Tuesday, November 23, 2010

guilt-free holiday cookies

At last it is that most special time of year when it is time to get into holiday baking. I just love the traditional recipes of late fall and winter, usually so comforting and rich with warming spices. Most of the last month I had to take a break from the kitchen because I was off participating in a long meditation course in Washington State. Some of you may have noticed my absence. Well, it was a most fulfilling experience for me, but I did miss baking so much. Especially since I had looked at a whole bunch of great recipes right before I left. I need to remind myself not to do that again! But of course these were waiting for me when I returned home.

So far I have tried two holiday cookie recipes this season. The first ones, shown in the above photo, are called Coffeehouse Hermits, from a cookbook of Stefanie's called Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. This cookbook is mind-blowing. The recipes are so creative and all look so delicious; it doesn't surprise me at all that it has a 5-star rating on Amazon.

Hermits are very old-fashioned simple cookies. They are soft and molasses flavored, and studded with raisins. I have fond memories of these cookies from when I was little and my mom would buy us the Archway brand. I remember clearly the shop where she would pick them up by the train station near our house on Long Island. Well, these modern vegan hermits are even more delicious. A really nice sophisticated touch is made by the addition of coffee. I am not a coffee drinker, so I used a coffee substitute. These beverages, such as Pero or Cafix, are made from roasted grains and roots like barley, chicory, beetroots, and dandelion roots and I think they are so satisfying and shamefully underrated. If you are interested, they are in most supermarkets in the coffee aisle.

The recipe for the hermits is below. It is pretty straightforward. The one thing I found though is that they don't last long. After three days at room temperature in a sealed bag they started to dry out. If you aren't going to get through them very quickly, I suggest freezing some of them soon after cooling, to defrost later.

The second cookie recipe I tried was found when I went to the website for Post Punk Kitchen, the group responsible for the Vegan Cookies book described above. They have a ton of great recipes on there, so I tried one for Pumpkin Oat Cookies. Those are in the photo below, and the recipe can be found at this link. I can not stress enough how delicious these cookies are. I may never make regular oatmeal cookies again. My mom actually just called a couple of minutes ago to tell me that they are out of this world.

Lastly, I want to wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving. I hope you are spending it in the company of people you love. If you want some laughs to get into a celebratory mood, check out one of my favorite websites, Cakewrecks:When Professional Cakes Go Horribly, Hilariously Wrong. They just posted a series of Thanksgiving cake photos that are really funny.

And here is the recipe for hermits:

½ cup canola oil
2 cups strong thick black coffee, cooled to room temp
1/3 cup molasses
2/3 cup sugar, plus additional for sprinkling
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground cloves
½ tsp. ground ginger
A generous pinch finely ground black pepper
½ tsp. salt
1 cup dark raisins

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, coffee, molasses, and sugar until thick. Sift in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, black pepper, and salt. Fold in the dry ingredients till almost completely moistened, then fold in the raisins till a soft dough forms.

2. Chill the dough in the refrigerator (no need to remove from the bowl) for 30 minutes. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

3. After dough is chilled, lightly moisten your hands and divide the dough in half. Form it into two logs on top of the parchment paper, each measuring about 13 inches long and 3 1/2 inches wide. Leave 3 to 4 inches of room between logs as the dough will spread when baking. Sprinkle the tops of logs with additional sugar and gently press into dough.

4. Bake 24 to 26 minutes until the edges are lightly browned and the logs feel slightly firm. Cracked tops are fine, even traditionally desired with this cookie. Allow the logs to cool for 15 minutes, then with scissors or a sharp knife, slice the parchment paper between the logs in two. Gently slide each log with its parchment paper onto a cutting board. With a sharp knife, slice the logs into 2-inch-wide slices, using a single downward motion with the knife. Carefully move each slice onto wire racks to complete cooling.

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