Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Have a very merry cookie party

'You're going to invite six friends over and you're just going to laugh and talk about each other's cookies'

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If you've been dutifully keeping up with Alison Gillmor's series of cookie recipes this month, then you have the raw material, or at least the raw cookie dough, to organize yourself and your fellow bakers for a cookie party.

And since it will be all adults, you are not required to serve milk.

If you're going to do this thing, you'll want to do it right. Very Merry Cookie Party: How to Plan and Host a Christmas Cookie Exchange by Barbara Grunes & Virginia Van Vynckt with photos by France Ruffenach (Raincoast, $23) is the guidebook that will make baking those cookies a piece of cake. You'll find old favourites, new cookies to try and creative ideas on presentation for the 120 recipes in the book. This one is a good addition to your seasonal cookbook collection. Barbara Grunes was game to share some tips from the book.

The psychologist-turned food writer from Chicago, and author of some 45 books, has been doing this for a long time and was excited to be planning her own cookie party. She says that she and her colleague Virginia Van Vynckt decided it was time for a book like this because there hadn't been one for 20 years. It was time to re-visit and update some old favourites as well as introduce new ones. Also, a cookie party is a fun and economical idea in a tight economy.

"It's a lot of things, it saves time and it saves money. You're just making one cookie. If you're trying to make six cookies, all the ingredients you have to buy are very costly. But most important, it's fun. You're going to invite six friends over and you're just going to laugh and talk about each other's cookies and argue about who's going to get how many of what cookies."

Here's how to turn out a successful cookie party, according to Grunes.

1. Take the recipes and make them your own. "Our candy canes are red and white, but maybe you like red and green better."

2. Send invitations by mail or email, or call. Grunes prefers calling so you can discuss the theme if you're having one, what kind of cookies guests will bring as well as what to bring so cookies can be securely transported home (things like plates and plastic wrap or extra tins).

3. "It's like a country fair," says Grunes, where everyone wants to bring their best recipes, but you must prevent duplicate recipes from coming in the door. For one thing, the point is to go home with different varieties, but also, nothing will put a damper on your party quicker than having people comparing recipes.

4. Specify seasonal cookies or some kind of theme, like all-chocolate. "There's nothing wrong with a good old oatmeal cookie, but at the very least you have to tell them to upscale it a little bit."

5. Keep it to six or eight people at most. You need to have each person bring one dozen cookies for each person attending plus one dozen for sampling. In that same number, each person will still have an additional dozen of their own for trading for extra cookies.

6. Don't bring cookies in a bag. You want them to look their best. You can also tell people that if need be they can do finish work at the party to make transport a little easier.

There's fun to be had a cookie party and Barbara Grunes says she had her biggest laugh over some really large gingerbread men someone brought one year wanting to trade with other guests for extra cookies.

"She wanted three cookies for him... and she got it!"

Here are three recipes with additional tips for all you smart cookies. You can visit Barbara Grunes and Virginia Van Vynckt at www.makegreatcookies.com.

 

Candy Cane Cookies

Makes 42

250 ml (1 cup) (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

250 ml (1 cup) confectioners' sugar

1 large egg

5 ml (1 tsp) almond extract

2 ml (1/2 tsp) salt

625 ml (2 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour

2 ml (1/2 tsp) red food coloring

175 ml (3/4 cup) white decorating sugar or granulated sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 190C (375F). Have ready ungreased nonstick cookie sheets.

2. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat together the butter and confectioners' sugar until light, 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in the egg, almond extract, and salt. On low speed, gradually beat in the flour until a medium-firm dough forms.

3. Divide the dough in half. Beat the red food coloring into half of the dough. Blend until the color is evenly mixed throughout the dough.

4. Pinch off 1 teaspoon of the red dough. Roll between your palms to form a 4-inch-long rope. Pinch off 1 teaspoon of the plain dough and form into a 4-inch-long rope. Press the ropes to each other at one end and then twist them together to resemble a striped cane. Shape one end into a hook. Repeat with the remaining dough. As the cookies are shaped, arrange them on the cookie sheets, spacing them about 1 cm (1/2 - inch) apart.

5. Bake in the center of the oven until just firm when lightly pressed with a fingertip, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the decorating sugar while still hot. Let cool on the cookie sheets for 2 minutes, then transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool completely.

Be careful when you serve these. They are cute enough to tempt Santa away from his appointed rounds.

Cookie Exchange Tip: To use these cookies as tree ornaments, gently tie a red or white ribbon around the handle of the cane, creating a 2- to 3-inch loop that will easily slip onto the branch of the tree. You can also make a hole in the handle of the cane before baking and then thread the ribbon through the hole.

 

 

 

Oatmeal Brickle Nuggets

makes about 75 cookies

The toffee bits give the bottoms of these cookies a sugary-crunchy finish, making them truly irresistible.

250 ml (1 cup) (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

250 ml (1 cup) firmly packed light brown sugar

125 ml (1/2 cup) granulated sugar

1 large egg

5 ml (1 tsp) vanilla extract

5 ml (1 tsp) baking powder

2 ml (1/2 tsp) salt

500 ml (2 cups) all-purpose flour

500 ml (2 cups) old-fashioned rolled oats

1X 250 g (8-oz ) package English toffee bits (about 325 ml /1 1/3 cups)

1. Preheat the oven to 375F. Lightly grease or spray cookie sheets.

2 .In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat together the butter and brown and granulated sugars on medium speed until light, 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in the egg, vanilla, baking powder, and salt. On low speed, gradually beat in the flour just until mixed. Stir in the oats and toffee bits.

3. Pinch off pieces of the dough and roll between your palms into balls a bit larger than 2.5 cm (1-inch) in diameter. Place on the prepared cookie sheets, spacing them about 6 cm (1 1/2 inches) apart.

4. Bake in the center of the oven until firm to the touch and golden on the bottom and around the bottom edges, 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool on the cookie sheets for 1 minute, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Cookie Exchange Tip: These small cookies fit nicely in large, red and/or green plastic drinking cups. Place the cookies in the cups, then wrap each cup in plastic wrap or clear cellophane and tie with ribbon.

 

 

 

Christmas Mice Cookies

75 ml (1/3 cup) sweetened condensed milk

Green food coloring

500 ml (2 cups) confectioners' sugar

750 ml (3 cups) sweetened shredded coconut

30 almond slices

15 currants or small red candies

Green or blue decorating pen

Green (sour apple) whips (laces) or other candy whips of your choice, cut into 6-inch pieces,15 pieces total.

1. In a small cup, stir together the condensed milk and 2 or 3 drops food coloring, or enough to create a very pale green color. Make sure the food coloring is completely mixed through the milk.

2. In a food processor, combine the confectioners' sugar, coconut, and condensed milk mixture and process until all the ingredients are well combined and the coconut is finely minced, about 1 minute. Remove the blade from the food processor.

3. Scoop up a tablespoon of the coconut mixture, then gently push it out of the spoon with another spoon onto a work surface. Shape the mixture into a mouse, pinching a narrow nose on one end and a plump rear on the other. Using a spatula, transfer the mouse to a plate. Repeat until all the mice have been formed.

4. Place 2 almond slices on each mouse "head" to create ears, and put a currant or candy at the tip of the nose. Using the decorating pen, draw an eye on each mouse. Position a piece of candy whip for the tail on the plump rear, opposite the head. Cover the mice lightly with aluminum foil. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Cookie Exchange Tip: When arranging the platter, include a small wedge of cheese and position the mice so they are facing the cheese. You might even place one mouse on top of the cheese. These are very child-friendly cookies.

 

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 15, 2010 D1

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