I have a friend who has a nice philosophy about food. If ever asked, “What’s your favorite _________?,” —-and you can fill in that blank with burger, cupcake, taco, milk shake —- she’ll respond,
“It’s the one I’m eating now.”
I love that comment, her expression of pure appreciation, relishing the delicious moment in whatever form it takes.
I’m hard-pressed to pick favorites, but I have my opinions. Yes, we all know there are hundreds of thousands “Best-Ever” cookie recipes circulating the ‘net. I won’t make that claim. But these three current faves follow my holiday baking protocols:
1. They are easy to make, even in big batches
2. They are different in flavor and appearance
3. They have great taste, without being overly sweet
4. They keep well in a cookie tin, ideal for gift-giving or sharing at home over coffee or tea
Scroll on down for Maggie’s Mama’s Date- Nut Pinwheels, Garam Masala Kitchen Sink Cookies, and Glazed Lemon Rosemary Shortbreads.
Maggie’s Mama’s Date-Nut Pinwheels
She and I baked these beautiful pinwheels on the fly last year–and they were so good, I had to make them again. This recipe was handed down from her mama, also an excellent cook, and the dough actually benefits from being made up ahead of time, wrapped, and frozen.
If Maggie ever saw rolls wrapped in wax paper in the family freezer, she knew that her mama would soon be baking the date-nut pinwheels. So much anticipation! Those cookies signaled the Christmas season.
There are two parts to the recipe–the brown sugar dough, and the date-nut filling. Living in Louisiana, Maggie’s mom always used pecans, but walnuts work just as well. The only update that we made to this old-fashioned recipe was substituting butter for shortening in the pastry.
Here’s an i-Phone image of Maggie’s recipe, circa 1977, handwritten on loose leaf notebook paper with a Bic green ink pen. (in the South we don’t just say “pen,” we say “ink pen.” A means of differentiating it from its Southern sound-alike “pin,” I suppose.)
Next up, Garam Masala Kitchen Sink Cookies
These might look like ordinary oatmeal cookies, but don’t be deceived.
Joy Martin, a fine baker (winner of many blue ribbons at county fairs) and avid potlucker brought these ingenious treats to one of our Third Thursday Community Potlucks several years ago. She took a basic oatmeal cookie recipe and elevated it with chocolate chips, walnuts, orange zest, and the warming Hindi spice blend, Garam Masala.
That bit of citrus coupled with the aromatics of cinnamon, coriander, cardamom, clove, fennel, black pepper, and bay leaf brings incredible dimension to the cookie. The spice mix is remarkable in this sweet application, imbuing as much flavor and satisfaction here as it does in savory dishes.
These drop cookies are truly delicious, and I had to include them in my cookbook. Joy happily contributed her recipe, which makes a huge batch–at least 5 dozen. (Potluck standards, don’t you know!)
You can cut it in half without sacrificing anything. Customize them, too, if you like. I added a handful of dried cherries to the latest batch, which added luscious dark fruit pops to some bites.
Last, but not least, I give you the delectable Glazed Lemon-Rosemary Shortbreads.
Marla brought these brown-edged, butter-rich cookies to a potluck and I fell in love with them. There’s lemon zest and finely chopped fresh rosemary folded throughout the dough. The glaze is a whisk of olive oil, fresh lemon juice and confectioners sugar. Fresh rosemary leaves embellish each one.
The recipe also found in my cookbook, these cookies have become one of my signature offerings at my book presentations and signings. They are easy to make (you can make the dough up ahead of time, shape it into a log, wrap and refrigerate it until ready to slice-and-bake) They transport well. They are pretty, and not too sweet. Lemon and Rosemary–how can you go wrong? People go crazy for them. Every time.
I’m convinced I’ve sold more books because of them! (Thanks, Marla.)
LEMON-ROSEMARY SHORTBREAD COOKIES (from Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook)
For the shortbread:
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 large egg
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups all purpose flour
For the glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2-3 tablespoons water
rosemary sprigs for garnish
In a mixer bowl, cream butter and sugar together on medium speed for 3 minutes. Add zest, rosemary, egg, lemon juice, vanilla and salt, and beat for 1 minute. Scrape down bowl. At low speed, add flour and mix just until combined; do not overmix.
Roll dough out between two large sheets of parchment paper to 1/4-inch thickness. Chill dough for 30 minutes. (or form into logs; wrap and refrigerate overnight. then, slice into rounds.)
Preheat oven to 350.
Cut out dough using your favorite cookie cutters. Place cookies onto parchment-paper-lined baking sheets, and bake for 16 to 18 minutes or until edges are golden. Remove to a wire rack.
Make the glaze by combining powdered sugar, olive oil, lemon juice and 2-3 tbsp of water as necessary to achieve a spreadable consistency. Drizzle and spread glaze over each cookie and top with rosemary sprigs.
Makes 35 to 40 cookies
GARAM MASALA KITCHEN SINK COOKIES (from Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook)
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon fresh orange zest
1/2 teaspoon orange extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons Garam Masala
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 cups chopped, toasted walnuts
2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips
1 cup dried cherries (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Beat butter and sugars until creamy. Add eggs, orange zest, orange extract and beat well. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, and Garam Masala. Beat the flour mixture into the creamed sugar mixture a little at a time until combined. Fold in oats, toasted walnuts, chocolate chips and dried cherries.
Drop rounded tablespoons full onto a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper and bake for 12 minutes, or until golden brown.
Makes 5 dozen
MAGGIE’S MAMA’S DATE-NUT PINWHEELS
2 1/4 cups pitted dates, chopped
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 cup chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts)
1 cup butter
2 cups light brown sugar, firmly packed
3 eggs, well beaten
4 cups sifted all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Combine the dates, sugar and water in a saucepan set on low hear. Cook until thickened, about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally. Add nuts and cool.
Meanwhile, beat the butter until fluffy and add the brown sugar gradually, work until light.
Add the eggs and mix well.
Add remaining ingredients (sifted together) and mix well.
Cover and chill thoroughly.
Roll out chilled dough and spread with filling.
Roll up tightly, wrap in plastic, and place into the freezer
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Remove rolls from freezer. Unwrap and slice about 1/2 inch thick and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silpat.
Bake for 10-12 minutes.
Makes 5 dozen pinwheels
HAPPY HOLIDAY BAKING TO ALL!