Free Range on Food: The annual holiday cookie issue

Dec 12, 2012

You've waited for it, and now it's here: The holiday cookie guide has more than two dozen sweet treats to try.
Every Wednesday at noon, Food section staff members and guests answer your burning culinary questions. Past Free Range on Food chats

Give us a C-O-O-K....which of the gallery of 26 looked most appealing to you today? Jane Touzalin did one heck of a job curating this year's collection; 15 of them are globally inspired. Welcome to an hour of cookie power here at Free Range. As you can see, we have a couple of aces up our sleeves today: pastry chef Josh "Meringue Angels" Short and Nancy "Au Naturel" Baggett. So ask all sorts of baking questions. Tim, Becky and Jason Wilson are on hand as well. 


The THREE chatters who ask the best questions could win either a signed copy of Nancy's "Simply Sensational Cookies" or "One Sweet Cookie" by Tracey Zabar or "The Daily Cookie" (now there's a concept!) by Anna Ginsberg. Announced at the end of the hour. 


It's crunch time! (In need of something savory? Try Carla Hall's Buffalo Wing Burgers, today's Dinner in Minutes.)

Great variety, super photos! My favorite parts were Jane's article about the juice-based colorings and Bonnie's collection of useful tips. The first recipe I'm planning to try: Sour Cherry Chocolate Oatmeal Sandwich Cookies (but several others are on my short list).

I thought this was hilarious! I laughed out loud several times while reading this story about the family gingerbread cookie recipe. I don't care what some snooty chefs say; I think hanging with Tim Carman would be a great time.

Thank you! Writing about family is a balancing act: You want to be honest, but you don't want to end up alienating anyone. Fortunately, my "bossy" sister has a great sense of humor: She tells me she loved the gingerbread cookie story


She could be lying, of course, which is so typical of bossy older sisters.

Follow up on last week's comments on how to store ginger. I peel and slice the root into medium sized pieces, then put them into a pickle jar filled with dry sherry. Just spear one or two and chop for stir fry, plus you have ginger infused sherry for the sauce (perfect substitute for Chinese cooking wine). Keeps indefinitely in the fridge. I suppose this wouldn't work as well for dessert-type uses of fresh ginger (although the sherry doesn't flavor the ginger much) but it does for anything I use it for. Probably would work for garlic cloves as well (maybe even in the same jar with the ginger) but I haven't tried that.

I have a recipe from the late '70s edition of the Joy of Cooking for Ginger Thins. THey are tiny, crisp ginger cookies, which the recipe specifies should be "about the diameter of a quarter when baked. They toughen if they are larger." They have the typical molasses ginger cookie ingredients. (Flour, butter, brown sugar, molasses, egg, soda, salt, spices.) I follow the recipe except that I increase the flour from 1.5 cups to 1 2/3 cups, and I increase the spices. The dough is very sticky so I always chill it before baking. They are really wonderful and addictive, and my family loves them. My problem is that each cookie uses only 1/8 tsp of dough, and they are a real pain in the #$% to get on the cookie sheet! I have tried rolling the dough into ropes and cutting tiny pieces, but this is no better than scooping with an 1/8 tsp measuring spoon and trying to get the sticky dough out of the spoon. Do you have any ideas for getting tiny portions onto the sheet efficiently?

They sound great, I love the zip of ginger. When I need to make small cookies I will either pipe them which it sounds like that is not an option or I use a small ice cream scoop. #100. It will save you time and sanity.

"Zimt" being the German word for cinnamon. The recipe looks delicious!


Ah, thanks. And a lot of cinnamon is certainly in these cookies! We have fixed this online. Recipe was one of my favorites this year. 

Hi Food Rangers, I know it's the cookie chat, but I just found out I'm pregnant (yay!) and our Christmas party is Saturday (also yay, but now there's an element of complication). We're not ready to reveal anything to our friends and family, but if I abstain completely they'll totally know. Do you have a mocktail recipe or three that'd help me keep my cover a little while longer? Thank you!

Congrats! Jason had a column on mocktails the other year. Read that and try Dark Invader

Dark Invader

and Folic Fizz.

Seems a little out of season, but you can also try the Pineapple Papaya Frosty and make yours with sparkling water.

Pineapple Papaya Frosty

Sparkling Limeade is another option.

I have several mocktail options.  There's also a book called Preggatinis by Natalie Bovis-Nelsen that's got good recipes, like the Salty Puppy (a Salty Dog with the usual grapefruit juice and salted rim but subbing tonic water for gin). The Dark Invader is my kids' favorite.

Is there a good place in DC or online to get pine nuts at an affordable price? I've collected enough recipes to try with them that I finally think it's worth picking some up. Thanks!

Warren Buffet-affordable, sure! In steering clear of some imported pine nuts, I've paid $15 for a smallish packet at Whole Foods and probably more per lb. than that when I go for the small jars of Italian pine nuts at larger grocery stores. You didn't mention how much you need -- is it more than a little?

Have made the jam twice and everyone loves it so I'm making more for Christmas gifts. Then, I got the wild idea today that I could make cookies with it. Found your recipe for Spicy Cheddar Thumbprint cookies and think that will work just fine. Going to try it, anyway!

Ghost Pepper-Pear Jam

I'm thrilled to hear that. The Ghost Pepper-Pear Jam was a hit here at the paper when we conducted an in-house taste test of super-hot peppers. (Some staffers apparently have iron tongues when it comes to eating ghost peppers raw.)


Please let us know how your Cheesy Ghost Thumbprint Cookies turn out!

Check out Asian supermarkets like Grand Mart or H Mart. They come in larger jars and are more affordable. Store them in the freezer to keep fresh.

Would rather not use Chinese ones; do you know where they are from?

Thanks for taking my question. I am traveling to Boston for Christmas, and need to bring a dessert. But I fly up Saturday and Christmas isn't until Tuesday. I was thinking of making a flourless chocolate cake (only chocolate, butter, and eggs,) which is fairly solid and would travel well. Will it hold for 4 days? I could refrigerate it on arrival and take it out Christmas morning to soften it up. Do you think that would work? Please advise! Thank you.

I think that is a great idea. That cake holds up well. You could also make a nice chantilly cream to go along with it (once you're there)  or add some candied orange zest.

Josh, I love the video on the Meringue Angels. What are some of your other favorite holiday sweets to make for The Hay-Adams? How about for your family? thanks!

Here at the Hay Adams we make a lot of holiday cookies and gingerbread. Today I made six gingerbread cakes that are filled with candied orange zest and brandy cherries.  At home I like to make fudge. It reminds me of home.

we live near a large Asian Market in the Baltimore suburbs, and their pine nuts are more reasonably priced than I've seen anywhere. I believe there's a slight difference between Chinese and Italian pine nuts, but I don't notice too much taste difference in, say, cookies.

I love your cookie recipes and was wondering if you considered printing them earlier? I do a lot of holiday baking and start right after Thanksgiving (9 different cookies this year - I have trouble editing myself lol) so by the time you print the holiday recipes I'm just about done. BTW, the Salty Chocolate Nutella Thumbprints and Lime Thai Basil Shortbread with Passion Fruit Glaze are my new favorites, with Chocolate Peppermint and Haute-Meal making the list again this year. I will definitely give the Oaxacan Chocolate a try. In any case, keep up the great work!

I hear you -- and I commend your excellent taste re previous cookies. (I like all the ones you do.) We might have published them a week earlier, but Jane had all that fruitcake she needed to get off her chest. That said, I don't think we'll be moving the annual cookie issue into November! 

Just can't let a cookie discussion go by without a tip of the hat to the best cookie recipe you ever published, the sesame thins from about five years ago. Everybody loves them and they can be made gluten-free by subbing GF flours for the 3 tablespoons of flour in the recipe.

I could really use some dinner suggestions. I'm having orthodonic work done and it causes my teeth to hurt so much that "chewing" anything firmer than (extremely) roasted potatoes is painful. I'm getting tired of pasta - any ideas for healthy, but soft, dinners?

How about soup? Can you do that? We have 50 healthful soup recipes in our database.

Get them at Trader Joe's. Not cheap, but better prices than anywhere else I have found.

Just FYI - the daily schedule in the right hand column is still from yesterday.

We have passed that along, and we're happy you found us! 

I've developed pine-nut mouth from nuts said to be from Russia and/or Korea. So just keep in mind that bad ones are not always from China.

Flour your knife!!! You could also try rolling the dough out between two things of parchment or wax paper and then checker-boarding the already-thin dough with your (frequently-refloured) knife.

I say "AMEN!" to the suggestion of printing the cookie section earlier. I also bake a lot of cookies, and as such, have to start early. I would love to have your recipes for the baking!

I spotted the flourless chocolate cake recipe in the sidebar -- this looks perfect for the just-us-two New Year's Eve my husband and I have planned! But it's a LOT of cake even for two dedicated chocoholics like us, so I have two questions: first, how long will it be good? And second, I have a 6" cake pan ... the recipe looks as though it will halve easily, but how do I estimate the cooking time? Thanks.

I would just make the whole cake and freeze the rest for later or make two six inch cakes. Have one for Christmas and then one for New Years! 

If you must cut the recipe in half then I would decrease the cooking time by 10 min or so. You really just need to check it, every oven is different.

I know this is the cookie chat, but fudge is kinda cookie-related, right? I'm hoping you have a fool-proof recipe because I am having a serious craving. Thanks!

Let me introduce you to Nancy Baggett, and her Nearly Foolproof Creamy Chocolate Fudge.

If a recipe calls for, say, one cup of sugar, and I want to use a substitute -- stevia, honey, agave nectar, molasses, pink-packet stuff or even brown sugar -- are there guidelines for doing so successfully? Thanks!

One way: You can track down individual sites for specific substitutions. Stevia's site, for example, says 1 cup of sugar = 1 teaspoon of powdered Stevia OR 1 teaspoon of liquid Stevia concentrate. 


The All About Agave site says 1 cup of sugar = 2/3 cup agave "and reduce other liquids in the recipe by 1/4 to 1/3 cup." (do you follow that, btw?)

Honey = 7/8 cup, and reduce the liquid in the recipe by 3 tablespoons.

Molasses = 1  1/4 cups

Brown sugar = same

Yellow packet stuff : I know some people have to cook with it, but I'd rather not even think about it.  


FYI: We tested some sugar substitutes in baked recipes a while back. 

My neighborhood has a cookie party every year, and the host has specifically asked me to bring rum balls again. Can Jason Wilson recommend a rum that would pair well with chocolate? (Note that the rum is added after baking, so it is soaked into the cookie, if that makes a difference.)

Ok, so you don't want something too cheap -- I mean, you'll probably have a little left over and want to sip some. But obviously you don't want top-shelf. You prob want something with a little age, a little of those warm caramel, coconut, and vanilla notes. I'd say look in the $20 range, where you'll find a lot of good-value bottles: Appleton V/X from Jamaica, Chairman's Reserve from St. Lucia, Gosling's Black Seal from Bermuda, or my perennial value fave Flor de Caña 7 yr old from Nicaragua. To accompany the cookies, why not serve this Gingered Hot Toddy or a Hot Buttered Rum with what's left after baking?

Josh, what or who was your inspiration? And where did you study?

I have so much inspiration it's coming out my ears! I went to school in Vermont at New England Culinary Institute. I cut my pastry teeth in Las Vegas at Bellagio.

I didn't think you guys could top last year's offerings, but I think you might have- I'll know for sure on Sunday after the flour dust has settled! I was hoping to bring back a couple of favorites from 2011 (the salted Nutella thumprints and gingerbread tree were a huge hit), but there's just too much good stuff for 2012; I'm most looking forward to the truffle bars, toffee cookies, zimsterne, and sour cherry chocolate oatmeal sandwiches. I'll be baking with the same two intrepid friends who were brave enough to answer my "oh my gosh, let's make everything in this photo gallery" email; perhaps it's the start of a new holiday tradition? In any event, THANK YOU for another wonderful and inspiring recipe collection!

What's a straightforward recipe that I can make with my 4- and 8yo, that's also nice enough to wrap up and give as a small gift?

These Santa's Whiskers are pretty basic. Nice color for gift appeal.

Santa's Whiskers

I have an issue having to do with hard boiled eggs. I can't get them to peel cleanly and when I do, it seems so random as to why. I have noticed that plain, non-cage free grocery store eggs work best. I have tried letting farmer's market and grocery store eggs sit in the fridge for several weeks before trying to cook them and it doesn't help. The method doesn't seem to matter (have tried just straight boiling and tried bringing to a boil then turning off and letting them sit in the hot water for 15 min. before plunging into cold water). Help?

I hear you. Sometimes all the secrets in the world won't make that shell come off cleanly.


Two quick thoughts posed as questions: How cold is your water for cooling? Is it good and icy? That could make a difference. (Peeling eggs under cold running water can help.)  And have you tried adding a little vinegar to your water before boiling?


Maybe the other Rangers have thoughts, too, as well as readers?

Hmm. The using older eggs thing works for me.  You could try this: Jacques Pepin makes a small pinprick in the eggs before boiling. 

My aunt makes amazing anise cookies every year - crunchy top, chewy, macaron-like bottom. And she has never shared the recipe with us. You can't imagine how I gasped when I saw your recipe. I can't wait to try it. She lived in Germany for a while when my uncle was in the army, so it's not impossible that she found the Alsatian recipe there.

Yes, I saw many anise cookies in Germany and Alsace--it likely did come from there.

I need something to go with a wine and nuts course that isn't too sweet. Taralli or something, but not those as I did them last year. Ideas?

I make a lot of ice cream, which leaves me with a lot of egg whites. I have been freezing them. Last week I used some in a meringue recipe and they didn't whip up very well. Is that a function of freezing them, or did I just mess up the beating process?

The beating takes a lot of action with a mixer, plus it's usually best to add in the sugar gradually--a couple T at a time.  The other big factor is that the beaters/bowl need to be grease free--that can cause a lack of fluffing.  Freezing shouldn't hurt whites at all.

I thought when making meringues, you're supposed to use superfine sugar? Wouldn't using powdered sugar make the meringues too soggy? Thanks!

No powdered sugar is actually fine. I add cornstarch and that helps to make them not weep/soggy. There are many recipes for meringue out there it depends on what you are making.

What a glorious cookie edition! However, we're still on Hanukkah and I'm making latkes tonight for the two of us. Could you suggest a chicken dish that would go well with the latkes?

Hag sameach! Ooh, many choices. Either a good ol' roast chicken, or this Lemon- and Honey-Flavored Chicken, which shot to the top of my all-time favorites list (and will be in The Washington Post Cookbook coming out in the spring)! 

The Root Beer Cookies from 4-5 years ago are an absolute must in my house at Christmas every year.

I'd love to have a recipe for lebkuchen, specifically one that produces soft (ie, cake-like) round cookies. Can you help?

Yes, you are right--there are different kinds of traditional Lebkuchen, some cakey, some crispy.  The ones that are rolled and made with honey are going to be too crisp. The cake ones in Germany are shaped by dropping them onto Oblaten (round wafers).  I suggest you search on recipes with that word, then drop the cookies onto baking parchment.

And here's our Chocolate-Pear Lebkuchen recipe.

Chocolate-Pear Lebkuchen

I have a recipe that calls for this, as does one of the recipes in today's Food section--only I can't find it anywhere (Safeway, Giant, Trader Joes, Whole Foods). Where is it available?

Try Harris Teeter, La Cuisine and Penzeys. Jane said she saw it at the Whole Foods in Arlington. Always good to call ahead!

I made my own for the first time yesterday - the recipe directs you to remove the pith entirely before using. I wondered if people ever left at least some of it on to provide a little contrast (in baked goods or, I guess maybe, cocktails?).

When I candied the orange peel for the Glazed Pain d'Epices Cookies, I used a recipe that had me leave the pith on. It created a pretty thick slab, so I did trim some of the pith off before I used it. However, I thought it tasted just fine -- a little bitter, but in a very good way.

Your advice is appreciated: I used the lid to a Revere-ware pot to cover the food in a wok and, because I miscalculated things and probably it sat too low over the food, everything got badly burned and the inside and rim of the lid went from silver to pretty solid black. Steel wool, baking soda and metal polish got the lid to where it now resembles a dense galaxy of dark stars in a silver sky instead of solid black but I'm unable to get it cleaner. The question is, do you think it's safe for me to continue to use the lid? Thanks so much! (In case it matters, the wok is non-stick and cleaned easily. The food was completely carbonized and had to be thrown out.)

I would just get a new lid. You don't want that gunk to fall off into your food. If you can't spring for a new lid cover it up in tin foil. You can find a new lid at a thrift store I'm sure.

The cookies in today's Post look amazing. Josh, what's one of your all time favorites to make that is quick and delicious? I'm looking for simple but good recipes. Are there particular desserts that guests at The Hay-Adams request over and over?

It was a great time and an honor to do the article. One of my all time favorites would be shortbread. They are quick, easy to make and delish.

This is kind of off-topic, but it's been on my mind ever since I made Chex party mix the other weekend. Do you know why Wheat Chex comes in such a small box now? it's like ridiculously little compared to the corn and rice varieties, which still seem to have normal size boxes. This was always my favorite Chex growing up and I can't imagine making party mix without it.

 A mystery.  I called the General Mills consumer hotline. Wheat Chex comes in a 14-ounce box, been that way since 1951, he says.  (Perhaps it's been the same weight that whole time but they reduced packaging?) Rice Chex is a 12.8-ounce box. Corn Chex = 14-ounce box.  There are special boxes made for Costco that are more than twice that weight. 


BTW, have you tried David Hagedorn's Party Mix? Gold standard, I tell ya. 

Would they be okay without the glaze? I hope, I hope, I hope, I hope

My family loves them with or without the icing they are a great cookie. Maybe they are "healthier" without the icing.

I have 4 cups of honey based marshmallow fluff I made about a 10 days ago that needs to get used up in the next few weeks. I used some of it for may chocolate covered graham cracker/marshmallow sandwiches, but don't know what to do with the rest. I'm not a big fan of fluffernut sandwiches and would love to use it in something else.

Some fudge recipes call for fluff.  And it works well in them as these recipes are usually no-beat versions.  Just do a search on some no-beat fudge recipes.

I created my own signature cookie, adapted from a basic chocolate chocolate chip cookie recipe, that has both shredded coconuts and coconut extract. I've always made it with vanilla extract since the original cookie recipe called for it. I always question whether to leave it out, but don't out of fear the cookies won't taste the same. In your professional opinion, would the vanilla omission make a noticeable difference?

Yes, I believe it is important. It will add another layer of flavor to your cookies. I would keep it in. Why mess with perfection (chuckle). 

I have noticed that what seems like an article on particular recipes, like holiday recipes, often turns out to be a sort of online "deck" for lack of a better word where you show pictures one at a time but you have to click to another link to get to the recipe and after you look at the recipe it takes you back to the first picture rather than taking you back to where you were. I hate them, is there any way you can present a collection of recipes differently, maybe offer a hyperlink list as an alternative and if you want to do pictures with thumbnails only?

I think you're describing what we refer to as galleries. Online stats show that folks do click through them....At the bottom of the Food homepage (or landing page, as I am being retrained to say), there are links to the week's recipes. A straightforward shot right to the online database.  Go for it. Or if you know the name of the recipe from a previous week, just plug it into the search field at 

how about TJ's or adventist health market

Penzey's has a wonderful Dutch-process cocoa powder.

Beat together with cream cheese and some flavorings of your choice, then serve as a dip for cut fruit. Mmmmmmmm.

I want to make Pannettone --  1st time! -- for Christmas gifts but I see recipes that vary greatly: yeast-raised, overnight starter, baking powder leavened. Which is the real or best version? When I make yeast breads with an abundance of eggs, butter and sugar it tends to go stale quickly. Is there a way to keep it fresh for more than a day or two? Should I brush it with something to keep it moist? Many thanks!

I prefer the yeast raised version of the recipe but it's a matter of personal preference. To keep it fresh longer you can store it in a tightly sealed container or you can brush it with alcohol -- like rum or Amaretto. I also think Pannettone make great french toast the next day!

I thought I had finished all of my holiday season baking. Then I saw your recipe for Oaxacan Chocolate Cookies, and I don't think I can pass up making these. They sound amazing. I already have the Del Maguey Vida mezcal (one of the reasons I think this will be an interesting cookie), but where do I get the Mexican chocolate and cinnamon? If I can't find them, will Ghiraradelli 60% cacao dark chocolate and standard cinnamon suffice? Thanks and happy holidays. Great cookie spread today.

The Latin markets in the DC area are the best bet--you might want to call to see.  It's also was a little risky to sub for a chocolate that is called for--the percentage of cacao (chocolate solids and cocoa butter may not be right.  But if they are, then yes, adding a good powdered cinnamon into the recipe could work.  BUT, you'll just have to experiment--no guaratees, though I'd bet even the not perfects would be good!

I just volunteered to host my husband's family for Christmas. In my tiny house. *Smack* OK, I need help. Would a ham be the easiest thing to make? It's what I'm used to having, and my husband seemed pretty excited about it. Do you guys have any good recipes that do not involve putting some form of sugar on the ham? Any other tips for throwing a Christmas dinner? Should I have apps? Drinks? There will be eight people at this shindig, and I'll have the five days before Christmas off from work, so I'll have time to make some stuff then.

This Roasted Rack of Lamb With Rosemary-Mustard Glaze sounds ideal for your dinner entree. It serves 8-10 and, best of all, it's adapted from a recipe created by Cristeta Comerford, the White House chef, who puts it on holiday buffets at Washington's most famous address.


For sides, how about Ris Lacoste's Sauteed Green Beans and Spinach or Mashed Potatoes With Tuscan Kale or  Brussels Sprouts With Cranberry Balsamic Dressing? Here's a whole list of ideas for appetizers.


Jason can perhaps chime in here about drinks ideas.

Ok, ok, first just relax and breathe. For the drinks, you want to offer something nice that won't stress you out. I have written two columns on easy-ish holiday party drinks -- one on 1 + 1 Bartending and another on serving simple sparkling wine + liqueur drinks here. Three of my favorites are the E-Z Paloma (tequila and grapefruit soda), the Della Mela (apple brandy and chinotto Italian soda) and the Ostend Fizz Royale (kirsch, creme de cassis and sparkling wine). Then there are punches, which are the easiest, because you make them ahead. These three are crowd pleasers: the Hans Punch Up (pear brandy, honey syrup, bitters, and sparkling wine) and the Honey Spiced Punch (rum, cachaca, honey syrup, bitters) and the Thieves Punch (port, cachaca, lime, bitters). Every time I have served those punches they've been a hit.

Good luck and remember to breathe!

Have any of you tried this stuff? A major brand of sugar now advertises a sugar-stevia blend that it says has half the calories of straight sugar. I'm curious but afraid to try it with any of today's recipes or even the company's own recipes  'cause the possibility of ending up with bad-tasting cookies is too awful.

I haven't tried it, but plan to.  I'd suggest that to be safe you start with recipes from the manufacturer of the product--those will be designed to work properly.

Grandma is coming this weekend. Would love to make/decorate cookies with my almost 3 year old. Suggestions for fast and forgiving recipes/approaches? A 3 year old's attention span is not long. Thanks!!

You could make gingerbread cookies and go for very simple embellishments: raisins for eyes and buttons, maybe a cinnamon drop for mouth, etc. Or maybe the tot would be able to put the tiny tails on the little Mice cookies?


A few months ago had some extra fresh figs so I canned a few small jars of balsamic poached figs but now I am not sure what to do with them. Any ideas?

They are great with brie.

Good afternoon everyone, well year after year we have a nice Christmas/holiday party in my office and I, as a one woman crusader, beg them to have Christmas cookies and I get a promise that, "next year" and so far that "year" has not come. This year I plan to get into the kitchen and by the grace of God will try and make my own Christmas cookies! No matter what they taste like I will love them because I made them.

Good for you! Just do it. Have fun and enjoy yourself that is the most important thing of all.

I'm putting together some Spanish tapas for a pot luck this weekend, and would love to find some authentic spanish foods such as anchovies, cheeses, olives etc. Are there any Spanish specialty markets or sources for these items in Northern Virginia. I've tried Whole Foods and got anchovies from Turkey but need more items.

Have you tried European Foods on N. Pershing Drive in Arlington? I just got off the phone with them, and they say they have Spanish cheeses and olives. They also have anchovies, but the person on the phone wasn't sure if they were Spanish or not.

LOVED both the cookie primer and the suggestions for natural frosting flavorings. I plan to use both this Christmas! My question: I'm trying to get a little bit ahead on my cookie baking (in advance of the in-law invasion) and wondered whether, generally speaking, it makes more sense to freeze the dough and bake it off later, or just freeze the cookies. Is there a rule of thumb to use to help me decide?

You can do either. I would say freeze the dough but to keep your sanity you can bake them off and then frezze the cookies. Then there will be no stress and you can enjoy your holiday and your in laws.

King Arthur catalog, which is having a 12 cent shipping for a $12 order special today, carries it. Also Rodman's in DC and Kensington.

I'm excited, because I just ordered my first pound of King Arthur's Double-Dutch Dark Cocoa.

A few years ago I found a huge bag at costco (haven't looked again). I stuck it in the freezer and it lasted for a year. I'm not sure where they were form, but I never got pine nut mouth from them

This is slightly off-topic / science-related: Every Christmas I make my grandmother's date nut bread recipe (it's delicious). The first step of the recipe calls for putting your chopped dates and a lump of butter in a bowl, sprinkling baking soda over the dates, then pouring boiling water over it all. While the butter melts and the soda fizzes, you mix up the rest of the ingredients, then combine everything and bake. Any idea what the purpose of that step is? My mom was recently internet searching similar recipes and noted that she didn't find a single one that called for this action. It's part of what I love about the recipe --- it's kind of charming, don't you think? --- but I never stopped to wonder why until we noticed it wasn't terribly common. (Grandma passed on shortly before I was born, so I never had the chance to ask her about it.)

I believe that's to soften the dates. I was recently looking at a Cook's Illstrated recipe for date bread, and they suggest something similar.

Just eat it out of the jar with a spoon!

I don't bake cookies, and I wish my mother and some of my friends would stop giving me large batches of cookies, but I don't want to hurt their feelings. Can I assume that all cookies can be frozen? That way I can just take out a few at a time.

Thats the great idea then you can disperse your cookie calories through out the weeks.

I hate the galleries. That said, I will sometimes click through them if I can't find what I want ANY OTHER WAY. (And I will spend a long time looking for another way.)

Hi gang. I'm submitting this question again this week in hopes you can help. I'm hosting Christmas this year for the first time, for my Italian family, which means a big fish dinner on Christmas Eve. I need a great fish market where I can get a feast my New England family will enjoy. Bonus points if they have scrod (Can you get that outside of Legal Sea Foods?) and quahogs. Thanks so much! With all the stress of the holidays, this is one of the biggest for me this year.

One of my favorite fish markets is the one at BlackSalt. I talked to Steve the fishmonger there, and he said he could special order both young haddock (which is the fish often identified as "scrod") and quahogs. The former would run about $18.99 a pound, while the latter would be market price. Steve suggests you can substitute cherrystone clams for the quahogs, since they're about the same size.


BlackSalt cuts off special orders on Dec. 20, so best not to wait!

I have a recipe given to me years ago by an elderly Jewish woman who has since passed away. The recipe is for 'Mondelbrot' or Mondel Bread, as she called it. I have included it in previous holiday cookie baskets, always receiving positive comments on it but when an Italian friend asked me about the Biscotti, I didn't correct her. Is it one and the same, or is there a difference that I should have mentioned to the gift recipient that meant this wasn't, in fact, Biscotti?

They are very similar depending on where you are in the world.

Lots of times, mandelbread is made without dairy so it can be served at kosher tables. I think mandelbread's generally plainer, in terms of any add-ins. 

Here in New Mexico we can buy pinion nuts that are grown locally. Are they reasonable substitutes for Italian pine nuts?

I have used the pinion nuts and was satisfied. That said, Italian isn't my specialty!

My whole life, I've been unable to enjoy meringue because of how it feels in my mouth. I tried some recently after a 20-year hiatus and the problem persisted. Since I like all the ingredients, this baffles me and I wondered if you could help me understand. Thanks so much!

There are many different kinds of meringue. You can try and find one that works for you. Some are hard and crunchy or light and airy. If you don't like it you can move on to something else. Like chocolate.

Could you be a little more specific (without being too graphic? :)

I've always found it at Giant. Perhaps you may be looking in the wrong aisle?

Why avoid imported pine nuts? BTW I've seen some not-so-expensive ones at Shemalis on New Mexico Ave NW.

There have been recalls, and there's the pine-nut mouth issue that I think Jane Touzalin's addressing in a separate answer. 

I made Alton Brown's Nog of Ages which calls for 1 dozen egg yolks. I now have 1 dozen egg whites in my fridge. Do you have any suggestions for using these up. Bonus points for Christmas or New Years themes.

Meringue kisses, meringue shells, and royal frosting for cookies are all easy options.  The French macarons also call for whites--but are a bit trickier.

Modernist Cuisine at Home says to blowtorch the shells. We tried it and it works! However, you have to be sure to torch the entire shell or the untorched sticks. You also have to be careful 'cause blowtorched eggs are HOT.

You likely also have to buy a blow torch.

My review of "Modernist Cuisine at Home."


Pregnant women can't have tonic because of the quinine. Sub it out for club soda please!

There is some controversy over whether to avoid tonic water during pregnancy (and I guess much of this research has come out after I wrote that original column). Though to be clear, commercial tonic waters like Canada Dry and Schweppes have very little actual quinine in them any more, less than 20 mg per 8 ounce glass (and most mixed drinks call for about 3 ounces or less). But yes, if you're concerned then avoid it, and sub club soda.

I love a martini, but sometimes want to drink something different. What are some good non-sweet drinks? Thanks!

I would totally disagree that most cocktails are sweet. My two go-to favorites, the Manhattan and the Negroni -- and their multitude of variations -- are almost never sweet. You could maybe start there. Also, there are dozens of martini variations that are not sweet.

Not so much a how to make cookies question as a where do I find cookies question. I need almond macaroons for a Christmas thing that I make and I have no idea where I could find some. Do you guys know of a store that carries them? Thanks!

Could you be a little more specific? Do you mean the French macarons, which are filled, or do you mean the breadier, puffier kind that are more like coconut macaroons? And where do you live? When folks ask us where to find something, it always helps to know their location.

Lisa Yockelson says so, and so did my grandmother who made the best ever using one of those old metal ice cube trays to bake them in.

Well, then I'm convinced. Love the metal tray idea. 

I want to make the cookies from Parade magazine this past Sunday that included maraschino cherries. But, I don't want to use the scary ones from the grocery store. Any recommendations on better quality cherries? Maybe something created mainly for artisanal cocktails? Help! Oh, and thank you for all the cookie recipes in the past week. Ausgezeichnet!

We just happen to have a recipe for beautiful Preserved Cherries that might be what you're looking for. They're packed in liquid, though, and very juicy, so that might not be right for your use. I bought excellent-quality candied/glace cherries at La Cuisine in Alexandria. They were pricey: $24 a pound. But very good.

I baked blondies over the weekend and the directions said to bake 25-30 minutes at 350 F until the top was shiny and lightly browned. When I cut into them, it seemed that the bottoms were still a bit too gooey, almost raw looking. They looked like a butter and brown sugar base.

Well it could have been a number of things. The oven temperature, the pan you used etc. If that happens you can put them back in for another 10 minutes or so.

Snider's in Silver Spring has it.


Christmas is small this year. Just three adults and two kids in a teeny townhouse kitchen. To make things easy, I am making a pork loin stew in the crockpot that has sweet potatoes, parsnips and apples. I feel like I need something besides the stew but am stumped! A salad? Green beans? I am definitely getting some crusty bread but need another idea... Thanks!

There are a lot of options in our database, but this White House Kale Salad from Thanksgiving was pretty nice. 

White House Kale Salad

Although I understand that butter would be safe to use if softened overnight (as per Bonnie's tip), doesn't that tend to make cookies spread out too much when they're baking? I made cookies last night that were supposed to stay sort of ball-shaped (like your photo of the ricotta cheese cookies), but instead, the dough spread out, even getting very thin and browning around the edges. I thought it was because I let the butter get too soft. Is that wrong? 


Hope Nancy B. gets to add her 2 cents here, because she's of the mind that blending softened butter and sugar to get that totally incorporated fluffy mixture is not key to making a good sugar cookie! I think  it depends on the recipe....many doughs need to rest/chill in the fridge so even if the butter started soft it has a chance to firm up. 

If you've ever harvested your own pine nuts, you'll understand why they're so darned expensive. My poor fingers!

Puckered lips?

Pine nut mouth is a nasty metallic aftertaste that some people get after eating pine nuts. Some folks say it's caused by inferior pine nuts from China, but I don't know if that's a proven fact. I got it once and could not taste food properly for nearly a week. It affects some people even longer than that. It's not dangerous, but really really annoying. Makes eating a chore, really.

What is the type of frosting used to decorate sugar cookies? It's thick, but not foamy like cake frosting.

I use royal icing. It is very versatile and you can flavor it how you'd like. I usually use lemon.

This is a desparate plea to return the online food section to the previous format. The new one stinks! It was so easy to navigate the previous section with the three main articles at the top and the photos of this weeks recipes to click on. Now everything is jumbled in a random list and I feel like I'm not seeing all the content. I don't know who could feel that this format is an improvement.

Give it a little time? We'll keep three main stories and links to their recipes in the top module. This way I think it's easier to find and read all Tim Carman's great All We Can Eat blogposts....

I've been commissioned to bring a hot punch for a party on Saturday. I'm short on time and the recipes I see tend to have a zillion ingredients. Any recommendations for a crowd-pleasing hot tipple that uses just a handful of ingredients and can be made relatively a la minute?

I make a mulled red wine punch with about half dry red wine, half orange juice. I mull them with a mix of several broken cinnamon sticks, cloves, and crushed allspice berries and sugar to taste for about 20 minutes, then strain the spices out.  Serve warm, with oranges slices floating on top--nice and I'm making it this holiday myself!  Planning to post a recipe next week in fact.


Not to be a stickler, but a "punch" by definition has numerous ingredients -- at least five -- not just "things dumped in a pot on the stove." I would recommend maybe doing toddys or glögg instead?

I am one of those who love to nibble on raw cookie dough. Such a relief when this secret shame was revealed to be a mainstream vice back whenever Ben & Jerry first released cookie dough ice cream! Do you experts also indulge? Can you explain this taste for raw ingredients? I'm guessing it's childhood hours in the kitchen with Mom or Grandma, when licking out the bowl was the top prize for helping. Which of today's recipes do you think would taste best unbaked?

It's best to stick with nibbling doughs that don't have eggs, as raw eggs are not totally safe these days.  So, I'd suggest going for the shortbreads in the bunch.  Some butter cookies  lack eggs as well, and sometimes those with a chocolate ganache or marshmallow base.  Sorry, but I'm not a raw dough nibbler!

Thanks for taking my question. BlackSalt it is! And I have bought the pine nuts at Costco (called pignoli, so they are the Italian ones) and they were great. No issues with pine nut mouth and they tasted great in Nana's pignoli cookies (which are also a Christmas staple).

Yes, this would be entertaining as, and I am guilty of this too, people wrote in a million variations of "This Duck Feet Souffle recipe is horrible, doesn't work at all! I substituted popcorn for the duck feet and it was a disaster." Kudos to the Free Rangers who gently chide the substitution-prone.

How can I tell if it's still okay -- smell, taste, feel? Not enough room in the 'fridge to store it there and foolishly transferred it to a canister without noting the expiration date.

The flour should be fine. As long as it looks and smells fine, it should be alright.

How long and where has it been stored?

For holiday treats made by kids, try potato candy. It uses mashed potatoes and powdered sugar, nothing to cook or bake so it's safe for young fingers. It's not cookies but you can do a lot with it - add flavorings & liqueurs, nuts, dried fruits, roll it into balls, dip it in chocolate, roll it out and spread with peanut butter and cut into pinwheels. Your imagination is the limit. It's a lot of fun for little ones. Just keep in mind that it uses a LOT of powdered sugar. Enjoy!

Is it really safe these days to use raw egg whites in frosting (as in Mimi Miller's gingerbread cookies)? I'd do it if it were just for my family, whom I know are healthy, but for others I only use powdered egg whites.

Use pasteurized eggs if you're worried. 

May not be for everyone, but my favorite is a roasted orange sweet potato with feta cheese crumbled on it. I'm guessing any salty cheese you like would work, too.

When I have had trouble finding it I have made my own by adding a pinch of baking soda to every three tablespoons of cocoa.

Hey Foodies! A friend turned us on to natural hygiene, so we got all excited about saving the Earth and stuff and bought a big bottle of vinegar. . . . now we are stuck with 32 ounces of white vinegar. I hate to see it go to waste. We have tried some basic salad dressings, but are there some other things we can use it for? Maybe some Christmas cookies? Thanks!

White vinegar is a little harsh for making herbed vinegars, so I can't suggest that.  The only other major use I can think of is for pickling, especially where you want the pickle juice to be colorless.  Small amounts could be added when you make fresh salsa or a homemade barbecue sauce, though it will take forever to use up a big bottle.

Add to water when you're making poached eggs. My mom used to rinse my hair with it -- made it nice and shiny. 

Thanks so much for Dave McIntyre's column today on what to get, and what not to get, for the wine lover in your life. I've been looking for a replacement for my 1990s copy of "Wine for Dummies," which was useful at the time but is now dated, overlooking regions that have emerged as great sources of wine in the past decade or more. Is there a new standard text that encompasses developments in the past 10 years? Maybe something that isn't written in a region-by-region fashion, but which takes a more organic approach to wine and winemaking?

Drink This: Wine Made Simple, by Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl

Thanks to last week's chat, I used Emily Dickinson's recipe to make mini-bundt cakes (makes about 30, by the way), which were a hit, but I have a LOT of syrup left over -- it didn't take much before I was afraid the cakes were getting soggy. Anyway, I suppose I could make more, or use it on a different cake, but might you have a suggestion for a more creative use? Maybe a drink? It's 3-2-1 sugar-water-brandy, so it's pretty sweet.

I think you'd have a hard time building a drink with it, since there is so little brandy, but you experiment with it in place of simple syrup in cocktail recipes that call for brandy or rum, and see how it works out.

Sorry I'm late, but I've found that "chewy" means vastly different things to different people. The worst part is, I'm not sure I can define what I mean by chewy--Not soft, not crisp, but something you actually have to chew a while. I think. So, what does the Post mean when they call a cookie chewy?

I tend to agree that chewy means different things to different people.  So I can only say what I mean, not what  others mean.  Yes, I think it involves chewing--though a chewy cookie may or may not stick to the teeth, but a taffy will.  I throw in the word sticky with the chewy if  that's the kind of chewy being described, or say chewy-soft if it's that kind of chewy.  The word alone doesn't say it all, does it!?

Hope I'm not too late! My younger brother usually asks for money for Christmas, which I refuse to give on principle so I try to find something that supports an interest of his. This year he seems to have developed an interest in cooking, mostly stews and chilis (he's in college in upstate New York where it's cold!) Any ideas for a food package gift that I can put together for him? I'm not really sure how to present the elements of a main dish in a gift-appropriate way.

First, if he doesn't have one, I'd get him a nice stockpot or, better yet, enamaled cast-iron Dutch oven. Talk about a gift that will last him a lifetime.

Read this DIY food gift story from Nancy. In there you'll find instructions for making and giving kits for mulligatawny soup and minestrone soup.

Rangers, I defrosted a package of DuFour puff pastry dough Saturday evening intending to make spiced palmiers; however, life got in the way and the dough has been sitting in my refrigerator in its original packaging since then. Is it safe to use today? I'm supposed to bring cookies to tomorrow's holiday party at my office and it would not be politic to make everyone sick. Thanks!

yes it will be fine. It may not raise as much but will work for what you are making.

Is there a way to make meringue angels with an electric whisk?

Of course. You just need to be ambidextrous. 

Are not flours, like macademia flour, just powdered nuts -- something I could make in a spice grinder?

You are right. You don't need to use a spice grinder you can use your food processor. Just don't over "mix" our you'll have nut butter.

I made this last weekend, and to be honest I'm disappointed in how it turned out. It was way too sweet, and this is from someone who normally loves sweet. Also, the caramel ended up not being very distinct from the other layers. It look a long time to make, too. If I ever made it again, I'd probably keep it at three layers and maybe add some more lemon juice and coarse salt to the caramel to cut the sweet. Just my thoughts.

Thanks for sharing. There's no accounting for taste, right? For those interested, here's the link.

My future mother-in-law has a lovely house for entertaining but she does not like to cook. I really enjoy cooking so my MIL asked me to prepare the meal, which I am happy to do. In the past, I made an inverted chicken cordon bleu that is breaded chicken breasts topped with prosciutto and shredded Swiss and fontina cheese (from Bobby Flay's Bar American cookbook). She requested that I make this for Christmas dinner to serve 20 people. I would like to make what she wants but I have a few concerns, 1) how much to prep early, 2) keeping the chicken moist, and 3) possible sauces to serve alongside. Right now I am thinking I will soak the chicken in a buttermilk brine overnight and the morning of bread and fry the chicken, place on a cooling rack suspended over a sheet pan and top with the prosciutto & cheese, heating up in a low oven right before people get there. Does this sound like a doable plan? Any suggestions for sauces to serve alongside? Love the chats, thanks so much for all that you do.

I think your approach sounds perfect. As for a sauce, the classic is mornay, which is just a bechamel sauce with cheese (usually Gruyere). Here's Emeril's recipe for mornay sauce.

Now this is a pie question not a cookie question. I attempted to make a choc pecan pie for thanksgiving and had some issues. I was to cook over high heat corn syrup and sugar until the sugar was dissolved and then cook for 10 min. The first time, the mixture went fast from a golden color to burnt. The second time it just was sticky mess like candy when i added the chocolate and vanilla. The recipe is from the late 60's/early 70's could corn syrup have changed so much during this time? Had made it before with success. Suggestions? tips? Thanks

Caramel is always tricky because how fast it cooks depends on the size/material of the pot, type of burner.  You just have to watch for the right color constantly or use a candy thermometer. I don't think the problem was because corn syrup has changed.

I once had a yummy, no-bake fruit tart that used marshmallow fluff instead of custard! No idea where to find the recipe, but a search might turn it up.

Dump or spray it on weeds. Stronger works better, but the regular does have an effect.

To my grandmother, whose mandelbrot was wonderful, it was a cookie with almonds. Hence the name. And boy did she let you know if you had the gall to call something mandelbrot when it had, say, walnuts in it! To me, it's a cookie with a much more tender crumb than a biscotti or cantucci -- I always feel like the Italian cookie is going to chip a tooth if I don't dunk it in coffee or a dessert wine, but that never seems to be the case with mandelbrot. (don't tell my grandmother, but I put both almonds and dried cranberries in mine...and it's fantastic)

Whew. We've been whipped to a firm fare-thee-well, so you know what that means: We're done! Thanks much to Josh, Nancy and Jason for their expert advice, and to you, dear chatters, for a lively hour and kind comments. 


Chat winners (and first-come, first-serve on that autographed copy!): The chatter who asked about which rum goes well with chocolate; the chatter who asked about affordable pine nuts and got that whole ball rolling; and the chatter who asked about softened butter for cookie doughs. Send your mailing info and book preferences (1st and 2nd) to and she'll get those right out to you. Till next week, happy baking and eating! 

In This Chat
Bonnie Benwick
Bonnie Benwick is interim editor of the Food section; joining us today are interim recipe editor Jane Touzalin, staff writer Tim Carman, editorial aide Becky Krystal and Spirits columnist Jason Wilson. Guests: Nancy Baggett, author, most recently, of "Simply Sensational Cookies"; Josh Short, pastry chef at the Hay-Adams Hotel in downtown Washington.
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