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Homemade for the holidays

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Food Editor, Associated Press

Key Lime Sugar Cookies

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon corn oil or other flavorless vegetable oil

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon finely grated Key lime or regular lime zest (green part of the skin)

6 tablespoons fresh or bottled Key lime juice

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch of salt

2/3 cup granulated sugar

7 tablespoons (1 stick minus 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, slightly softened and cut into chunks

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon lemon extract or 1 teaspoon lime flavoring oil, such as Boyajian

Up to 1 tablespoon water, if needed

About 3 tablespoons lime-colored decorating sugar, or crystal sugar or granulated sugar for garnish

Icing (optional)

About 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

2 1/2 to 3 tablespoons fresh or bottled Key lime juice

1 to 2 drops yellow liquid food color (optional)

1 to 2 drops green liquid food color (optional)

To make the cookies: In a small bowl, combine the oil and lime zest. Let stand, covered, for at least 30 minutes and up to several hours. Microwave the lime juice in a 2-cup microwave-safe measure on high power for 2 1/2 to 5 minutes, stopping and checking after 2 minutes, then every 30 seconds, until the lime juice is reduced to 2 1/2 tablespoons; it's normal for the juice to darken in color slightly. (Alternative, heat the juice in a small nonreactive saucepan over medium heat until reduced to 2 1/2 tablespoons.) If the juice is inadvertently reduced to less than 2 1/2 tablespoons, add enough water to yield 2 1/2 tablespoons. Let cool to room temperature.

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a large bowl with a mixer on medium speed, beat together the oil mixture and granulated sugar until well blended. Add the butter, beating until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the lime juice, vanilla and lemon extract until well blended and smooth. Gradually beat or stir in the flour mixture to form a smooth dough. If the dough seems soft, let stand for 5 minutes to firm up slightly. If it seems dry, stir in up to 1 tablespoon water.

Divide the dough in half. Roll out each portion between sheets of baking parchment or wax paper until a scant 1/4 inch thick. Occasionally check the underside of the dough during rolling and smooth out any wrinkles. Stack the rolled portions (paper still attached) on a baking sheet. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes or freeze for about 15 minutes, or until cold.

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 F. Grease several baking sheets or coat with nonstick spray. Working with one portion at a time and keeping the other refrigerated, gently peel off the top sheet of paper, then pat loosely back into place so it will be easy to remove later. Invert the dough and peel off the second sheet.

Using a 2 1/4-inch round cutter, cut out the cookies, then cut each round in half with a sharp knife. If at any point the dough softens too much to handle easily, transfer the paper and cookies to a baking sheet and refrigerate or freeze until firm.

Using a spatula, transfer the cookies to the baking sheets, spacing them about 1 inch apart. Re-roll any dough scraps. Continue cutting out the cookies until all the dough is used. Generously sprinkle the cookie tops with decorating sugar.

Bake one sheet at a time for 7 to 11 minutes, or until the cookies just begin to brown at the edges. If necessary, reverse the sheet from front to back halfway through baking to ensure even browning. Using a wide spatula, immediately transfer the cookies to a wire rack. Let cool completely.

To make the icing (if using): In a small bowl, stir together 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar and 2 1/2 tablespoons lime juice until well blended and smooth. If desired, stir in the yellow and green food color. If necessary, stir in more sugar or juice to yield a piping consistency (stiff enough to hold its shape but soft enough to pipe through a fine tip). Place the icing in a paper decorating cone or pastry bag fitted with a fine writing tip. Space the cookies slightly apart on a rack set over baking parchment or wax paper. To suggest lime slices, pipe a thin line around the perimeter of each cookie, then add "segments" by piping a dot in the center and 7 thin spokes radiating out from the dot to the perimeter. Let stand until the icing sets, at least 30 minutes.

The cookies will keep, stored airtight, at room temperature for up to 2 weeks or frozen for up to 2 months.

Makes 50 to 60 cookies.

Tips

Fresh Key limes are often hard to find except in south Florida or in Latino ethnic markets, but bottled Key lime juice, which works perfectly in the cookies, is stocked in many supermarkets and gourmet shops. You can also use grated zest from either Key limes or ordinary limes with excellent results.

You can make your own lime-colored decorating sugar by combining drops of green and yellow food color, then adding 3 to 4 tablespoons sugar and stirring to blend. Let stand or place in a barely warm (200 F) oven for a few minutes until the sugar dries.

(Recipe from "The All American Dessert Book" by Nancy Baggett, Houghton Mifflin, $35)

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Magic in the Middles

Dough:

1 1/2 cups (6 1/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 cup (1 1/2 ounces) unsweetened natural cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar (and extra for dipping)

1/2 cup (4 ounces) brown sugar

1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces) unsalted butter

1/4 cup (2 and 3/8 ounces) smooth peanut butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large egg

Filling:

3/4 cup (7 and 1/8 ounces) smooth peanut butter

3/4 cup (3 ounces) confectioners' sugar

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two baking sheets.

To make the dough: In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. In another medium-sized mixing bowl, beat together the sugars, butter and the peanut butter until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and the egg, beating to combine, then stir in the dry ingredients, blending well.

To make the filling: In a small bowl, stir together the peanut butter and confectioners' sugar until smooth. With floured hands, roll the filling into 26 one-inch balls.

To shape the cookies: Break off about 1 tablespoon of dough, make an indentation in the center with your finger, and press one of the peanut-butter balls into the indentation. Bring the dough up and over the filling, pressing it closed; roll the cookie in the palms of your hand to smooth it out. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.

Dip the top of each cookie in granulated sugar and place on the prepared baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Grease the bottom of a drinking glass and use it to flatten each cookie to about 1/2 inch thick. Bake the cookies for 7 to 9 minutes, until they're set. Remove them from the oven and cool on a rack.

Makes 26 cookies.

(Recipe from "The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion," 2004, Countryman Press, $29.95)

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Maple-Caramel Nut Crisps

3 tablespoons maple syrup, preferably medium amber

2/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans

2 tablespoons water

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons baking soda

Generous 1/4 teaspoon salt

16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened

1 cup packed light brown sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 F. Line a large pie plate or similar-size heatproof dish with aluminum foil coated with nonstick spray (or use nonstick foil); set aside. Line a 10-by-15-inch (or similar) rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil coated with nonstick spray (or use nonstick foil).

In medium bowl, stir together the maple syrup, 3 tablespoons of the granulated sugar, and the pecans until the nuts are well coated. Spread them out on the baking sheet. Toast for 8 to 13 minutes, stirring every 3 to 4 minutes, until nicely browned. Remove from the oven and set aside until thoroughly cooled.

In a heavy 2-quart saucepan over medium heat, stir together the remaining 2/3 cup granulated sugar and the water until the sugar dissolves. Wipe any sugar from the pan sides with a pastry brush dipped in warm water or a damp paper towel. Without further stirring, bring mixture to a boil over medium heat. Adjust the heat so the mixture boils briskly. Continue boiling, lifting the pan and gently swirling the syrup occasionally but never stirring, for 3 to 4 minutes. Watch carefully and remove from the pan from the heat as soon as the syrup just turns a medium amber color. Wearing kitchen mitts and working carefully, immediately pour the syrup into the pie plate. Let stand until cooled and hard, about 10 minutes. Break the caramel into small chunks. Transfer to a food processor and pulse until fairly finely ground but with some bits visible.

In a large bowl, thoroughly stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a large bowl using a mixer on medium speed, beat together the butter, brown sugar and ground caramel until very fluffy and well blended. Beat in the eggs and vanilla until smoothly incorporated. Beat in half the flour mixture. Beat or stir in the remaining flour mixture, then the toasted nuts, just until smoothly incorporated.

Spoon half the dough onto a 16-inch-long sheet of baking parchment or wax paper. Smoothing and shaping the dough with lightly greased hands, form it into an evenly thick log about 12 inches long. Twist the ends of the paper to keep the log from unrolling. Repeat with the remaining dough. Place the logs on a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate until completely firm, at least 3 hours and up to 2 days. (For more cylindrical logs, once they are cold and fairly stiff, reshape them to eliminate the flat side. Return to the refrigerator until very cold and stiff.) The logs will keep, stored airtight, in the freezer for up to 12 months. Partially thaw in the refrigerator before using.

Position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 375 F. Generously grease several baking sheets or generously coat with nonstick spray. Peel the paper off one log. Cut into generous 1/8-inch-thick slices using a large sharp knife. Because of the nuts, the dough may not cut neatly. Using a spatula, immediately transfer the slices to baking sheets, spacing them about 2 inches apart. If desired, repeat with the second log, or save it to bake at another time.

Bake one sheet at a time for 7 to 11 minutes, or until the cookies are golden all over and just slightly darker around the edges. Transfer the sheet to a wire rack. Let the cookies stand for about 5 minutes to firm up just slightly. Using a spatula, transfer to the rack. Let cool completely.

The cookies will keep, stored airtight, at room temperature for up to a week or frozen for a month.

Makes 80 to 90 cookies.

(Recipe from "The All-American Dessert Book" by Nancy Baggett, Houghton Mifflin, 2005, $35)

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Oatmeal-Raisin Cookies

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened

1 cup packed dark brown sugar

3/4 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

3 tablespoons clover or other mild-flavored honey

2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

1 1/2 cups dark or golden raisins

1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 F. Generously grease several large baking sheets or generously coat with nonstick spray.

In a medium bowl, thoroughly stir together the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a large bowl, combine the butter and sugars. With a mixer on low, then medium speed, beat until the mixture is well blended and lightened, about 1 1/2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the eggs, honey and vanilla, and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes longer. Beat in the flour mixture on low, then medium speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Stir in the oats, raisins, and walnuts (if using) until evenly distributed. Let stand to firm up for 10 minutes.

With lightly greased hands, pull off portions of the dough and shape into golf ball-size balls. (Alternatively, use an ice cream scoop that yields balls about this size.) Space them a generous 3 inches apart on the baking sheets. Press down the dough tops until the cookies are flat and about 2 inches in diameter.

Bake for 9 to 14 minutes, or until just slightly darker at the edges and almost firm when lightly pressed in the centers. If necessary, reverse the sheets from front to back about halfway through the baking to ensure even browning. Transfer the sheets to wire racks. Let the cookies stand for about 4 minutes to firm up slightly. Using a spatula, transfer to the racks. Let cool completely.

The cookies will keep, stored airtight, at room temperature for up to 2 weeks or frozen for up to a month.

Makes 35 to 40 cookies.

(Recipe from "The All-American Dessert Book" by Nancy Baggett, Houghton Mifflin, 2005, $35)

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Italian Anise Cookies

1 cup butter

3/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoons anise extract

3 cups flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 to 3 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Cream together butter, sugar and anise extract. Add all dry ingredients. Add eggs, one at a time as needed, until dough forms. Roll into 1-inch balls. Bake on greased cookie sheet at 350 F for 15 minutes. Cool.

Make glaze of 2 cups confectioners' sugar, 1 teaspoon lemon juice and milk. Pour glaze over cookies and sprinkle with nonpareils.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

(Traditional family recipe)

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Chewy Gingerbread Cookies

3 cups flour

3/4 cup dark brown sugar

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces and softened slightly

3/4 cup molasses

2 tablespoons milk

In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, process flour, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, salt and baking soda until well combined.

Add butter pieces and process until mixture resembles a very fine meal. Add molasses and milk, processing until mixture is evenly moistened and forms a soft mass. Divide dough in half and place each piece between two pieces of parchment paper. Roll until about 1/4-inch-thick. Place in freezer for at least 20 minutes but overnight is fine as well.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Remove dough from freezer and cut into gingerbread or desired shapes. Place on parchment-lined sheet pans and bake for 9 to 12 minutes. Cool and decorate.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

(Traditional family recipe)

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Refrigerated Rolled Cookies

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 egg

3 cup flour

Pinch salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light. Beat in egg. Combine flour, salt, and baking powder. Mix into butter-sugar mixture, adding a little milk at a time. Stir in vanilla extract. Shape the dough into a disk and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or as long as 2 days. Preheat oven to 400 F. Cut the dough disk in half. Lightly flour a work surface and a rolling pin and roll dough gently until about 1/8 inch thick, adding flour as necessary. Cut with any cookie cutter. Bake on lightly greased baking sheets until the edges are lightly brown and the center set, 6 to 10 minutes. Let rest on sheet a minute before removing with a spatula. Store in covered container at room temperature for no more than a day or two.

Makes at least 3 dozen cookies.

(Recipe from "How to Cook Everything" by Mark Bittman, Macmillan, 1998, $25)

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Sue Moore's Cardamom Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup confectioners' sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon black cardamom seeds

In a large bowl, combine the butter, sugars, egg and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy. Sift the flour and baking soda into the mixture and mix well. Stir in the cardamom seeds. Shape the dough into two 10-inch-long logs the diameter of a quarter. Wrap the logs in waxed paper and chill for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Cut the logs into very thin slices, about 1/4 inch thick, and place on ungreased baking sheets. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Watch carefully, they can burn easily. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack after they have cooled for a few minutes.

Makes 60 to 70 cookies.

(Recipe from "Simple Soirees" by Peggy Knickerbocker, Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $35)

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Coconut Jumbles

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks, 6 ounces) unsalted butter

3/4 cup sugar

2 large eggs

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon strong coconut flavor (optional)

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 cups (4 1/2 ounces) sweetened flaked coconut

About 36 candied cherries, cut in half, or 72 macadamia nuts

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Lightly grease two baking sheets. In a medium bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla and coconut flavor until light and fluffy. Sift salt, flour and baking soda together into a small bowl and gradually beat them into the egg mixture. Stir in the coconut until everything is well combined.

Drop the dough by the teaspoonful onto prepared baking sheets; use the bottom of a drinking glass dipped in sugar to press each ball down slightly. Bake the cookies for 9 minutes, or until they're light golden brown and just firm to the touch.

As soon as the cookies come out of the oven, plunk half a candied cherry (round side up, of course), or a macadamia nut, into the center of each and press down gently. Cool the cookies on a wire rack.

Makes about 6 dozen cookies.

(Recipe from "The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion," 2004, Countryman Press, $29.95)

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Crystal Diamonds

1 1/2 cups (6 1/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon (4 1/2 ounces) whole milk

1 drop lemon oil (see note)

1 teaspoon instant yeast

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces

1 1/2 cups (13 ounces) coarse sugar, for rolling

Using an electric mixer, beat together the flour, milk, lemon oil, yeast and salt until well combined. Beat in the pieces of butter one at a time, beating for 1 full minute after each piece is added. The dough will be very smooth and elastic. Remove the dough from the mixer, place it in a small bowl, cover, and refrigerate it for 2 hours, or as long as overnight.

Preheat the oven to 275 F. Sprinkle your work surface heavily with coarse sugar.

Divide the dough in half. Working with one half at a time (and keeping the other half refrigerated), roll out the dough on the sugar-covered surface as thin as possible, adding additional sugar to the work surface and sprinkling it atop the dough as necessary. Halfway through the rolling process, turn the dough over and sprinkle the work surface with more sugar, so that both top and bottom surfaces end up heavily coated with sugar. The dough should be about 1/16 inch thick, almost translucent in spots.

Using a rolling pizza wheel or sharp knife, cut the dough into diamonds. Try to cut pieces about 2 1/2 inches in size. They'll shrink a bit, and by the time they're finished baking, they'll be about 2 inches, a nice size for this cookie. (If you make them too large, the edges brown way before the middle; the goal is an evenly browned cookie.) Transfer the diamonds to ungreased, unlined baking sheets. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Bake the cookies for 45 to 50 minutes. They should be a deep golden brown, but not burned. The closer you get to deep brown, the better they'll taste. Remove them from the oven and transfer to a rack immediately to cool, otherwise they may stick to the pan.

Note: Yes, a drop of lemon oil. You want just the merest hint of citrus here; it should be almost unidentifiable, just enough to make people wonder what they're tasting.

Makes about 5 dozen 2-inch cookies.

(Recipe from "The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion," 2004, Countryman Press, $29.95)

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Lemon Tea Snaps

1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces) unsalted butter

1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon grated lemon rind (zest), or 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon lemon oil, to taste

2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons (1 ounce) lemon juice

Milk for brushing (optional)

Coarse sugar for sprinkling (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, salt and baking soda. Mix in the lemon zest, then half of the flour. Add the lemon juice, then the other half of the flour.

Roll the dough into a 1/8-inch-thick rectangle on a piece of parchment paper. Transfer the parchment to a baking sheet. Prick the dough all over with a fork and cut it into 1-by-1 1/2-inch rectangles. There's no need to separate the rectangles; all you need to do is cut the dough.

Brush the top of the dough with milk and sprinkle with sugar, if desired. Bake the cookies for 15 to 18 minutes, until they're a light golden brown. Remove them from the oven and transfer to a rack to cool. When they're cool, break them apart into individual cookies; they'll separate nicely.

Makes 6 dozen small cookies.

(Recipe from "The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion," 2004, Countryman Press, $29.95)

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High-Altitude Chocolate Chip Cookies

(Make these cookies if you're baking at elevations between 5,000 and 7,500 feet)

1/2 cup vegetable shortening

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon water

1 large egg

1 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup chocolate chips

1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 F. Lightly butter two large baking sheets or line with parchment paper.

Place the shortening in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream until smooth. Add the sugars and cream until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes on low speed, then several minutes on high. Add the vanilla extract, water and egg, and beat well.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt, and mix well. Stop the mixer, add dry ingredients, and mix on low speed until just combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary to incorporate all the dry ingredients. Remove the bowl from the mixer, add the chocolate chips and nuts, and turn gently with a wooden spoon to mix in.

Use two spoons to shape the cookies. Scoop a generous teaspoonful of dough with a spoon, then use a second spoon to scoop it onto the sheet. Drop the batter at even intervals, leaving 2 inches in between cookies, in three to four rows of 3 cookies each. The cookies will spread out while baking.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the cookies are golden brown. Remove from the oven and let stand for 5 minutes to firm up, then use a spatula to transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Meanwhile, repeat the shaping and baking with the remaining dough.

Makes nearly 3 dozen airy raised cookies, dotted with chocolate chips and chopped nuts.

(Recipe from "Home Baking" by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, Artisan

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 10, 2006 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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