Oct 22

Holiday Treats: Cookies Grandeur

by Greg Patent

I’ve always liked things big, and when it comes to cookies, the bigger the better. Nothing dainty for me, thank you very much, though there’s nothing wrong with that. I find that with small cookies I just keep popping them mindlessly into my mouth, but with a big cookie I nibble and savor and they last a lot longer.

Cookies that keep well are high on my list, and the recipes here get an A+ for doing so. Oatmeal cookies can be crunchy or soft and chewy. I like both kinds, but with dried fruits I prefer the softer version. They’re thicker and quite substantial. You can use raisins instead of cranberries or a combination of both or even dried huckleberries or blueberries. Cut-up dates are also good in these cookies.

The apricot coconut walnut bar cookies take me back to my teen years when I created the recipe for the 10th Pillsbury Bake-Off. I submitted my recipe as a bar cookie, but the company published it as a dessert bar topped with whipped cream and served on plates with forks. I’ve returned the recipe to its roots. The bars are easy to hold and to eat out of hand.

Meringue cookies have always fascinated me. As a kid I bought meringue kisses at a neighborhood bakery every week when I received my allowance. The crunchy outside and the soft inside gave me shivers of delight. They were one of my first attempts at baking. The transformation of gloppy, unpromising egg whites into a pure white and stiff substance simply by beating in sugar correctly is a miracle. Over time I’ve made additions to the basic meringue, and here I’ve included powdered espresso coffee. I also like mini semi-sweet chocolate morsels folded in just before shaping the cookies.

Have fun baking and eating this holiday trio.
Oatmeal Cranberry Cookies

This recipe makes large semi-soft cookies packed with fruit, oats and nuts. You can refrigerate the dough for several days and bake cookies as you need them.

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (dip dry measure into flour container, fill to overflowing, and sweep off excess)
1 cup whole wheat flour (measured the same way as above)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar, light or dark
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
3 tablespoons agave syrup or light corn syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups dried sweetened cranberries
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a large cookie sheet (14 by 17 inches) with cooking parchment, silicon baking pan liner, or aluminum foil. Have 2 or 3 additional liners handy.

In a medium bowl, whisk together both flours, salt, baking soda and cinnamon.

Slice the butter and put the pieces into a large mixing bowl. Let stand about 10 minutes
until slightly softened. Beat the butter with an electric mixer until smooth. Add both sugars and beat on medium high speed until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the egg and egg yolk and beat in well. Then add the agave or corn syrup and vanilla and beat until smooth.

By hand, stir in the dry ingredients with a wooden spoon, then mix in the cranberries, oats, and nuts.

Shape cookies by heaping soupspoons onto prepared cookie sheet, spacing them 2 to 3 inches apart. I put 9 cookies on one sheet. After cookies are on the sheet, moisten your hands and roll each mound of cookie dough into a ball; flatten slightly and replace on the sheet. Shape remaining cookies the same way on two additional cookie sheet liners, about 9 cookies for each. Let stand until ready to bake. I usually get 26 to 28 cookies in all.

Bake for 12 to 16 minutes, until lightly browned and centers feel almost firm. Slide pan liner off the cookie sheet onto countertop and cool the cookies right on the liner. Remove cooled cookies with a wide metal spatula. Bake remaining cookies (slide pan liner with shaped cookies onto cookie sheet) and cool the same way.

Store airtight at room temperature for up to 1 week. Cookies may be frozen for up to 2 months. Place cooled baked cookies on cookie sheets and freeze solid. Transfer to heavy-duty zip-top freezer bags. Date and label. Thaw completely, then remove from freezer bags.

• Makes 26 to 28 large cookies.
Apricot Coconut Walnut Bars

I won second prize in the Junior Division of the Pillsbury Bake-Off with this recipe as a 19-year-old. I’ve been making these bar cookies ever since and never tire of them. You can substitute dried sour cherries for half the apricots if you wish.

Apricot filling
1 pound dried apricots
3 cups water
1 cup sugar

Cookie base
1 2/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (dip dry measure into flour container, fill to overflowing, and sweep off excess)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup shredded sweetened coconut, chopped (3 1/2 ounces)
1 cup chopped walnuts (4 ounces)

For the filling, put the apricots and water in a heavy medium saucepan and bring liquid to the boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover the pan, and cook at a slow boil, stirring occasionally, until fruit is completely tender, about 40 minutes. Turn into a large strainer set over a bowl to drain and cool slightly. Reserve 1/4 cup of apricot juice.

Return apricots to saucepan and add the sugar and apricot juice. Mash well with potato masher to make a thick puree. Cook, stirring almost constantly, over medium-high heat for 5 minutes. Cool to room temperature.

Adjust oven rack to center position and preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter or coat with cooking spray a 13-by-9- by-2-inch baking pan.

For the cookie base, in a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking soda. Beat the butter with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the sugar and beat on medium speed until smooth and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. With a wooden spoon, stir in the dry ingredients, coconut and walnuts. Dough will be crumbly.

Press 3 cups of the crumb mixture on the bottom and halfway up the sides of the pan. It will be a thin layer. Do not be concerned about making neat edges, but be sure there are no bare spots on the bottom crust.

Bake crust for 10 minutes; it will appear uneven and be lightly colored. Remove from the oven but do not turn the oven off. Spread apricot puree into hot crust. Sprinkle remaining crumb mixture evenly on top and pat gently into place. If some filling shows through, it’s OK.

Return pan to oven and bake another 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown. Cool completely on a wire rack. Cut into 24 bars with a sharp knife. Store airtight for up to 1 week.

• Makes 24 cookies.
Big Espresso Meringue Cookies

These large meringues, crunchy when freshly baked, become soft and chewy a day or two later. They’re delicious both ways.

3 large egg whites
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder (I use Medaglia d’Oro)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
12 chocolate-coated coffee beans
Unsweetened cocoa for dusting

Adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat oven to 225 degrees. Line a large baking sheet (11 by 17 inches) with aluminum foil or cooking parchment.

In a large bowl, beat the egg whites and salt with an electric mixer on medium speed until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and continue beating until the whites form softly curling peaks when the beaters are raised. Beat in the sugar 2 tablespoons at a time, beating about 30 seconds after each addition. Beat in the espresso and vanilla, then increase speed to high and beat until the meringue forms stiff, shiny, unwavering peaks when the beaters are raised.

Make 12 large mounds of meringue on the lined baking sheet, spacing them 2 inches apart. Top each mound with a chocolate-covered coffee bean and dust lightly with the cocoa.

Bake about 1 1/2 hours. To test for doneness, carefully try to lift a meringue off the baking sheet. It may feel soft, but if it comes off easily, it’s done. Continue baking, if necessary.

When meringues are cooked, turn the oven off and prop the oven door open slightly. Let meringues cool completely in the turned-off oven, about 2 hours. Store airtight. The meringues keep fresh for about 1 week.

• Makes 12 meringues.

Greg Patent is a food writer and columnist. Visit Greg’s website at www.gregpatent.com. You can write him at chefguymt@gregpatent.com.

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