Sunday, December 16, 2018

Cookie weekend 2018.

This year's spoils. One more batch to go!
This weekend was my annual cookie baking blitz, and I am happy to report that the Awesome Kitchen that came with the new apartment has performed every bit as spectacularly as I thought it would.

For my holiday cookie recipes, I rely mostly on old favorites, as I suspect most people do. I've been using the same recipe for Toll House chocolate-chip oatmeal cookies for 40 years now; I got it from my mother, who used it for as long as I can remember.

Every now and then, though, I try something new. Sometimes it works (the gluten free almond-cardamom snowballs are really good) and sometimes it doesn't (the chocolate molasses cookies at the far right are meh). But I'm struck by the differences in the way recipes are written now. Come with me as I don my Old Farts hat and compare a recipe of today to one of yesteryear...

Let's take those almond-cardamom balls. Basically it's a shortbread cookie with spices and stuff mixed in, except it uses gluten-free flour that has xanthan gum already added so it behaves like regular flour. The result is still kind of crumbly, but shortbread is mostly butter anyway, so it's not as noticeable here as it might be in other cookies.

My mother's Betty Crocker Cookbook (copyright 1950) has a recipe for almond crescents that's pretty similar, so I'll compare it to the almond balls I made today. That recipe came from our local grocery store. 

The snowballs call for confectioners' sugar instead of granulated in the dough. I have no idea why, unless it's to make the ingredient list a little shorter. Betty calls for less flour -- 1 2/3 cups to 2 cups of GF flour -- but that's not a huge difference. 

The big difference is in the directions. Betty's are very short: "Mix together thoroughly" the shortening, sugar and ground almonds, then "stir together and work in" the flour and salt. Then, "chill dough," she says. Her directions for forming the cookies and rolling them in confectioners' sugar are similarly perfunctory. 

The directions for the snowballs, by contrast, take up half a column and assume you're an idiot in the kitchen. Step 1 is to use a food processor on the nuts "until very finely chopped but not pasty." Step 2 tells you to use a hand mixer or stand mixer to mix the dough, then "cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight." Step 3 starts with, "Remove cookie dough from refrigerator" -- no, really? Then you're supposed to line your cookie sheets with parchment paper (they're full of butter -- what's the parchment for? It's not like they're going to stick to the pan) and then, "with mini cookie scoop, scoop and roll dough into 1-inch balls." Step 4 is to bake them; step 5 is to roll them in confectioners' sugar. Of course, the directions are far more detailed than that.

I know kids today don't have to take home ec., but wow. 

I was a rebel. I used a hand chopper for my nuts, a hand-held pastry blender to cream the butter and sugar, and a spoon to scoop my dough. The cookies still turned out fine.

Here's the recipe, with the directions re-written for those of you who aren't idiots. It's from the December 2018 issue of "Savory." 

Gluten-Free Snowballs (Almond-Cardamom Variation)

Cream together:
1 c. (2 sticks) butter
1/2 c. confectioners' sugar

Mix in:
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 1/4 tsp. ground cardamom

Work in: 
2 c. all-purpose gluten-free flour
1 c. chopped almonds
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt

Chill dough for 2 hours or overnight. 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Farenheit. Roll dough into 1-inch balls and place on cookie sheets 1 inch apart. Bake for 8-10 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes, then roll in confectioners' sugar. Let cool thoroughly and roll in confectioners' sugar again.

(The recipe says it makes 28 servings but neglects to mention how many cookies are in a serving. I got 4 dozen cookies. You do the math.)

These moments of sweet baking blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell

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