Welcome to my cookie bake-a-thon.
Aside from a few years in grad school, when mountains of papers that demanded grading trumped my heart's desire to bake cookies in the weeks before Christmas, I've been making cookie boxes for friends and neighbors for over a decade. I love doing it. The tradition started out simply enough, with just one kind of cookie, when I was new to the whole thing; over the years it's grown into a multi-batch affair, an assortment of 5 or 6 varieties of the very best recipes that I could find that weren't too daunting to make, but were still beautiful and a bit different. Collecting these recipes has taken a lot of (admittedly enjoyable) research. Every year I plan to make a little recipe booklet to include with the boxes so other people can make them too. That would be very Martha of me, wouldn't it? But it never happens. Thankfully, a few blog posts will do the trick.
Maybe this bake-a-thon thing comes from my extreme baking syndrome, or from watching my mother turn our kitchen into a temporary bakery at Christmas time when I was growing up. I know it sounds like an awful lot of work--and it is--but to me, it's fun. My feet ache by the time it's over, my thumbs are sore from rolling dough and chopping nuts, but I feel good nonetheless. Maybe I'm just happy to not be grading papers. I'd much rather figure out how long it'll take to bake a hundred brownies than detangle logical fallacies of students who would rather be baking cookies, too. What would happen if everybody stopped stressing and just baked a batch of cookies?
Cookies would save the world. I think we should try it.
Here's how I construct my ultimate cookie gift box: I like to include not only different flavors, but different shapes. Typically, I make a bar cookie cut into squares, some form of biscotti, something shaped into a ball or a half-moon, and then a couple of standard, circular varieties. The good thing about bar cookies is that they typically bake all at once in one pan, which is a great relief from other breeds of cookies that bake in 3 or 4 batches. The bad thing about bars is that many of them are soft and smashable, or have really gooey tops, or are so crumbly that they don't work so well stacked on top of each other inside a slightly cramped box. This butterscotch bar recipe from Cooking Light is different. It's easy to throw together, tastes dreamy and decadent even though it truly is a reduced-fat recipe*, and stays tidy inside the cookie condo. I've also noticed that it seems to be a big hit with dudes. So there you go.
*Only half a stick of butter! Have no fears; I've made these dozens of times and they just ROCK. The only thing I changed from the original is using a whole egg instead of 2 egg whites.
butterscotch bars (adapted slightly from Cooking Light)
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
- 1/4 cup butter (half a stick), softened (plus extra for pan)
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup butterscotch morsels
- Preheat oven to 350 and lightly grease an 8" x 8" square baking pan.
- In a large bowl, beat sugars and butter together at medium speed of a mixer until well-blended, about 4 minutes (this mixture won't be very creamy due to low butter content, but just make sure everything is mixed together very very well). Add egg and vanilla; beat well.
- Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; stir well with a whisk. Add to butter mixture and beat well at low speed just until blended.
- Spread batter evenly in pan; sprinkle top with butterscotch morsels. Bake for 28 to 30 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack.
Makes 16 (or 20 smaller bites). These will keep, covered, for about 4 days.