Smile Politely

A holiday foodie cookie exchange

Whether you’re looking for a decadent new cookie to share at your holiday cookie exchange, or you just want an interesting new cookie to munch on while you wrap that never-ending pile of presents (since you did finish shopping early this year, right?), some local bakers and others supplied us with recipes to ease your holiday angst.

So make some room at the dessert table! You’ll want to try three new cookie recipes: Molasses-Pepper Cookies, Chewy Vegan Ginger Cookies, and the filled Jewish Rugelach.

Ashlee Roderick, owner and pastry chef at The Cake Artists’ Studio, provided us with her Molasses-Pepper Cookies recipe (modified for the home baker), a staple for the foodie cookie exchange. Roderick is most well known for her cakes, but trained and served as a pastry chef around the country in the 1990s. Besides designing thousands of wedding cakes (including my own) since returning to Champaign, she also makes other desserts for sale in the case in her store, with an extended selection available for pre-order or in the case during the holiday season. Her Molasses-Pepper Cookies, previously for sale at the store during the holidays, are not one of this year’s offerings, but one she continues to make at home.

Ashlee’s Molasses-Pepper Cookies

Baker’s note: This recipe, for drop cookies, is a little simpler and less messy than some other rolled holiday cookies.

1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
8 oz butter

1 egg
1/3 cup black strap molasses

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper

Cream the sugars and butter until smooth. Add the egg and molasses and mix. In separate bowl, mix flour with remaining dry ingredients until combined. Mix dry and wet ingredients until incorporated. Then drop by the tablespoon onto a cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10–12 minues.

Sunju Raybeck, the baker at Strawberry Fields, shared her delectable ginger cookie recipe with us. This recipe meets the dietary needs of your vegan holiday guests, but you may find that’s not the only time you’ll want to serve it.

Sunju’s Chewy Vegan Ginger Cookies

Baker’s note: As a non-vegan, I often eschew vegan treats and head straight for the ones full of butter and cream … and chocolate. Good Lord, the chocolate. That being said, I love this cookie so much! I originally created this recipe for Strawberry Fields (modified slightly), but make at home often during the holidays to send to friends and family because it travels so well. It’s perfectly chewy inside with a sparkly crisp exterior, laced with warm spices and punches of ginger. American butter is composed of about 80%85% fat, so the oil in this recipe allows for chewiness that you won’t get if you were to replace it with butter. In addition, the tofu not only replicates the protein in eggs, but also keeps the cookies’ interior moist.

Makes approximately two dozen (if you don’t get too much of it stuck on your hands)

2 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ground clove
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp kosher salt

1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup oil (anything but olive)
1/3 cup molasses (lightly spray or coat your measuring cup with oil first and the molasses
will slide right out)
1/4 block of organic silken tofu, about 3 ounces

4 oz crystallized ginger, chopped fine

1/2 cup granulated or turbinado sugar in a separate bowl

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Sift flour, cinnamon, clove, ginger, and salt into a bowl. Then, in a food processor, process the
sugar, oil, molasses, and tofu until completely smooth. Don’t forget to scrape down the sides.

Pour the contents of your food processor onto your dry ingredients and mix until your dough
is well incorporated. Add the chopped crystallized ginger and stir until the ginger is well
dispersed. Your dough will be very sticky and look a little like baby poop. Scoop out rounded
tablespoons of the dough; roll it around between your palms, and then roll them in the sugar
you’ve set aside. (I find that rubbing a couple of drops of oil between my palms before I begin
rolling the cookies keeps me from looking like I’ve been slinging … well, baby poop.)

If you have a stand mixer, place your wet mixture into your bowl and slowly paddle in your
dry ingredients. Once incorporated, add your chopped ginger and paddle on the lowest
setting until all the ginger is well dispersed.

Place them on a cookie sheet, leaving about one inch of space around each one and flatten
slightly with the palm of your hands. Bake for about 13 minutes, cool, and serve (or mail) to all
your loved ones.

Sometimes, the best baking secrets come from family or from generations of perfecting a recipe. Seth Fein, our publisher, but more importantly, discriminating foodie and cookie lover, shares a favorite family recipe.

Stacey’s Rugelach

Come holiday season, my family gets very confused. We’re Jews, by blood, but celebrate Christmas like the Peanuts family. So, between trying to maintain our cultural and familial ties to our Jewish heritage and also propping up the birth of sweet baby Jesus, we do a lot of dancing around the facts and traditions of what most families tend to already struggle with.

One thing, however, that isn’t confusing, is the kind of cookie to make when going to holiday parties. It’s of the Jewish variety, and it’s one that will put your ass on the treadmill for a few extra hours the week following. But Jesus Christ, it’s worth it.

Here’s my cousin Stacey’s recipe for Rugelach (pronounced RUE-GA-LAH). She’s one of literally seven women named Stacey in our family. This one is a professor at Columbia in NYC and married my first cousin Kyle. She knows how to make Rugelach really, really well.

Makes about 44 cookies

2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt (omit if using salted butter)
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup plus 4 tsp sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
Milk for brushing cookies

Filling options:
1 cup apricot or raspberry preserves
1 cup raisins
1 1/4 cup chopped walnuts 9 (optional)
chocolate chips
cinnamon sugar

Beat together butter and cream cheese either with a hand mixer or by hand. Add flour and salt and stir with a wooden spoon until you have a soft dough. Shape dough in a ball and chill 8 to 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut dough into 4 pieces. While working with one piece, chill the others. Roll dough into a 12 by 8 inch rectangle on a well floured surface. Move dough to a parchment, and roll other pieces the same way.

Whisk 1/2 cup sugar and cinnamon, leaving the other 4 tsp for sprinkling on top. Spread 1/4 cup of preserves on dough. Sprinkle with raisins, nuts, then 2 tablespoons of cinnamon sugar. Roll dough into a log. Brush log with milk, and sprinkle with 1 tsp sugar. With a sharp knife, cut the log into 3/4 inch cuts, not cutting all the way through. If dough is too soft to cut, chill until firmer.

Bake until golden, about 45 minutes on a medium positioned rack.

Cool 30 minutes then slice cookies all the way through.

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