Saturday, December 11, 2010

Celebrate with Herb Cookies

December 4th was National Cookie Day.  My sister-in-law would say it is much too late to have this day in December.  "If you haven't gotten half done by Thanksgiving, you will never make it," she cries when I tell her I am planning on making mine this weekend.  However, I have never made butter cream frosting for a cookie in my life.  Therefore, once baked (and sometimes iced) there is no extra decorating needed in my house.  That is probably why I don’t need as much time. 
But I am no slouch with cookies.  I have about 100 different herbal cookie recipes.  I was about to try to share them all, when I realized you are probably not as crazy as I am and a selection of the best would probably be better.  So these few recipes I am sharing today are those that I have been asked to make again, so they must be among the best.
If you want a few more than represented here, check out the Recipe Archive on my website where I put my two favorite Holiday Herb Cookies.
Recipes to try at your home!
Mint Cookies
Makes 2 doz.
Can a winter holiday be complete without peppermint?  This is an easy cookie to make and a crowd pleaser.
• 1 cup butter (or 1/2 cup butter and 1/2 cup shortening – I use butter flavor shortening)
• 1/2 cup sugar
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon peppermint extract
• 2 tablespoons crushed dried peppermint leaves
• 2 cups flour
• Sugar
Cream the butter and sugar. Add the salt, extract, mint leaves, and flour. Mix thoroughly. Chill the dough for 1 hour, or until it is firm enough to handle. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Form the dough into 1-inch balls and roll them in sugar. Press each ball with your thumb. Place them on ungreased baking sheets and bake 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on racks.
Variations:  Add chocolate chips or nuts, roll the balls of dough in mint sugar, or glaze the baked cookies with pale green icing or melted milk-chocolate candy.
Substitutions: Substitute orange extract for the peppermint extract and fresh or dried calendula flowers for the mint leaves. Frost with an orange glaze and sprinkle calendula petals on top.

Lemon Thyme Cookies
Makes 3 to 4 doz
Fortunately, some intrepid herbs can be snipped all year round, even under the snow. Thyme is one of those.  I leave a plant in a pot by the back door until we have consistent below zero temps.  Then I bring it inside.  It usually fares better outside than in and having it by the door means I do not have to run outside in the cold to harvest a bit for a recipe like this.
• 1/2 cup butter
• 1/4 cup sugar
• 1 1/3 cups flour
• 2 tablespoons freshly snipped lemon thyme
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Beat the ­butter with the sugar until fluffy, then add the flour and thyme. Roll the dough 1/4 inch thick and cut out shapes (we like stars).
3. Place the cookies on ungreased baking sheets and bake 10 minutes. Cool on racks.

Rose Geranium Frosted Cookies
Makes 3 doz.
This recipe which I adapted from Maggie Oster’s book Recipes from an American Herb Garden (Macmillan, 1993), has been adapted by others who recommend lavender as the main herb.  I choose to make mine with scented geraniums, as I have them on hand in the house for winter so fresh leaves are always available.
      1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
      1 cup granulated sugar
      1 large egg
      1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
      1 1/2 tablespoon finely minced fresh lemon, rose or combination of both scented geranium leaves
      1/2 cup buttermilk, plus extra for the glaze
      1/2 teaspoon baking soda
      2 cups unbleached all-purpose or whole-wheat pastry flour
      1 teaspoon baking powder
      1/4 teaspoon salt
      1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
      Whole fresh rose geranium leaves
      Additional buttermilk, for icing

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, cream the butter. Add the sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla and herbs and beat thoroughly. In a separate bowl, stir the baking soda into the buttermilk. In another bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt together. In three batches, alternately add the buttermilk and flour mixtures to the creamed mixture, blending well after each addition. Cover and chill for 30 minutes. Roll the dough onto a lightly floured board to about 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick. Cut into shapes with cookie cutters and put the cookies on greased or parchment-covered baking sheets. Bake until lightly browned, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove and cool on wire racks. Just before completely cool press a fresh leaf into the surface of the cookie.  Then when complete cool, combine the confectioner’s sugar with enough buttermilk to make an icing; spread the icing on the cooled cookies, over the leaves. Store in an airtight container.

Shortbread cookies do not rise much, but have a gentle not-so-sweet flavor that is perfect after dinner or serving with other finger foods.  They are especially good for the tea drinker in your life.

Anise Shortbread Cookies
Makes 2 dozen cookies 
These not-too-sweet anise shortbreads are just right with an after-dinner demitasse. Dipping them in ice water and rolling them in sugar before baking gives them an attractive crystalline finish.
• 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
• 2/3 cup granulated sugar plus more for rolling
• 2 cups unbleached flour
• 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1 tablespoon vanilla
• ½ to 1 tsp fennel seed or anise seed, lightly bruised with a mortar & pestle
Cream together the butter and sugar. Stir in the vanilla and anise oil. Gradually stir in the flour, confectioners’ sugar, and salt. Pinch off pieces of dough and roll them into balls.  Dip the balls in ice water and roll them in granulated sugar.  Place the balls on an ungreased cookie sheet, flattening them slightly.  Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes or until they just begin to color. Cool the cookies on a rack.

Rosemary Shortbread Cookies
Makes 3 to 4 doz.
• 1 cup butter
• 1 cup very fine granulated sugar
• 3 cups flour
• 3 to 4 heaping tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Thoroughly cream the butter and sugar. Add 2 1/2 cups flour and mix. Turn out on a board floured with the remaining 1/2 cup flour. Knead in the rosemary along with the flour until the dough cracks on the surface and doesn’t stick to the board. Roll it 1/4 inch thick, then cut into shapes. Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet 50 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool on racks.

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