Today’s Recipes: Panettone Biscotti and Cinnamon Stars (Gluten-Free)
The holidays are my favorite time of year. I love the crisp days and cold nights, the holiday music, and the excitement in the air! I become a child again, and yes, I do believe in Santa Claus! That jolly old elf always brings the magical Spirit of Christmas to our household! And his little assistant, Elfie sits in our tree, keeping an eye on all of us to make sure we are behaving. So far, so good – I’ve haven’t gotten a stocking of coal yet!
Today starts a whole week of holiday cookie recipes sure to become annual traditions. I’ve assembled a selection to cover a wide variety of tastes. There are cinnamon, Italian, oatmeal, and coconut cookies, Chocolate pinwheels, shortbreads, bar cookies, and the best old-fashioned sugar cookies you’ve ever tasted. If you make all of these, you will have a beautiful display guaranteed to dazzle everyone lucky enough to join you this season. So put on your baking cap and let’s get into the kitchen!
The Panettone Biscotti (pan-eh-tone-ay biss-co-tay) are a take off on a traditional Italian cookie made with olive oil that my husband remembers eating as a child. I really should start calling him the Cookie Hound because he craves cookies and will go miles out of his way to find good ones. The other Italian treat that he loves is Panettone (a type of fruit bread) and he waits impatiently all year long for them to arrive in the local bakeries.
A few weeks ago he asked me to make him cookies using some candied citrus peels I had on hand. When he mentioned the olive oil cookies of his youth, I put two and two together and decided to make a Pantetone-flavored version. King Arthur Flour has a product called Fiori di Sicilia (fee-oh-ray dee sih-sill-ee-ah), a flavoring that is a cross between vanilla and citrus. It is the secret behind the flavor of Panettone! So, armed with an olive oil cookie recipe, the candied peels, and the Fiori di Sicilia, I went to work creating a new masterpiece in my kitchen, LOL!
I finely chopped the fruit peels in the food processor. I mixed up the dough, tossed in the fruits and some pecans. We baked off half the batch, froze the rest of the dough, and took some cookies to my father-in-law for a taste test. He declared them a success! The second half of the batch made their debut at a dinner party we threw recently and James received a standing ovation for baking them! Everyone asked when they would be up on my blog – it’s the new way of sharing recipes. Lightly sweet and crunchy, these cookies have a consistency similar to biscotti with the flavors of Panettone. I served them alongside vanilla ice cream and my homemade caramel sauce. They are so good that I now have to keep a supply of the candied peels on hand in case he gets a craving, LOL.
The Cinnamon Stars are a classic German Christmas cookie called Zimtsterne. German households start baking them as soon as St. Nicholas’ Day (December 6) arrives. They are like a cross between a macaroon and a meringue, with a hint of nutty spiciness. We find them truly addictive. While they can keep for a long time, their texture changes and they’ll get chewier as time passes.
Traditionally made with cinnamon, you could change the spices if you like – all ginger, a mix of cardamom and nutmeg, or maybe a spice blend of cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and mace. Just keep the total amount the same and have fun experimenting!
These gluten-free cookies are a wonderful addition to a platter of cookies and perfect for those who are gluten-sensitive. If you add these, coconut macaroons, and clusters made with rice cereal to your selection, everyone will have a treat they can enjoy!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
Making holiday cookies can bring you great joy or be a dismal chore depending on how well prepared you are. Make sure you have all your ingredients on hand and anything that needs to be cut, chopped or otherwise prepared is ready to go before you start. I like to print out copies of my recipes and tape them to my cupboard doors so I can read them easily while working. Most doughs can be made weeks ahead and stored in the freezer. Form them into logs for easy slice and bake cookies, or roll them out into sheets ready for cookie cutters. Write the baking instructions on a piece of parchment wrapped around the dough then wrap the whole package tightly with plastic wrap.
Put on fun holiday music, think of the delight on the faces of everyone who is getting your cookies, and your day of baking will be full of happiness!
Kitchen Skill: Rolling Cookie Dough
Why: To get even dough without all the hassle
How: When preparing for rolled cookie dough, clear off a large surface and set up your tools. You’ll need a large rolling pin, extra flour or powdered sugar to help with sticking, decorator sugars or icing (if using) and cookie cutters.
With a soft dough like the Cinnamon Stars, rolling it out between sheets of parchment will save you a lot of frustration and clean up. Make sure both sides of the dough are dusted with powdered sugar before rolling.
If you are working with a butter dough, keeping it cool will help tremendously. If the dough starts to get sticky and hard to work with, pop it back in the refrigerator for a few minutes to firm up again. If the dough is too hard to roll out, let it sit at room temperature for a few minutes to soften.
Expect to make a mess, wear close-toed shoes, and have fun … Remember, you are creating memories that last a lifetime!
- 1 cup “European Candied Mixed Peel” from King Arthur Flour or mixed candied lemon, orange, and citron fruit peels
- 3 cups pecans
- 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup light olive oil or vegetable oil
- 2 large eggs (or you can use egg substitute for a vegan cookie)
- 1/2 tsp Fiori di Sicilia or pure vanilla extract
- Turbinado or raw sugar crystals (use colored sugar or edible glitter for holiday sparkle!)
- In a food processor, finely chop the candied peels and/or fruits. Set aside. If you do not have food processor, chop very finely with a sharp knife.
- Do not clean processor bowl - add pecans and pulse a few times. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt. Process until nuts are finely chopped.
- In the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer combine sugar, oil, eggs, and flavoring. Mix on low speed until eggs are broken up and then increase to medium for about 30 seconds until smooth. Blend in the chopped fruit. Add the dry ingredients to the bowl and carefully mix on low until it just holds together, about 30 to 45 seconds. Do not overbeat.
- Transfer half of dough to a sheet of parchment paper. Using the paper to help you, form into a log about 12-inches long. Wrap with the parchment and twist the ends closed. Repeat with remaining dough. Place both logs in the freezer to firm up, for about 30 minutes to 1 hour. I like to flatten out the edges of the logs to make rectangular-shaped cookies. It adds a nice variety to the shapes on your holiday platter.
- Dough can be frozen for up to 1 month. Write baking directions on outside of parchment and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. These make wonderful hostess gifts!!
- When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350°F, with the racks set in the upper and lower thirds of oven.
- Roll the logs in the coarse or colored sugar, slice into 1/4-inch thick slices, and place on parchment or Silpat-lined baking sheets. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, switching oven racks (top to bottom/bottom to top) and spinning back to front halfway through baking. Bake until bottoms are golden brown and the tops feel fairly firm to the touch. They will get very little color on the top so watch carefully. You can also tell they are done when you can smell them baking - your nose can often tell before your eyes when baked goods are ready!
- Transfer to wire racks to cool. Store in an airtight container for up to a week ... as if they’ll last that long!
- Yield: about 4 dozen cookies
- 2-1/4 cups confectioner’s sugar, divided, plus more for rolling
- 15 oz sliced (not slivered) almonds (about 4-1/2 cups), divided
- 1-1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 3 large egg whites, at room temperature
- 2 tsp finely grated lemon zest (the yellow part only, no white!)
- Sift the confectioner’s sugar. Put 1/2 cup of the sifted sugar, 10 oz of the almonds (about 3 heaping cups) and the cinnamon in a food processor. Process until the nuts are finely ground, with just a few larger pieces.
- In a large, sparkling clean bowl with an electric mixer, whip the egg whites on high speed until they hold soft peaks, about 1 minute. With the motor running, gradually add the remaining 1-3/4 cups confectioner’s sugar, until the whites are thick, creamy and somewhat stiff, about 2 minutes more. Set aside 2/3 cup of this meringue for topping the cookies.
- Fold the ground almond mixture and the lemon zest into the remaining meringue to make a stiff dough.
- Preheat the oven to 250°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
- Lay a sheet of parchment or waxed paper on a work surface and lightly dust with confectioner’s sugar. Turn the dough out onto the dusted paper, flatten, dusting with more sugar as needed, and then lay another sheet of parchment or waxed paper on top. Roll the dough between the sheets of paper until it is about 1/4-inch thick. Flip the dough over and gently peel off the sheet of paper. Flip it back over and gently pull off the other side of the paper so that the dough is fully released from it. (This makes it much easier to get the cookies off the paper and onto the baking sheets.)
- Cut cookies with a 3-inch star cookie cutter and place about 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. If you like, you can use different sizes of stars for more variety. Re-roll extra dough and finish cutting out cookies. Use a small pastry brush to brush off any excess sugar.
- Use a small offset spatula or the back of a spoon to spread the reserved meringue over the top of each cookie, being careful not to let the meringue drip over the sides. Press sliced almonds into the meringue on the arms of the star (see photo above) or chop coarsely, sprinkle them loosely over the top, and gently press into the meringue. If you don’t have long fingernails, using a clean pair of tweezers can help you set the almond slices on the cookies cleanly and easily.
- Bake cookies until bottoms are light golden brown and meringue is set and crisp, about 30 minutes. Turn off the oven and open the oven door to release the heat and leave the cookies in the oven for 10 more minutes. Carefully transfer to a wire rack to fully cool. Store in an airtight container, layers separated by pieces of waxed or parchment paper.
- Yield: 24 cookies
- Make Ahead Tips: Rolled out dough can be frozen between the sheets of paper for up to 2 weeks wrapped tightly in plastic wrap. Store baked cookies in an airtight container for up to 10 days.
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