Whether or not you decide to use it on your toast every morning, one place you simply cannot skimp on the butter is in baking. Surely I know there are many lovely recipes that use applesauce or other butter substitutes. However, if you are making a beautiful, special dessert that you want to have a sublime taste, I believe you must must use butter (good butter at that). Oh and VERY important about baking with butter--if a recipe calls for softened butter, you really must not soften it in the microwave. If you can, take it out of the freezer/fridge ahead of time and set it on the counter. I read an article in the NY Times once about how the structure of butter changes if you melt it in the microwave. Unless the recipe calls for you to actually melt butter, try to resist the urge to soften it in the microwave.
So there is a point to all this butter talk. Recently, I've made some divine cookies. Rugelach for my book club and (gluten-free) Russian tea cakes for my roommate who cannot eat gluten. Both use loads of real butter and both are relatively easy to master. I hope you'll consider adding them to your holiday cookie repertoire. Here are some pictures and the recipes:
Rugelach [from Mollie Katzen's Enchanted Broccoli Forest]
(This is a Jewish cookie that often shows up around Christmas--this is my second year making them with this recipe and I love it! Instead of using cream cheese, Mollie Katzen uses cottage cheese which seems weird but tastes delicious. You won't even miss the cream cheese!! To make it a tiny bit healthier, I use a bit of whole wheat flour in addition to the white.)
For the dough:
- 1 cup (2 sticks butter), room temperature
- 1 cup cottage cheese
- 1 1/4 cup white four
- 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 cup minced nuts (I used a combo of almonds and walnuts)
- 1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, group to a coarse meal
1. Slice up butter into tiny pieces and place in a large bowl with the rest of the ingredients for the dough. [If you have a food processor, you could actually mix this up in it, but since I don't......] Mix the ingredients with an electric beater or a fork until it is somewhat smooth. Toward the end, I use my hands to get the butter worked in evenly.
2. Divide the dough into 4 equal parts and roll each into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and store in the fridge for at least an hour (you can keep it there overnight if you like).
3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix up the filling in a small bowl while you wait for dough to chill.
4. ***Work on one ball of dough at a time, leaving the others in the fridge while you work. Roll the dough out into a circle that is about a 1/4th an inch thick on a clean counter that is well-floured.
5. Sprinkle the filling all over the dough and then make 4 diagonal cuts in the dough so that you end up with 8 triangles. Working from outer edge to inner edge, roll each piece up and place on an ungreased cookie sheet.
6. Repeat with other dough and bake for about 25 minutes until the cookies are slightly browned, cool for 10 minutes before enjoying.
***Note: Alternatively, you could roll each dough ball into a rectangle and spread the filling. Then roll the dough up lengthwise into a log and slice pieces of cookie. I have made it both ways and although these pictures are for the latter version, I actually prefer the former. Something about the soft middle of the crescent shaped cookies makes me happy. But you should experiment for yourself and see which way you prefer!
This next recipe came from Living Without, a magazine for people with food allergies. Because the original recipe is dairy and nut-free, and my roommate is only allergic to gluten, I adapted it.
(Note: These are sometimes called Mexican Wedding Cakes, but growing up I always knew them as Russian Tea Cakes so I refer to them as that. Regardless of what you call them, they are delicious and one of my very favorite cookies!!)
- 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2/3 cup powdered sugar (plus about 1 cup more for decorating)
- 2 cups all purpose flour--if gluten free use a gluten-free all purpose mix
- 1 cup nuts, coarsely ground (I used walnuts, you could use pecans or almonds or a combo)
- 1 1/2 tsp. xanthan gum if gluten free
2. Cream butter and vanilla extract together with a metal spoon, mix until smooth. Add in the powdered sugar, flour, and nuts (and the xanthan gum if doing the gluten free version). Mix with your hands until just combined.
3. Roll into 1 inch balls and bake on ungreased cookie sheet for 10-12 minutes (until just slightly brown). Remove from oven and let cool for about 10 minutes. Place additional powdered sugar in a bowl and roll each ball in sugar until coated. Let stand for a few minutes and roll each ball in sugar once more.
Have fun with your holiday baking and don't forget to use real butter!