Sunday, December 13, 2009

Chocolate Candy Cane Cookies & Christmas Baking Traditions

Normally, I don’t do very much baking. The reason is not because I don’t enjoy baking because I do, very much; it’s more because I don’t enjoy eating baked goods all that much. Sure, I like the occasional muffin with my coffee, and sometimes I’m in the mood for something sweet after a meal, but it really is a rare occurrence for me to eat desserts. Sweets just don’t appeal to me the way savory foods do.

However, there is one time of year when my non-sweet-loving nature completely changes, when I have a healthy appetite for sugary delights. That time of year is Christmastime.

When December rolls around, I’m in full baking and cookie-craving mode, and I stay that way until January 1st. I love holiday baking, the memories I associate with it, the way it fills the house with the most tempting aromas, and, of course, the scrumptious results it produces. Holiday baking brings me back to childhood Christmases, and baking with my Mom. One of the highlights of the season was always making Christmas cookies: classic shortbread, soft ginger cookies, fun, marshmallow-filled “church windows”, and elaborately decorated sugar cookies. Though we made cookies often, none compared to these special, sacred baked goods that we could only make once a year. We would start baking around mid-December, but we were not allowed to eat anything we made, not a single glittery sprinkle, until the evening of December 24th. After dinner on Christmas Eve, my mother would fill a platter with a variety of our baked masterpieces, and we were allowed to dig in. After days of anticipation, those cookies seemed like the best ones we had ever tasted.

I speak about these things as if they are in the distant past, but that isn’t the case at all. In fact, my Mom and I still do holiday baking together, and we still save the fruits of our labor to enjoy on Christmas Eve. At the moment, we live more than 2000 miles apart, and though I will be home for Christmas, I decided to get a jump-start on the holiday baking on my own. I am making a few different cookies to bring home to my family, and none are the ones I listed above. I’ll save those to do with my Mom when I get home. Instead, I’m trying out some new recipes because though my family is all about tradition at Christmastime, we’re like to create new traditions as well.

The cookie recipe I want to share with you is one that I made for the first time last year. As soon as I sampled it, I knew that it would become an annual tradition. I cherish the Christmas traditions of my childhood, but it’s also exciting to be creating traditions of my own.
So, on with the baking. This little bit of heaven is called Chocolate Candy Cane Cookies. Imagine this: pink, peppermint buttercream, frosting squished between two chocolate cookies that are not too hard, and not too soft, then rolled in crushed candy canes. Now, make it: the recipe is from last year’s December issue of Bon Appétit, and you can find it here. But I have shiny pictures, so I recommend that you keep reading …

First, you make the chocolate cookies. These consist of a very simple combination of flour, unsweetened cocoa powder, sugar, butter, egg, and a pinch of salt.

While that chills, you make your peppermint buttercream frosting. Have you ever made buttercream frosting before? If you haven’t, I am warning you, it is rather shocking to discover what a sinful combination of fat and sugar this sweet indulgence actually is. In fact, you may just want to stop reading right now. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss, and you may want to stay ignorant of the true nature of buttercream frosting in order to enjoy eating it in the future.
No? Really, you want to know the truth? All right, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. Buttercream frosting is pretty much half butter and half powdered sugar, whipped up together. For our recipe, we will also be adding peppermint extract and red food coloring to get the color and flavor we want.
So, now you know the truth, and hopefully you have processed it and you are able to move on with the recipe. Yes? Here, this might help: I love the pink fluffiness of it. I have to say, as much as I love to cook, it is very unlikely that I would ever create anything this pretty when I am making something savory.

Now, before you put your frosting to work, you’ll need to bake your cookies. You do this by scooping out tablespoons of dough, forming it into a ball, and flattening it into a two-inch round on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. The recipe says to place them two inches apart, but I don’t find that this much space is necessary. The cookies don’t really expand while they bake, so as long as they aren’t touching to start with, they will stay separate in the oven.

Once the cookies have baked and cooled, you can assemble your sandwiches. That starts with a cookie, placed flat side-up.

Now, spread on about two teaspoons of frosting.
Then, top with another cookie, flat side-down, of course. Now, you’ll need to crush up some candy canes. Choose candy canes with the best colors. I did two types, actually: red and white, and red, green, white, and brown. You don’t quite want them to be crushed to a powder, but you don’t want the chunks to be too big, or they won’t stay stuck to the frosting.

Roll the edges of the cookie sandwich in the crushed candy cane so that the pieces stick to the frosting. Now, you have a Christmas treat that is sure to tempt and impress friends and family. I mean, doesn’t this look enticing? These cookies freeze really well, by the way. You can assemble them completely, then place them in parchment paper-lined containers and freeze them for up to two weeks. When they thaw out, you can’t tell that they were ever frozen. In case you missed it, here’s the recipe again for Chocolate Candy Cane Cookies.

This is my newest Christmas tradition. Do you have one too?

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