A few days ago when we were talking about decorating for Christmas, Ben said, "So are you REALLY going to decorate this year?" I had no idea what he meant because EVERY YEAR, we put up a tree, the stockings get hung, a wreath goes on the door, the lights go on the rooflines, poinsettias dot our home, the basket of Christmas books gets brought out to the forefront, the collection of Santas get arranged artfully on the shelves … OK, so you get the picture: we decorate FULLY every year.
Last year was our first year in this home and it was the first year in about ten that I didn't put garland and lights on the banister going to the upstairs. Till that point, I always had a fully accessible banister to adorn, but in this home, it was the INSIDE banister and just a little awkward. I guess Ben missed the garland, though, because come to find out, that is exactly what he meant when he asked if I was going to decorate for Christmas! So, Sunday evening, I hung garland and lit it. The phone rang about the time I finished and it was for Ben. As he bounded down the stairs (15-year-old boys don't walk … they 'bound'! ), he had the hugest grin on his face as he said, "Oh! We have garland! Sweet!"
See? It doesn't take much … just listen, then do … makes kids happy!
Cookies make kids happy, too, and I'm a baking Ma-Chine these days. I decided that today's cookie would be Thumbprint Cookies and I had my old stand-by recipe card in my stack ready to get mixing. However, my memory kicked into gear and reminded me of my new book, Baking: From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan. I wondered if she had experimented with the same cookie, seeing as we are both 'home bakers' (read the post linked to the 'from my home …' part of that title to know what I mean!) and as I browsed through the cookie section of that book that I wish I had written (!), found that she had indeed experimented with this fun little cookie. In fact, she also had a version for kids, complete with peanut butter in the dough!! Peanut butter and jelly thumbprints … how ingenious! Maybe Jakey-Bear will want to make them with me when he comes for Christmas. However, I was looking for a bit more of a traditional take on the recipe so I compared hers to the one I have usually used. When I read that she ground the nuts, THEN added them to the dough, I was sold. The recipe I've always used calls for rolling the balls of dough in egg white, then dipping them in nuts … that's SO messy – you can read that S.O * M.E.S.S.Y! . I made a few adjustments to Dorie's recipe … of course … but I think she would be proud of my adventurous and independent spirit. I think.
Dorie calls for hazelnuts. I didn't have any on hand and since pecans are my dad's favorite and since I'm thinking about him a lot today (remember? He had surgery yesterday?!), guess what went into MY thumbprints!
I ground them with the large blade in my food processor.
Dorie also calls for only ½ cup of white sugar. My old-stand-by recipe calls for 1 cup of brown sugar. So, I compromised, and use ½ c. of brown sugar. I love the full taste of brown sugar and with the pecans … a marriage made in heaven!
Dorie's recipe calls for no eggs! So I didn't put them in, but my old-stand-by calls for 4 egg yolks. I'm not sure what the chemistry is behind that, but the cookies I turned out tonight are soft and crumbly.
One hint on making the thumbprint … don't really use your THUMB. Or any other finger for that matter, even though a pinkie is recommended in the recipe. It's really best if you use the end of a rounded-handled wooden spoon, especially if you have one you've bought in Paris … just saying …
… AND in the middle of the baking time, open the oven, remind the cookies that you poked them originally by poking them quickly once again. Otherwise, they want to spread apart too far. Furthermore, when you take them out of the oven…? … remind them of that poke yet again! That's how you'll get the best cavity for all that wonderful jam. If your cookie looks kind of flat, it will be harder for the jam to stay where it should. Trust me, I had a couple of moments of trial-and-error tonight! Aside from the pecans, the jam is the best part of these cookies so be sure you make that cavity large enough! The more, the better!!
After the cookies have cooled a bit, sprinkle confectioner's sugar through a sieve onto them, then spoon warm jelly into that perfect cavity that you formed with your wooden spoon. (Just warm the jelly in a cup in the microwave … no need to dirty another pan!)
Here's the uninterrupted recipe:
- 1 ¾ cups finely ground hazelnuts
- 1 ¾ cups flour
- 2 sticks (8 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 t. pure vanilla extract
- ½ t. pure almond extract
- Confectioner's sugar, for dusting
- About 1 cup raspberry jam (or the jam or marmalade of your choice) (I think lemon curd would even be wonderful!)
Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 350˚ F.
Whisk the ground nuts and flour together.
Beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes. Add the extracts and beat to blend. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually ad the nut-flour mixture, mixing only until it is incorporated into the dough.
Working with a teaspoonful of dough at a time, roll the dough between your palms to form small balls and place the balls 2 inches apart on the baking sheets. Use your pinkie finger or the end of a round-handled wooden spoon to poke a hole in the center of each cookie. Be careful not to go all the way down to the baking sheet or you'll get burnt centers.
Bake for 15-18 minutes, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back at the midway point. (I only bake one sheet at a time, but I do turn them around after I re-poke them with the spoon.) The cookies should be only slightly colored—they might even look underdone, which is fine: they should not be overbaked. Let the cookies rest on the baking sheets for 2 minutes before transferring them to cooling racks with a wide metal spatula and sifting confectioner's sugar over them.
Garlands and Thumbprints … makes a good December 2nd for me!
22 days till my brother and his family come!