For better baking binges


December 15, 2004|By Holly Selby | Holly Selby,SUN STAFF

The holiday season always sends me into a frenzy of good-intentioned but ill-advised baking. Do I really need to make seven kinds of Christmas cookies? Probably not. But as reliably as geese fly south, when the weather turns chilly, I feel an irresistible urge to measure, press, cut, roll and decorate.

Inevitably, I overextend and wind up putting the finishing touches on 101 gingerbread men far too late at night.

In the nick of time, Good Housekeeping presents Cookies!, a collection of more than 150 of its favorite recipes and a reliable guide for bakers even if they, like me, come to the kitchen with more enthusiasm than expertise.

The book's no-nonsense approach and clear tips and directions should soothe even the newest and most nervous of bakers.

Cookies! (Hearst Books, New York, 2004, $14.95) includes sections on bar, drop, rolled and refrigerator cookies from snickerdoodles to ginger biscotti. And, of course, there's a chapter on holiday treats.

I found the introduction with its basic advice on how to make perfect cookies alternately simplistic and illuminating. Experienced bakers may find its list of which measuring cups to buy or admonitions about not over-baking your cookies annoying. Throughout the book, however, are scattered invaluable "how-to" sidebars on topics from crosshatching cookies to shaping fortune cookies.

The book's editors boast that each recipe has been triple-tested, and their thoroughness has paid off: Each cookie I baked, from the deservedly named Chocolate Wows (three kinds of chocolate and pecans) to the festive Cranberry Cheesecake Fingers (easy and pretty), was delicious and impressed my family and guests.

Cranberry Cheesecake Fingers

Makes 48

Preparation time: 30 minutes plus cooling and chilling


2 1/4 cups graham-cracker crumbs

1/2 cup butter or margarine (1 stick), melted

3 tablespoons sugar


2 packages (8 ounces each) light cream cheese (neufchatel), softened

3/4 cup sugar

3 large eggs

2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon peel

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 can (16 ounces) whole-berry cranberry sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 13-inch-by-9-inch pan. Line pan with foil, extending foil over the short ends; grease foil.

To prepare crust: In bowl, with fork, stir graham-cracker crumbs, melted butter and sugar until blended. With hand, press mixture onto bottom of prepared pan. Bake 10 minutes. Cool completely in pan on wire rack.

To prepare filling: In small bowl, with mixer at medium speed, beat cream cheese until smooth; gradually beat in sugar. Beat in eggs, lemon peel and vanilla just until blended.

Pour cream-cheese mixture evenly over cooled crust. In small bowl, mix cranberry sauce to loosen. Spoon dollops of sauce over cheese mixture. With the tip of a knife, cut and twist through mixture to create marbled effect.

Bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out almost clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Cover and refrigerate until firm enough to slice, at least 6 hours or overnight.

When cold, lift foil with cheesecake out of pan and place on cutting board; peel foil away from sides. Cut lengthwise into 4 strips, then cut each strip crosswise into 12 fingers.

For each finger: about 100 calories; 2 grams protein; 11 grams carbohydrate; 6 grams total fat; 3 grams saturated fat; 26 milligrams cholesterol; 85 milligrams sodium

-- Analysis courtesy of "Cookies!"

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