Holiday Baking Day 1 – the “Angel” Cookies

Yes, I bake early and freeze my treats.  I realize this is anathema to some baking and foodie purists, but I like to have goodies on hand when people call to stop by for a visit– an event whose occurrence increases by an order of magnitude during the last month of the year!  I’ll bake many dozens of cookies, cook several pounds of toffee and peanut butter fudge in anticipation of the holiday onslaught.  The goodies also become holiday trays for our friends, thank-you boxes for Ken’s violin, riding and art instructors and, of course, home snacks and (part of) Christmas dessert.  I’ve found this is the least stressful and most fun way to bake, decorate and assemble my goodies.

This year I have high hopes of making a new turtle cookie I saw on Pinterest and my mom’s anise puffs (they sit out overnight before baking).  I’m also aiming for my own Italian torrone (nougat) sandwiched between thin sheets of edible rice paper– a confection that will appeal to me, Grace and my mother as is, and to the rest of the crew when dipped in chocolate.  Much of my hopes hang upon our having cold, clear days here in Northern Virginia so the egg whites don’t collapse.

Of course, this is my family, so there is always a list of “must-haves.”  Grace likes the sugar cookies, but without frosting, unless it’s royal icing because she likes her sugar cookies crunchy.  She also has a penchant for a cookie made primarily of powdered sugar, ground walnuts and butter– aka Russian Tea Cakes, Mexican Wedding Cookies, Greek Kourabiedes.  My recipe is from the book Christmas 101, so I call them what the book calls them “Nutty Angel Fingers.”  (Evidently, I have been fooling her all these years; as part of the lobbying over the Christmas menu,  she mentioned she only likes the pecan version of these cookies.  I told her I have never made them with pecans; I use walnuts because Kurt likes these cookies better with walnuts).

My son asked for the Molasses Cookies and “the recipe from my cookbook from Grandma– the ones with the Hershey Kiss in the middle.”  Really– the peanut butter blossoms?  They are so quotidian, but I guess for Ken they’re the fancy version of my regular peanut butter chocolate chip cookies…  My mom is easy; she’s addicted to the amaretti cookies (and will be pleasantly surprised if I can pull off the anise puffs).

When I asked Kurt what he wanted in the cookie realm, he gave me the usual “You know I’m not a sweets person  (translate:  I like cakes better than cookies, are we going to have a cake?), but the Molasses Cookies are good because my dad, Ken and I all like them.”  He’s so boring sometimes.  When I told him about my dismay over the very ordinary peanut butter blossoms, he said, “Oh, yeah, I LOVE those!”  So much for the non-sweets person.

Today I’m making the “angel” cookies.  I’m trying to decide if the “angel” designation comes from the use of pecans (what’s angelic about pecans?) because that’s the only common denominator (besides being baked) between these two recipes.  The first recipe is the “nutty angel fingers.”  I usually add another 1/2 cup of ground nuts, but that’s up to you.  Although the book is a slim paperback, it’s full of good recipes; my family has been happy with everything I’ve made from it.  The second recipe is from an old stand-by, the Joy of Cooking.  If you don’t have this cook book, you should buy it.  I wish I had held onto my mom’s copy from the 50’s; the newer copies don’t have the same recipes (and my mom had some handwritten ones in hers).  The recipe is called “Angel Slices”; I double the recipe because I have an 12×18 pan.  I also omit the coconut (Kurt has an aversion to the texture), replacing it with more pecans; the recipe says to go from 1 to 1 1/2 cups, but I do 2 cups.  I also up the vanilla for both the cookie base and the topping.  Lastly, I refuse to frost them with the powdered sugar/lemon glaze, so I’m not even including it here. (Lemon and pecans– ick, even for me).  If you glaze them, let me know what you thought!  Note: I made double batches of each cookie, so don’t be alarmed if you notice a difference in the quantity of ingredients!

Nutty Angel Fingers adapted from Christmas 101, makes 3 dozen

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 6 TB (or 1/3 c plus 1 TB) powdered sugar, plus an additional 1 c for rolling the warm cookies
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 c AP flour
  • 2 c (8 oz) finely chopped pecans or walnuts (I use closer to 2 1/2 cups and use a Cuisinart to get very small, almost ground nuts)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  I always bake at least two racks of cookies at one time, so I use the convection setting.  If you don’t have a convection oven, separate the two racks (e.g., top half, lower half).  Also, you will need to switch them up and down and turn them front to back halfway through the baking time– a total inconvenience (which is why one of my two wall ovens became a convection oven when we did our kitchen reno).

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper– this has become a standard procedure for my cookie baking after my sugar cookie fiasco as I described in a previous post.

Cream the butter and the sugar.

Cream 'til smooth.

Cream ’til smooth.

Add the vanilla extract.

Lots of vanilla!

Lots of vanilla!

Stir in the flour with a wooden spoon.  This is fairly easy to do.

Mix in with a wooden spoon; a mixer will toughen the dough too much

Mix in with a wooden spoon; a mixer will toughen the dough too much

Stir in the ground nuts.  This is harder to do, especially if you’re doing a double recipe, like I am here.

I should have used a bigger bowl!

I should have used a bigger bowl!

Now the fun part.  Using a small cookie scoop (again, another standard procedure for my baking to ensure the cookies bake evenly and are the same size), scoop out a ball of dough.

I love these little spring-loaded scoops!

I love these little spring-loaded scoops!

Using the palm of your hand, shape it into a log.

Roll the ball in your hands into a little log.

Roll the ball in your hands into a little log.

Place the log on the parchment-lined (notice I reiterated the use of parchment paper– I have reusable thin silicone sheets).

Many more dozens to go…

Repeat ’til the both baking sheets are fully loaded, spacing cookies about 1 inch apart.

I think that's 2 dozen...

I think that’s 2 dozen…

Bake the cookies for 20 minutes, doing the turn thing if you don’t have a convection oven, after 10 minutes.  The cookies should be a  light brown.  I’ve gone over on this and they still taste great, but watch them anyway.

They must be browned or they crumble...

They must be browned or they crumble…

While they’re baking, put 1 cup of powdered sugar into a bowl or other shallow container.  Let the cookies rest on the baking sheets for 5 minutes or until cool enough to handle, then roll in the powdered sugar.

Cookies should still be warm.

Cookies should still be warm.

Place them on a cookie rack to finish cooling.  Don’t worry if they aren’t fully covered in powdered sugar; you are going to re-roll them before serving.

The cookies must be thoroughly cool before you store them.

The cookies must be thoroughly cool before you store them.

I freeze mine after the first roll and re-roll them again once they’ve come to room temperature.

Re-roll in powdered sugar before serving!

Re-roll in powdered sugar before serving!

Angel Slices adapted from the Joy of Cooking, about 4 dozen bars

for the cookie base:

  • 1/2 c butter
  • 1/4 c sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/4 sifted AP flour (I don’t bother with sifting)
  • 1/8 tsp salt

for the pecan layer:

  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 1 1/2 c light brown sugar
  • 2 c chopped pecan meats (I chop mine fairly small)
  • 2 TB AP flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 9×13 pan with cooking spray.  In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and salt.  Set aside.  In a medium mixing bowl, cream the sugar and butter.  I creamed by hand with a wooden spoon because my beaters were buried underneath a pile of bowls and equipment from the first cookie recipe.  Old-fashioned ingenuity or laziness?

I've read the texture of the dough is better when you cream by hand...but I've never tested that!

I’ve read the texture of the dough is better when you cream by hand…but I’ve never tested that!

Add the egg and vanilla; beat well ’til egg is fully incorporated.

The dough appears to curdle, but keep beating it with that spoon and it will all come together!

The dough appears to curdle, but keep beating it with that spoon and it will all come together!

Gradually add the flour mixture until combined.

This is a very soft dough.

This is a very soft dough.

Pat the dough into the prepared pan.

The base is fairly thin; I floured my hands to prevent the dough from sticking to my fingers.

The base is fairly thin; I floured my hands to prevent the dough from sticking to my fingers.

Bake for 15 minutes.  While the base is cooling, prepare the topping as follows:

Whisk together the eggs and brown sugar.

Whisk until all the lumps of sugar are dissolved; the mixture may get a little foamy.

Whisk until all the lumps of sugar are dissolved; the mixture may get a little foamy.

Whisk in the flour, baking powder, salt and vanilla.

Whisk these in briefly.

Whisk these in briefly.

Stir in the chopped pecans.

Yum-- kinda looks like pecan pie filling...

Yum– kinda looks like pecan pie filling…

Pour over the warm crust and return to the oven to bake another 25 minutes.

Make sure the topping is evenly distributed over the base; I use a rubber spatula to help.

Make sure the topping is evenly distributed over the base; I use a rubber spatula to help.

Cool and cut into 1 x 2 inch bars.

I cut them into 1 inch by 2 inch slices.

I cut them into 1 inch by 2 inch slices.

Afterthoughts:  How the Angel Slices compare to the Pecan Pie Bars (previous post)

The Angel Slices have eggs, a little flour and baking powder in the topping, so you get a very soft, chewy bite.  I think Kurt actually prefers these to the new Pecan Pie Bars– which he says are harder and more difficult on his teeth.  Well, I say he has bad teeth!  I love the new Pecan Pie Bars because, as I posted, they are not really like pecan pie– they’re more like praline.  A little harder, but I love that sticky Texas praline candy taste that you get from the topping that is primarily  pecans, sugar, cream and butter– the requisite praline ingredients!  So try them both and decide for yourself.

Tomorrow I think I’ll tackle my toffee if the skies are clear…

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Filed under Baked Goods, Cookies and Bars, Desserts, Family, Food, Friends

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