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Extraordinary Christmas Treats

Cookie Tower
by Lori Grossman

If you've read any of my food features on this web site - and I hope you have - you have noticed that I like unusual subjects and/or recipes. On the other hand, I'm a traditionalist at heart, especially at Christmas. I solve this conflict by enjoying the usual treats, and finding one or two new ones to keep things interesting.

Are you looking for different cookies this year? Well, throw caution to the wind and try a few of these recipes. Also, you might want to check out my article from last year, Swede Christmas Cookies, for a few more ideas.

Borracho Balls
When I was growing up, it seemed like my parents always returned from a Christmas party bearing a plateful of rum balls. I wasn't allowed to eat any, but I sneaked a whiff or two! A friend of mine gave me this recipe. She swears she wouldn't be allowed to attend her office Christmas party if she didn't bring these.

Margarita fans, enjoy!

  • 1 box (12 ounces) plain vanilla wafers
  • 1/2 cup pretzel crumbs
  • 1 box (16 ounces) confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 3/4 cup frozen margarita concentrate, thawed
  • 2 3-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
  • 1 teaspoon tequila (or to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon Triple Sec (or to taste)
  • Rind of 1 lime, grated fine
  • Green decorator sugar (approximately 2-1/4 ounces)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
Put half the vanilla wafers in the bowl of a food processor fitted with knife blade. Process until wafers look like fine crumbs. Remove wafer crumbs and reserve. Repeat with remaining wafers.

Add approximately 1 cup of pretzels to food processor and process until they resemble fine crumbs. This amount should make ½ cup crumbs.

In a large bowl, combine wafer crumbs, pretzel crumbs, confectioners' sugar, margarita concentrate, and cream cheese. Add tequila and Triple Sec. Stir until blended. Divide mixture in half. Wrap each half in plastic wrap and set aside.

Combine half of the grated lime rind with green decorator sugar and the other half with granulated sugar in small bowls. Stir to make sure the rind is evenly distributed.

Remove 1 portion of the dough from plastic wrap and shape into 1-inch balls. Roll each in either green or white sugar. Work quickly so the dough doesn't dry out.

Repeat with other dough portion. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 1 week. Makes about 7 dozen pieces.

Note: You can make a non-alcoholic version, if you prefer. Just substitute frozen limeade concentrate for the frozen margarita concentrate, and omit the tequila and Triple Sec.

Cochinitos ("Little Pigs") Cookies

These are a favorite in many Mexican bakeries. If you - or your child or grandchild - is a Piglet fan (of Winnie the Pooh fame), you'll love these. You'll need a pig-shaped cookie cutter.
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 tablespoon powdered ginger
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tablespoon water
Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Grease two large baking sheets.

Sift together the flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, cloves, and pepper into a bowl. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the sour cream, egg, honey, molasses, and vanilla. Stir in the dry ingredients and mix again until well combined. The dough should be fairly moist.

Refrigerate the dough, covered, for at least one hour and preferably two. Dust a countertop or pastry board lightly with flour. Roll the dough out to about 1/3-inch thickness and cut cookies with a pig-shaped cookie cutter. If you can't find one, you can make the cookies in any shape you desire, but technically they will no longer be cochinitos. Transfer the cookies to the baking sheets, spacing them 1-1/2 inches apart.

To make the glaze, combine the egg white and water in a small bowl. Brush the cookies lightly with the glaze.

Bake the cookies for 10 to 12 minutes. Don't overbake; Cochinitos should be soft and chewy. Cool the cookies for about 5 minutes and then transfer them to paper towels to finish cooling. Covered, they keep several days. Makes about 2-1/2 dozen cookies.

Raspberry Pillows

If you have ever made your own ravioli, these cookies should bring back memories.
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup raspberry preserves (approximate)
  • Confectioners' sugar, sifted
Beat butter at medium speed of an electric mixer until light and fluffy; gradually add 2/3 cup sugar. Beat well. Add egg, lemon rind, and extracts. Mix well.

Combine flour, soda, and salt; add to creamed mixture. Divide dough in half. Roll each portion of dough between two sheets of waxed paper to a 12-inch square. Cover and chill at least 1 hour.

Remove one portion of dough from refrigerator. Remove top piece of wax paper and cut dough into 1-1/2-inch squares. Place 1/4 teaspoon of the preserves in center of half of the squares. Brush edges of filled squares with water. Place unfilled squares over filled squares; press edges to seal. Cut an "X" on the top of each square. Repeat with remaining dough and preserves.

Place cookies on greased cookie sheets. Bake at 350F degrees for 9 to 11 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Remove from oven and cool on cookie sheets about 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire racks and cool completely. Dust with confectioners' sugar. Makes 64 cookies.

Poor Man's Truffles

Technically, these are cookies - not real truffles - but if you're a chocoholic like me, who cares? Besides, you mix them in a pan - not a mixing bowl. Quick and easy!
  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder or confectioners' sugar (optional)
In a heavy medium saucepan, melt the 8 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate and butter over low heat, stirring frequently. Add eggs, brown sugar, granulated sugar, flour, the 2 tablespoons cocoa powder, vanilla, and baking powder. Stir until combined, scraping the sides of the pan occasionally. Add the 6 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate, stirring until combined. Remove from heat.

When cool enough to handle, drop dough by slightly rounded teaspoonfuls 1 inch apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in a 325F degree oven for 7 to 9 minutes or until edges are firm and surfaces are dull. Do not overbake. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool. If desired, sift cocoa powder or confectioners' sugar over the cookies before serving. Makes 4 dozen.

Happy holidays and happy eating!

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