Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we have watched the decreasing day length, with the shortest days of the year right now. On December 22nd, the Winter Solstice arrives with the light returning and the days lengthening- yes the increase is subtle at first, but noticeable after a couple of weeks.
It’s always a bit sad to say goodbye for the year to my garden, and to notice how low the sun rides in the sky. I can see why so many cultures have a festive Holiday around this time of year- something to consciously dispel the gloom. In the days without anything but candles and oil lamps, I’m guessing folks went to bed early.
Baking cookies cheers me up and gets me in the Holiday spirit. Of course I love eating them too, but without the possibility of sharing them, I’d be entering dangerous territory having a house filled with tempting, home-made delights. Nothing quite compares with a nice selection of buttery cookies . They can be crisp, cakey, fudgy, crumbly or soft; scented with vanilla, spice, coconut or other nuts; fruity or filled with chocolate. Invite me to visit and I’ll bring some cookies!
Here’s a recipe that gives you three variations from the same cookie dough.
Butter Cookies Three Ways
A simple butter cookie recipe can be the starting point for many delightful creations. Ours have a light, delicate texture and the unmistakable richness of butter.
The basic cookie dough is great baked just as it is or topped with a whole or half nut, a few chocolate chips, or sprinkling of sugar just before baking. However, we have provided directions for three of our favorite variations. Butternut Cookies, Jam Drops, and Pinwheel Cookies.
The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Keep some of it on hand in the freezer; it will keep for up to 6 months. Thaw frozen dough in the refrigerator for a day before using.
Yields: 60 to 70 cookies
Preparation time: 15 to 20 minutes
Baking time: 15 to 20 minutes per batch
Chilling time: about 1 to 2 hours
Equipment: electric mixer (optional); double boiler; baking sheet.
Basic Cookie Dough
1 ½ cups unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 cups unbleached white flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup finely chopped nuts
½ cup preserves or fruit spread
2 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate
¼ cup sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
With a wooden spoon or an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time, then add the vanilla and beat until smooth. Gradually add the flour and salt, mixing just until the dough ins uniformly smooth. The dough is now ready to chill, shape, and bake or freeze or flavor for one of the three variations below.
For Butternut Cookies, stir the chopped nuts into the dough. For the dough into two 6-inch-long cylindrical logs about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic and chill for at least 2 hours. The dough needs to be firm enough to hold its shape when sliced.
At the end of the chilling time preheat the oven to 350°.
Using a sharp knife, slice the logs into ¼-inch-thick cookies and place them about an inch apart on unoiled baking sheets. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the edges of the cookies are lightly golden. Cool on the baking sheets for a few minutes, then transfer to racks to finish cooling.
For Jam Drops, cover and refrigerate the dough for 1 hour. When it is firm, preheat the oven to 350°.
Gently roll teaspoonfuls of the dough between your palms to form 1-inch balls. It is best not to over handle the dough. Place the balls about 1½ inches apart on lightly oiled baking sheets.
With your fingertip, make an indentation in the center of each ball. Fill each hollow with a scant ¼ teaspoon of fruit preserves. Bake the cookies for 15 to 20 minutes, until the edges are lightly golden. Cool on the baking sheets for a few minutes, then transfer to racks to cool completely.
For Pinwheel Cookies, gently melt the chocolate with the sugar and cinnamon in a double boiler. Remove half of the dough from the bowl and set aside. Add the melted chocolate to the bowl and stir to make an evenly colored brown dough. Cut both the dark (chocolate) and the light (vanilla) balls of dough into halves. Wrap each piece in plastic and flatten into a ½ -inch-thick disk. Chill for at least 1 hour.
On four lightly floured pieces of wax paper, roll the disks into 12-inch squares. Flip each dark square onto a light square, peel off the wax paper, and press lightly with the rolling pin to seal the two dough layers together. You will have two double-layered 12-inch squares. (If the dough is already soft and sticky, refrigerate it for 10 minutes.) Roll up each square of dough, jellyroll fashion, to form two logs, removing the wax paper as you roll. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 1½ hours, until the dough is firm enough to hold its shape when sliced.
When the dough is firm, preheat the oven to 350°. Using a sharp knife, slice the logs into ½-inch-thick cookies and place them an inch apart on lightly oiled baking sheets. Bake until the edges of the cookies are lightly golden, about 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on the baking sheets for a few minutes, then transfer to racks to cool completely.
Reprinted from Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts, Copyright © 1997 by Moosewood, Inc. Clarkson Potter, publishers, New York.