At our house, Christmas means Rosemary will be baking her wide variety of Christmas cookies that she only makes this time of year. Her Festive Cherrry-ettes (aka Thumbprint cookies) are a shortbread cookie, studded with a red cherry or fruit jam, that my Mom used to make, and are wildly popular amongst my siblings. Her rum balls are legendary, and the date and Rice Krispy snowballs with coconut are tops in my book. The sugar cookies are cut into Santas, Christmas trees, reindeer, bells and other seasonal shapes and decorated with a wide variety of red, green, pink and other colorful frostings along with decorative sugar crystals and nonpareils. Of course she makes gingerbread molasses cookies as well as toffee bars, date filled sour cream cookies, Baklava, chocolate brownies and a Greek almond crescent cookie known as Kourabiedes. Her brother Gary loves her divinity fudge, but that more a confection than an actual cookie.
Cookies, known as biscuits in England, can be crisp or chewy depending on how they are made. There are a numerous kinds of cookies, including drop cookies, formed from a soft dough that spreads out as it cooks (usually with chocolate chips and/or oatmeal), cut-out cookies which are made with a stiffer dough and which retain their shape while cooking such as sugar or butter cookies, hand-shaped cookies which are formed from refrigerated batters that are piped or molded, like ladyfingers or madeleines, bar cookies which are cut from a thin cake-like mass baked in a shallow pan like brownies and date or nut bars, and ice-box cookies which are sliced from a pre-made cylinder of dough stored in the refrigerator until ready to be baked.
The amount and type of fat one includes in their cookie recipe is one of the key determinants in the final texture of a cookie. While fat affects the richness and moistness of the final cookie, it also has an impact on the cookie’s suppleness. Butter melts are a lower temperature than shortening or margarine, allowing the cookie to spread out more before its protein and starches have set. In shortbread cookies, the 15% moisture content in butter is usually the only moisture included in these low-egg cookies, contributing to shortbread’s crumbly texture.
Normally pastry or all-purpose flours are used for cookies, however bread flour and cake flours are used in some instances where spreading is discouraged by their gluten content. For the most part, however, gluten development in cookies is not desirable as it tends to toughen the resulting product, although high protein content means more browning during baking. Low protein flours are often coupled with higher amounts of moisture in recipes, producing a puffed up cake-like cookie.
Peanut Butter CookiesFor the most part granulated sugar is used in cookies, although moist brown sugars help the dough to spread and confectionary sugar with its added cornstarch prevents spread and keeps the texture dry. Molasses and honey attract moisture from the air and keep cookies soft.
Eggs soften cookies and help then rise and stay pliable. When used, they provide the bulk of the moisture in the cookie and bind the flour particles together while cooking. Their fat and emulsifiers keep the cookie moist and rich.