The Evolution of Christmas Cookies — Food Network Kitchens

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sugar cookies

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Photo by: Steve Giralt Prop Stylist: Marina Malchin 917 751 2855

Steve Giralt Prop Stylist: Marina Malchin 917 751 2855

People are, understandably, very particular about their Christmas cookies. For many, the baking of holiday cookies is a ritual and tradition passed on from generation to generation.

For the December 2011 issue of Food Network Magazine, the editors at the magazine decided on a red-and-green cookie story. We in the test kitchens immediately got excited and started spurting out cookie-coloring ideas (doing our best to avoid the expected royal icing with food coloring): "green tea,” “dried cranberries” and “pistachios.”

By the next day, we were churning out colorful, delicious cookies. We made green mint-swirled meringues, lime buttons, dried cranberry butter cookies, green tea shortbreads and pistachio sables. But as the days progressed, we began to notice the cookies, although beautiful on their own, were not beautiful as a collection.

All of the different means of attaining color were making them look like they were from totally different worlds. They were never going to look good when photographed together for the magazine spread.

In our desire to develop really creative red-and-green cookies, we often had to sacrifice traditional holiday flavors. It began to dawn on us that, with this concept, we were not producing cookies our readers would want to make.

Sadly, after so many hours of research and work, it was time to abandon ship on the red-and-green idea.

Luckily, our friends in editorial came up with an even better idea to replace it: Easy mix-and-match recipes divided by cookie styles.  Best of all, we were able to save some of our hard work by incorporating the recipes we had already developed into the new story.

Among other recipes, the pistachio sables became the building block for the sandwich mix-and-match and the mint meringues became the basis of the meringue mix-and-match. In the end, we were thrilled with the story concept, the cookies and the photo spread.

The Lime Buttons didn’t make it in the final story, but they’re absolutely delicious. Give them a try:

Lime Buttons

Makes: 48 cookies
Active Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes (plus cooling and setting time)

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon fine salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lime zest
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon lemon extract

1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 1/2 tablespoons finely grated lime zest
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice (about 2 small limes)

1. Make the Cookies: Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in bowl; set aside.  Beat the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes (or in a large bowl if using a hand mixer).  Add the zest and mix until just combined. Beat in the yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the lemon extract and mix until just combined. Turn the speed down to low, add the flour in two batches and mix until just combined.

2. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.  Scoop level teaspoons of the dough and tap out onto the prepared baking sheets, space about 2 inches apart. Freeze until hard, about 30 minutes. (The cookies can be wrapped tightly in plastic and frozen for up to 1 month.)

3. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Bake the cookies, straight from the freezer, until the edges are firm and the bottoms are lightly browned, 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes then transfer to a cooling rack set up over a rimmed baking sheet.

4. Make the Icing: Whisk together the confectioners' sugar, lime zest and juice until smooth.  Decorate each cookie with a small dollop of icing and allow to spread naturally.  Place the cookie on the cooking rack; let sit until icing is set.  Store in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

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