- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Sometimes selecting which holiday cookies to bake can be more trouble than the actual baking.

With magazines and celebrity chefs offering scores of ideas for holiday treats, how do you pick between one gingerbread man or oatmeal-chocolate chip something-or-other and the 20 other similar recipes?

You don’t. Associated Press has done it for you, leafing through dozens of magazines and stacks of books in search of just the right mix of holiday favorites that are easy, light on labor and look and taste great.

Chewy cranberry oatmeal cookies

Every tin of holiday cookies needs something oatmealy. And these cookies from the December issue of Fine Cooking magazine are a great choice, combining the traditional oats and brown sugar with tangy dried cranberries.

Like many drop cookies, these really spread as they cook. Be sure to leave ample space around them on the baking sheet.

Oil to prepare pans (optional)

11/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

teaspoon salt

teaspoon cinnamon

2 cups rolled oats

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, slightly softened

1 cup packed light brown sugar

cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 tablespoon honey

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

11/3 cups dried cranberries

1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil two baking sheets or line them with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and oats. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and both sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the honey and vanilla and beat until blended.

Add the flour mixture in two batches, beating until well blended. Stir in the cranberries and walnuts.

Drop the dough, one heaping tablespoon per cookie, about 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake until the centers of the cookies are soft, but no longer look wet, about 10 to 12 minutes. Rotate the sheets, if necessary, for even browning.

Let the cookies cool 5 minutes on the baking sheets. Transfer to a rack to cool completely. Makes about 46 cookies.

Giant ginger cookies

This recipe is from Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Everyday Food magazine, Collectible Cookie Edition. These cookies are rich, chewy and spicy thanks to generous amounts of ginger, allspice, freshly ground black pepper and molasses.

These also make great gift cookies, as they improve with age, getting even chewier on the inside. They can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for up to a week.

2 cups all-purpose flour

21/4 teaspoons baking soda

teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon ginger

teaspoon allspice

teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature

cup packed light brown sugar

cup granulated sugar, plus 1/3 cup for coating

6 tablespoons unsulfured molasses

1 large egg

Arrange oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Preheat to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, allspice and pepper. Set aside.

With an electric mixer, beat the butter, brown sugar and cup granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Add the molasses and egg and beat until well mixed. Slow the mixer to low and gradually add the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined.

Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic and freeze for 20 minutes for easier handling.

Tear off chunks of the dough and with your hands shape into 2-inch balls. Place the remaining 1/3 cup sugar in a bowl and roll the balls in it to coat. Place the coated dough balls on the prepared baking sheets, at least 4 inches apart.

Flatten the balls into 3-inch rounds. Pressing the balls with the bottom of a heavy mug works well. Sprinkle the cookies evenly with any sugar remaining in the bowl.

Bake, rotating the sheet halfway through, until the cookies are set and cracked on top, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Makes 12 cookies.

Cranberry-orange shortbread cutouts

At least one batch of holiday cookies should call for dragging out the cookie cutters. But this recipe from Country Living magazine’s Holiday 2006 issue takes a new approach — cutting the cookies after they’ve baked.

This is a nice approach that avoids the fuss of trying to cut sticky doughs. The only downside is that you can’t smoosh together the dough remnants in order to make more cookies. Instead, save the scraps and use them as a topping for ice cream.

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened

1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1/4 cup granulated sugar

11/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup whole-wheat flour (or another cup all-purpose flour)

Finely grated zest of 1 orange

cup whole fresh or frozen cranberries, finely chopped

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place a rack in center of the oven. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and both sugars. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add both flours, the orange zest, cranberries, salt and vanilla. Beat on medium-low until mixture is fully combined.

Turn the dough out onto the prepared baking sheet. Use fingers and the palm of your hand (or a lightly floured rolling pin) to pat the dough into a 1/4-inch-thick rectangle. Bake until slightly firm to the touch in the center and edges are golden brown, 25 to 35 minutes.

Transfer the baking sheet to a work surface. Let cool about 5 minutes. Working one at a time, press a cookie cutter into the large shortbread to create shapes. Use a small knife to cut away any cranberry pieces. Continue until all the shortbread has been cut.

Once cool, transfer the shortbread to an airtight container. Makes about 12 cookies.

Chocolate malted whopper drops

You’ve got to love a cookie with a name like that. This recipe, from Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking: From My Home to Yours” (Houghton Mifflin), combines malted milk balls, chocolate chunks and cocoa powder for serious richness.

13/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup malted milk powder

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (11 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2/3 cup sugar

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup whole milk

2 cups chocolate-covered malted milk balls, coarsely chopped

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped, or 1 cup chocolate chips

Position oven racks to divide the oven into thirds. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, malted milk powder, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed until very smooth, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition.

Beat in the vanilla. Don’t be concerned if the mixture looks curdled; it will even out once the dry ingredients are added.

Reduce the mixer speed to low, add half the dry ingredients, mixing until they just disappear into the batter. Mix in the milk, then the remaining dry ingredients, mixing only until they are incorporated. The batter will resemble frosting more than cookie dough.

With the mixer on low, or by hand with a rubber spatula, mix in the malted milk balls and chocolate pieces.

Drop the cookie dough onto the prepared baking sheets, one rounded tablespoon per cookie, leaving about 2 inches between each. Bake for 11 to 13 minutes, rotating sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through.

When done, the cookies will be puffed and set, but slightly soft to the touch.

Let the cookies rest for 2 minutes before using a wide metal spatula to transfer them to racks to cool to room temperature. Bake remaining dough in similar fashion. Makes about 30 cookies.

Chocolate peppermint stars

What an attractive and simple, but still unusual design — star-shaped chocolate cookies drizzled with ribbons of melted chocolate, dusted with crushed candy canes, and finished with yet another drizzle of chocolate.

The design came from the December issue of Bon Appetit magazine, but I used my preferred chocolate cookie recipe from King Arthur Flour’s “The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion.”

1 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

3/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder

teaspoon salt

teaspoon baking powder

1 sticks (3/4 cup) butter

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

1 large egg

1 tablespoon water

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate

cup (about 3 ounces) finely crushed red-and-white-striped hard peppermint candies or candy canes

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, salt and baking powder. Set aside.

In a separate, larger bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the butter until light. Add the sugar and beat until well incorporated. Add the egg, water and vanilla and beat until the mixture has lightened both in color and texture, about 2 minutes. Gently mix in the dry ingredients.

Shape the dough into a flattened disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 3 to 4 hours, or overnight. This dough is very soft, so it is imperative to chill it before you roll it out.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease or line with parchment two or three baking sheets.

On a clean, heavily floured surface, roll the dough to a 1/8-inch thickness. Use a large star cutter to cut cookies from the dough. Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheets. The cookies won’t expand much, so you don’t need to leave much space between them.

Bake for 17 to 18 minutes. They are easy to burn, so watch them carefully. When you start to smell them, they’re probably done. Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack, and cool them completely.

Place the chocolate in a glass measuring cup. Microwave in 20-second increments, stirring between, until melted. Dunk a spoon in the chocolate and drizzle the chocolate over the cookies in a zigzag pattern. Sprinkle the cookies with crushed candies, then drizzle with remaining chocolate. Makes about 30 cookies, depending on size of cutter.

Jam stars

Every holiday cookie collection has to have something dainty and pretty. For that, we have these cookies from “Baking With Love” by the editors of Reader’s Digest.

31/4 cups all-purpose flour

cup ground almonds

3/4 cup caster (superfine) sugar

1 sticks (3/4 cup) butter, cut into small pieces

3 egg yolks

2/3 cup currant jam

2 to 3 tablespoons powdered sugar

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the flour, ground almonds and sugar. Add the butter and egg yolks, then beat until mixed and crumbly, about 1 minute. Press the dough together by hand.

Divide the dough into three pieces. Shape each piece into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate 30 minutes. Halfway through the chilling, preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Roll out each ball of dough on a lightly floured work surface, or between two sheets of parchment paper.

Using a 2-inch star cookie cutter, cut out cookies. Use a smaller star-shaped cutter to cut stars out of the center of half the cookies.

Arrange the cookies on the prepared baking sheets. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Spread a thin layer of jam over the cookies without the center cut out. Sift the powdered sugar thickly over the cookies with the cutout and place a sugar-dusted cookie on top of each jam-coated cookie.

Makes about 70 cookies.

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