Every year around this time I hunker down over my recipe books and scour the internet, searching relentlessly for the perfect mix of holiday treats that will come out of my kitchen over the coming weeks. It has become a yearly ritual that I look forward to because it means I can bake as much as I want to, sans guilt, my friends.Yes, indeed, it’s like a baking free-for-all around here. Somehow, baking for the holidays is almost totally different than baking any other time of the year. It is a matter of tradition and holiday cheer. For me, an oven-warmed kitchen, countertops strewn with cooling cookies, bowls of dough chilling in the fridge, and Christmas carols in the background make it feel more like the holidays than almost anything else. I carefully tuck my holiday cookies into festive little tins, each layer painstakingly separated by parchment paper, and store them away in the fridge or freezer, to be used throughout the season for family events or holiday parties. Each year my potential cookie/treat list gets a little bit longer, and I have to carefully whittle it down to a more reasonable number. Because, let’s face it – if I made all the cookies I put down on my list, I would be swimming – no, drowning – in cookies. My perfect cookie list must meet these criteria:
- Well-balanced variety of flavors. I aim for a minimum of: 1 frosted sugar-type cookie, 1 chocolate cookie, 1 mint flavored cookie/treat, 1 spiced/ginger/molasses type cookie, 1 fruit flavored (i.e. cranberry, cherry, apricot, etc), and possibly 1 peanut butter item. I may have 2 or 3 recipes in one category, but I try to aim for at least one of each category.
- Variety of colors for a gorgeous presentation. This tends to fall into place with a good variety of flavors, as above. But, generally, I aim to have at least one light/colorful recipe (usually frosted sugar-type cookie), 1-2 dark cookies, 1 cookie with red and or green, and 1 item with sprinkles/decor.
- Variety of shapes, sizes, and textures. Again, this usually happens naturally with the above criteria, but, for example, I may choose a bar option cut into triangles over a cookie in order to create another unique shape on my cookie tray. I love to have at least 1 cut-out cookie, 2-3 round cookies, 1 bar type cookie, and possibly something shaped (like a crescent or thumbprint) or random (such as bark or toffee broken into pieces).
- At least 2-3 old standby recipes that I make every single year
- At least 2-3 new recipes to try out
If I have time and energy, I also sometimes like to make some candies, quick breads, popcorn or savory snack mixes, although I am much less consistent about any of these. So, why all this background info? Well, over the next few weeks, I am going to share some of my favorite holiday baked items in a little series called Laura’s Bakeshop 2015. Welcome into my holiday kitchen! I hope you will join me!
So, I already have my first Bakeshop recipe to share with you! Chocolate-Covered Cherry Cookies have been around my family for years and are one of my lifelong favorites. My grandma used to make these for Christmas when I was growing up and I remember thinking they were the best Christmas cookie ever: so rich and soft and fudgy with a bright cherry center. This recipe has been published in several places, but I have one distinct change in technique that I think makes a huge difference in the presentation of these pretty little cookies. Every recipe I have seen directs you to spoon the fudge topping over the cherry prior to baking. The fudge topping then spreads and cracks while baking and comes out looking messy. I prefer to bake the cookies without the fudge topping, and then spread the topping over the cherry once the cookies have cooled. This allows you to create a shiny, perfectly swirled topping that sets up nicely and holds it’s shape.
These cookies take a little effort, but the dough is a dream to work with, and they are worth it. So pretty and sweet – they’re a perfect little bon-bon-type cookie. Just remember to make them small because just one cookie is a truly decadent treat.
- 1 10 ounce jar maraschino cherries, undrained
- ½ cup butter, softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 egg
- 1½ tsp vanilla
- ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- ¼ tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp baking soda
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
- ½ cup sweetened condensed milk
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Drain the cherries, reserving the juice. Spread the cherries on a paper towel and gently blot dry. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat just until combined.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until thoroughly mixed. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture. Beat with the mixer until most of the flour is incorporated, then use a wooden spoon to stir in remaining flour. The mixture will be very stiff.
- Shape the dough into 1 inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Press your thumb into the center of each ball to make a well. Place a cherry in each center.
- Bake for 9-11 minutes at 350 degrees, or until edges are firm. Cool on a wire rack while you prepare the topping.
- For the topping, combine the chocolate chips and ½ cup sweetened condensed milk in a small saucepan. Stirring constantly, cook over low heat until chips are melted and mixture is smooth and shiny. Stir in 2-4 tsp of the reserved maraschino cherry juice. Spoon about 1 tsp of the frosting over the cherry on each cookie, spreading to cover the cherry completely. Let cool completely, or until the topping is firm and set.
Recipe slightly adapted from Taste of Home’s Chocolate Covered Cherry Cookie Recipe.