I love making food presents to gift my dear friends as the year ends. I've made caramelized nuts, all-purpose seasoning salt and cakes galore. This year I'm going for cookies. You, too, can make these recipes for a cookie exchange or as a gift. Look for small, airtight, holiday decorated canisters, or pile them into a food-safe cellophane bag and tie them up with a holiday ribbon.
In Cynthia Graubart's book, "Sunday Suppers: Sunday Suppers: Simple, Delicious Menus for Family Gatherings" (Southern Living, $27.99), I eyed a truly Seriously Simple cookie that reminds me of Parisian peach melba sundae in the form of a shortbread cookie. I also think the book would make a lovely holiday gift for the fruit and dessert lover on your list, as it is full of wonderful menu ideas.
My own part candy bar, part cookie holiday confection is loaded with fruit, nuts and chocolate. They are fantastic on a holiday dessert buffet table and are also just right, cut into small squares, and given as holiday gifts. These can be made a couple of days ahead and will keep beautifully because there is so much moisture in the hydrated dry fruit and chocolate. Happy cookie baking!
Cynthia Graubart's Peach Melba Shortbread Bars
Makes 1 1/2 to 2 dozen bars
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold butter
1 cup peach preserves
6 teaspoons raspberry preserves
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Combine the flour, sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry blender until crumbly. Reserve 1 cup flour mixture.
2. Lightly grease an 11-inch-by-7-inch pan or a 9-inch square pan. Press remaining flour mixture onto bottom of prepared pan.
3. Bake at 350 F for 25 to 30 minutes or until lightly browned.
4. Spread peach preserves over crust in pan. Dollop raspberry preserves by 1/2 teaspoonfuls over peach preserves. Sprinkle reserved 1 cup flour mixture over preserves. Sprinkle with almonds.
5. Bake at 350 F for 35 to 40 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool 1 hour on a wire rack. Cut into bars.
Diane's Dried Fruit and Chocolate Bar Cookies
Makes 30 (2-inch-by-2-inch) bars or 60 bite-size pieces
1 1/4 cups chopped dried apricots
1 1/4 cups dried cranberries
2 cups boiling water
1 cup chopped walnuts
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), at room temperature
2 cups baking sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
4 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped
1. Place the dried fruit in a heatproof bowl, and pour over the boiling water making sure to cover the fruit. Infuse for 30 minutes. Then drain well. Reserve.
2. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Toast the walnuts on a baking sheet for about 7 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool. Don't turn the oven off.
3. Butter and flour a 17-inch-by-12-inch-by-1-inch baking pan. (It is sometimes called a jellyroll pan.)
4. Combine together the flour, baking soda, salt and pumpkin pie spice onto a large sheet of waxed paper. Add the walnuts. Mix with a fork. Set aside.
5. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Gradually add the sugar, continuing to beat until very light. Add the eggs one at a time, beating each one in well before adding the next. Add the vanilla, and mix again.
6. With the mixer on low speed, beat in the flour mixture along with the dried fruit beating until the batter is just mixed. Add the chocolate pieces, and carefully blend into the mixture.
7. Evenly spread the batter onto the baking pan, and bake for about 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out almost clean and the top is golden brown. Let cool at least an hour. Cut into squares, and serve.
Advance preparation: May be prepared up to two days ahead, covered well and kept at room temperature.
The clever cook could vary the dried fruits and nuts, or serve these desserts in small paper cups as a petit four after dinner.
Art courtesy of "Sunday Suppers: Simple, Delicious Menus for Family Gatherings" by Cynthia Graubart (Southern Living, $27.99).
(Diane Rossen Worthington is an authority on new American cooking. She is the author of 18 cookbooks, including "Seriously Simple Parties," and a James Beard Award-winning radio show host. You can contact her at www.seriouslysimple.com.)