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COOKIE CONFIDENTIAL.

Byline: Natalie Haughton Food Editor

Holiday traditions have long included the baking of favorite cookies. But it's always nice to try at least one new recipe each year.``Holiday cookies are not only sweet and delicious, but they also help bring families and friends together,'' says Lauren Chattman, author of the recently released ``Mom's Big Book of Cookies'' (Harvard Common Press; $21.95), filled with 200 recipes. ``They provide a sense of tradition and a feeling of security, year in and year out,'' adds the Sag Harbor, N.Y., resident who celebrates both Hanukkah and Christmas.

Although Chattman bakes special cookies for holidays throughout the year, Stained Glass Star cookies (with crushed butterscotch candies melted in the center) are her family's hands-down favorite for Christmas. While they take a bit of prep time -- she makes the dough one day, then rolls, cuts and freezes them the next and bakes as needed -- they are worth the effort.

Chattman also makes Rugelach (and bakes them straight from the freezer) with a cream cheese dough for gift-giving. A traditional Italian Pine Nut Cookie is her husband's Christmas specialty -- and he makes dozens. Her two daughters, ages 11 and 7, are partial to classic Snowball Cookies, also known as Mexican Wedding Cakes.

``Every year for teacher gifts, I make Pecan Pie Squares.''

Chattman relies on a single bar cookie for gift-giving instead of a variety of different ones to simplify baking tasks and streamline buying ingredients in bulk.

Dorie Greenspan, author of the new ``Baking From My Home to Yours'' (Houghton Mifflin; $40), agrees that bar cookies make great gifts and save time.

``You get a lot of bang for your baking buck,'' Greenspan says. ``You get bunches of cookies for a minimum of work.'' You can bake several kinds of bars and cut them in different shapes so they don't all look the same.

``It's fun to make lots of different kinds of cookies, but it takes time,'' she adds.

Shortbread cookies rolled into logs are fast, too, as are other slice-and-bake cookies. You can make and freeze the dough logs (double or triple the recipes, if desired) when you have time, then slice and bake as needed.

``Homemade gifts aren't as inexpensive (to make) as people think they are but are fun to make,'' Chattman says.

Don't cut corners.

``Saving money by sacrificing flavor is not an option for me,'' she says. Use butter, not margarine. ``There is no substitute. It just tastes better. It is not a cookie without butter.

``I'm big into freezing -- and freeze cookie doughs unbaked,'' Chattman says. ``People should really take advantage of the freezer.''

You can make and freeze formed unbaked individual cookies months in advance if they are well-wrapped in plastic wrap. But be aware that some doughs -- such as meringue and biscotti -- cannot be frozen. For best results, Greenspan advises freezing dough no more than two months.

You can then pull unbaked cookies, a dozen or more at a time, from the freezer and bake on a moment's notice for gifts, cookie platters, friends and Santa.

Another option is to make drop cookie dough a day or two in advance and keep refrigerated until baking, Greenspan says, adding that she doesn't advocate freezing already-baked cookies.

``Don't be in a rush when you make cookies,'' says Greenspan, who spent three years writing and testing recipes for this latest volume, her ninth cookbook. For best heat circulation, don't crowd cookies on the baking sheets or the pans in the oven.

``The Lenox almond biscotti has become my favorite gift cookie,'' Greenspan says, adding that the recipe came from Tony Fortuna, the owner of Lenox restaurant in New York City. ``I stopped making any other almond biscotti. These pack up nicely, are delicious and look pretty wrapped up in a glass, coffee mug or tin for holiday gifts.

``Baking is not difficult. The more you do it, the better you get at it,'' she says. ``In many ways, I think it is less difficult than cooking because a baking recipe is precise and easy-to-follow. If you follow recipes, you are pretty much guaranteed to come out with something good.''

Natalie Haughton, (818) 713-3692

natalie.haughton@dailynews.com

FRUITCAKE COOKIES

1/2 pound dried figs

1/4 pound raisins

1/4 pound candied coarsely chopped cherries

1 tablespoon honey

2 tablespoons dry sherry

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

6 ounces chopped walnuts

Kosher salt

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 cup superfine sugar

1/3 cup packed light brown sugar

1 extra-large egg

2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

Snip off hard stems of figs with scissors or a small knife and coarsely chop figs. In a medium bowl, combine figs, raisins, cherries, honey, sherry, lemon juice, walnuts and a pinch of salt. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit overnight at room temperature.

In bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter, cloves, superfine sugar and brown sugar on medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. With mixer on low speed, add egg and mix until incorporated. With mixer still on low, slowly add flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt and mix just until combined. Don't overmix. Add fruits and nuts, including any liquid in the bowl. Divide dough in half and place each half on the long edge of a 12x18-inch piece of parchment or wax paper. Roll each half into an 18-inch-long log, 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 inches thick. Refrigerate dough for several hours, or until firm.

With a small, sharp knife, cut logs into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place slices 1/2-inch apart on ungreased sheet pans. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly golden.

Makes 5 dozen small cookies

NOTE: Many don't like fruitcake, but they love these delicious cookies.

From ``Barefoot Contessa at Home, Everyday Recipes You'll Make Over and Over Again,'' by Ina Garten.

LENOX ALMOND BISCOTTI

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup yellow cornmeal

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup sugar

2 large eggs

1 1/2 teaspoons pure almond extract

3/4 cup sliced almonds, blanched OR unblanched

Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat. Whisk flour, baking powder and salt together. Add cornmeal and whisk again to blend.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat butter and sugar together at medium speed 3 minutes, until very smooth. Add eggs and continue to beat, scraping down the bowl as needed, another 2 minutes, or until mixture is light, smooth and creamy. Beat in almond extract. Reduce mixer speed to low and add dry ingredients, mixing only until incorporated. You'll have a soft, stick-to-your-fingers dough that will ball up around the paddle or beaters. Scrape down paddle and bowl, toss in almonds and mix just to blend.

Scrape half of dough onto one side of the baking sheet. Using your fingers and a rubber spatula or scraper, work dough into a log about 12 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. The log will be more rectangular than domed, and it will be bumpy, rough and uneven. Form a second log with remaining dough on other side of baking sheet.

Bake in center of a preheated 350-degree oven 15 minutes, or until logs are lightly golden but still soft and springy to touch. Transfer baking sheet to a rack and cool logs on the baking sheet 30 minutes.

If you turned off oven, bring it back up to 350 degrees. Using a wide metal spatula, transfer logs to a cutting board and, with a long serrated knife, trim ends and cut logs into 3/4-inch-thick slices. Return slices to baking sheet -- this time standing them up like a marching band -- and slide the sheet back into oven.

Bake the biscotti another 15 minutes, or until they are golden and firm. Transfer them to racks and cool to room temperature.

Makes about 30 cookies

From ``Baking, From My Home to Yours,'' by Dorie Greenspan.

DARK CHOCOLATE CANDY CANE CRACKLES

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1/3 cup packed light brown sugar

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

8 ounces candy canes OR hard peppermint candies, finely crushed

4 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) chocolate, chopped into chip-size bits (use chocolate with a minimum of 70 percent cocoa solids)

Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat, or lightly butter the baking sheet.

Combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk to combine. Combine butter and both kinds of sugar in a medium bowl; cream together until light and fluffy. Scrape down sides of bowl, add egg and vanilla; beat to combine. With mixer on low, spoon in dry ingredients; mix to combine. Add crushed candy and chocolate bits; mix until evenly incorporated.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place 3 inches apart on a baking sheet and flatten slightly. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven 10 to 12 minutes.

Remove sheet from oven and immediately use a metal spatula to neaten any edges where a piece of candy may have melted out. Let cookies cool for about 5 minutes on sheet. Transfer to a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

Makes about 4 dozen

From America's Dairy Farmers.

CRANBERRY OATMEAL BARS

3 cups rolled oats (regular oatmeal)

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup 1/4-inch pecan pieces

1 cup dried cranberries

1 teaspoon baking soda

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar

1 large egg

1 cup unsweetened applesauce

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

Spray a 9x13x2-inch pan with vegetable cooking spray and line bottom and sides with parchment or foil, then lightly spray.

Stir oats, flour, pecans, cranberries and baking soda together in a bowl. In a large mixing bowl, beat together butter and brown sugar with a large rubber spatula or fork. Beat in egg, then applesauce, cinnamon and ginger.

Stir in dry ingredients and scrape batter into prepared pan. Smooth top. Bake on a rack in middle of a preheated 350-degree oven about 25 minutes, or until firm when pressed with a fingertip. Cool in pan on a rack. Invert to a cutting board and peel off the paper. Use a ruler to cut into 2-inch bars.

Makes 24 (2-inch) bars

STORAGE: Keep bars between sheets of wax paper in a tin or plastic container with a tight-fitting cover.

From ``Perfect Light Desserts,'' by Nick Malgieri and David Joachim.

CHOCOLATE STAR GINGERSNAPS

1 cup packed brown sugar

3/4 cup shortening

1/4 cup molasses

1 egg

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 cup granulated sugar

48 chocolate star candies

In large bowl, beat brown sugar, shortening and molasses with electric mixer on medium speed until smooth, scraping bowl occasionally. Beat in egg until well-blended. On low speed, beat in flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon and cloves until well-combined, scraping bowl occasionally.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls; roll in granulated sugar and place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven 7 to 9 minutes, or until tops are cracked and edges are set. Immediately press 1 candy in center of each cookie. Cool 1 minute; remove from cookie sheets.

Makes 4 dozen cookies

From ``Pillsbury Baking,'' by the Pillsbury Editors. TIPS FOR COOKIE-BAKING

If making a lot of cookies for the holidays, buy ingredients such as butter, jelly, sugar, flour and nuts in bulk.

If giving lots of cookies for gifts, consider buying various size tins to pack them in.

Bake cookies with butter (unsalted preferred). Don't substitute margarine or other fats such as diet or light margarine or spreads or blends for butter -- they will not yield the same excellent flavor or texture.

Measure ingredients accurately for best results. Use glass or plastic liquid measuring cups (with markings on the side) for wet ingredients and metal or plastic cups (with a flat rim) for dry ingredients. Use measuring spoons for smaller ingredient amounts.

Check your baking powder and baking soda for freshness so they will leaven doughs properly. Most containers are marked with ``use by'' dates.

Use pure vanilla -- not imitation. Use egg size specified in a recipe -- as the wrong size can make a dough too wet or dry and affect the texture.

Avoid substituting one kind of sugar for another. Brown sugar contains more moisture than granulated and such a substitution may result in dense, wet cookies.

For even baking in the same amount of time, make all cookies on a baking sheet the same size and thickness. Leave room for spreading as recipe specifies.

For best baking results, use shiny, heavy-gauge aluminum cookie sheets with low or no sides. Avoid dark, black or insulated baking sheets -- they bake differently.

Preheat oven to desired temperature 10 to 20 minutes prior to baking. Use an oven thermometer to verify that your oven is baking at the proper temperature.

For easy cleanup and removal of cookies, line baking sheets with parchment paper, nonstick foil or silicone baking mats.

Always cool baking sheets between batches.

Cool cookies completely prior to storing. Store or pack soft and crisp cookies separately with sheets of waxed paper in between layers.

-- N.H.

CAPTION(S):

8 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- cover -- color) sweet greetings

Give the gift of holiday cookies from your kitchen

(2 -- color) DARK CHOCOLATE CANDY CANE CRACKLES

From America's Dairy Farmers

(3 -- color) LENOX ALMOND BISCOTTI

Photo by Alan Richardson from ''Baking From My Home to Yours,'' Houghton Mifflin Co.

(4 -- color) CHOCOLATE STAR GINGERSNAPS

From ''Pillsbury Baking,'' Wiley Publishing Inc.

(5 -- color) CRANBERRY OATMEAL BARS

Photo by Tom Eckerle from ''Perfect Light Desserts,'' William Morrow

(6 -- color) FRUITCAKE COOKIES

Photo by Quentin Bacon from ''Barefoot Contessa at Home, Everyday Recipes You'll Make Over and Over Again,'' Clarkson Potter/Publishers

(7 -- 8 -- color) no caption (cookie cutters)

Box:

TIPS FOR COOKIE-BAKING (see text)
COPYRIGHT 2006 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Recipe
Date:Dec 5, 2006
Words:2404
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