Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Cookies - Holiday Icebox Cookies

Well here it is, the final installment in my Christmas Cookies series -  a couple of days late because of some car trouble and then a corrupted SD card (this entry might be light on photos)! Today's recipe is Martha Stewart's Holiday Icebox Cookies. According to Martha, Icebox Cookies are really just fancy sugar cookies. According to me they are fancy sugar cookies that require a crazy amount of effort.

Ingredients:1 1/2 cups butter
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, plus an extra egg white for "glue"
3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
5 cups flour, plus more for work surface
2/3 cup milk
1/4 cup cocoa powder
Food coloring, in various colors

Directions:Using an electric mixer, mix the butter and the sugar until creamy. Add the eggs and the salt, and mix well. Beat in milk and vanilla. Don't be worried if your dough looks terrible at this point. I thought my milk might have turned based on the consistency. This picture is kind of dark but will give you something to reference should you try these.

Add flour a little at a time, mixing it in until all of it has been incorporated.

Divide the dough into balls, one for each color. For chocolate dough, add cocoa (1/4 cup is enough to flavor half a batch). Mix well with electric mixer. For colored dough, start with 1/4 teaspoon food coloring, and mix well. Add more in tiny amounts for darker colors. Gel-paste coloring can be intense, so add it gradually.
Wrap each ball of dough in its own sheet of plastic wrap; pat flat into a rectangle. Refrigerate at least one hour or until ready to use. While you could make any number of colours, I decided to make only three colours of dough because this recipe was already starting to get a little complicated for my liking. You'll see in the picture below that my red dough really looks more like pink. This is because I didn't want to add too much food colouring which would ruin the flavour of the cookies. The good news is that the dough will darken a bit once baked.

After you've refrigerated for an hour set up your work surface with parchment or waxed paper. Sprinkle generously with flour, then roll out each piece of dough 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick to make the swirls; you can use thicker layers for the bull's-eyes. A bench scraper (I don't even know what a bench scraper is. I used a knife and my fingers to complete all of these steps) is a good tool for trimming dough's edges to make them even. The egg white, brushed on with a pastry brush, will act as a glue, making the layers stick together.

To make a bullseye, for center, with your hands, roll chocolate dough into a 1/2- to 1 1/2- inch-thick rod; chill 20 minutes. Place rod on edge of rolled-out dough that's been brushed with egg white. Roll rod inside sheet of dough. Cut the dough where it meets up. Seal by pinching and pressing gently. Chill 20 minutes, then repeat to add other layers. I did not wait 20 minutes in between adding layers because I just didn't have that kind of time to devote. So my end result is probably not as pretty as it might have been but who has an entire day to spend making a single batch of cookies?!

For spirals, measure and trim two or more colors of dough to same size. Brush on egg white, then stack layers. Brush top with egg white. Starting at one end, roll up the dough. Smooth and straighten the layers as you roll them so there are no gaps, then gently pinch and press the edge of the roll to seal it.

I had intended to take pictures throughout these steps but couldn't because I was literally covered in dough. Martha says that this is an easy recipe for children to help with but I couldn't agree less! I struggled with getting the dough rolled and stacked and rerolled and I just can't see that a child would fare any better than I did.

Roll each log in parchment or waxed paper; twist the ends of the paper closed. To help the logs keep their round shape, set each in a cardboard paper-towel roll that you have sliced open lengthwise. I ended up with about 12 different logs so in order to have enough paper towel rolls on hand you'd need to know you were making this recipe well in advance. To remember what colors you have already used, with crayons, draw the designs onto key tags; tie the tags onto the paper covering the logs. I used plastic wrap to cover my logs so this step wasn't really necessary. Chill logs until they are solid, about 1 1/2 hours.

At this point I was so sick of this recipe. Between mixing all the different colours of dough and chilling for two separate intervals I had spent over three hours working on these cookies and they weren't even near finished!

Cut 15 inches of dental floss (or double thickness of thread). Let log soften for about 10 minutes. Remove parchment. Wrap floss around log and pull through. I just used a knife. Make the slices thin: 1/4 inch or less.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place slices on an ungreased baking sheet (lined with parchment paper) and bake 12 to 15 minutes, until firm but not browned. Let cool on baking sheet for several minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.

If you haven't discerned it by now, I thought these cookies were a ton of work. Yes, they are pretty and yes they made a nice addition to my platters this year but, all told, they took about 4 hours to make. Even worse, they didn't really taste that great. They weren't bad but there was definitely nothing special about them and I've made better sugar cookies for Christmases past. Normally Martha can do no wrong in my eyes but this is a recipe that I will not be making again.

And that's it for this year's Christmas Cookies. I hope you've enjoyed reading about my experiences with these recipes. I know our colleagues enjoyed eating everything!

I'll be back with one more entry tomorrow and then I'll be going on a bit of a Christmas hiatus. Details tomorrow!

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