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Food
It's time for vows, bows and cookie table wows

Thursday, April 03, 2003

By Arlene Burnett, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

There can't be a wedding without the bride and groom -- or the cookie table. At least not in Pittsburgh.

Wedding guests may not remember the maid of honor or the best man, but they'll remember the cookies. And the cookie table has established its presence at other spring and summer rituals, such as religious celebrations, graduations and bridal and baby showers.
 

Barb Pollack Firda of McKeesport sent Kitchen Mailbox two letters regarding her daughter's upcoming wedding and, of course, the cookie table. Here is an excerpt from her first letter: "I am in the planning stages of my daughter's wedding. I am focusing on the cookie table. Does anyone have any suggestions for cookies that are 'must-haves'? I'm also interested in a strawberry cookie. The cookie looks like a real strawberry."

 
 
Cookie-baking basics

Here are some cookie-baking tips from "The New Food Lover's Tipionary" by Sharon Tyler Herbst:

Never substitute diet or whipped margarine or anything labeled "spread." These ingredients have a low fat and high water content and if used could produce disastrous results.

Measure flour by stirring then spooning it lightly into a measuring cup and leveling off the top with the back of a dinner knife.

Most unbaked cookie doughs can be refrigerated for at least a week and frozen for up to 6 months. To freeze, form the dough into a log and double wrap it. Or, drop the dough onto plastic wrap and freeze until solid, then wrap in a freezer-proof plastic bag. To bake, set dough out at room temperature for 15 to 20 minutes or until it is soft enough to handle.

Shiny heavy-gauge aluminum baking sheets are good heat conductors and will produce the most evenly baked and browned cookies. Dark sheets absorb more oven heat and can cause cookies to overbrown or burn. Lining dark sheets with heavy-duty aluminum foil alleviates the problem. Insulated baking sheets are made of two sheets of aluminum with an air pocket between them; cookies may take 1 to 2 minutes longer to bake using these pans. If using glass baking pans, reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees.

The best place to bake cookies in the upper third of the oven.

Always let cookie sheets cool before placing more on the baking sheet.

In general, bar cookies are done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Store cookies in airtight containers. This prevents humidity from softening crisp cookies and air from drying soft cookies. (Don't store crisp and soft cookies in the same container or the crisp one will soften.)

Separate layers of decorated cookies, moist or sticky cookies with waxed paper or plastic wrap to prevent their sticking together. Note: We tried the new nonstick foil and it worked.

To freeze cookies, make sure they're wrapped airtight, either in freezer-weight plastic bags or foil, expelling as much air as possible. Rigid, plastic freezer containers may also be used and are especially good for delicate cookies. (If you are planning to freeze cookies, it's better to frost them after freezing and thawing.) Cookies can be frozen from 4 to 6 months, depending on the temperature and conditions in the freezer. Place a sheet of waxed paper or plastic wrap between cookie layers. Most baked cookies defrost at room temperature in 10 to 15 minutes.

Don't throw out those cookie crumbs. Sprinkle them over ice cream and puddings or freeze them until you have enough to make a cookie crumb crust for a pie or cheesecake.

   
 

In a second letter, Barb wrote, "I recently sent a request for cookies that are must-haves for a wedding reception. My sister brought home a few cookies/candies. All we know [is] these cookies are made with crushed Oreos (the baker won't divulge her recipe), but something has to hold it together, maybe cream cheese or peanut butter? They are made into 1-inch-diameter balls, then dipped in milk chocolate or white chocolate. These would be beautiful on the cookie table, as my daughter's colors are black and white. Does anyone have this recipe?"

At least 20 readers had the chocolate cookie recipe as well as the strawberry cookie Barb requested. Today we're featuring Strawberry Confections and the Coated Cookie Drops, plus four other cookie recipes sent in by our readers. All the cookies featured today are, in the words of Barb Pollack Firda, "must-haves" for a cookie table.

Strawberry Confections, sent in by Deb McGrogan of Richland, Wash., formerly of Oakdale, are no-bake cookies and easy to make. The "berry" is a mixture of strawberry gelatin, sweetened condensed milk, ground pecans and finely ground coconut (found at any cake and candy supply store). These cookies look spectacular on a cookie tray. They not only look like strawberries, they smell like strawberries! The recipe called for using green-dyed almonds as stems. We opted for green plastic stems found at a candy supply store.

Coated Cookie Drops, sent in by Linda Krupa of Johnstown, Cambria County, is also a no-bake cookie. It calls for only three ingredients: Oreos, cream cheese and dipping chocolate. The finely crushed cookies are mixed with softened cream cheese and rolled into balls. The balls are then dipped into melted milk chocolate or white chocolate. They are delectable!

Colorful Italian Sprinkle Cookies, contributed by Helen Leonetti of New Castle, Lawrence County, are delicate with subtle hints of lemon and almond. The cookies are dipped in a vanilla glaze, then rolled in nonpareils (jimmies) or colored sugar.

Vanilla Pretzel Cookies, sent in by Barbara Ceraso of McKees Rocks, are butter cookies shaped into pretzels and frosted with chocolate icing.

The Chocolate Mint Parfait Bars from Catherine Wojcik of Burgettstown, Washington County, are made with a fudge cake base. A creamy mint filling nestles between the cake and a chocolate icing.

Finally, Ray Shope of Ft. Walton Beach, Fla., sent us a recipe for Angel Kisses. They are similar to divinity but better; they're studded with chocolate bits and nuts.

All of our cookies today would make spectacular additions to any cookie table. We know: We sampled every cookie.

Strawberry Confections

  • 2 (3- ounce) packages straw- berry gelatin
  • 1 cup finely ground coconut, see note
  • 3/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup finely ground pecans
  • Red- and green-colored sugar

Mix gelatin, coconut, milk, vanilla and pecans. Chill for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Shape small amounts (about a teaspoon) into balls. Dip one end into green sugar. Roll remaining end and sides in red sugar, squeezing lightly to shape into a strawberry (grip the middle of the ball with three fingers and your thumb, gently press down and squeeze the ball into a slightly triangular shape). Place the plastic stem into the flat end of your strawberry.

Allow to dry on a baking sheet in the refrigerator overnight. Keep tightly covered in storage containers in refrigerator. Will retain shape and texture for long periods.

The yield depends on how large or small you make the strawberries. To make the cookies look more authentic, we made a mixture of small to medium and large strawberries. Our yield was 2 1/2 dozen.

Note: We purchased finely ground coconut at a candy and cake supply shop.


Coated Cookie Drops

  • 20-ounce package chocolate cream-filled chocolate cookies (Oreos)
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 15 ounces white candy coating
  • 12 ounces chocolate candy coating

Place cookies in a blender and process until finely crushed. Combine the cream cheese and crushed cookies until well mixed. Roll into 3/4-inch balls. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour.

In a small saucepan, double boiler or microwave, melt white candy coating, stirring until smooth. Dip half of the balls into white coating -- place on waxed paper to harden. Melt chocolate candy coating and repeat with remaining cookie balls. Drizzle white candies with chocolate coating and chocolate candies with white coating. Store in refrigerator.

Note: The yield is supposed to be about 7 1/2 dozen. We must have made our cookies larger, because our yield was 5 1/2 dozen.


Chocolate Mint Parfait Bars

First layer:

  • 1 box chocolate cake mix
  • 1/3 cup butter or margarine, softened
  • 1 egg

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 15-by-10-inch jellyroll pan.

In a large bowl, combine all first-layer ingredients and mix until crumbly. Press onto bottom of prepared pan. Bake 10 minutes. Cool.

Filling:

  • one 1/4-ounce envelope unflavored gelatin
  • 1/4 cup boiling water
  • 4 cups powdered sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup margarine or butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 2 to 3 drops green food coloring

    Dissolve gelatin in the boiling water; cool.

    In large bowl, combine the softened gelatin, 2 cups of the powdered sugar, margarine, shortening, extract and food coloring. Keep color light. Beat 1 minute at medium speed or until smooth and creamy. Blend in remaining 2 cups powdered sugar until smooth. Spread evenly over cooled pan crust.

    Frosting:

    • 6-ounce package semisweet chocolate chips (1 cup)
    • 3 tablespoons butter or margarine

    In a small saucepan, heat chocolate chips and margarine over low heat until chocolate melts, stirring constantly. Spread evenly over filling.

    Place tray in refrigerator until cookies are firm. Remove from refrigerator 20 minutes before cutting. Cut into 48 bars.


    Vanilla Pretzel Cookies

    • 2 cups sifted all purpose flour
    • 3/4 cup sifted confectioners' sugar
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 2 unbeaten egg whites
    • 2/3 cup butter, softened
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla

    Sift flour, sugar and salt together in a large bowl. Add egg whites, butter and vanilla and mix until blended.

    If desired, chill dough 1 hour for easier handling. Roll dough, using a rounded teaspoonful for each, into strips 9 inches long and 1/4-inch thick. Shape like pretzels. Place on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 15 to 18 minutes or until golden brown. While warm, roll in sifted confectioners' sugar. Or cool and frost.

    Vanilla Frosting

    • 1 tablespoon butter, softened
    • 1/2 cup sifted confectioners' sugar
    • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
    • 3 to 4 teaspoons cream (coffee cream or whole milk can be used)

    Combine butter, sugar and vanilla. Add the cream 1 tablespoon at a time until it reaches spreading consistency.

    For chocolate frosting, add 1/2 square unsweetened chocolate ( 1/2 ounce), melted and cooled.

    For Coffee Frosting, substitute coffee for cream.

    Note: We frosted the cookies with chocolate icing and used swirls of white icing to contrast.

    Yield: About 2 1/2 dozen cookies

    Angel Kisses

    • 2 egg whites
    • Pinch salt
    • 2/3 cup sugar
    • 1 cup pecans, chopped
    • 1 cup miniature chocolate chips (we used semisweet)
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla

    Beat egg whites until stiff while adding salt and sugar slowly. When egg whites are very stiff, add nuts, chocolate chips and vanilla.

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Drop batter by teaspoonfuls on a buttered cookie sheet. Turn off oven, place cookies in oven overnight, or until oven cools completely.

    Makes about 4 dozen, depending on size.


    Italian Sprinkle Cookies

    • 6 eggs
    • 5 cups flour
    • 2 cups powdered sugar
    • 2 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
    • 1 cup shortening, melted and cooled
    • 1 teaspoon almond extract
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon extract

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

    Beat eggs at high speed for 5 minutes until light and foamy.

    In another bowl sift together flour, sugar and baking powder. Gradually add shortening and extracts. Gradually add beaten eggs (dough will be stiff). Roll dough into 1-inch balls.

    Bake on ungreased baking sheets for 12 minutes. Place cookies on wire rack. Dip cookies into glaze then roll in sprinkles or colored sugar.

    Glaze

    • 4 cups powdered sugar
    • 1/4 cup milk

    Mix with milk. Add additional milk 1 tablespoon at a time as needed. The glaze should be thin enough to dip the cookies.

    Dip cookies into glaze remove with slotted spoon roll in colored sugar or sprinkles.

    Makes about 5 1/2 dozen cookies.

    If you want to answer a recipe request from a reader or are looking for a recipe yourself, please write to Kitchen Mailbox, c/o Arlene Burnett, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh 15222, or e-mail to aburnett@post-gazette.com. Please include a name, neighborhood/city-/borough/township and state and a daytime phone number on all correspondence.


    Correction/Clarification: (Published April 10, 2003) In last week's recipe for Chocolate Mint Parfait Bars, the amount of unflavored gelatin was incorrect. It is one 1/4-ounce package.

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