Although I am glad that Eric and I will not experience another uncomfortable cross-country red-eye this holiday season, it is always hard to spend Christmas away from my mom, dad, and brother Jay back east. Growing up, we always had so many great holiday traditions that really made Christmas, well, Christmas. The week before the holiday, we would all gather downstairs for nightly viewings of A Christmas Story, Christmas Vacation, or Christmas in Connecticut, movies that remain funny despite the dozens and dozens of times that I've seen them. On Christmas Eve, we would attend the special candlelight church service, during which my brother and I (and sometimes my dad) would play hangman on the program and laugh at the tone-deaf singers, trying to stifle our giggles while my mom "shushed" us. I always enjoyed the portion of the service when the lights were dimmed and we all lit our small candles while singing "Silent Night," except of course for the year when the kid behind me almost lit my hair on fire. Luckily, he only fried a few strands.
Then of course there was the baking. When Jay and I were younger, my mom would construct gingerbread houses for us to decorate, probably because this was a great way to keep us occupied during an unplanned snow day. For us, decorating meant piling on as many gumdrops, Necco wafers, and pieces of licorice as possible, so that the actual gingerbread portion of the house was barely visible (hey, art is subjective, right?) My mom would always make her famous hot fudge sauce, which we would package and deliver to friends, teachers, and neighbors along with a big plate of assorted homemade cookies.
In addition to the traditional decorated sugar cookies and snickerdoodles, two cookies that I always associate with my mom's holiday baking are powdered sugar-coated chocolate crackle cookies and her crunchy peanut butter cookies, the kind that don't taste the same unless they have the criss-cross fork design on top. There was a pretty good chance that either of these two treats could be found in our cookie jar at any given time, not only during the holidays. Jay's favorite has always been the peanut butter, but I was partial to the chocolate, especially when accompanied by a cold glass of milk for dunking.
The following recipes give these classic cookies a bit of an update. I'm not going to say "an improvement," because everyone knows that mom-made cookies can't get any better. I'm just putting my own spin on them. For the chocolate crinkle, I've ground up some almonds for extra texture and a nutty taste. I added a bit of espresso powder to deepen the chocolate factor, and I threw in some shredded coconut to add moisture and another layer of flavor. The peanut butter cookies have become flourless, with a bit of cinnamon, oats, and chocolate chips added for good measure. This version bakes up thin and crisp, but don't worry, I've kept the all-important criss-cross fork marks in the recipe! Here are a few extra tips for preparing this pair of pleasing treats:
- The crinkle cookie dough can be formed into balls and chilled, covered, 1 day in advance. The baked cookies can be stored at room temperature, tightly covered, for up to 2 days.
- To expedite the process for the crinkle cookies, you can freeze the dough for about 1 hour (as opposed to refrigerating for 3 hours), stirring once or twice to evenly chill. You can also freeze the dough for 15 minutes after forming it into balls.
- The coconut may be omitted from the crinkle cookie recipe. Almonds can be replaced with hazelnuts, walnuts, or macadamia nuts.
- When baking the crinkle cookies, it is important to take them out of the oven when they still appear to be a bit underbaked. This will ensure that the cookies are not dry, but moist and fudgy!
- For both cookies, using damp palms when rolling the dough helps to keep it from sticking. Chill the peanut butter dough for about 45 minutes if you find that it is too soft to work with.
- The oatmeal and chocolate may be omitted from the peanut butter cookies, and you may use creamy instead of crunchy peanut butter.
- The peanut butter cookie dough may be prepared 1 day in advance and chilled, covered. The baked peanut butter cookies can be stored at room temperature, tightly covered, for up to 3 days.
Coconut-Almond Chocolate Crinkle Cookies
Makes about 22 cookies
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup sliced or slivered almonds
½ cup cake flour
½ teaspoon espresso powder (optional)
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
⅓ cup sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
⅓ cup shredded sweetened coconut
1 cup powdered sugar
In a small saucepan, melt the chocolate and butter over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until smooth; cool 10 minutes. Place the almonds and cake flour in the work bowl of a food processor and pulse until the nuts are finely ground. Add the espresso powder, baking powder, and salt to the bowl and pulse to blend.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs and sugar at medium speed until well combined, 2-3 minutes. Mix in the vanilla extract. Add the cooled chocolate mixture to the egg mixture, mixing until incorporated. Add the nut mixture an coconut, mixing just until blended. Transfer the dough to a glass or metal bowl and chill until it is firm enough to scoop, about 3 hours.
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll the chilled dough between your palms to form 1-inch diameter balls. Place the balls on the prepared sheets and chill until firm, 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Place the powdered sugar in a shallow dish and roll the balls of dough in the powdered sugar to coat thickly. Return the balls to the prepared sheets. Bake until the cookies puff and form cracks, 15-17 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center should emerge with a few moist crumbs attached. Cool cookies on wire racks and serve.
Crisp Peanut Butter-Oatmeal Cookies
1 cup crunchy peanut butter
1 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 large eggs
½ cup rolled oats
⅓ cup chopped bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (or mini chocolate chips)
1 cup sugar for rolling the balls of dough.
Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Line 2 baking sheet with parchment paper. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the peanut butter with the sugar, cinnamon, and baking soda until well combined, 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in the oats and chocolate until evenly incorporated.
Place the 1 cup sugar in a shallow dish. Roll tablespoon-sized spoonfuls of dough into about 24 balls, coating each ball with sugar before placing it on one of the prepared baking sheets. If desired, make a criss-cross pattern on each cookie using the tines of a fork.
Bake the cookies for 13-15 minutes, until they are lightly browned and set. Cool the cookies on a wire rack.