Sugar Spice

And everything nice ... Our top cookie recipes from readers capture the flavor of the holidays

December 06, 2006|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,[Sun reporter]

Sugar and spice may or may not be what little girls are made of, but they definitely take center stage when it comes to holiday cookies.

More than 100 bakers answered our call to send their best sweet or spicy recipes for our annual holiday cookie exchange. We floured, buttered, sliced and tasted our way to nine favorites -- four sugar, four spice and one "everything nice" that had the best of both.

The winning sugar entries were rolled in sparkling, coarse sugar; flavored with subtle citrus or a surprising herb; studded with colorful fruit; or topped with a light coating of superfine sugar.

For Meghan Murphy of Parkville, the Rosemary Butter Cookies she submitted are part of a long family tradition of baking cookies for weddings.

She and her husband, Evan Hoffman, found the recipe in a wedding edition of Martha Stewart Living and chose it for their wedding last year because they liked rosemary as a symbol for remembrance. Murphy baked dozens of the crisp, buttery cookies with her bridesmaids -- and now the married couple bakes them as Christmas gifts.

Though she usually rolls the cookies in ivory sanding sugar, Murphy, 27, who works for Magellan Health Services in Columbia, is thinking of using green sugar for her Christmas batch this year, to match the green flecks of herb.

Because it's more buttery than sweet, this cookie would add nice diversity to a mixed-dessert plate, and would even be at home at a cocktail party on a platter with cheese and fruit. "People react really well to this cookie," Murphy says. "It's pretty much fail-safe."

With red candied cherries, Tina McLaughlin's Cherry-Pistachio Cookies have a festive look. The Columbia resident, 55, says she found the recipe in her father's Yankee magazine a couple of years ago.

"Every time I make it, everybody raves about it," says McLaughlin, a substitute teacher. "I like to give cookies away to people, and it looks very nice. That's one of my standbys now."

Rachel Rappaport of Baltimore, who writes the food blog Coconut & Lime, came up with Tangerine Dream Cookies when she was in the mood for an orange cookie and spotted tangerine juice at the store.

"I think tangerines have sort of a brighter flavor than generally you have in an orange," says Rappaport, 27, who loves to make large batches of cookies for Hanukkah and Christmas. These cookies are soft, chewy, fragrant and delightfully different.

If you're in the market for a basic but tasty sugar-cookie recipe that produces lots of goodies at a time, look no further than Granny's Base Sugar-Cookie Recipe, submitted by Mary Blair of Ellicott City. It yielded an eye-popping 180 crisp-chewy morsels when we made it (Blair says she often gets more like 100) that got an extra hit of sweetness from a roll in superfine sugar.

Blair, 60, likes the recipe because the dough can be easily divided to make different batches with colored sugars, chocolate chips or nuts. She says she adapted it about 15 years ago from a lemon-sugar-cookie recipe in a magazine whose title she no longer can remember.

"From this particular recipe I will make six or seven different types of cookies," she says, for everyone from her grandchildren to her mail carrier.

When it came to the spice category, cinnamon, ginger and cloves were the stars, but there were less-expected touches, too, like the hint of black pepper in Glazed Pfeffernusse.

Daiva Chrzanowski's favorite version of the traditional German cookie -- which she found in a 1996 book called 365 Great Cookies & Brownies by Joanne Lamb Hayes and Bonnie Tandy Leblang -- melted on the tongue with just the right balance of spice and sweetness. (Chrzanowski says she changed the name of the recipe from Sour-Cream Pfeffernusse so her kids would try them.)

"I like the cookie because I love spice cookies, but most tend to be hard, and these are soft -- a nice change," says the 50-year-old Catonsville resident. "I make it every Christmas and any time I get a request, or someone needs a little cheering up."

Ginger lovers will enjoy the double hit of fresh and ground spice in Giant Gingers, which Michele Hunter of Laurel found years ago in a cookie roundup from Ladies' Home Journal. Hunter, 53, a Howard County librarian, makes them smaller, but we liked the saucerlike version that lived up to the recipe's name.

Almond-Brandy Snaps from Leigh Snyder of Dundalk are rich and spicy, with a whiff of brandy that deepens the flavors of molasses, cloves, cinnamon and ginger. Chopped dates and almonds add texture, and the sliced almonds on top make this cookie pretty enough to give away.

Snyder, 78, recalls clipping the recipe out of The Sun more than 20 years ago. She changed the fresh dates it originally called for to chopped dates because they were easier to find. "My husband loves them," she says. "I like the spice taste and the brandy taste."

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