Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Santa's Whiskers and Speculaas Snowflakes

Both of these recipes are new to me this year, and I came across them just toward the end of November and knew I wanted to try them for the holidays. Turns out they make a delightful cookie platter pairing, because they have such contrasting colors and flavors.

Both the author and the reviewers of the Santa's Whiskers cookies are quick to make disclaimers about "don't be turned off by the candied cherries" etc. I glazed right over this warning because I love fruitcake at the holidays and have no negative associations with candied fruit. I am less of a fan of coconut, generally steering away from it while not explicitly avoiding it. But I can assure you whatever your position on any of these ingredients, these cookies are the perfect crisp of Christmas and everyone will love them. They are adoreable, and unmatched in the festive cheer of red and green stained glass they bring to any cookie platter.

Santa's Whiskers
adapted from Sara Bonisteel on epicurious

3/4 cup (2 ounces) flaked sweetened coconut
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 ounces red candied cherries, coarsely chopped
3 ounces green candied cherries, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup (2 ounces) coarsely chopped pecans

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine butter and sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the milk and vanilla and beat until fully incorporated. With the mixer on low, add the flour in 3 batches, followed by the red and green cherries and the pecans, and stir until just combined, about 2 minutes.

Spread coconut down the middle of two 12" long pieces of waxed paper. Divide the dough in half and form each half into a 10-inch-long log, about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Transfer each log to a sheet of wax paper and roll to coat them completely with coconut. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour or up to a week. You can also freeze the logs and defrost before slicing.

Preheat oven to 375.

Slice each log crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick cookies and arrange on greased or lined baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between cookies. Bake until light golden brown, about 12 minutes. Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. 
Note: my cherries were in a sticky glaze that dyed my first batch pink. Rinse or blot the fruit to remove as much of any extra glaze as possible if your fruit is not dry to begin with.

These make really sweet goodie bags for gifts.

When Will and I had the opportunity to travel extensively in Western Europe last year, one of the many things in which we delighted was tasting the pastries and baked goods of each region. Our point of entry and departure was Amsterdam, and the Dutch are famous for their speculoos (also speculaas), a crispy almond and spice cookie. I love this type of cookie on any day, but I think it had a special appeal for me because it was our "first" treat when we launched our European adventure. While we couldn't get good speculoos cookies once we left The Netherlands, we continued to enjoy speculoos gelato across Belgium, France, and Italy.

Ginger and spice cookies are often part of my holiday year-round baking repetoire, but speculoos are a rolled cookie which makes them a bit more delicate and more evenly crunchy. They are also incredibly festive since you can cut them out with all your adorable cookie cutters.

I followed this recipe exactly as it appears from Nancy Leson, with one important change: I used pecans instead of almonds, because that is what I had. Pecans aren't really used in European recipes, but they perfectly complement the spiced flavor of these cookies,  and the texture of the cookies is still as crispy and delightful as what I remember from almond versions.

Wilma Eppinga's Speculaas Koekjes(Dutch spice cookies)Makes about 6 dozen1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
3 tablespoons whole milk
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon table salt
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
¾ teaspoon ground ginger
1 ½ teaspoons ground cloves
¾ teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 ¼ cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup sliced almonds

In a small bowl, combine the sugar and milk; stir until smooth.
In a large mixing bowl, sift the flour with the baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg, then add the butter, blending until mixture is like cornmeal.
Add the sugar mixture and almonds to the flour mixture and blend thoroughly. Using your hands, shape the dough into a ball, slice it in two and flatten into disks. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled (at least an hour, though the flavors meld better if left overnight).
On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to ¼ inch thickness and use a (floured) 2- to 3-inch cookie cutter to make shapes. Place on greased cookie sheet (or use parchment or a silicone mat). Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes until browned. Cool on rack to crisp.

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