- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 22, 2005

During the great holiday baking season, cookies take center stage. This is a time when we need lots of cookies and fast.

If you need a gift for a teacher or best friend, fill a tin with chocolate peppermint crunch cookie bark. When you are exhausted from too much holiday shop

ping, call in the children to play in the kitchen and make celebration sugar cookies. It’s a snap to keep that cookie jar full by baking these cookies and easy-to-make chocolate chip whoppers.

Cookies have a lot of good things that make them ideal for the busy holiday season. They mix quickly, use simple techniques, and call for common ingredients. As far as baking pans, all that is needed is two or three heavyweight baking sheets.

Part cookie and part candy, chocolate peppermint crunch cookie bark is a crisp, dark chocolate chip cookie topped with crushed peppermint candy.



The chocolate dough is baked as two big cookie slabs, then a heavy sprinkling of chocolate chips melts on top of the warm cookie. The candy pieces stick to the melted chocolate so they do not fall off when the cooled cookie is snapped into irregular pieces.

The dough for celebration sugar cookies meets all of the requirements for an all-purpose dough that makes great cutout cookies. It is easy to mix and rolls out easily. It’s not fussy about being rolled several times and does not mind if little hands squish and press it a bit.

It is a dough that holds the shape of the cutout design during baking and produces a cookie that remains in good condition for a week or more, so it can successfully travel to faraway friends and family.

The chocolate chip whoppers will satisfy all fans of crisp-all-the-way-through chocolate chip cookies.

Here are a few baking tips for making good cookies:

• Take your time and enjoy your cookie baking.

• Break eggs into a separate bowl, then add them to cookie dough. This prevents any eggshell from accidentally getting mixed into the dough. If the mixer is going and a piece of eggshell falls into the bowl, it’s nearly impossible to retrieve.

• When mounds of cookie dough are the same size, they produce uniform cookies that bake evenly.

• If a baking sheet is only partially filled with cookies, it usually takes less time to bake than a baking sheet filled with cookies.

• Watch cookies carefully, especially as they near the end of their baking time. Only a minute or two can make the difference between a perfectly baked cookie and a burned bottom.

• Choose shiny heavyweight baking sheets that reflect heat and have less of a tendency to produce overbaked cookie bottoms than dark-colored baking sheets, which absorb heat.

• Line baking sheets with parchment paper, heavy aluminum foil or nonstick liners for easy cleanup. Liners seldom need to be buttered.

The recipes that follow are from my book, “Big Fat Cookies” (Chronicle).

Chocolate peppermint crunch cookie bark

Instead of peppermint candy, this cookie could also be topped with crushed toffee or chopped white chocolate.

COOKIE BASE:

11/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

33/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder

8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

11/2 cups (9 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

TOPPING:

11/2 cups (9 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

3/4 cup (about 5 ounces) peppermint candy, crushed with a rolling pin into small pieces

Have 2 baking sheets ready.

To prepare cookie base, in a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking soda and salt. Sift cocoa powder onto flour mixture. Set aside.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on low speed, mix melted butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, 2 tablespoons water and vanilla until smooth, about 30 seconds.

Stop the mixer and scrape side of the bowl as needed during mixing. Add flour mixture, mixing just until flour is incorporated. Stir in chocolate chips.

Leaving a 3-inch border empty on all sides, use a thin metal spatula to spread half of dough on one baking sheet into a rough rectangle that measures about 11 by 8 inches and is about 1/4-inch thick. Use the palms of your hands to help pat it into an even layer. Repeat with remaining cookie dough and the second baking sheet.

Bake one baking sheet at a time on middle rack of preheated 350-degree oven until the top looks dull, not shiny, and it feels evenly firm at both the edges and the center, about 14 minutes.As soon as each baking sheet comes out of the oven and using 3/4 cup of chocolate chips for each cookie slab, sprinkle chocolate chips evenly over hot cookie base.

Let chocolate chips sit 5 minutes to soften and melt, then use a small metal spatula to spread melted chocolate over the cookie, covering most of the cookie. While the chocolate is still warm, sprinkle half the peppermint candy evenly over each slab.

Let the cookie bark cool on the baking sheets on a wire rack until chocolate topping is firm, about 2 hours. To speed cooling, cool cookies on baking sheet for about 30 minutes, then refrigerate them, still on the baking sheets, just until the chocolate topping firms, then remove from refrigerator.

Break each large cookie slab into about 12 (5- to 6- inch-long) irregular pieces.

The cookies can be stored layered between sheets of waxed paper in a tightly covered container at room temperature for up to 5 days. Makes about 24 (5- to 6-inch-long) irregular-shaped cookies.

Celebration sugar cookies

Have a variety of decorative sugars and sprinkles on hand to decorate the finished cookies.

23/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

½ cup cornstarch

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

6 ounces (1½ sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature

½ cup (8 tablespoons) vegetable shortening, such as Crisco

1 cup sugar

1 large egg

2 teaspoons vanilla

½ teaspoon almond extract

Frosting, colored sugars or other decorative toppings (see note)

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt, and set aside. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter, vegetable shortening and sugar until smooth and slightly lightened in color, about 1 minute.

Stop mixer and scrape side of bowl as needed during mixing. Add egg, vanilla and almond extract, and mix until blended, about 1 minute. On low speed, add flour mixture, mixing just to incorporate it. The dough will be soft and smooth.

Divide dough in half and form into 2 smooth disks about 6 inches in diameter. Wrap disks in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm enough to roll without sticking but not so hard that it is difficult to roll out, about 1 hour.

Lightly flour rolling surface and rolling pin. Unwrap one piece of dough and roll it out to about a 12-inch circle that is 3/16-inch thick. Cut out cookies using a 3½-inch to 5-inch-long cookie cutter.

Place cookie cutter carefully so you can cut out as many cookies as possible from each rolling.

Use a thin metal spatula to transfer cookies to prepared baking sheets, placing them about 1 inch apart. Gather the dough scraps and set aside. Unwrap second piece of dough and repeat rolling and cutting process.

Gather together all of the dough scraps, forming a smooth disk, and roll and cut out the dough. If there is still quite a bit of dough remaining, gather the scraps together and roll and cut the dough once again.

Bake one sheet at a time on center rack of preheated 350-degree oven until edges and bottoms of cookies are lightly browned, about 14 minutes.

Cool cookies on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then use a wide metal spatula to transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely. Makes about 24 cookies; smaller cookie cutters produce more cookies. (Ingredients can be doubled to make a larger batch of cookies.)

Note: Cooled cookies can be frosted with confectioners’ sugar frosting and decorated with colored sprinkles, colored sugars, nonpareils or colorful candies.

They can be half-dipped in melted chocolate or drizzled with melted chocolate.

About 2 tablespoons colored sugar, sprinkles or nonpareils will decorate about 24 cookies. (Cookies can be layered between sheets of waxed paper in a tightly covered container and stored at room temperature for up to 1 week.)

To make snowmen: Cut out about a 3-inch circle for the body and a 2-inch circle for the head. Slightly overlap the 2 circles for each snowman on the baking sheets and press them together. Decorate with confectioners’ sugar frosting.

Confectioners’ sugar frosting: Mix together 1½ cups sifted confectioners’ sugar, 3/4 teaspoon vanilla, and 2 to 3 tablespoons water to form a firm frosting that can be piped or spread over the baked and cooled cookies. Add small amounts of water to thin the frosting and confectioners’ sugar to thicken it.

Chocolate chip whoppers

These are for fans of crisp-all-the-way-through chocolate chip cookies. Two ingredients, or actually the lack of one, contribute to the crisp texture. The butter is melted rather than softened, and there is no egg in the dough.

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon salt

8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips

1 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped coarsely, optional

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Into medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda and salt, and set aside. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on low speed, mix melted butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla until smooth, about 30 seconds.

Stop mixer and scrape side of bowl as needed during mixing. Add flour mixture, mixing just until flour is incorporated. The dough will look crumbly. Mix in 3 tablespoons water.

The dough will become soft and smooth. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts, if desired.

Using an ice cream scoop or measuring cup with a 1/4 cup capacity, scoop mounds of dough onto prepared baking sheets, spacing cookies at least 3 inches apart. Gently press cookies to flatten them slightly to about 3/4-inch thick.

Bake cookies on center rack of preheated 350-degree oven, one sheet at a time, until tops are evenly lightly browned and have a few cracks, about 17 minutes.

Cool cookies for 5 minutes on baking sheets, then use a wide metal spatula to transfer them to a wire rack to cool thoroughly. Cookies can be stored in a tightly covered container at room temperature for up to 4 days. Makes 15 cookies.

Elinor Klivans is the author of “125 Cookies to Bake, Nibble and Savor” (Broadway Books) and “Big Fat Cookies” (Chronicle).

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