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Not peanut butter and chocolate again, please

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I was disappointed when I came across an article on the Huffington Post about the best-ever Christmas cookies. Oh boy, thought I, just what I want to read about--can't wait to find just one more wonderful recipe to make for guests! Well, it turned out to be a pretty snooty article, belittling most of the Holiday selection that we usually think of when we hear "Christmas cookies."

The authors went through the different cookies, accompanied by pretty photographs. The thing was, under each picture there was a mean-spirited put-down of most of the cookies. I wasn't looking for Bah Humbug just then, but I did scroll down to what the authors considered good enough for their educated palates, and it turned out to be peanut butter cookies with a Hershey's chocolate kiss pressed into them.

Yes, they are good. I make them several times a year. But this is not the point--the point is that there is nothing seasonal about peanut butter cookies. I don't think they should displace some of the finer productions such as Linzer sandwich cookies with cutouts and jam, or gingerbread cutouts, which I do not consider creepy, unlike the authors.

It strikes me every year that there the childish writers who want to put a new spin, or so they think, on the traditional pastimes of whatever it is. Most of the time it involves disparaging whatever is accepted and substituting something else. So I decline their enthusiasm for peanut butter and this year my cookie dough is already made, stored in the freezer and waiting to be baked up. I made Pecan Finger Cookies that will be rolled in powdered sugar just before serving; Thumbprint Cookie dough that will be rolled in ground pecans before baking and then filled with red and green jelly; gingerbread cutout dough; sugar cookie cutout dough; and shortbread that will be spritzed into shapes and sprinkled with colored sugar before baking.

And I have to say that I never find any of them tough, unappetizing or less than delicious, because I follow instructions for avoiding tough dough and over-baking that browns or dries out the cookies. It is pretty simple; you do own a timer, don't you?

If you do a search on Christmas cookies you will be rewarded with literally thousands of recipes, and that is not to go through the dozens of magazine collections that are on supermarket shelves right now with even more ideas. You can use food coloring to produce colored spritz cookies, something that the HP authors seemed to find repulsive. I don't see why, honestly, if you are careful with shaping the cookies and keep the decorations simple, because they are basically butter cookies and taste good even if they are green.

I'd like to turn them over to Martha Stewart and make them take a cookie class from her--I have watched her Christmas specials and she is simply incomparable as she turns out cookie recipes with her nieces and nephews. And if you are intimidated by the idea of making a plate full of different types of cookies, by all means watch some Christmas specials on the food networks. You can see chefs walk through the process so many times that by the time you get to it you will feel like it's a lot of fun.

That's why I make my cookie dough separately--I enjoy the mixing, observing the technique carefully. Then I enjoy the baking separately, when I have more energy and feel like it, and perhaps have my daughter around. She is still grieving the sudden, cruel loss of her wonderful dog and I'd like to have her around just now.

Here is a chocolate butter cookie that you cannot surpass no matter how far you look, by the way. If you have one, the thing to use is a special butter-cookie pan that you press the dough into and it stamps the cookies with motifs. You can find them easily enough at a store like Bed, Bath & Beyond in Tucson, or the larger department stores that live mostly in our malls.

Chef Stephanie Wise adapted this superb recipe from Martha Stewart, so hang on--it's good, I tell you, and I never said you had to leave out chocolate in Christmas cookies.

SALTED CARAMEL MOCHA SHORTBREAD

Ingredients:

1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons unbleached organic all-purpose flour
1/4 cup Dutch process cocoa powder
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
Pinch of sea salt
1 stick organic unsalted butter, at room temperature
1-1/2 cups organic powdered sugar
1/4 cup store-bought organic caramel sauce (try Sprouts)
1-2 tablespoons organic milk
Sea salt, for topping

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line an eight-inch round cake or shortbread pan with parchment paper (skip the parchment if you are using a design-imprinting cookie baker). In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, espresso powder and sea salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until it is pale and creamy, about one minute. Add 1/2 cup of the powdered sugar and beat well. Add the flour mixture beat on the lowest speed until just combined.

Pat the dough into the prepared pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until puffed at the edges and just set on top. Remove from oven and let sit five minutes, and then cut into eight wedges. Let cool completely on a wire rack.

In a small bowl, combine the remaining powdered sugar, caramel sauce and milk; drizzle over the cooled shortbread. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt.

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