Monday, December 3, 2007

Christmas Cookies: Molasses Crinkles

For as long as I can remember, I've had a close fondness for the Czech Christmas cookies I grew up eating from the beginning of December through New Years Eve and into January. I'm sure it's partially due to the fabulous cookies themselves, and part warm and fuzzy attachment to familiar, comforting traditions.

Every year at the end of November, heavy balls of both pale and dark doughs, wrapped tightly in waxed paper, pile up in the fridge; during weekends, the sweet smells of beautiful, delicious, and always tiny cookies and confections waft through the house.

There are always many different flavours and cookie types to savour, though the yearly lineup, specific to each family and passed down through generations of Czech women, generally remains the same in each household. Of course, I've always particularly loved the sweets that appear on my family's cookie platters: confections like crumbly, cocoa-brown Bear Paws dotted with crunchy walnuts, moist Almond Baskets brimming with sticky, nutty filling, sugary Beehives piped full of fluffy pastry cream, potent rum-spiked Chocolate Balls, thin Fig Salami slices peppered with dried figs and glaceed fruits, and my absolute favourites: Linecke Kolačky, which are very much like Linzer cookies, filled with a thin, sparkling layer of raspberry jam and glistening with a shiny, egg-washed surface.

To me, Christmas is not the same without those Czech cookies. But, in the interest of expanding my own repertoire, I am always looking for outstanding additions to the usual lineup. This year, I turned to one of my favourite sources: Epicurious. I am always drawn to the collections of cookie recipes that Gourmet and Bon Appétit magazines publish each winter, even though I know, in reality, that I will never find time to test all of the recipes I drool over each November.

I do, however, manage to narrow down my long, unmanageable dream list and try a few recipes, and last night I made my first test batch of Christmas cookies: Molasses Crinkles from the December 2004 volume of Gourmet. Because I, like my mom, absolutely love ginger in all forms, I took the advice of a few reviewers: I doubled the amount of ground ginger and added 1/2 cup of chopped crystallized ginger to the dough. I also baked the cookies for 9 minutes total- at 10 minutes, the cookies wavered between chewy and very crisp, depending on how soon I was able to get to the oven after the timer beeped.

Just as I'd hoped, these treats completely satisfy my ginger cookie cravings, and L and I were both really happy with how well the recipe turned out on the first try. I'll be surprised if this batch lasts more than a week! The cookies have a chewy center and crisp edges- the effect you typically get when you add butter and vegetable shortening to cookie dough- a great spiced ginger heat, and a delicious crackly sugar surface (L loves a crunchy sprinkling of sugar on baked goods, so I knew this aspect would really appeal to him). Molasses Crinkles are definitely going in my permanent Christmas recipe collection!

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