Christmas is inevitably associated in my mind with cookies; and more pertinently the joy of baking them at home and nibbling one the moment it is cool enough to be consumed without scorching either my tongue or fingers.
I must admit, for years I believed the cookie was a purely American invention--so it came as rather a blow to my culinary "smarts" to discover that cookies are actually a Dutch creation.
In the 16th Century, some Netherland huisvrou came up with the notion of a thin, sugared confection she called an olykoek that was literally fried in hot oil. That eventually led to a buttery koekje that was baked in the oven. Which in time became abbreviated to a cookie and obviously met the chocolate chip along the way.
Though the Dutch were the first to formalize the cookie into the crisp-baked form we know today, they were certainly not the first to serve a sweet that could be nibbled from hand to mouth. Ancient Greeks take that honor. They called these mini-desserts sweetmeats.
Frankly, I became preoccupied with all this cookie trivia since the recent publication of "The Joy of Cookies" by my good friend Sharon Tyler Herbst. "The Joy of Cookies," (Barron's: 1987, $14.95), is in my opinion a comfortably lap-sized 272-page hardcover book literally crammed with color photographs of the most delectable cookies a dieter like me ever feasted his eyes on.
Herbst provides hints, tips and charts dubbed: What Went Wrong? for all neophyte bakers.
My cookie skills are fairly well honed, but her sweet book has given me at least half a dozen incentives to turn on the oven--as soon as I lose 10 more pounds, that is.
I like cookbooks you can depend upon. It is a serious hands-on approach to simple and complex cookie making that can make anyone a star at the stove. Could there be a better Christmas gift in the store?
Want the ultimate chewy, crumbly, chocolatey, butterscotchy, nutty, coconutty gift to your taste buds this yuletide? Then tie on your apron strings and attack the recipe that follows. It's wonderful, but be forewarned, it is also addictive. Be prepared to put good intentions about self-control on hold till Jan. 10.
SHARON'S CHOCOLATE CHIPPERS
1 cup flake coconut
1 cup oats
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups semisweet chocolate pieces
1 1/2 cups chopped nuts
Combine coconut, oats and cocoa in container of food processor and process until smooth. Combine flour with baking soda and salt in medium bowl.
Cream butter with sugar and vanilla in large bowl of electric mixer until light. Beat in eggs, one at time, beating thoroughly after each addition.
Stir processed coconut-oat mixture into butter mixture with heavy wooden spoon. Stir in flour mixture, about 1/2 cup at time. Stir in chocolate pieces and nuts.
Use 2 tablespoons batter for each cookie. Place on lightly buttered baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Press lightly with fingers to flatten each mound to about 1/2-inch thickness.
Bake at 375 degrees 8 to 10 minutes. Cool on baking sheet few minutes before transferring to wire rack to cool completely. Makes about 4 dozen cookies.
Note: These cookies will store in airtight container at room temperature about 1 week. They also freeze well.
Yes, I'm the Bert in question. I donated my favorite crunchy dessert cookie to Herbst for her collection. This lacy sweet is made of sesame seeds--which Southerners all call benne's or bennys . Sharon added a touch of grated orange zest and what do you know, Bert's Benne Wafers are better than ever.
BERT'S BENNE WAFERS
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup flour
2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
1/2 cup toasted chopped pecans
1/2 cup toasted sesame seeds
Line large baking sheet with foil. Butter foil.
Combine egg, vanilla and salt in medium bowl of electric mixer. Add butter, brown sugar, flour and orange zest. Beat at medium speed until smooth. Stir in pecans and sesame seeds.
Drop batter by teaspoons onto foil-lined baking sheets. Bake at 400 degrees 5 to 7 minutes, switching baking sheet from top to bottom and front to back of oven after 3 minutes baking time. Cookies should be golden brown on top and browned around edges.
Remove foil with cookies from baking sheet. Let cookies cool completely on wire rack before peeling off foil. Allow baking sheet to cool and repeat process until all batter is used. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.
Note: These cookies store in airtight container at room temperature 1 week. Freeze for longer storage. Wafers will become sticky if storage container isn't absolutely airtight.