Online Exclusive: Top five cookie recipes

A few things on everybody’s mind for the next few weeks include: family, friends, gratitude and cookies.  Here’s a list of those yummy treats that you cannot miss out on.

1. Danish Wedding Cookies

Despite their name, these cookies are traditionally eaten in Mexican weddings and are a way to symbolize matrimony. The nuts represent the hardships that the couple will face, but they are coated in sweetness that is love.  They are thick, rich and buttery, but, mainly, delicious.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Powdered sugar

Directions

  1. Combine flour and cinnamon in a large bowl.
  2. Add butter, pecans, 1/4 cup powdered sugar and vanilla; stir well until blended. Batter will be stiff.
  3. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place on ungreased cookie sheets.
  4. Bake at 400 degrees fahrenheit for 10-12 minutes.
  5. Remove cookies to wire racks to cool slightly.
  6. Roll cookies in powdered sugar and cool completely on wire rack.

2. Bourbon Balls

Despite popular theory, these won’t get you drunk.  They do, however, taste absolutely delicious.  With a powdery exterior, an overall vanilla flavor and a very distinct aftertaste, these cookies will certainly leave an impression at any holiday party.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup fine vanilla wafer crumbs
  • 1 cup finely chopped pecans
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup bourbon
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons light corn syrup
  • Confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Directions

  1. Thoroughly combine crushed vanilla wafer crumbs, chopped pecans, 1 cup confectioners’ sugar and the cocoa.
  2. In a separate bowl, blend the bourbon and corn syrup. Stir this bourbon mixture into the dry mixture; blend well.
  3. Cover and chill for at least a few hours. Sift about 1/2 to 1 cup of confectioners’ sugar on a cookie sheet.
  4. Shape small bits of the dough into balls and roll them in the confectioners’ sugar. Store in refrigerator in tightly covered containers.
  5. Make these a few days in advance for best flavor, and roll in confectioners’ sugar again before serving, if desired.

3. Rugelachs

These are considered more pastry than cookie, but are an ingrained part of Jewish culture around the holiday season.  They originated in eastern Europe but have since migrated into western kitchens.  The dominant taste is cinnamon, but they are flavored by raisins and jam, which make them very distinct from the more popular cookies.  They are wonderfully buttery and almost literally melt in your mouth.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup plus 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup apricot preserves or raspberry jam
  • 1 cup loosely packed golden raisins, chopped
  • 1 1/4 cups walnuts (1/4 lb), finely chopped
  • Milk for brushing cookies

Directions

  1. Whisk together flour and salt in a bowl. Beat together butter and cream cheese in a large bowl with an electric mixer until combined well. Add flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until a soft dough forms. Gather dough into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap, then flatten (in wrap) into a roughly 7- by 5-inch rectangle. Chill until firm, 8 to 24 hours.
  2. Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Line bottom of a 1- to 1 1/2-inch-deep large shallow baking pan with parchment paper.
  3. Cut dough into 4 pieces. Chill 3 pieces, wrapped in plastic wrap, and roll out remaining piece into a 12- by 8-inch rectangle on a well-floured surface with a floured rolling pin. Transfer dough to a sheet of parchment, then transfer to a tray and chill while rolling out remaining dough in same manner, transferring each to another sheet of parchment and stacking on tray.
  4. Whisk 1/2 cup sugar with cinnamon.
  5. Arrange 1 dough rectangle on work surface with a long side nearest you. Spread 1/4 cup preserves evenly over dough with offset spatula. Sprinkle 1/4 cup raisins and a rounded 1/4 cup walnuts over jam, then sprinkle with 2 tablespoons cinnamon sugar.
  6. Using parchment as an aid, roll up dough tightly into a log. Place, seam side down, in lined baking pan, then pinch ends closed and tuck underneath. Make 3 more logs in same manner and arrange 1 inch apart in pan. Brush logs with milk and sprinkle each with 1 teaspoon of remaining granulated sugar. With a sharp large knife, make 3/4-inch-deep cuts crosswise in dough (not all the way through) at 1-inch intervals. (If dough is too soft to cut, chill until firmer, 20 to 30 minutes.)
  7. Bake until golden, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool to warm in pan on a rack, about 30 minutes, then transfer logs to a cutting board and slice cookies all the way through.

4. Gingerbread Cookies

A classic that cannot be missed is gingerbread cookies. They are a central part of any holiday cookbook and play a role in many people’s wintertime memories.  While they are delicious, the best part is still cutting them into gingerbread men and women and decorating them with frosting.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly milled black pepper
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup vegetable shortening, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup unsulfured molasses
  • 1 large egg
  • Royal Icing (recipe follows)

Directions

  1. Position the racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven and preheat to 350 °F.
  2. Sift the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, salt and pepper through a wire sieve into a medium bowl. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, using a handheld electric mixer at high speed, beat the butter and vegetable shortening until well-combined, about 1 minute. Add the brown sugar and beat until the mixture is light in texture and color, about 2 minutes. Beat in the molasses and egg. Using a wooden spoon, gradually mix in the flour mixture to make a stiff dough. Divide the dough into two thick disks and wrap each disk in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until chilled, about 3 hours (dough can be prepared up to 2 days ahead).
  4. To roll out the cookies, work with one disk at a time, keeping the other disk refrigerated. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature until just warm enough to roll out without cracking, about 10 minutes. (If the dough has been chilled for longer than 3 hours, it may need a few more minutes.) Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface and sprinkle the top of the dough with flour. Roll out the dough 1/8 inch thick, being sure that the dough isn’t sticking to the work surface (run a long metal spatula or knife under the dough occasionally just to be sure, and dust the surface with more flour, if needed). For softer cookies, roll out slightly thicker. Using cookie cutters, cut out the cookies and transfer to nonstick cookie sheets, placing the cookies 1 inch apart. Gently knead the scraps together and form into another disk. Wrap and chill for 5 minutes before rolling out again to cut out more cookies.
  5. Bake, switching the positions of the cookies from top to bottom and back to front halfway through baking, until the edges of the cookies are set and crisp, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on the sheets for 2 minutes, then transfer to wire cake racks to cool completely. Decorate with Royal Icing. (The cookies can be prepared up to 1 week ahead, stored in airtight containers at room temperature.)

5. Pecan Pralines

Hailing from New Orleans, these creamy, nutty cookies are impossible to eschew during the Southern holiday season.  They have a consistency similar to fudge but are much easier to make.  An interesting variant is substituting the pecans with almonds for a more firm chew.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 1/3 stick butter
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups whole pecans

Directions

  1. Combine all ingredients except the pecans in a heavy saucepan. Over medium heat stir mixture until it comes to a boil. Turn heat down to medium-low and continue to stir. Spoon mixture up on sides of pan to melt any sugar that hasn’t melted.
  2. Cook until mixture reaches 238 to 241 °F on a candy thermometer or soft ball stage. Stir in the pecans. Remove from heat. Stir until the mixture begins to thicken and becomes creamy and cloudy. Drop onto parchment paper, buttered pan or buttered marble slab, using a spoon or ice cream scoop. Let cool.