The Queen Mother of Cookie Trays

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My cookie tray brings all the boys to the yard, and they're like, "it's better than yours."  

Humbly, the boys are right - my cookie tray rocks the jingle bells.  Diversity is key. Chocolate Dream Cookies, Potato Chip Cookies, Biscotti, Pignoli Cookies, and Snowballs (aka Russian Tea Cookies) form the perfect winter confectionary storm. Some cookies are sweet, while others have a touch of salt, some have soft centers, while others make for good dunking, and one, naturally, brings hard-core cocoa decadence. 

In the spirit of holiday giving, I could teach you, but I won't charge.  Just follow the recipes below:

CHOCOLATE DREAM COOKIES

Yields: 24 medium-sized cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 c Hershey's Special Dark cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 cup butter, softened (see my modification above)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs
6 oz. chocolate chunks

Directions
Preheat oven to 325°F. Sift together first 4 ingredients. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and sugars until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla. Stir in flour mixture just until combined (do not over beat) and fold in chocolate chips.Drop onto parchment-lined cookie sheets and bake for 8-10 minutes. Cool completely on wire racks.

POTATO CHIP COOKIES

1 lb. butter

3/4 cup sugar

3 tbsp. vanilla

3 1/2 cups flour

6 oz. potato chips

Directions

Cream butter and 3/4 cup sugar until fluffy.  Add vanilla, flour and potato chips andbeat well.  Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until edges brown.  Let stand 5 minutes.  Put on cooling rack and dust with confectioner's sugar.

RUSSIAN TEA COOKIES

1 cup butter, at room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar, plus more for rolling cookies

2 cups flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup finely chopped pecans or walnuts

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F Cream butter in a large mixing bowl. Add the vanilla then gradually add the 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Sift the flour, measure, then sift again with the salt. Add gradually to the butter mixture. Add the pecans and mix well.

Shape the dough into 1-inch balls and place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Flatten slightly using the bottom of a glass, then bake for 20 minutes, or until edges are very lightly browned. Remove the cookies from the baking sheets and roll in powdered sugar while still hot. Cool on wire racks and roll cookies again in powdered sugar before serving.

Once they are completely cooled, cookies may be stored in airtight containers for up to 1 week.

PIGNOLI (PINE NUT) COOKIES

4 Egg Whites

1 lb. Almond Paste

1 1/2 C Sugar

1 lb. Portuguese Pignoli Nuts

Directions

Beat egg whites until stiff. Set aside. Break up almond paste into small pieces and beat in sugar.

Fold the sugar and almond paste mixture into egg whites. Refrigerate a few hours or overnight.  Roll into balls and roll balls into pignoli nuts.  Flatten slightly. Put on greased cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees 12 - 15 minutes.  When cool, sprinkle with confectioners sugar.

HAZELNUT BISCOTTI

8 Tbs. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room
  temperature

3/4 cup sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp. salt

1 cup hazelnuts, toasted, skinned and coarsely
 chopped

1 tsp. grated orange zest (or lemon)

Directions

Preheat an oven to 350°F. Lightly grease and flour 1 large baking sheet or line it with parchment paper. Have another un-greased baking sheet on hand.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter on high speed until fluffy and pale yellow. Add the sugar and continue beating until the mixture is no longer gritty when rubbed between your finger and thumb. Reduce the speed to low and add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla until blended.

Over a sheet of waxed paper, sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Gradually add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and beat on low speed or stir with a wooden spoon just until incorporated. Mix or stir in the hazelnuts and orange (or lemon) zest until evenly distributed. The batter should be very soft.

Turn the batter out onto a generously floured work surface and divide in half. With well-floured hands, transfer one-half onto the greased baking sheet and shape into a log about 12 inches long and 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Place on one side of the sheet. Repeat with the remaining batter, leaving at least 4 inches between the logs. (They will spread as they bake.) 

Bake the logs until the edges are golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let the logs cool for 10 minutes. Using a serrated knife, cut the logs, still on the pan, on the diagonal into slices 1/2 inch wide. Carefully turn the slices on their sides and return them to the oven. When you run out of room on one baking sheet, start transferring slices to the other sheet. 

Bake until the edges are golden, about 10 minutes more. Let the biscotti cool completely on the pans on wire racks. Store in an airtight container. Makes about 3 dozen biscotti.

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