Baker's Choice Cookies: Holiday exchange brings out the best of festive recipes from area amateur kitchens.

December 04, 1996|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,SUN STAFF

Holidays are coming, heralded by carols, candles -- and, of course, cookies.

Perhaps no other season is more associated with festive platters of sweet baked goods, and most families have their traditional favorites.

When we asked home bakers to send us recipes for their favorite holiday treats for our second annual "Holiday Cookie Exchange," we got dozens, from pumpkin chocolate chip cookies to chocolate "devil dogs." Volunteer testers baked the most unusual ones, and in informal tastings, we selected a wide range of favorites.

We didn't spot any emerging cookie trends (remember a few years ago when every cookie recipe included macadamia nuts?), but we did find a few popular flavors: Pumpkin, cranberries, both fresh and dried, and nutmeg were prominent, and the usually popular chocolate mostly appeared just in the form of chips.

Cy and Shaaron Plate, a husband-and-wife cooking team from Phoenix, submitted a recipe each, and both were chosen by testers as among the best. His was rum-raisin cranberry bars, and hers was holiday surprise pumpkin cookies.

"My husband, Cy, who is retired and a great cook, and I enjoy baking," Shaaron Plate wrote.

Another husband and wife team, Nancy Assero and Douglas Murphy of Baltimore, submitted their "signature" recipe for nutmeg flats. "When we were first married," they wrote, "money was very tight and at Christmas we were looking for alternatives for gift-giving. My husband and I decided to bake cookies for family and friends. We tried all sorts of new recipes and found this great shortbread-type cookie. Over the years we became partial to this recipe perhaps because our daughter Meghan was called "Nutmeg" when she was a baby. Now, at 17, she is baking these for her friends each year."

Bars resembling KitKat candy bars from Elaine Hoffman of Baltimore were a big hit with tasters, as were oatmeal fancies from Rosanna Kazmierski, also of Baltimore.

Michael Kraft, of St. Leonard, sent a recipe for cookies made with dates and toasted Rice Krispies and shaped into "strawberries" with red sugar and green frosting leaves. "I put them in mini paper cups, because they are so special," Kraft wrote.

Magdalena Reissig of Baltimore sent in several recipes, and the testers liked her brutti ma buoni ("ugly but good") cookies from Florence. "Please note," she wrote, "that the Italian cookies are .. ideal for low-cholesterol diets: no egg yolk or butter. The almonds provide the fat and, of course, calories, but their oils are much healthier. And if I may say so, they are very good."

Here are some of the recipes submitted by readers. Some people remembered where the recipes came from and some just knew they had been in the family long enough to become their own. There should be something to please every palate -- and, if we may say so, all are very good.

The first recipe is from Cy Plate.

Rum-raisin cranberry bars

Makes about 2 dozen

1 cup fresh cranberries

2 tablespoons brown sugar and 1 3/4 cups brown sugar

1/3 cup raisins

1/4 cup rum (see note)

1/2 cup butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 3/4 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)

2/3 cup walnuts, chopped

2 eggs, lightly beaten

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 13-by-9-inch baking pan.

In a small bowl, mix cranberries with 2 tablespoons brown sugar and let stand for 15 minutes. In a small saucepan, combine rum and raisins, bring to a boil over medium heat, cover and reduce heat to simmer for 5 minutes. Let cool.

In medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter, add remaining 1 3/4 cup brown sugar, cook, stirring, until just bubbly. Pour into heat-proof bowl, cool 15 minutes.

Beat eggs and vanilla into cooled butter and sugar mixture, then gradually add flour, baking powder and salt, and stir well. Fold in the cranberry mixture, walnuts and raisins. Spread in pan and bake 35-45 minutes. Cool and cut into bars. May be frosted if desired.

Note: Dark rum is best. Rum flavoring may be substituted. The tester recommended using icing, which makes the cookies prettier.

The next recipe is from Shaaron Plate.

Holiday surprise pumpkin cookies

Makes about 2 dozen

1/2 cup butter

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 egg

1 cup canned pumpkin (unspiced)

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup nuts, chopped (walnuts or pecans)

1 cup chocolate chips

1 cup raisins

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl until fluffy. Beat in egg, pumpkin and vanilla.

In separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices. Add the flour mixture gradually to the butter and sugar mixture, beating well after each addition. Fold in the nuts, chocolate chips and raisins. Drop dough from teaspoon onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake about 15 minutes.

The next recipe is from Nancy Assero and Douglas Murphy.

Nutmeg flats

Makes about 2 dozen

1 cup unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

2 cups unbleached flour

1 egg yolk

1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg (see note)

1 egg white

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