Lemon Sugar Cookies

December 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

My room at home is right next to the kitchen, which means I can roll out of bed at 6:30 a.m., still jet-legged, and set about icing holiday cookies. Red and green sugar sprinkles for the gingerbread trees and bells, a lemon glaze for the sugar cookie snowmen and teddy bears, and a thin smear of chocolate sandwiched between two brown-sugar poppy seed wafers.

Most of the year, I am all for innovation and new desserts. But come Christmastime, there are a few cookies that absolutely have to make it on the cookie plate (which, yes, we still put out for Santa). They come from cookbooks with pages falling out, stained with eggs and chocolate. Every year, you have to flip through torn pages, all out of order, past dozens of cookies you’ve never made, until you find what you’re looking for. Yesterday, I made the lemon sugar cookie dough, rolled it out and baked it into pretty shapes. Today, when I woke up to ice them, there were maybe half the number of cookies we had last night. I guess that’s what happens when you go to bed at 9 p.m. and stop keeping an eye on them.

I always like to have a balanced assortment of flavor on my cookie plate. These are the most delicately-flavored of the bunch. The cookie is soft, but with a crisp crumb. Don’t skip out on the glaze, it’s necessary to achieve the full lemony effect and it makes for a nice tart-sweet contrast with the buttery cookie.

Lemon sugar cookies
Adapted from The Christmas Cookie Book by Lou Seibert Pappas

1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup unsalted butter
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt

2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolk and lemon zest until smooth. Add the flour and salt and mix to form a dough (this can be done with your hands if you like). Gather the dough into a ball, flatten, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll out the dough on a floured surface less than ¼ inch thick. Use cutters of your choice to cut out cookies. Place cookies on prepared sheets and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown. Transfer to racks to cool.

To make the glaze, stir together the sugar and lemon sugar. It should be thin and transparent. Spread the glaze on the cooled cookies.

Chocolate Chestnut Tart

December 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

Chocolate always seems like such a relief after the decadence of Thanksgiving, ironically. It packs a dark punch, with hints of bitterness, which offsets the soothing heaviness of the butter-laden cakes and pies of the proceding days. It awakens one from the food-induced slumber, a sort of jolting enlivening that reminds you that, yes there is a whole host of things to do following the big day.

Last weekend, San Francisco brought a blanket of white fog that wanted to keep me in bed. This weekend threatens to be the real beginning of the long winter in Princeton. I know people further north might scoff at that, but to this California girl it is depressingly long when you finally hit March and still can’t go outside without a jacket. But for now, the shivers have the charm of it being the holiday month, complete with Advent calendars, peppermint bark and strands of colorful lights. And chestnuts roasting on the open fire, you can add those to the mix too. Except I might have cheated and roasted these in the oven.

That’s not to say that I’m done with the pumpkin and the pecans — no, I’m not anywhere near done — but I’m ready to bring on the slow, dripping dark molasses, the grated, spicy ginger, the icing dribbles, and the glitzy holiday baking that somehow manages to feel homey despite sophisticated appearances.

No one prepared me for the disappointment of cracking open piping-hot chestnuts with my bare fingers only to find that over half of them had gone bad, which is completely normal apparently. With that kind of success rate, I only had enough to use thin slices in a decorative manner. I spread a sweet pate brisée crust with roasted chestnut spread (available at your local specialty store), over which I poured David Lebovitz’ chocolate tart filling. The initial taste is the undertone of burnt caramel, then soothed by the sombre, molten chocolate. If you want lessons on roasting chestnuts, it suffices to cut an X at the top of the nut (through the skin) and to throw them on a tray in the oven at 400 degrees F for about 30 minutes. If you just want to eat chestnuts, I suggest skipping the home-maker’s lesson and hitting up the guy peddling chestnuts (did you know they are actually boiled and then just “roasted” for show?) on the nearest street corner.

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