts were off (the ones printed below are my corrections). But the end result, as you'll see from the tasting notes, was popular in the newsroom.
These pretty but not too sweet cookies, which AP said were inspired by rugelach but which include no nuts, wrap a flaky pastry dough around a spiced dried-fruit filling.
For the dough:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
One 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup powdered sugar
For the filling:
3/4 cup dried cranberries, plus 32 for topping
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon agave sweetener or honey
3/4 teaspoon cardamom
3/8 teaspoon allspice
3/8 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 cup powdered sugar (or more, if glaze seems too thin)
1 1/2 tablespoons water
Colored sugar or edible glitter, optional
In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add the flour, salt and powdered sugar and mix until they produce a smooth, slightly sticky dough. (It will look crumbly at first but keep mixing.)
Divide the dough into 2 pieces. Form each piece into a circle, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 3 hours, or overnight.
For the filling: In a small saucepan over medium-high combine the cranberries, water, agave or honey, cardamom, allspice and cloves. Bring to a boil, then remove from the heat and let cool. (It won't be liquidy.)
When you are ready to bake the cookies, heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
On a floured surface, roll one of the two circles of dough into a 12-by-12-inch square. Using a pizza wheel or a sharp knife, cut the square into 16 squares, 3 inches by 3 inches. One square at a time, cut 1 1/2-inch diagonal slits from each corner toward the center. The slits should not meet at the center. There should be about 1 inch of uncut cookie dough at the center of the square.
Place 1 teaspoon of the filling in the middle of the square. Working clockwise, bring one corner of each side to the middle.
Once you have 4 points meeting in the middle, anchor with a dried cranberry so that the cookie resembles a star or a pinwheel.
Repeat with remaining dough.
Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, or until the tips of the stars just start to color. Allow to cool on the baking sheets.
Once cookies are cool, mix the powdered sugar and water together and drizzle over the stars with a fork. After the drizzle starts to set but before it's dry, if desired, sprinkle on a little colored sugar or edible glitter (red is especially pretty). Store in an airtight container for 1 week.
Testing and tasting
This recipe may look fussy, but if you're comfortable working with pie dough, you can handle this.
I like allspice and might try just a little in the dough the next time I make these.
Because the temperature already is low, regular baking sheets produced better results than insulated sheets.
After rolling out the dough pieces and cutting the 3-by- 3-inch squares, I found it easier to move the squares to the paper-covered baking sheet before doing anything else. Then I put the filling in the middle, and then finally cut the diagonal slits to make the pinwheel shape. This kept me from cutting too far into the squares, and the cookies were nearly ready for the oven.
Be sure to press the anchor cranberry down firmly to keep the points together. A few of mine unfolded in the oven after I failed to do this.
The dried cranberries could be replaced by chopped dried cherries or apricots. Cinnamon also could sub for the cardamom. If there is any extra filling, it makes a fine topping for hot oatmeal.
Tasters' reactions: "Very cute taste like good piecrust." "Beautiful presentation." "Allspice or cardamom a little strong." "Very holiday-tasting and nice use of spices." "Looks like cookies my grandmother used to make with me as a kid." "Yummy." "Delicious slightly savory, too." "Tasty and pretty."