Friday, December 29, 2006

Again With The Cookies...

Christmas is over for another year. I tell you, coming back to work feels like a rest. It's not easy entertaining two nephews and niece who are all under the age of five. I love them all dearly, and love spending time with them (and my parents and my brother and sister-in-law, of course), but HOLY COW, those kids do not tire easily.

At one point on Boxing Day I was trying to sit quietly for a few minutes, and young James (who is two-and-a-half) found me, grabbed my finger and kept repeating "play Uncle Ian, play". For some strange reason, when I tried to explain to the boy that Uncle Ian was tired, and maybe he should jump on Uncle Monkey Face (don't ask, it's a long story), he just kept saying "play Uncle Ian, play". So of course, I smiled and said, "OK, let's play".So, with a full house of sixteen people, including five children under ten, we had a very nice buffet-style turkey dinner. My brother has a big dining room table, but not big enough to sit sixteen. As my contribution to the meal, I had prepared gift boxes of cookies for everyone. Tell me you're surprised.

Each box contained some Cinnamon Snickerdoodles, some Chocolate Toffee Holiday Cookies, and some Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies. This was the first time I had attempted the sugar cookies, and I vowed at the time that I would never make them again.Let me tell you why.

When it comes baking cookies, flour and I have an amiable relationship most of the time. However, when a certain Ms. Rolling Pin gets involved, things tend to get messy.

As you may have noticed, all of the cookies I have baked lately have been drop cookies, as in "drop the batter by spoonful on to the cookie sheet". I have taken some liberties with this, but that's basically what they are. These sugar cookies were my first foray into the murky world of rolling pins and cookie cutters. It wasn't really an auspicious start, let me tell you.

I really wanted these to work out. I went out and bought some funky new cookie cutters and some red- and green-coloured sugar and was all set. When I made up the cookie dough, it seemed to me that it was a little sticky and loose, but I thought that a couple of hours in the fridge would fix that. That was wishful thinking, apparently.

For this last explosion of cookie-baking, I have been using parchment paper instead of greasing the cookie sheet, and without exception it has been a huge improvement. It's essentially a non-stick surface, and means that I don't have to do anything more than wipe off the pan with a paper towel afterwards, if that.

This dough had other ideas.

I guess the dough didn't have enough flour in it, because it stuck to everything. EVERYTHING. The rolling pin, the kitchen table, the bowl, the parchment paper... AAAAGGGHHHHH! I managed to get about six snowmen cut out and on the cookie sheet before I gave up with the rolling pin. I ended up simply taking a small spoonful of dough, rolling it into a ball, wetting my finger slightly, and patting it down until it was about an 1/8 of an inch thick. Sixty times.The pictures at the top of this post show the sugar cookies that came out of later batches. You'll notice that they're fairly light in colour, and don't have too much coloured sugar on them. The cookies in the picture above were one of the first pans out of the oven. I oversugared them somewhat, and to me, it looked like the cookies had been in a horrible horrible accident, and the lines of melted sugar looked like blood-spatter. I call them "Drive-By Cookies". Look for them soon in a supermarket near you.

The one thing that saved these cookies was that despite their appearance, they tasted wonderful. Made me re-evaluate my "never again" stance, so I will likely have another go at some point.

Here is the recipe for these cookies. May you have better luck with them than I did.

Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies

1 C granulated sugar
1 C softened butter
1/3 C cream cheese, softened
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 egg yolk (reserve white)
2 C all-purpose flour

In large bowl combine sugar, butter, cream cheese, salt, extracts and egg yolk; blend well. Stir in flour until well blended. Chill dough for 2 hours. Pre-heat oven to 375F. On lightly floured surface, roll out dough one-third at a time to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut into desired shaped with lightly floured cookie cutter.
Place 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Leave cookie plain, or brush with lightly beaten egg white and sprinkle with colored sugar. Bake for 7-10 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool completely on wire racks.

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