Monday, December 8, 2014

Advent Calendar How to - Herb Holiday Cookies

For 2014 we have decided a two-fold Advent Calendar.  On the Backyard Patch Facebook Page we are posting a recipe a day beginning November 30 and continuing through Christmas Day.  Each week will be a different theme.  This week it is appetizers.  Stop over there around 6 pm everyday for the new recipe.

On the Blog we have decided to share a weekly HOW TO.  Each we will have a recipe, gift or decorating item to enhance your holiday and give you a moment to reflect. 

To celebrate National Cookie Day (which was back on Dec. 4th), I decided to do a how to with cookies.  (To see the scented pine cones from last week - click here.)

I like to make holiday cookies that are quick, easy and fun.  Most of the time I make shortbread cookies or butter cookies.  No frosting and minimal cookie cutters makes it easier and quicker but they are still tasty and of course, herby.

For this weeks’s Advent How To I have three techniques for making cookies I will share:
1.       Rolled out flat and cut with cookie cutters
2.      Rolled into balls and flattened before baking
3.      Rolled into a tube shape and sliced into rounds and baked.

If you like herbal cookie recipes here are some others you can enjoy too.  They can be found on my website in the Recipe archive.  I  put up two of my favorites.

The Steps

The steps for making cookies in this case all start out the same.  You cream the butter and sugar together.  Creaming butter and sugar is part of the leavening process making the cookies crisp and flaky and giving them some lift.

STEP ONE - You can cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer or by hand with a spoon or whisk.  For me it depends on the time of day and speed at which I want to get to the next steps.

STEP TWO - Add the egg, if used, would be next.

STEP THREE - Then add the herbs, extracts, salt, baking soda or baking powder as needed.

STEP FOUR - And finally add the flour gradually, making sure it is all incorporated and there are no flour lumps in the batter.

STEP FIVE – Chill the Dough. In these herb butter recipes you chill the dough before the next step.  Sometimes as much as 4 hours, others as short as 30 minute.  This firms the dough up and keeps it from sticking when you make the cookies.

Now the recipes diverge and each is completed differently.  So here are the recipes and the finishing steps included below each recipe.

Herb Butter Cookies
You can make this recipe unique and special by using herbed butters and or herbs sugars and matching the recipe herbs to those.  This cookie can be different every single time by changing the herbs contained in it.  This dough you freeze for 4 hours so we are starting after the "Chill" step with these.

1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 cups flour, all-purpose
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
fresh or dried herbs: lavender, tarragon, lemon verbena, mint, thyme, and/or herb seeds
    Use 1 Tbls dried 2 Tbls fresh and add to dough while mixing
    Use another 2 to 4 Tbls fresh or dried for decoration

In a medium bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar; beat until combined. Add egg; beat until combined. Beat in flour, baking powder, and salt. Divide dough in half.  Shape each half of the dough into a 12-inch-long rope. Wrap and freeze about 4 hours or until firm.  Preheat oven to 325°F. Unwrap dough; carefully slice the frozen dough into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place the slices, cut sides up, on an ungreased cookie sheet. Top with desired herb or seeds; press in gently, if necessary.  Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Allow to cool for a minute then remove from cookie sheets; cool on a wire rack.

STEP SIX - Divide the resulting dough in half and shape into a 12 inch rope.

STEP SEVEN - Wrap each rope in Wax or Parchment paper and freeze for 4 hours.
Rolled dough in the freezer

STEP EIGHT - Once the ropes are frozen, slice them into 1/2 inch thick slices and bake on an ungreased cookie sheet for 12 to 14 minutes or until edges are golden in a 325 degree oven.

cut roll
Note that they are not so round after cutting, but when they cook they rounded into a circle nicely.

I generally make this recipe first on cookie baking night, then when the other cookies are completed this will be ready to slice and bake.

Lemon Thyme Cookies
Fortunately, certain 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

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Beat the ­butter with the sugar until fluffy, then add the flour and thyme. Chill the dough for about 30 minutes to firm it up, but not too long or it is tough to roll.  Roll the dough 1/4 inch thick and cut out shapes (we like stars). Place the cookies on ungreased baking sheets and bake 10 minutes. Cool on racks.

STEP SIX - Place the bowl of dough in the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.  Do not over chill this or it will be hard to roll out.

STEP SEVEN - Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface to about 1/4 inch thickness.  

STEP EIGHT - Use cookie cutters, any style will do to cut the dough into shapes.  Bake the cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet for 10 minutes in a 350 degree oven.  Cool on racks to keep the shapes uniform.

Mint Butter Cookies
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

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.

STEP SIX - Chill the dough in the bowl in the refrigerator for 60 minutes or so, until firm and not sticky to the touch.

STEP SEVEN - Roll the dough into 1 inch balls. Roll the balls in sugar. I actually rolled them in mint sugar which gave them a great texture and enhanced the mint flavor.

STEP EIGHT - Place the Balls on an ungreased cookie sheet or parchment and press each ball with your thumb.  You can make them flat or create an indentation.  Bake them in a 350 degree oven for 12 to 14 minutes.

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