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Christmas Cookies

Spicy and crisp, these fragrant cookies are almost too pretty to eat and more then worth the work.

The Christmas season is a time for holiday baking. Sweet spiced loaves, rich chocolate pies, and hearty breads or delicate rolls, it’s a time to put a little more effort in making things just so. And of course, there are the Christmas cookies. Everything from carefully iced sugar cookies to easy no-bake drops to traditional cinnamon and walnut rugelach fill our kitchen containers and gift bags every year. But inspiration from this year’s Martha Stewart Holiday Cookie magazine, and a trip to Chicago’s German Christmas markt, made speculaas a lovely new addition. This traditional cookie of Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands is bursting with spices, rolled very thin, pressed into ornate molds, and then baked at a low temperature until crisp. The molds can be purchased online, or in speciality Christmas or European stores. Although they may be a bit more effort then the cookies you normally make this time of year, they are a lovely, pretty addition to the mix. Enjoy, and here’s wishing all of you a happy holidays, Merry Christmas, and a prosperous New Year.

Speculaas (makes about 4 dozen cookies), adapted from Martha Stewart Holiday Cookie 2010
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground mace
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
Pinch of ground cloves
6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/2 cup water
Confectioners’ sugar, for surface

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, mace, white pepper, and cloves.

2. In a stand mixer, cream the butter and brown sugar together until light and fluffly, around 5 minutes. Add half the flour mixture, then mix in half the water, add the remaining flour, and add enough of the remaining water until the dough comes together in a ball. Divide into three balls, shape into 1-inch disks, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 1 hour.

3. Dust the surface of your workspace with confectioner’s sugar. Roll out one sheet of dough to 1/4 to 3/8-inch thick. Place the rolled out dough onto a lined sheet tray and place back in the refrigerator. Roll out the remaining to pieces of dough.

4. Line a sheet tray with a sil pat or parchment paper. Pull out the first sheet of dough, and using a sharp, small knife, cut a piece of dough the size of your mold. Dust the mold with confectioner’s sugar, and press firmly into the cookie dough. Use the knife to trim the excess dough and the gently remove the dough from the mold and place onto the sheet tray. Repeat, cleaning the mold with a toothpick and dusting with sugar when necessary, spacing the cookies 1/2-inch apart. Place sheet back in the fridge until cookies are firm, about 1 hour.

5. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees fahrenheit. Place cookie trays in the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 250. Bake until cookies are set and just beginning to turn gold around the edges, between 55 and 65 minutes, switching tray between top and bottom racks once during baking. Cool on wire racks. Store, covered, for up to one week.

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