Every holiday has its own special foods that are unique to that holiday. Cookies could be called the principal festive food of Christmas, and every country has its own special holiday cookies. The origin of Christmas cookies lies in medieval European recipes. Lebkuchen (gingerbread) was probably the first cookie to be associated with the Christmas holiday, and cookies had spread all over Europe by 1500. The Dutch brought the Christmas cookie with them to the new world, and the word cookie comes from the Dutch word KOEPTJE (koekje) meaning a small cake. New Mexico was the first state to have an official state cookie, earning that distinction when the biscochito became the official state cookie in 1989. The biscochito is a crisp lard or butter cookie flavored with anise and cinnamon. The name is a Spanish diminutive form of bizcocho. The dough is rolled and cut out. The cookie is usually cut into circles, stars or other shapes. The biscochito was developed by the residents of New Mexico over the centuries from the decedents of the first Spanish colonists. The biscochito is served for special celebrations, weddings, baptisms and religious holidays, and especially during the Christmas holiday season. Here are just few of my favorite holiday cookie recipes.

Best Chocolate Brownies with Ganache Frosting

Brownies

6 oz bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped or chips
1-1/8 cups unsalted butter = 2 sticks plus 1 tbsp
1-1/8 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1-1/4 cups cake flour
4 oz pecans or walnuts, coarsely chopped, optional

Preheat oven to 350℉. Using a 9x13x2 inch baking pan, spray pan, line with parchment paper and spray again. Melt chocolate and unsalted butter together, in a large bowl over very hot water. In a stand mixer, beat eggs, sugar and vanilla. Beat until lemony in color and thick. Add chocolate-butter mixture. Add flour (and nuts if using) to egg-chocolate mixture. Mix only to incorporate. Spread into prepared pans. Bake at 350℉ until Brownies are set and top is dry; brownies will soufflé (puff up) in the pan. Remove from oven, cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. When completely cooled, remove from pan. Turn brownie upside down for a completely smooth surface to frost. Yield: 24 large brownies or 30 smaller brownies

Ganache Frosting

1/2 cup half & half
1 tbsp white corn syrup
8 oz chopped semi-sweet chocolate (or chips)
2 oz unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2 tsp liquor, brandy, rum, triple sec or vanilla extract, or other flavoring

Combine half & half and corn syrup in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Place chopped chocolate (chips) and soft butter in heatproof bowl, pour boiling half & half and corn syrup over chocolate-butter mixture. Allow to stand for 5 minutes. Stir with a wooden spoon until chocolate is completely melted, smooth and shiny. Add liquor or flavoring. Frost brownies. Ganache may be prepared ahead and stored for 2 weeks in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature to spread, or melt for a poured frosting.

Biscochitos

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cake flour
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
8 oz euro-style butter or Plugra
3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 tsp anise seeds
1 large egg
1/8 cup brandy
1/4 cup cinnamon sugar

Preheat oven to 350℉. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Spray. Whisk to combine flours, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar. Add egg and incorporate; add brandy and anise seeds. Scraping the bowl frequently, cream together completely. Add the dry ingredients. Mix to a stiff cookie dough. Divide dough into 2 logs. Wrap each log in parchment or wax paper, then in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours, or freeze. When ready to bake, slice cookie dough 1/4 inch thick. Place on prepared cookie sheets. Bake 8-12 minutes. Cookies should be barely golden around the edges. Remove from cookie sheets and roll in cinnamon sugar. Cool on wire racks. Yield: Approx 3 dozen cookies. Biscochitos are the state cookie of New Mexico. They may be also be rolled and cut out, or rolled into a ball and pressed into the palm of your hand to form a rounded shape. Traditionally the recipe calls for lard.

Holiday Sugar Roll-Out Cookies

1 and 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar

Cream butter and powdered sugar in large bowl. Add egg, vanilla and almond extracts. Whisk dry ingredients together to combine. Add to butter-sugar mixture. Mix to combine. Divide cookie dough into fourths. Pat into flat discs. Wrap discs well in plastic wrap, or place in a plastic baggie. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours before rolling out and cutting into shapes. Dough may be refrigerated for several days (up to one week) or frozen. Roll chilled dough out using equal parts powdered sugar and flour. This flour and powdered sugar combination is great for rolling out all cookie doughs. They will roll easier, and the powdered sugar will make the cookie slightly crisp and the cookie will bake to a pale golden color. Roll cookie dough to 3/16-inch thickness. Dough may be re-rolled several times. Cut with lightly floured cookie cutters. Place cut cookies on parchment paper lined cookie sheets. Spray parchment lightly to assure cookies will lift off easily. Decorate as desired, or bake plain and decorate with royal frosting or decorating chocolate. Bake cookies in preheated 375℉ oven for 7-8 minutes until a delicate golden color. Remove from cookie pan at once and cool on wire racks. Cool cookie sheets before using again. The cookie dough will begin to melt on a hot cookie sheet before it begins to bake.
Yield: 3 dozen, but the yield will depend on the size cookie you cut. This cookie will also work well made into a log, chilled and then sliced and baked.
The circle-shaped cookies can then be spread with dark and white chocolate for
Black & Whites, or for Christmas, decorated in a myriad of ways.

Pecan Shortbread Cookies

8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups (12 oz) chopped pecans
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp water
Powdered sugar for rolling finished cookies

Preheat oven to 300℉. Line baking or cookie sheets with parchment paper. Do not grease cookie sheets or spray. Cream butter and sugar together. Mix in remaining ingredients. Shape with your fingers to balls, or ovals in the size of large dates. Bake at 300℉ for 35 minutes. Remove from oven, remove from cookie sheets and roll in powdered sugar. Yield: 5 dozen. Or slice and bake log method: After mixing cookie dough, divide into 4 equal portions. Shape each fourth into a log. Wrap tightly in parchment paper or wax paper. Wrap logs in plastic wrap or store in a plastic bag. Refrigerate at least 4 hours, up to several days or freeze. The entire log may be rolled in finely chopped or ground pecans or powdered sugar before slicing into cookies. Then slice and bake as per recipe directions. Yield: 5 dozen. This log method works for all short bread style cookies. It makes a nice round cookie, with out rolling out or special cutting. The edges may be rolled in nuts, sprinkles, or finely diced dried fruits to complement the cookie flavor. The logs will keep if well-wrapped and sealed, for 3 months in the freezer and several weeks in the refrigerator.

Crispy Rice Bars

1 package (12 oz) crispy rice cereal
1 bag (10.5 oz mini-size marshmallows
8 oz unsalted butter, cut into chunks

Spray and line with parchment paper a 10×15-inch jelly roll pan or a half-size sheet pan. Spray parchment paper. Set aside. Combine butter and mini-size marshmallows in a large bowl over a pot of boiling water. Stir with a wooden spoon until butter and mini marshmallows are completely melted. Remove from heat and stir in cereal to coat completely. Place mixture into prepared pan. Spray a sheet of parchment or wax paper and lay spray side down over rice cereal mix. Roll with a rolling pin to create an even layer and flatten the bars. Allow to set for 5-10 minutes or chill. Remove from pan and cut into bars. Yield 36-48 bars. If you wet your hands with warm water, the mixture will not stick to your hands. Much easier to mix and to flatten with your hands

Chocolate Crispy Rice Bars

6 tbsp unsalted butter
1 bag (10.5 oz) mini-size marshmallows
1/4 cup unsweetened dutch-process cocoa powder
6 cups crispy rice cereal
2 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted or very finely chopped

Combine butter, mini marshmallows, and cocoa powder in a large bowl over a pot of boiling water. Stir with a wooden spoon until butter, marshmallows and cocoa powder are melted. Add bittersweet chocolate. Add rice cereal; mix to completely coat. Pat mixture into prepared pan. Spray a sheet of parchment paper or wax paper and lay sprayed side down over bars. Pat with your hand or roll with a rolling pain to create an even layer and flatten bars. Allow to set for 5-10 minutes or chill. Remove from the pan and cut into bars. Recipe easily doubles. Yield: 16 bars.

Swedish Ginger Thins

2/3 cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp dark corn syrup
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cloves
3 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup water
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 375℉. Line baking or cookie sheets with parchment paper. Lightly spray. In a medium saucepan, combine butter, sugars, and dark corn syrup. Over medium heat cook and stir until butter is melted. Remove from heat, stir in ginger, cloves and cinnamon. Let cool. Stir baking soda into water, allow to fizz and then stir into butter, sugar and spice mixture, blending completely. Stir in all-purpose flour. Mix completely. Dough will be very soft. Divide into two portions and wrap completely in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm, minimum of two hours, up to 4 days, or freeze. On a lightly dusted flour and powdered sugar board, roll out dough to 1/4-inch thickness. It is best to roll out using the 1/2 flour, 1/2 powdered sugar blend. Cut out with lightly floured cookie cutters. Gingerbread boys and girls are nice. Bake at 375℉ for 8-10 minutes until slightly darker in color and firm to the touch. Remove from oven and cool on wire racks. Decorate with royal frosting, or with decorating chocolate. Yield: 5 dozen 2-inch cookies.

Storing and Packing Cookies

Storing Cookies:


After the cookies have been baked, completely cooled, and decorated or finished, they need to be properly stored. Different types and flavors of
Cookies should be stored separately in its own plastic container.

Place a layer of wax paper between each layer of cookies.
Bar cookies may be marked for cutting and left uncut until needed.
Wrap the entire block in wax paper and then place in a zip-lock bag.

Many cookies, sugar cookies, biscochitos and shortbread type cookies may
Be formed into “logs”, wrapped in wax paper and then in plastic wrap and then in plastic bags and be stored for a week or more in the refrigerator or in the freezer for up to 3 months. The cookies may then be defrosted, sliced, baked and decorated as needed.

Packing cookies for gifts:


Packing cookies is much easier if you use cupcake papers. The papers come in tiny sizes for candies, truffles and fudge. Medium mini muffin size work well for small cookies or cut bar cookies. Regular size cupcake papers can be used for most cookies. Stack 3 or 4 cookies in each paper. Large papers for texas size muffins will hold large or fancy decorated cut-outs.


In the cookie tin, box, plastic tub …. Line bottom with wax paper, leaving enough extra length to come up the insides and cover the top (like tissue paper in a sweater box). Fill cookie tin with cupcake papers filled with cookies packing as tightly as you are able. Cookies that cannot move around will not break!


Place a second sheet of wax paper on top of cookies. Fill a second layer if there is room, then fold the wax paper from the bottom to cover the top of the cookies. You may fill in any small openings with chocolate kisses, mints, small candies.


To finish, close tin and seal the edges all the way around with scotch tape.
Your cookies will travel well and safely. They will remain fresh for many days if taped tightly shut!

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