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SWEET DREAMS: VISIONS OF SUGAR COOKIES

SHARE SWEET DREAMS: VISIONS OF SUGAR COOKIES

When you think about it, cookies are the ultimate comfort food.

Oh, sure. Some folks will argue that pure comfort cuisine is a baked potato. Others - a bowl of bread pudding.But I'd venture a guess that a cookie is the first choice for many a craving. It's a sweet, fast infusion of energy; a.k.a. - comfort with crumbs.

First, let's get one fact out of the way - most cookies are not high on the nutritional scale of foodstuffs.

But they can balance out, if you're eating lots of other good stuff.

Here's a premise to ponder: Most of us can document our lives by what we'll call Cookie Moments to Remember.

Here are some of the sweet dreams that warm my memory bank:

- Childhood Visits to Grandma's House:

I remember silently wishing for the time when Grandma would stand on tippy toes to reach the familiar tin of butter cookies.

The flower-shaped shortbread would then be immediately placed over my pointer finger and nibbled a petal at a time, until the cookie finally had to be destroyed . . . by teeth.

- Jardine Family Christmas Parties:

I remember being totally mesmerized, examining the fancily frosted cookie creations hanging grandly on Aunt Winnifred's tree.

She could magically unlock the properties contained in a baked mixture of flour, butter, sugar and spices - transforming dough into miniature soldiers, Santas and gingerbread men.

Memories of these baked beauties brought me to another cookie adventure: A fiasco of great proportion:

- The Wanna-be-Winnifred Experience:

I attempted to bake "The Twelve Days of Christmas" in sugar cookie form.

The 12 cookie molds were plastic, indented with tiny nooks and crannies - havens for runaway dough. No amount of flour could keep the stuff from sticking.

After I performed minor surgery to remove pressed dough from each form, the treed partridges and swimming swans looked like Star Wars aliens.

The entire "song" eventually danced from the branches of my scraggily tree.

But the fitting finale to this bizarre bakeoff was my 10-month-old son, who crawled along, teething on legs, wings and beaks, chomping them in record-breaking time.

(I learned two lessons: Never try to undertake a project that takes over my life - especially during the busy holiday season . . . AND . . .remember that cookies are to be eaten, not to be displayed in the Louvre.)

Making cookies from scratch is time-consuming. But they're so much better than grabbing a bag of Oreos or a package of Ding Dongs, because by making them yourself you somehow bake in the love and caring of the season.

Holiday cookie-baking sessions are a tradtion for many families. It can be a fun family gathering.

And Christmas cookies are also a necessity. What would Santa do without his cookies and milk?

Oh, yes. There is one more cookie moment I'd like to share - one with deeper meanings.

My brother Dwight loved cookies in any form - from "El Cheapos" to fancy Florentines. He'd stand at the kitchen sink, holding one of those three-pounds-for-a-dollar hard cookies under the running water. And then would savor each soggy bite.

Strangely enough, he grew up to become a connoisseur of fine food.

His philosophy of food is amazingly in sync with his views on life: One can't truly appreciate a fine cookie until one has encountered some crumbs.

*****

RECIPES

LINZERTORTE BARS

1 1/2 cups walnuts or slivered blanched almonds

3 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 egg yolks

1 cup apricot or raspberry preserves

Confectioner's sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9-inch-square baking pan with aluminum foil. Butter the foil. In a food processor fitted with a metal blade or in a blender, place the nuts and coarsely chop. Add the 3 tablespoons sugar and process finely. Into a separate bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves and salt. Set both mixtures aside. Combine the butter, the 1/2 cup sugar and the vanilla in a large bowl. Using an electric mixer set on high speed, beat until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and beat until fluffy. Reduce the speed to low, add the nut and flour mixtures and mix just until blended.

Spread 13/4 cups of the batter in the prepared pan. Top with preserves, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Spoon the remaining batter into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch plain tip. Pipe the batter in a lattice pattern atop the preserves. Refrigerate for 20 minutes. Bake until the preserves begin to bubble and the crust is just firm to the touch, about 40 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack. Using the foil, lift the sheet from the pan. Peel back the foil sides. Cut into 20 squares.

Sieve confectioner's sugar evenly over the tops. Remove the bars from the foil. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days. Makes 20.

- Each bar contains 299 calories, 20 g fat, 27 g carb, 466 mg sodium, 40 mg cholesterol.

- From "Cookies & Biscotti," Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Library

SANTA'S WHISKERS

1 cup butter or margarine

1 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 1/2 cups flour

3/4 cup red or green maraschino cherries, chopped and well-drained

1/2 cup finely chopped pecans

3/4 cup coconut

Cream butter and sugar. Add milk and vanilla. Mix in flour, well-drained cherries and chopped nuts. Form dough into an 8-inch log. Roll log of dough in coconut, wrap in plastic wrap; chill thoroughly. Slice into 1/4-inch slices. Place on ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 10-12 minutes. Makes 3 dozen.

- Each serving contains 149 calories, 7 g fat, 20 g carb, 69 mg sodium, 14 mg cholesterol.

- From Peggy Huffaker

NOTE: Double the recipe and make one batch with red cherries and the other with green.

BUTTER COOKIES

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 large egg

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

1 tablespoon vanilla

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Adjust oven rack to middle position. Cream butter and sugar in large bowl of electric mixer. Beat in egg, orange juice and vanilla, then flour, baking powder, and salt just until thoroughly combined. Divide dough into 4 pieces. Roll each piece to 1/4-inch thickness between 2 pieces of plastic wrap or waxed paper. (If necessary, chill dough for easier handling; still in its plastic wrap, place rolled dough in freezer for a few minutes or until firm enough to cut into shapes.)

Remove top piece of plastic wrap and cut into desired shapes with assorted cookie cutters. Sprinkle with colored sugars, candy sprinkles, etc., if desired. Place 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake in batches for 6 to 8 minutes or just until set and edges are very lightly golden. Transfer cookies to rack to cool. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

- Each serving contains 100 calories, 12 g carb, 5 g fat, 77 mg sodium, 14 mg cholesterol.

- From Land O'Lakes

SANTA'S HELPERS' RAISIN COOKIES

1 cup butter or margarine, softened

1 cup sugar

1 cup molasses

2 eggs

4 3/4 cups flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup milk

1 1/2 cups raisins

Icing

2 cups powdered sugar

3 tablespoons milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

In large bowl cream butter and sugar. Beat in molasses and eggs. In another bowl sift together flour, baking powder, spices and salt; add to creamed mixture alternately with milk. Stir in raisins. Drop large, round spoonfuls of dough 2 to 3 inches apart onto greased baking sheets. Bake in 350 degree oven 15 to 18 minutes, until just springy to the touch. Remove from pans to cooling racks. Brush with icing while warm.

To prepare icing:

Sift powdered sugar into bowl; mix in milk and vanilla until smooth. Makes 21/2 dozen cookies.

- Each cookie contains 241 calories, 7 g fat, 43 g carb, 154 mg sodium, 31 mg cholesterol.

- From The California Raisin Advisory Board

GINGERBREAD COOKIES

1 1/4 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar

1 cup Crisco Butter Flavor shortening

2 eggs

1/4 cup molasses

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (plus 4 tablespoons divided)

1 tablespoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine sugar and shortening in a large bowl. Beat at medium speed of electric mixer until well blended. Add eggs and molasses. Beat until well blended and fluffy. Combine flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, cloves and salt. Add gradually to creamed mixture at low speed. Mix until well blended. Divide dough into 4 quarters. Wrap each quarter of dough in plastic wrap. Refrigerate several hours or overnight. Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Place sheets of foil on countertops for cooling cookies. Spread 1 tablespoon flour on large sheet of waxed paper. Place one quarter of dough on floured paper. Flatten slightly with hands. Turn dough over and cover with another sheet of waxed paper. Roll dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Remove top sheet of waxed paper. Cut out cookies with a floured cutter. Transfer to ungreased baking sheet with large pancake turner.

Place cookies 2 inches apart onto ungreased baking sheet. Bake one sheet at a time at 375 degrees for 5 to 9 minutes, depending on the size of your cookies (bake smaller, thinner cookies closer to 5 minutes; larger cookies closer to 9 minutes). DO NOT OVERBAKE. Cool 2 minutes on baking sheet. Remove cookies to foil to cool completely, then decorate if desired. Makes 31/2 dozen cookies.

- Each cookie contains 111 calories, 5 g fat, 14 g carb, 54 mg sodium, 10 mg cholesterol.

- From The Crisco Kitchens

OLGA'S MOTHER'S ALMOND MACAROONS

1/2 cup confectioner's sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 pound almond paste

1/2 cup granulated sugar

3 egg whites, slightly beaten

1/2 cup flour

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Mix the confectioner's sugar and salt and set aside. Gradually work the almond paste with a wooden spoon or in a blender with the granulated sugar until smooth. Slowly add the confectioner's sugar and salt. Continue working the paste into a smooth mass. Add the egg whites slowly, fully incorporating each addition. Mix in the flour and beat until smooth. Pipe dough with pastry bag or press onto cookie sheets that have been covered with parchment paper. Bake about 30 minutes. Remove from the parchment with a metal spatula while still warm. Decorate with blanched almonds, pine nuts or small pieces of candied fruit. Makes 2 dozen.

- Each cookie contains 90 calories, 2 g fat, 12 g carb, 110 mg sodium, 20 mg cholesterol.

- From `The Illustrated Cookie," by Piet Halberstadt.

CHOCOLATE CHIP TURTLE BARS

3/4 cup Butter Flavor Crisco

1 1/4 cups firmly packed light brown sugar

2 tablespoons milk

1 tablespoon vanilla

1 egg

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 bag (14 ounces) caramels, unwrapped

1 tablespoon water

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch pan with shortening. Combine shortening, brown sugar, milk and vanilla in large bowl. Beat at medium speed of electric mixer until well blended. Beat egg into creamed mixture. Combine flour, salt and baking soda. Mix into creamed mixture just until blended. Stir in chocolate chips. Divide dough into thirds. Pat 2/3 of dough into the bottom of the prepared pan. Combine caramels and water in small saucepan. Place on very low heat. Stir constantly until caramels melt. Spread caramel mixture over dough in pan to within 1/2-inch of edge. Divide remaining dough into measuring teaspoonfuls and drop evenly over the caramel layer. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown. DO NOT OVERBAKE. Loosen from sides of pan with knife. Cool completely on rack. Cut into bars about 11/2 by 11/2 inches. Makes 2 dozen bars.

- Each bar contains 275 calories, 11 g fat, 42 g carb, 189 mg sodium, 9 mg cholesterol.

- From The Crisco Kitchens