Monday, December 19, 2011

Eleanor's Cookies

This is the time of year when we anxiously await our gift of Christmas cookies from my friend Eleanor.
Eleanor is hands-down the best cookie baker I know.  She doesn’t have a huge or fancy kitchen, but she consistently creates the most delicious and perfect cookies.  So I’ve asked her to share some tips and the recipe for one of my favorites.  They are Cranberry Noels by Martha Stewart and the recipe is as follows:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup dried cranberries
½ cup chopped pecans

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add milk and vanilla.  Beat until just combined.  With mixer on low, gradually add flour, salt, cranberries, and pecans; continue beating until fully combined.

Turn dough out onto a clean work surface, and divide into 2 equal pieces.  Shape each piece into an 8” inch log, about 2” in diameter.  Wrap logs in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Using a sharp knife, cut logs into 1/4” thick slices.  Transfer to parchment-lined baking sheets, about 1½” apart.  Bake until edges are golden, 14 to 16 minutes, rotating baking sheets halfway through.  Remove from oven, and transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

(Once formed into logs and wrapped well in plastic, the dough can be stored in the freezer for up to a month.  Before slicing, leave the dough at room temperature until it just begins to soften.  For a festive variation, roll the edges in colored sanding sugar before baking.)

Eleanor really likes this recipe, because it is basically a shortbread and does not require eggs.  That means there is one less ingredient to remember and the dough lasts longer.  So, it’s easy to prep and refrigerate while making other cookies.

Eleanor has a few recommendations for this recipe regarding…
The Dough
She says to completely incorporate the flour and salt before adding the nuts and cranberries.  And she always finishes mixing the dough by hand.  It helps ensure the nuts are evenly spaced.
It all starts with butter and sugar.
Make sure the flour and salt are blended in before...
Adding the nuts and fruit.
Making the Logs
Eleanor works the dough a little by hand, kind of compacting it, to eliminate any air pockets.  She works directly on plastic wrap.  The dough includes so much butter; it doesn’t stick.  Her logs are usually skinnier than 2”.  The diameter is the more important measurement… it’s okay if the logs are longer than 8”… that just means more cookies for everyone!
No flour needed to roll the log.
Cutting the Cookies
Since Eleanor often bakes in the evening on a limited schedule, she’ll usually refrigerate the dough overnight instead of just 2 hours.  She actually prefers the dough to be really cold and firm.  For this batch, she rolled the log in multi-colored sparkling sugar.  You can add the sugar before you chill, but then it tends to bleed into and discolor the dough.  Eleanor recommends sprinkling the log immediately after removing it from the refrigerator.  Lightly press the sugar into the dough.  A little colored sugar goes a long way.
Lightly press the sugar into the dough.
It doesn't look like a lot, but they are very sparkly when baked.
Eleanor gives her cookies as holiday gifts so she takes extra special care.  She will often measure the first couple cuts to make sure they are even.  And… since the log ends are crinkled from the plastic wrap, she usually pitches those little bits of dough.
Eleanor always bakes one sheet at a time and pivots the cookie sheet about mid-way through the baking time.  The most important thing is: make sure you re-refrigerate any remaining dough while your batches are baking.  You want your dough to stay firm!
Heading into the oven.
Just very lightly brown and almost ready to eat.
Fen thinks baking cookies is overrated and we should pay more attention to him!
In addition to Cranberry Noels, this year, Eleanor also gave us Lemon-Lime Refrigerator Cookies, Mexican Wedding Cookies, Lime Nut Buttons, Brownie Cookies with Cream Cheese, Thumbprints, Lemon Wreaths and Apricot Coconut Bars.  They are all incredibly yummy and absolutely beautiful.
Cookies can brighten any day.  Eleanor’s cookies are good enough to brighten a whole year.

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