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Good Anytime

In our family, Christmas cookies come about in one of two ways: we either make them or folks drop them by the house. I’m sure something similar happens with you, too. And there are the tins of cookies that you’re thrilled to receive and look forward to for weeks and others that you stow away until the day comes when you don’t feel all that guilty throwing them out. Growing up, a woman my dad used to work with would send her eponymous Denise’s Pieces each year. They’re a pretty standard chocolate-covered toffee but they’re soft and buttery and hide-from-your-sisters good. Two years ago, Denise offered to drive over from Sacramento to give us a tutorial and teach us how to make the toffee on our own. Yes! Best day ever! At the end of the day, Rachael, Zoe and I learned we were pretty awful at making toffee. We also learned Denise’s caveat: once she shows you how to make the toffee, “you’re set free.” Free, we asked? That’s right: you no longer get a tin of toffee in the mail. No! Worst day ever!

On the far other side of the enjoyable-Christmas-cookie-spectrum are Zeke’s holiday tins. My mom hired Zeke the handyman a few years after she and my dad got divorced. There were leaky faucets and running toilets; little did she know she’d hired the most unhandy of all handy men. Zeke wasn’t young and sprightly. He was creaky, old and slow. But he always had a bad joke waiting in the wings, and would pull up to the house in his red “Jazz” hat with his trusty canine sidekick, Scooter. Zeke passed away this year. My mom was heartbroken. Not because she lost her handyman, but because she lost what had become a very special friendship. So this year we won’t get to joke about Zeke’s Christmas cookies. They would come in festive tins and he’d hand deliver them on the way to the dump. You could tell he put great time and effort into each one, but truth be told: they were awful. They always seemed quite stale and never tasted like much at all. My sisters and I would joke about them, my mom all the while insisting the brownies really weren’t that bad (they were).

Just like Denise and Zeke, we give tins of cookies away each year, too. Every December 23rd, my sisters and I usually gather at my dad’s house for Cookie Night. We’d all choose one recipe we wanted to make, supply my dad with an ingredient list, and he’d do a grocery run and plan something easy for dinner. The first few years this was a great way to spend an evening. Then one year it started to feel like more of an obligation for some reason so we did cupcakes instead. The following year we narrowed it down to just two cookie recipes. This year, we’ve decided to let Cookie Night go. I think there was an unspoken agreement that it started to feel more like a burden than a joyful way to spend time together. I don’t really know why, but it did.

So this week, I’m all about being proactive with Christmas cookies. Make cookies that you love. Bake them with those you love. Share some with neighbors and friends. Keep others for yourself. Hide them from your sisters if need be. So that’s what we have  today. A recipe that is incredibly easy (I actually just mixed these with a wooden spoon) and has quickly become a cookie I’ll make in the spring or summer, too. Not just for Christmas. They are crumbly, only slightly sweet, and have a wonderful toastiness from the hazelnuts and almost savory cacoa nibs.

On my many trips to Seattle this year, I’ve been to Theo Chocolate a handful of times. It’s there that I first learned about cacoa nibs, the roasted and dried seed of cocoa beans. They’re bitter and crunchy and I’ve come to love using them in salads, cookies, and cakes. If you don’t have cacao nibs at home you could certainly omit them from this recipe, but they add a warmth and crunch that I know you’re going to like. These are what I fondly call “log and slice” cookies.  They’re buttery and sandy in that classic shortbread kind of way–a cookie you’d feel good about giving. And a cookie worthy of hoarding, too.

Happy baking. To you and yours.

I hope you have the warmest holiday weekend surrounded by people you love. I truly, truly do. See you back here soon.


Whole Wheat Hazelnut Cookies with Currants and Cacao Nibs
What I like about this recipes is its versatility. You could easily make these buttery cookies with pistachios and apricots or chopped dried cherries and pecans. Keep the proportions the same and go to town. Another bonus: if kept air-tight, they will stay good for two weeks — long after all of those house guests have gone.

Adapted from: Alice Medrich’s Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy

Ingredients:
1 cup whole hazelnuts
1 1/2 cups white-whole wheat flour (I use King Arthur)
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 3/4 sticks (14 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup roasted cacao nibs
1/2 cup currants

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spread the hazelnuts on a cookie sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes until they smell toasty and are golden brown in the middle when you cut one in half. Once cool to the touch, rub the nuts together to remove as much of their skins as possible. To do this I put them all in the center of a dishtowel and use it to help. Chop the nuts into small chunks — remember the larger the chunk, the more difficult it will be to slice the cookies later so do take some time here.

Combine the flours in a medium bowl and mix with a fork. With a mixer or a strong wooden spoon, beat the butter with the sugar, salt and vanilla until smooth but not fluffy. Mix in the nibs and nuts. Add the flours and mix until just incorporated. Finally, mix in the currants. Scrape the dough into a mass and knead it with your hands a few times to make sure the flour’s incorporated evenly. Form the dough into a 12 x 2-inch log. Wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Use a sharp knife to cut the cold dough log into slices 1/4-inch thick. Place cookies at least 1 1/2 inches apart on lined or greased cookie sheets. Bake for 12-14 minutes, until the cookies are light golden brown at the edges. Rotate cookie sheets halfway through the baking time to ensure even baking.

Allow cookies to cool on the pan for 5 minutes before moving them onto a wire cooling wrack where they should cool completely.

  1. Posted December 23, 2011 at 11:29 am

    Hope you still have a few of these hanging around – I think they’d go perfectly with chocolate mousse. ;)

    Happiest holidays, friend!

  2. Posted December 23, 2011 at 1:08 pm

    I always remember the cookies and baked goods my mom’s best friend would drop off for us. They were always super amazing and frosted and fancy – so unlike the cookies we were used to. I love the sound of these cookies and I LOVE cocoa nibs. So good!

  3. Posted December 23, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    This post made me a little sad….but the recipe sounds yummy. I love Alice Medrich and that book is pretty awesome! Thanks for the inspiration! Happy Holidays! Julie

  4. Posted December 23, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    Now I want some of that toffee. And some of these cocoa nib delicious ones too. I can’t imagine baking more than a few things in one sitting. I get baked out. Maybe we can organize a big baking event next year. I’ll make the cocktails!

    Seriously, I hope you have the Merriest of Christmases. xo

  5. Posted December 23, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    What a nice post… I’m from Seattle area and have frequented Theo chocolate, so I became pretty proud when you mentioned that. :) I’ve always wanted to bake with cocoa nibs but haven’t yet–maybe these will be the cookies. Thanks for sharing! And happy holidays to you.

  6. Anthea
    Posted December 23, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    What a sad post…oh dear about Zeke. Yes, I can see that the brownies may not have tasted good but isn’t it the thought that counts?

  7. Mary
    Posted December 23, 2011 at 10:33 pm

    Marvelous, as always!

  8. Posted December 24, 2011 at 9:04 am

    I love cocoa nibs, but I have to admit- I never bake with them! These cookies sound fantastic. Happy holidays, friend! xoxo

  9. Posted December 25, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    I would like to try them with dried cherries!

  10. Posted December 26, 2011 at 4:42 am

    “You’re set free.” Ha! That is not my idea of freedom. Merry Christmas, Megan. Hope it was a good one.

  11. megang
    Posted December 26, 2011 at 11:16 am

    Merry Christmas to you too, Jess! Hope it was a lovely one with the wee one.

  12. megang
    Posted December 26, 2011 at 11:18 am

    Happy holidays to you too, Amy! Yes cacoa nibs are pretty wonderful — I think you’ll like them!

  13. megang
    Posted December 26, 2011 at 11:20 am

    Yes to a big baking event, Dana. Please, please. I’ll help with the cocktails! I hope you all had a wonderful, warm Christmas together. See you soon! xox

  14. Posted December 27, 2011 at 5:33 am

    Looks delicious! I hope you had a nice Christmas!

  15. Vanessa Burgess
    Posted December 27, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    Baking Christmas cookies is the perfect family project. This year instead of using the boxed gingerbread to make the gingerbread people, Santas and snowmen, we used Martha Stewart’s recipe which meant that not only were the cookies festive but we could eat them as well.
    They weren’t quite as moist as I might have liked but that may have been the excessive rolling and flouring by a six year old.
    What do you think???
    I have some chopped dates looking for a home so I might try them in your recipe.
    I’m wondering if maybe Zeke’s cookies absorbed some weird flavor from his cookie tins!!
    Happy New Year. Love, Aunt V

  16. megang
    Posted December 27, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    Hi Aunt V-
    Yes, excessive rolling and flouring probably made them a little tough. But it sounds like it was a fun project for everyone. We did some light sugar cookie action, but beyond that, no major decorating this year. I think these cookies would be great with some chopped dates. Happy New Year to you, too! xox

  17. Posted December 28, 2011 at 10:57 am

    I loved reading this. “Best day ever!” “Worst day ever!” haha I see what you mean; being self-sufficient can reduce the amount of yummy treats brought to our door!

  18. Posted December 29, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    My husband and I usually do a big batch of treats boxes every Christmas, but this year it just didn’t really work … we’ve been too busy, and it stressed me out every time I thought about it. So finally we relieved ourselves of the task. I’ve felt guilty we didn’t do it, but feel better now that it might just be natural to let it go once in a while!

  19. megang
    Posted December 29, 2011 at 9:31 pm

    Much agreed….nothing tastes better than cookies without all the rush, obligation and hustle and bustle. yes? Happy New Year!

  20. Posted December 30, 2011 at 8:55 am

    oh man. I just got a stand mixer for xmas and have made a small batch of cookies everyday since then. (sort of gross, i know. but they’ve all been vegan and dairy free so notquitesogross?). Anyway, these sound delicious and I WILL try them next! Happy holiday to you, friend!

  21. Posted December 31, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    I love this post but am sad that you let the cookie tradition go. I was thinking how nice it would be to have the time to do something like this – make traditions of our own. Unfortunately with having to travel over every holiday it is hard to start.

  22. Posted January 16, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    What a great looking cooking. A few of my favorite things… Even after all the Christmas cookies, I am ready for another batch!

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