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5 steps toward a better cookie swap

Nancy Baggett is an official FOF (Friend of Food) and local author who has written many cookbooks. Each year at about this time, I seem to pull out her “International Cookie Book” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1993), and wherever the pages have fallen open, I’ve been happy to give the recipes a try. Because this is our big week for cookies, she graciously offered to pass along her top five tips for successful cookie exchange get-togethers. -- Bonnie Benwick

1. Tell your guests exactly what to expect. Should they bring copies of their recipes for swapping? Should they eat before they come? How many cookies should they provide? Depending on the group size, 6 dozen for swapping plus 1/2 to 1 dozen for snacking often works well.

Recipe Included

2. Confront the touchy “homemade-only” issue head-on. You don’t want the best bakers to turn into grinches when they swap their lovingly prepared rolled shortbreads for chocolate chippers readied from supermarket logs of dough. While you’re inviting guests, stress the fairness of bringing only nice-quality, festive, from-scratch cookies. Offer to provide a simple tried-and-true drop or homemade slice-and-bake cookie recipe for those needing a nudge. (The accompanying Peppermint Fudgies recipe would fill that bill nicely, and I have some other very doable recipes posted on my Web site.)

3. Create a friendly atmosphere. Holiday music, candles, mulled wine or cider and/or a light meal all help set an upbeat mood. Asking guests to tell where they got their recipe and why they like it does, too.

4. Offer a special activity. I once set up a table of ingredients and provided jars so everybody could make up a batch of cookie mix to take home. That was a big hit. Check it out here.

5. Provide suitable take-home containers. Sturdy paper plates and foil will work; so will holiday-themed cardboard boxes. Just be sure to have enough containers so that spicy-crispy cookies and mild, soft ones can be kept separate. That way, the mild will stay mild, the spicy-crispy crisp, and all just as tempting as when they arrived at the swap.

Baggett’s latest book is "Kneadlessly Simple: Fabulous, Fuss-Free, No-Knead Breads" (John Wiley & Sons, 2009). She can be contacted through, and blogs at, KitchenLane.com.




Peppermint Fudgies. (Nancy Baggett)

Peppermint Fudgies
Makes forty to forty-five 2 1/2-inch cookies

Several years ago when Nancy Baggett realized she didn’t have a chocolate-peppermint cookie in my holiday repertoire, she created these for her “All American Dessert Book” (Houghton Mifflin, 2005). They’re easy enough for beginners and quick enough for harried bakers: You just drop them from a spoon. The cookies are garnished with bits of peppermint on top and are fudgy-minty inside.

This recipe calls for sweetened condensed milk, not evaporated milk. Evaporated milk is not thick enough or sweet enough and won’t work. The condensed milk, along with the sugar in the chocolate and peppermint candy, provides all the sweetness the cookies need.

MAKE AHEAD: Store the cookies in an airtight container in a cool place for 3 to 4 days, or freeze for up to 1 month.

Enough peppermint candy canes or peppermint sticks to yield 6 tablespoons crushed bits
2 cups (1 12-ounce package) semisweet chocolate morsels
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
14 ounces (1 regular-size can) sweetened condensed milk
1 large egg
1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract OR 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup flour
5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

Position an oven rack in the middle of the oven; preheat to 350 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

Break the canes or peppermint sticks into about 1-inch pieces. Place in a triple layer of heavy-duty resealable plastic food storage bags and seal tightly. Use a kitchen mallet or the back of a heavy metal spoon to crush the candy into 1/8-inch or finer pieces. Discard any pieces that are larger than 1/8 inch, or continue crushing them until fine.

Combine 1 cup of the chocolate morsels and the butter in a large microwave-safe bowl. Melt in the microwave on HIGH for 1 minute, then stir well. Continue microwaving on LOW in 30-second intervals, stopping just before the chocolate looks completely melted. Residual heat should finish the melting process.

Add the condensed milk, a generous 3 tablespoons of the crushed peppermint candy, the egg and the peppermint extract to the chocolate mixture; stirring until well blended.

Combine the flour and cocoa powder in a medium bowl, then add to the chocolate mixture, stirring until well incorporated. Add the remaining cup of chocolate morsels and stir to combine. If the dough seems too soft, let it stand for 5 minutes.

Drop measuring tablespoonfuls, spaced about 2 inches apart onto the baking sheets. (Keep the cookies smallish, as they are very rich.) Bake one sheet at a time on the middle rack for 6 to 9 minutes, or until almost firm when pressed in the center top. Do not overbake.

Remove from the oven and garnish the hot cookies with the remaining crushed peppermint candy (to taste). Return to the oven and bake for about 45 seconds, or just until the candy bits begin to melt. Transfer the sheet to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes, then transfer the cookies to the wire rack to cool completely before serving or storing.

Per cookie (based on 45): 88 calories, 2 g protein, 13 g carbohydrates, 4 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 14 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 9 g sugar

By The Food Section  |  December 8, 2009; 2:30 PM ET
Categories:  Recipes  | Tags: Nancy Baggett, cookies  
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