I've been baking Christmas cookies for as long as I can remember. I give you Exhibit A:
Groovy shirt, huh? Too bad I'm sitting, so you can't take in the whole outfit. It had matching pants, and I also owned the whole look in brown. My hair seems to have some sort of "Dorothy Hamill with static" thing going on. Yes, even then I was fierce.
As you can see, my equally stylish brother Jay is slacking on the task at hand, while I meticulously give each cookie its own personality. Actually, in all fairness, it's highly likely that I told Jay to "Just let me handle everything. They need to be decorated a certain way." Some things never change.
Here, it looks like I even supervised the pouring of the milk for Santa to make sure that it was done perfectly. Such a mini-Martha!
In my defense, making Christmas cookies was a very important task, which I took very seriously. Good cookies meant good presents from Santa, and my list from that year was quite ambitious (my mom saved all of my letters):
1. Pretty curls (I'm guessing that I was asking for some sort of a doll here, not curly hair)
2. Sewing set (My current lack of sewing skills indicates that I probably didn't receive this)
3. Cooking set with cookbook (shocking, I know)
4. Strawberry Shortcake
5. Barbie "shinky dinks" (I believe that I meant "shrinky dinks")
6. Dance Party at Barbie's record
7. A Barbie Birthday record (with two hit records, Barbie was clearly the Lady Gaga of that year)
8. Tape recorder (even though I asked for records)
I don't recall exactly what I did or did not receive, but I still have those two Barbie records in a box somewhere along with the cooking set, so the cookies must have been at least moderately successful.
Nowadays, when I make cookies for the holiday season, my motivation has changed. In fact, I try to get them OUT of the house as quickly as possible, so that I don't start to resemble Santa from behind. A big assorted box of homemade goodies will always be a welcome gift to your list of co-workers, friends, and people who have helped you throughout the year, and it is one that you can create "assembly-line" style at a relatively low cost. Marathon holiday baking sessions also provide me with the perfect opportunity to put my own spin on the growing stack of cookie recipes that I have accumulated over time.
This year, I heard about something called the Food Blogger Cookie Swap on Twitter, and I immediately signed up to participate. The swap required that all bloggers involved create three dozen cookies from a new recipe, then send a dozen cookies each to three other food bloggers with whom they were randomly matched.
I love to make biscotti during the holidays, not only because the basic biscotti recipe can be taken in so many different directions, but because they are the perfect cookie for shipping -- they rarely break. I've been on a bit of an anise kick lately, so I decided to create a flavor containing a hint of anise (nothing too strong) and a few odds and ends from my pantry: sliced almonds, dried cranberries, and lemon. I was very happy with how they turned out -- the jewel colored cranberries gave the cookies a holiday feel, and the tart glaze was a tasty contrast to the crisp, sweet cookies. Best part? I got to keep the ends for myself.
I also received three dozen yummy cookies from randomly chosen fellow swap participants in return. Kate's Recipe Box sent me Dark Chocolate Cookies with Mint Creme. Marie at ReetsyBurger sent some sprinkle-coated sugar cookies. And Kristin at Per L'Amore DiCibo sent some red velvet cookies made with a cake mix! Thank you to all three 🙂
- As noted above, biscotti are perfect for shipping, storing, and swapping! They will keep for up to three weeks if stored in an airtight container, and they layer very well in shipping containers between waxed paper. They can also be frozen.
- This recipe is extremely versatile, so feel free to play around with the ingredients. Swap out the almonds for pecans, pistachios, or pine nuts. Trade the cranberries for dried cherries, chopped dried figs, or apricots. Mix in chocolate chips or toffee bits. The possibilities are endless!
Lemon-Glazed Almond, Anise, and Cranberry Biscotti
Makes about 4 dozen biscotti
4 tablespoons butter, softened
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs
Zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon almond extract
¾ teaspoon anise extract
2 ¾ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup coarsely chopped dried cranberries
1 ½ cups sliced natural almonds, lightly toasted
For the glaze
2 cups confectioners' sugar
2 teaspoons corn syrup
3-4 tablespoons lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 350F degrees, and position the oven racks in the upper and lower thirds positions. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter with the sugar on medium speed until light. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Continue to beat the mixture for 2 minutes more. Beat in the lemon zest and both extracts.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until just incorporated. On low speed, mix in the cranberries and the almonds.
Transfer the dough to a very lightly floured work surface, and divide it into 3 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a 12-inch log, spacing two of the logs apart on one of the prepared baking sheets and the third log on the second sheet.
Bake the logs for 15-18 minutes, until golden on top and lightly cracked. Transfer the positions of the baking sheets halfway through the baking process. Remove the sheets from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 300F degrees.
Using a serrated knife, cut each log on the diagonal into ¾-inch slices. Lay the slices on their sides and return the baking sheets to the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until lightly golden.
Prepare the glaze: In a medium bowl, whisk together the confectioners' sugar, corn syrup, and enough lemon juice to make a pourable glaze. Drizzle the glaze over the warm biscotti, then allow the biscotti to rest until the glaze has set.