Baking cookies, with a helping hand from your freezer

THE BALTIMORE SUN

On the 12th day before Christmas, you might find yourself rummaging through the card file looking for a copy of Aunt Minnie's Russian tea cakes recipe. Hers are the best, but all you can remember is that the recipe begins by softening two sticks of butter. To call Minnie (the family chatterbox) for the rest of the ingredient list means at least an hour on the telephone.

Stop looking. Don't worry. The recipe is right here. It's just one offering in this winning selection that includes cookies from many traditions. Together on a pretty plate or in a cookie tin, these Christmas sweets bring glad tidings. And this year, they bring healthful tidings as well.

Chocolate-orange crisps

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

2 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

2 1/3 cups all-purpose white flour

1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-process

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup sugar

3 tablespoons canola oil

2 tablespoons butter, softened

1 large egg white

1/4 cup light corn syrup

1 tablespoon low-fat milk

1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon grated orange zest

Icing (recipe follows)

Melt chocolate in the top of a double boiler. Remove the top of the double boiler and set aside to cool slightly. In a bowl, whisk flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt.

In a mixing bowl, beat sugar, oil and butter with an electric mixer on high speed until smooth and light, about 3 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, beat in egg white, corn syrup, milk, vanilla and orange zest. Blend in the melted chocolate, then half the dry ingredients. Blend in the remaining dry ingredients just until blended.

Divide the dough into thirds; roll and freeze (see "The Way to Roll" below).

Position oven rack in the upper third of the oven and heat to 375 degrees. Lightly oil 2 baking sheets or coat them with nonstick cooking spray. Cut out cookies with small cutters and transfer to the baking sheets.

Bake for 6 to 8 minutes, or until firm to the touch and just starting to brown on the edges. Transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool.

Decorate the cookies with icing. (The cookies will keep for 1 week in a tightly covered cookie tin. Freeze for longer storage.)

Per cookie: 55 calories; 1 g protein; 1.8 g fat; 9 g carbohydrate; 20 mg sodium; 1 mg cholesterol; 0 g fiber

Gingerbread men

Makes about 6 dozen 3-inch cookies

4 cups sifted all-purpose white flour

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup canola oil

3 tablespoons butter, softened

1/2 cup unsulfured molasses

2 large egg whites

Icing (recipe follows)

In a bowl, whisk flour, cinnamon, ginger, baking soda, cloves and salt.

In a mixing bowl, using an electric mixer, cream brown sugar, oil and butter until fluffy and light, about 3 minutes. Gradually beat in molasses until smooth. Beat in egg whites one at a time. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients in 4 additions just until combined.

Divide the dough into thirds; roll and freeze (see "The way to roll" below).

Position oven rack in the upper third of the oven and heat to 375 degrees. Lightly oil 2 or 3 baking sheets or coat them with nonstick cooking spray. Cut out cookies with a small gingerbread-man cutter. Transfer to a prepared sheet, spacing them about 1 inch apart.

Bake 6 to 8 minutes, or until firm to the touch and just starting to brown on the edges. Transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool.

Decorate the cookies with icing. (The cookies will keep for 1 week in a tightly covered cookie tin. Freeze for longer storage.)

Per cookie: 50 calories; 1 g protein; 1.3 grams fat; 8 g carbohydrate; 35 mg sodium; 1 mg cholesterol; 0 g fiber

Chocolate rum balls

Makes about 5 dozen rum balls

1/2 cup amber rum or dark rum

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1 cup confectioners' sugar

2 tablespoons cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-process

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 9-ounce package chocolate wafer cookies

1 cup fine dry breadcrumbs

3/4 cup pecan halves (3 ounces)

In a mixing bowl, combine rum and corn syrup. Sift sugar, cocoa and cinnamon into the mixture and whisk until smooth.

Grind chocolate wafer cookies into fine crumbs in a food processor. Add the cookie crumbs and breadcrumbs to the liquid ingredients and stir to combine. Set aside to rest for 15 to 30 minutes, or until the mixture is easy to roll.

In a skillet, toast pecans over medium-low heat, stirring often, until the pecans are fragrant and toasted, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board, let cool briefly and chop fine. Transfer the pecans to a shallow dish.

Roll the chocolate mixture into 3/4 -inch balls. Then roll each ball in the pecans to coat them completely. Store in an airtight container. Rum balls are best if left to age 2 or 3 days before eating. (The rum balls will keep for several weeks in a tightly covered cookie tin.)

Per rum ball: 45 calories; 1 g protein, 1.6 g fat; 7 g carbohydrate; 0.6 g alcohol; 45 mg sodium; 1 mg cholesterol; 0 grams fiber

Russian tea cakes

Makes about 4 dozen cookies

1 1/2 cups all-purpose white flour

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar

5 tablespoons butter, softened

2 tablespoons canola oil

2 tablespoons low-fat milk

1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts (2 ounces)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, whisk flour, cornstarch and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, cream 3/4 cup of the confectioners' sugar, butter and oil until smooth and light, about 3 minutes.

Add milk and vanilla and beat until smooth. Add the dry ingredients and walnuts; blend on low speed just until incorporated.

Roll the dough into 3/4 -inch balls and place on 2 ungreased baking sheets, about 1 inch apart.

Bake, one sheet at a time, for 10 to 12 minutes, or until very lightly browned on the bottoms.

While the cookies are baking, sift the remaining 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar into a shallow dish. Remove the cookies from the oven and roll them immediately in the sugar, a few at a time. Transfer to wire racks to cool.

If desired, sift additional confectioners' sugar over the cookies just before serving.

(The cookies will keep for 1 week in a tightly covered cookie tin. Freeze for longer storage.)

Per cookie: 50 calories; 1 g protein; 2.2 g fat; 6 g carbohydrate; 25 mg sodium; 3 mg cholesterol; 0 g fiber

Amaretti

Makes about 4 dozen cookies

1/2 cup almond paste

1/3 cup cornstarch

4 large egg whites

1/8 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon pure almond extract, preferably bitter almond

1/4 cup pearl sugar or white sparkling sugar crystals

Heat oven to 300 degrees. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.

In a food processor, pulse almond paste and cornstarch until it has a floury consistency. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat egg whites with an electric mixer on low speed just until frothy. Add salt, increase the mixer to medium and beat until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating until the whites form firm, but not stiff, peaks. Add almond extract and beat just until blended. With a rubber spatula, gently fold almond mixture into beaten whites in 2 additions just until blended.

Transfer the batter to a large pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 -inch open star or plain tip. Pipe 1-inch-diameter cookies onto the prepared baking sheets, about 3/4 inch apart. Decorate with pearl sugar or sugar crystals. (Alternatively, drop heaping teaspoonfuls of the batter onto the baking sheets and garnish with the sugar.)

Bake, using both oven racks, 45 minutes to 50 minutes, switching the positions of the pans halfway through the baking time, until the cookies are firm to the touch and golden brown. Turn off the oven and let the amaretti cool in the oven for 1 hour, then peel them off the parchment paper. (The cookies will keep in a tightly covered cookie tin for up to 1 week.)

Per cookie: 65 calories; 1 g protein; 0.6 g fat; 6 g carbohydrate; 10 mg sodium; 1 mg cholesterol; 0 g fiber

Icing for cookies

Makes about 3/4 cup icing

1 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1-2 drops pure orange extract or lemon extract (optional)

Sift confectioners' sugar into a bowl. Stir in corn syrup, vanilla, orange or lemon extract, if using, and 1 1/2 tablespoons hot water; mix until smooth.

F: If the icing is too thick, add a few more drops water.

Per teaspoon: 20 calories; 0 g protein; 0 g fat; 6 g carbohydrate; 0 mg sodium; 0 mg cholesterol; 0 g fiber

The way to roll

Because these recipes are low-fat, the Eating Well test kitchen ,, director says that it is essential that readers follow "The Way to Roll" instructions in the recipes that refer to this technique.

Most recipes for gingerbread men and other cut-out cookies instruct you to chill the dough, then roll the hard lump to an even thickness. Instead, I do the opposite, rolling the dough between sheets of parchment paper and then freezing it. I picked up this technique while working at the Tabard Inn in Washington, about 12 years ago and have used it for a few thousand cookies since then.

Begin by dividing the dough into two or three manageable portions. Place a 14-by-18-inch sheet of parchment or wax paper on the work surface and set a dough portion on top, flattening it slightly. Cover with a second sheet of parchment or wax paper.

With a rolling pin, roll the dough out to an even 1/16th-inch thickness, inverting occasionally and smoothing out any wrinkles that form in the paper. Transfer the dough to a baking sheet, with the paper still attached. Repeat the rolling process with the dough that remains and stack on the baking sheet with the other dough sheet. Freeze the dough, baking sheet and all, for at least 1 hour and for up to 3 days.

When you are ready to bake the cookies, carefully peel off one of the sheets of paper from a rolled portion of dough and set the paper back in place. (Leave the remaining dough in the freezer.) Lay the dough, loosened sheet down, on a flat work surface. Peel off the top sheet of paper and set aside to use again. Cut out cookies with a cookie cutter. If the dough is too firm to cut out, let stand a few minutes to warm slightly.

Using a metal spatula, transfer the cookies from the paper to a baking sheet. Repeat the process with the remaining dough. Gather all the scraps and reroll between sheets of the reserved paper. Freeze briefly on a baking sheet until firm enough to cut out.

Pub Date: 12/11/96

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