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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas Cookies, oh, my!

  This is the one time of year I do extensive baking. Not normally something I do year round mostly because of the frustration factor. There is so much effort, for so little reward, and most of the time I get extra frustrated because my cookies seldom make it to the frosting stage, having so many cookie monsters in my household. It is a time I often become cross with my loved ones as they grab for un-frosted cookies by the handful. You might ask why I should get frustrated with that? There are no cookies to frost or decorate, less work. Well, yes, and no. I like to have platters of cookies ready for guests during the holidays, so my efforts have to be repeated and repeated until I finally throw in the towel, and say let them eat Aunt Alma's fruitcake that comes every year like clockwork and is always, surprisingly, wrapped identically to the previous years'--all the previous years. Either Aunt Alma wrapped about a thousand fruitcakes 25 years ago, or she bought miles of the same wrapping paper, either scenario frightening in its own right.
   So to my family, whom I love very much, I apologize for the snapping and slapping of little patties away from the cookie stash. Just give me the room and time to get all your favorites done and I promise you will be able to eat them to your heart's delight without fear of being scolded.   Now that my annual disclaimer has been published, I will tell you of the varieties of cookies and candies I make for Christmas.
   Tradition in my family goes back to the Struffoli that Grandma Julie made. Little Italian fried honey balls mounded into a conical shape piled high on her silver platter and liberally sprinkled with multicolored nonpareils, you know those tiny little round sugar sprinkle balls.  Not being one for most Italian pastries, it was nice to be able to enjoy something sweet at the Italian relatives' houses. Over the years I also learned that the "flag cookies" or "rainbow cookies" are simply almond cookies with layers of raspberry and apricot jam, and frosted with semi-sweet chocolate--definite winner in this house! Somewhere along the years my mother got a recipe for Ricotta cookies, and as they say, that was "all she wrote". 
   In the early years I only made chocolate chip or Toll House Cookies, sugar cookies, oatmeal cookies, peanut butter cookies and/or blossoms, and ricotta cookies. With the advent of the glorious internet I have now included: seven layer cookies, no-bake peanut butter cups, mint candies, rum balls, stained glass window candy, truffles,baklava, and raspberry-almond thumbprint cookies. This year I learned of a neat little trick with Ritz® crackers, peanut butter, and semi-sweet chocolate morsels. Any wonder why the prospect of re-dos gets me testy?
    And that's just the standards. Some years I try new recipes; for example one year I made half moon cookies the size of saucers, another year I dipped pretzel rods in almond bark and decorated them. Another trial was Santa's Whiskers cookies, sometimes I include chocolate snickerdoodles, and gingerbread men--actually this year I made reindeer that don't look very much like reindeer, but they taste, and smell,marvelous, so deal with the funny looking reindeer.
   I have made spiced tea mixes, and hot cocoa mix from scratch as gifts. This year I am putting together a few "brownies in a jar" mixes for gifts. And I am in four college classes, which don't break until the 26th of December. Okay, I am stressing myself as I await the last 1/2 dozen of the 8-1/2 dozen ricotta cookies I baked today to finish. then its time to frost them. maybe I picked a good time to do this, as not one cookie has disappeared yet. With some luck I'll get them all done and stashed before anyone gets home. I'll post photos of the completed cookies. But, for now, here's the recipe for Grandma Ann's famous Ricotta Cookies. Well, maybe not worldwide famous, but in this family they sure are!

Ricotta Cookies

Drain 15 oz ricotta in a fine mesh strainer for at least 4 hours in the refrigerator.

1/2 lb unsalted butter softened to room temperature
2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla (pure, please)
Grated rind of one orange-no white pith please
4-1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda

Cream the softened butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl (I use the Kitchen Aid® stand mixer). Add the eggs and the vanilla. Mix well. Sift together the dry ingredients and add to batter in increments--don't just dump all of it in at once, just about a cup at a time, just until all mixed--be careful to not over mix the batter- you know the drill it will make the cookies tough if the flour gets over worked.
Drop dough by heaping teaspoons (a measuring teaspoon) onto a greased cookie baking sheet. Bake at 350°F for 9-10 minutes. You are looking for a slightly browned edge of the cookie only. Remove from the oven, cool one minute, then transfer to cooling rack and let cool completely before glazing (recipe follows). I got 8 1/2 dozen from this recipe today! Yay!

The Glaze

2 cups confectionery sugar (powdered sugar) 
1/4 cup butter softened
3 teaspoons milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Mix all ingredients well, working out all lumps of the sugar until smooth. drizzle over cookies and then sprinkle with multicolored sprinkles or nonpareils. Let glaze harden before trying to store in a covered container.
   As promised here's a photo:

   Want more cookies? Just let me know!

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