On Sunday, my friend Stephanie hosted a cookie exchange. We've talked about it for years, but she took the bull by the horns last Christmas and now I hope it's here to stay. The idea is simple: everyone bakes 6 dozen cookies, then we get together for a potluck brunch and lay all the goodies out on the table to be admired. On their way out the door, each of us loads up a box with a variety of beautiful handmade cookies. There were chocolate orange stars and trees, iced snowflakes, sugar cookies with sprinkles, and Santa shortbreads. There were gingery molasses thins, pecan cakes dipped in powdered sugar and nut bars with dark and white chocolate (I brought those). There were buttery cookies with M&Ms! There are two kinds I can't name 'cause I haven't tasted them yet, but that's really only a matter of time. Minutes, actually.
Women used to spend the better part of December baking. I remember my grandmother, Peg Osburn, mailing carefully packed handmade cookies from Pennsylvania at Christmas. The box contained at least a dozen varieties, one of which was the time consuming but much appreciated springerle, an anise-flavoured cookie that was imprinted with a special mold. No wonder I have a hard time with keeping things simple: in my family, the more complicated the effort, the more love is being demonstrated. Unless the sheer enormity of all those cookies to roll, cut, and bake, and the pile of dishes and the mess that results turns you into a complete bitch.
Therefore, let's get real: find a few friends with good family recipes, make a simple cookie (bar cookies are the easiest) and get swapping!
Caramel Nut Bars with Cranberries and Chocolate
This recipe came out of tinkering with a Gourmet magazine pecan pie bar recipe.
3/4 C. Butter
2 C. Flour
1/2 C. Brown Sugar
1/2 t. Salt
2 C. Mixed Salted Nuts
1 C. Dried Cranberries
1/2 C. Butter
1 C. Brown Sugar
1/3 cup Honey
2 T. Cream
1 oz. Dark Chocolate
1 oz. White Chocolate
Preheat oven to 350°F. Cut 3/4 C. butter into 1/2-inch pieces. In a food processor process all ingredients until mixture begins to form small lumps. Sprinkle mixture into a 9x13 pan and press evenly onto bottom. Bake shortbread until golden, about 20 minutes.In a heavy saucepan melt 1/2 C. butter and stir in brown sugar, honey, and cream. Simmer mixture, stirring occasionally, 1 minute and stir in nuts and cranberries. Pour nut mixture over hot shortbread and spread evenly. Bake in middle of oven until bubbling, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven. Melt the chocolates separately and use a spoon to drizzle each over the bars. Cool completely in pan and cut into 32 bars.