Faced with the term "hardcore," I'd venture to bet that very few of you out there in cyberland would conjure up the phrase "cookie swap" in turn, but then that's probably because most of you have never braved a -12º C blizzard complete with gusting winds (50-80 km/h), a wind chill of -24º C, and a stray lightning bolt (I kid you not) in order to deliver 6-dozen freshly baked praline cookies on foot and swap them for more freshly baked booty, before trudging back home through even more snow (and then, truth be told, continuing on to work [!]).
fig. a: special delivery
Okay, maybe "hardcore" is a bit of a stretch, but those conditions definitely made this year's holiday cookie swap more hardcore than any other cookie swap Michelle had ever attended. Good thing she's got a goose down parka and a trusty pair of Wookiee boots and she knows how to use them.
The praline cookies are a new fave recipe, perfect for those who like sugar cookies, nut cookies, pralines, or, better yet, all three. We found the recipe in Annie Somerville's Fields of Greens (a long-time fave), and it was only after Michelle had given the recipe the final OK that she noticed that Somerville had adapted it from Paula Peck's The Art of Fine Baking, a book we'd discovered just a few days earlier when our friend C. (who quite coincidentally was hosting today's cookie swap) brought her well-worn copy (a hand-me-down from her grandmother) over to help teach Michelle how to make real apple strudel.
fig. b: apple strudel by Paula Peck
Anyway, the recipe's a keeper, it has two parts, and it goes something like this...
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup water
1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
2 cups pecans**
Butter a baking sheet.
Stir the sugar, water, and lemon juice together in a medium-size saucepan, off the heat, until well blended. Cook the mixture over medium-low heat until the sugar has dissolved. When the liquid is clear, turn the heat up to medium-high. As the liquid bubbles, wash down the sides of the pan with a brush dipped in water. (This, along with the lemon juice, will help prevent the sugar from crystallizing.) Do not stir the mixture. After about 15 to 20 minutes it will begin to turn golden. At this point the liquid will darken quickly--in about 3 to 5 minutes--so watch it very carefully.
When it is golden brown, remove from the heat and stir in the nuts with a wooden spoon. Return to the heat and cook just until the caramel liquifies again, then pour onto the baking sheet and spread to a thin layer. When cool, chop by hand.
Makes 4 cups.
fig. c: freshly chopped freshly made praline
1/2 pound unsalted butter, softened
7 tbsp light brown sugar, packed
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups unbleached white flour
3/4 cup chopped praline (see recipe above)
Preheat the oven to 325º F. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and salt and mix again until they're fully incorporated. Add the flour and praline and mix until just combined.
Chill the dough until it is easy to work with, about 30 minutes. Roll the dough out to 1/4" thickness and cut it into shapes, or shape the dough into cylinders about 2 inches in diameter and slice into 1/4"-thick rounds.
Place the slices about 1 inch apart on an ungreased baking sheet (or a Silpat) and bake for 8-10 minutes, until lightly browned. The cookies keep well stored in a sealed container.
Makes 4 to 6 dozen cookies.
And the cookie swap? All eight of the other hardened cookie swappers also braved the elements, they all brought seriously choice cookies, and the event was a smash hit. The haul: rum balls, lemon-almond balls, chestnut thumbprints, chocolate macarons, chocolate chip, spoon cookies, oatcakes, macadamia nut, and peanut butter.
fig. d: the remains of the haul
* Apologies to Adam Kuban and Slice.
** You can substitute almonds or walnuts, if you prefer.