Very Merry Cookie Party

20 Dec

You might have heard there has been snow this week in London. Mad snow. Perfect weather, in my mind, for staying indoors and making hundreds of cookies…

And in my nephews’ crazy little minds…

for playing snow badminton.

Which quickly degenerated into this…

Back to the cookies. I’ve been dying to try some of the recipes in Very Merry Cookie Party, by Barbara Grunes and Virginia Van Vynckt. The retro images and packaging ideas are super-pretty, and the book is full of amazing biscuits, slices, bars, squares and edible ornaments–one day I will pluck up the courage to make the ones that look like stained glass.

I ended up making six batches of goodies from the book with the help of my mum, sister and nephews. Here are the results, with a recipe at the end for my favourite: Pistachio and Cranberry Biscotti.

Spoiler alert: These are my Christmas gifts this year. If you are one of the few family members who was not roped into baking today, stop reading now!

1) Pistachio and Cranberry Biscotti

Jewel-like cranberries and Middle-Eastern flavours of pistachio and orange flower water made these dippable biscuits the new soulmate to my Tetleys.

My Mum lent a hand–watch her work that mezzaluna!

2) Fudgy Brownie Bits

These brownie-cookie-meringue thingies were so, so good. Not the little cakes I was expecting. Rich, light, chewy, crunchy, intense–how is all that possible in one bite?

My eleven-year-old nephew, Alex, was head photographer for this session.

His lovely brother Ewen (above) was head chef.

And these two made up the tasting committee.

3) Chocolate Mint Bars
These were sweet, sweet, sweet. Really delicious, with a chocolate crumb base, peppermint cream layer and chocolate ganache topping. But I would cut them into little one-inch squares next time–the sugar high you get from just one bar is out of control. Snow badminton, anyone?

My big sister Juliet helped with these. Before we got started, she said, “You’re the boss; just tell me what to do.”  If you happen to be either of my brothers, you will understand what a Christmas miracle that was.

Merry Christmas, Jools!

4) Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

My youngest nephew helped make these–the baker’s answer to Reese’s PB cups. Alex is a natural in the kitchen–you should see how deft he is with measuring cups and how delicate with chocolate dough. These were just a bit stodgy for my taste; the kids loved them though.

My brother-in-law came by at one point and asked if we were doing the “Gingers Can Cook” blog.

That’s just bad parenting.

And unfortunately, he and my sister weren’t home when we needed help finding the rolling pin. So we had to improvise…

We couldn’t find cookie cutters either…

But we got by…

p.s. Check out Alex’s stellar dish-drying skills. If you are currently an eleven-year-old girl living in the South of England, you might want to look this boy up in about seven years.

And by then, we reckon he’ll have stopped setting fire to stuff…

View at 9:35 pm from the kitchen window

5) Old Salem Molasses Ginger Cookies

Oh, were these ever delicious. I’m going to take a bit of the credit for that too. We didn’t have molasses so we used a blend of two of my all-time favourite British ingredients:


And I added some chopped up crystallized ginger too. Amazing! Sadly, my mum’s mezzaluna mastery is not genetic. I forgot to take the blade guards off and only noticed half-way though when they were caked in mashed ginger. The biscuits turned out awesome anyway. All soft and chewy with a nice dose of ginger heat.

My 18-year-old nephew Jamie helped. His kitchen expertise extends to opening tins of Heinz Tomato Soup and grilling frozen waffles, so he was a good sport to join in.

6) Toffee Squares

So pretty with their moist toffee-shortbread-style base, paper-thin layer of milk chocolate, and crunchy toasted almond topping.

Another favourite with the grown-ups. But these ones, I had to make alone…

Season finale of The Apprentice

Pistachio and Cranberry Biscotti

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp orange extract
1 cup pistachios, preferably unsalted, coarsely chopped
1 cup dried cranberries, coarsely chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (160 Celsius). Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

3. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat together sugar and eggs on high speed until pale yellow. On medium speed, beat in butter and vanilla and orange extracts. On low speed, beat in flour mixture until just mixed. Stir in pistachios and cranberries. The dough will be medium-stiff.

4. Spoon the dough onto the prepared baking sheet in strips, each about 12 inches long. With wet or floured finger, pat each strip into a log about 3 inches wide and taller in the centre than at the edges. Refrigerate until firm, about 20 minutes.

5. Bake in the centre of the oven until lightly browned and nearly form to the touch, about 30 minutes, then carefully transfer the logs to a cutting board, using the parchment paper to help lift them.

6. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Line the cookie sheet with fresh parchment paper.

7. Cut the logs crosswise into 1/2-inch thick slices. Place the slices, with cut side down, on the prepared cookie sheet, spacing them about 1/4 inch apart.

8. Bake in the centre of the oven until pale gold, about 20 minutes. Let cool completely on the cookie sheet on a wire rack. The biscotti will crisp as they cool.

11 Responses to “Very Merry Cookie Party”

  1. Renée Brasseur December 20th, 2010 at 11:22 AM #

    ça donne vraiment le goût de se faire une petite journée biscuits!!! c’est mon plan pour le 24!
    Merci Valerie!!!

    Merry Christmas!!!!

    • Valerie Howes December 23rd, 2010 at 6:43 PM #

      Merci, Renee! Joyeux Noel a toi!

  2. Mhairi Stewart December 20th, 2010 at 5:27 PM #

    Hi, Valerie

    Great post – am loving the photos! So fab to see you and Sylvia again since we missed the chance on Saturday.
    And puts me right in the mood to get baking. Mx

    • Juliet Stevenson December 22nd, 2010 at 6:09 PM #

      Not a bad cookie in the bunch – my tummy can vouch for them all!

      • Valerie Howes December 23rd, 2010 at 6:45 PM #

        Thanks, Sis!

    • Valerie Howes December 23rd, 2010 at 6:44 PM #

      Sorry we missed you, Mhairi. Hope Juliet saved you cookies for next time you meet up!

  3. graeme December 23rd, 2010 at 9:53 AM #

    good to know you are all doing so well
    your old next door neighbour graeme
    merry xmas to you all

    the one from church st

    • Valerie Howes December 23rd, 2010 at 6:45 PM #

      Blast from the past! Merry Christmas, Graeme!

  4. Mum/Sylvia December 24th, 2010 at 12:04 PM #

    Love your blog and the cookies have now been distributed throughout Fife and Lothian district after their long tram, tube, train(s) and car journeys and their 4 days rest in the country. They taste wonderful!
    I would like everyone to know that the FIRST photo of me is the most accurate (or do I mean flattering?)
    Lovely to hear from Mhairi and Graeme. Hi there!

  5. Juliet January 1st, 2011 at 8:06 AM #

    A little tip for the peanut butter and chocolate cookies from Alex – 15 seconds in the microwave makes them warm and delicious!

  6. Juliet Stevenson December 12th, 2011 at 7:45 AM #

    Just looking over the blog again and having nostalga trip. Just made sweeties for friends’ Christmas presents this weekend – sadly due to the delicious nature of the gifts their sweetie bags are a little smaller than they should be!

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