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Julie Van Rosendaal's Christmas Cookies

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By Malcolm Jolley

It's not Christmas without baking, and Canada's Cookie Queen Julie Van Rosendaal has generously offered us her an insight on what she's baking this season, what one ought to do if you're not a big baker, and three holiday inspired recipes.

What I'm baking this Christmas: I've had to whittle the list down, but I cannot survive Christmas without dark fruitcake, my Mom's nut balls (those shortbready balls made with ground nuts, icing sugar and butter, then rolled in icing sugar while warm), Hello Dollies, pan dulce (sweet round loaves with raisins and dried fruit), mincemeat squares (date squares with mincemeat in the middle instead of the date filling - much less finicky than mince tarts) and mincemeat cinnamon buns for Christmas morning (spread the mincemeat over the dough before rolling it up, instead of sprinkling it with cinnamon-sugar). My husband has taken it upon himself to make Stroopwafels every year - they are thin cookies with the texture of a crisp waffle cone, sandwiched with caramel, dulce de leche or Nutella. You sit them on top of your coffee cup to keep the caramel warm and gooey. I'm doing a bit more in the candy department this year - keeps better than baked goods - fleur de sel caramels, nutmeg caramels, lemongrass caramels, espresso caramel sauce. I'm on a bit of a caramel kick.

What to do, if you're not an experienced baker, but want to start: Keep it simple - don't get all Martha. I just did an informal poll of favourite Christmas cookies and shortbread won hands-down; and not elaborate shortbread but the simple stuff, possibly adorned with a bit of glace cherry but that's about it. People aren't after fancy, they are after tasty. Try a basic butter-sugar-flour shortbread and you'll make everyone happy. If you want to do a holiday bread, try adding fruit and cinnamon to soda bread to make a rustic looking loaf that you won't need to attend to like most yeast loaves. Baby steps. (Really, if you're baking for other people, it's going to go over well no matter what it is.)

Julie Van Rosendaal's Christmas Cookie Recipes

Eggnog Sugar Cookies

Here’s a fantastic alternative to the usual sugar cookies or gingerbread; eggnog in crisp, buttery cookie form.

1/4 cup butter, softened
1 Tbsp. canola oil
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. rum extract
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. salt

In a large bowl, beat butter, oil and sugar with an electric mixer until well combined. Add egg, vanilla and rum extract and beat for a minute, until smooth and light.
In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Add to the sugar mixture and stir by hand just until you have a soft dough. Shape the dough into a disc, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for an hour or until well chilled.
When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350°F. Roll the dough out between two sheets of waxed paper or on a surface very lightly dusted with a combination of flour and sugar to 1/8”–1/4” thick. Cut out cookies using a 2”–3” cookie cutter or glass rim. Reroll the scraps once to get as many cookies as possible.
Place the cookies an inch apart on a cookie sheet that has been sprayed with nonstick spray. Bake for 10–12 minutes, until pale golden around the edges. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Makes 2 dozen 2”-3” cookies.
Per Cookie: 82 calories, 2.8 g fat (1.3 g saturated fat, 1 g monounsaturated fat, 0.3 g polyunsaturated fat), 13 g carbohydrates, 14 mg cholesterol, 1.2 g protein, 0.3 g fiber. 31% calories from fat.

Mince Squares

These are fantastic served warm with vanilla ice cream, or cooled down with your fingers.

Base & topping:
1 cup all-purpose or whole wheat flour, or a combination
1 cup oats
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup butter, melted

2 cups all-fruit mincemeat

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, combine flour, oats, brown sugar, baking soda and salt. Add the butter and stir until mixture is well combined and crumbly. Press half the crumbs into an 8” x 8” pan that has been sprayed with nonstick spray.

Spread the mincemeat over the crust, and sprinkle with remaining crumbs, squeezing the crumble mixture a bit as you go to make it clumpy. Bake for about 30 minutes, until golden around the edges. Cool in the pan on a wire rack.

Makes 16 squares.

Per square: 195 calories, 4.7 g fat (2.5 g saturated fat, 1.3 g monounsaturated fat, 0.4 g polyunsaturated fat), 37.4 g carbohydrates, 10.4 mg cholesterol, 2.8 g protein, 1.6 g fiber. 21% calories from fat

Holiday Biscotti

If you’re looking for shippable cookies during the holidays, these are sturdy and keep well, so are ideal for mailing. They’re also perfect alongside a mug of hot chocolate, warm tea, or apple cider.
2 Tbsp. butter or non-hydrogenated margarine, softened
3/4 cup sugar
grated zest and juice of 1 orange
2 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup white or semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, beat butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla until smooth. Add the flour, baking powder and salt and stir until almost combined; add the dried cranberries, chocolate chips and walnuts and stir just until blended. If it seems dry, use your hands to complete the mixing as the dough comes together.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Divide in half and shape each piece into an 8” long log. Place the logs 2”–3” apart on a cookie sheet that has been sprayed with nonstick spray, and flatten each into a rectangle that is about 3” wide.
Bake for 20–25 minutes, until firm and starting to crack on top. Transfer the logs to a wire rack to cool for a bit and reduce the oven temperature to 275°F.
When they’re cool enough to handle (they tend to crumble when they’re still hot), place the logs on a cutting board, trim the ends and cut each log diagonally into 1/2”–3/4” slices with a serrated knife.

Place the slices upright on the cookie sheet, spacing them about 1/2” apart so that there’s room for the air to circulate between them, and return to the oven for 30 minutes. If you like, turn the heat off and leave the biscotti inside the oven until it cools down to make them even harder.

Makes 2 dozen biscotti.
Per Biscotti: 104 calories, 3.2 g fat (1.2 g saturated fat, 0.9 g monounsaturated fat, 0.8 g polyunsaturated fat), 16.8 g carbohydrates, 21 mg cholesterol, 2.2 g protein, 0.6 g fiber. 28% calories from fat


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