The Anachronistic Mom's
Holiday Cookies and Candy
Okay, I admit it.  I've always gone a little nuts over the holidays.  For years I held an "industry holiday party" here in the silicon valley.  I'd invite a lot of people from a lot of different companies, and I'd make all of the food myself.  Typically, I'd make about 30 types of cookies.  Yup. That's 30.  We overachieve here in the silicon valley. What can I say?

When my husband and I got together, we ended up with huge party lists.  Well... we're older now, and just like to hang out with people that we want to be around, so the parties are smaller.  Not sure how many cookies I'll make this year.  I used to cook for 3 weeks and this year, I'm giving it a week! 

Here are some of my favorite recipes and favorite cookbooks.  I'll type a couple of recipes in here, but I'll also just list the cookies that are my favorites from various cookbooks.

Cookies from 2003
Here's the list of cookies that I just made for our holiday party in 2003.  If I get time, I'll include the recipes.  The lemon bars and brownies were just OK, though.  Do you have a great recipe for either?  Please email me at 

lemon bars
5-spice walnuts
lime-pepito sugar cookies
sugar cookies
chocolate pepper cookies
jewel thumbprint cookies
mexican wedding cookies
pecan shortbread cookies

Hardly any!  I found my list from 1999, and I think that there were about 32 types of cookies on it!  Such fun to just put your head down and cook every single thing that seems even remotely interesting.  It's a bit weird.  I do it about one time a year and invite a bunch of kids over to make cookies with me. When I was growing up, my grandmother and a dear friend of hers would host me every year for a candy-making extravaganza. It was great fun. I loved it and learned a bunch.  It seems like a neat thing to pass on.  (You know what they say... once a 4-H leader, always a 4-H leader...!)

By the way -- I almost always lose weight during this time.  For one thing, I don't have a sweet tooth.  For another thing, few things are as sickening as whacking 30 pounds of butter down on your countertop and staring at it for a while.  Ugh.

Favorite Cookbooks
Martha Stewart's Christmas: Entertaining, Decorating, and Giving
Believe it or not, a Martha Stewart cookbook is my favorite!  Is that wierd, or what?  It was published in 1989. 

If you want this book, I'd recommend getting it used, because Lord knows how the recipes have changed in the new printings.  Cookies that I make every year from this cookbook include:

Jewel cookies (buttery thumbprints, very good recipe)
Pecan shortbread cookies (need I say more?)
Martha's sugar cookies, which have brandy in them (you roll them and cut them)
Chocolate pepper cookies (also roll and cut.  Furthermore, you can use egg white to layer cuts of sugar and chocolate dough on top of one another.  Cute.)
Vienna tarts, which look a bit like rugelah but are somewhat easier to make.  Cream cheese dough with no sugar, rolled into squares, filled with apricot jelly, folded over, rolled, baked, and then sprinkled with nuts and sugar.  (or do you put the nuts on before you bake?  beats me)

And that's all I'd recommend from that cookbook.  She does a lot of silly things with making cookies look like splatterware and using real gold leaf on cookies (yawn) and three's a recipe for cassoulet for 100 which looks mildly interesting, but these recipes are absolutely awesome and the others are not.

California Culinary Academy Cookies
This is a great cookbook.

Their Mexican Wedding Cookies are some of the best I've made.
The Butterscotch Saucepan Brownies are pretty good also.

Frankly, I have a LOT of cookie cookbooks, and I'm pretty disappointed with most of them.  Of course I don't have a sweet tooth and I don't really like chocolate, so I don't do the "ooooo, SUGAR!!" thing that many people do.  But I like to taste a good baked good when I see one.  Unfortunately, most are mediocre.  I think that this cookbook has one of the highest percentages of non-mediocre cookies that I've ever run into.

Rose's Christmas Cookies, by Rose Levy Berenbaum
A very nice cookbook.  Pictures at the bottom of the pages, and the cookies look good (for a change from many cookbooks).  Very good brownies, "everything but the kitchen sink" cookies, meringues, and so forth.

125 Cookies to Bake, Nibble, and Savor, by Elinor Klivans
Haven't made very many cookies out of this book, but I absolutely adore one. It's called swahili shorbread and it's incredibly easy (make it into rolls, refrigerate, slice, and cook) and extremely good (coconut shortbread.)  Different, too.  The recipes seem very good.

Kate's favorite holiday recipes

People say that you shouldn't give out your favorite recipes, but I don't buy that.  Enjoy.

Cookies and Bars

Katharine Hepburn's brownies
Very soft, wonderful flavor.

These are a lovely little danish spice/butter cookie.  These are formed into rolls as well, sliced thin, with 1/2 of an almond on top of each.  They are baked until crisp and are just lovely.

1 C butter
1 C sugar
4 C flour
1/2 C molasses
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp grated orange rind
almonds for decoration

Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy.  Mis the dry ingredients together, then add it to the butter, alternating with the molasses.  Make it into two rolls, cover with waxed paper, and place in the refrigerator for about 2 hours.  Cut the cookies very thin and decorate with 1/2 of a split blanched almond (unsalted).  Bake in 325 degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes.

If you have never made homemade candy, I would highly recommend it. And even if you use a thermometer (as you should), you should get a cup or short glass of cool water and practice learning the "stages" of cooking candy.  First is soft ball.  When you drip a teaspoonful of the candy into the glass, it will hold itself together and you can shape it into a ball.  Next is firm ball and then hard ball.  You can hit the ball against the side of the glass and it will make a tapping noise.  Next is soft crack and then hard crack.  Finally, the caramelized stage.

Here is a scarily designed site which EVENTUALLY tells you what you should know about candy and crystals.  Just remember a few things:  One sugar crystal in an entire pot of candy can turn the whole pot into one giant crystal (they grow like that, remember?)  So have everything clean, and make sure that you wipe down the sides of the pan with a brush as your candy cooks.  This makes sure that all of the sugar is, in fact, melted.

Peanut brittle
My favorite peanut brittle recipe was given to me by a nine year old, which is a profound compliment for a candy resipe! That nine year old was at Oxford the last time I checked. Or maybe working for a consulting company now?  The years go by fast.  At any rate the popcorn gives the brittle loft.  It's absolutely wonderful.

Before you start, butter a clean cookie sheet.

1.5 C unsalted roasted peanuts (dry roasted is fine)
1C coursely-crumbled popcorn (made with no oil)
1.5 C sugar
1/2 C corn syrup (light)
1/3 C water
3 Tbsp butter (no salt)
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract

Put nuts and crumbled popcorn on a cookie sheet in a 250 degrees oven for 5 minutes.  Then turn the oven off and leave them.  Cook sugar, corn syrup, and water.  As it heats, wipe down sugar crystals on the inside of the pot with a brush dipped in water.  Add butter as it cooks.  Boil to 310 degrees (over hard crack).  Immediately remove from heat.  Add salt, baking soda, and vanilla.  Then the peanuts and popcorn.  Pour it onto the buttered cookie sheet, fast, and use plastic spatulas to push it to the corners of the sheet, so that it's as thin as possible.  Store in an airtight container.