Dreaming Of A White (Chocolate) Christmas

You Won’t Need a Holiday Miracle For These White Chocolate-Cranberry Cookies

Happy official First Day of Winter, friends!  And what better way to start off the winter season than with some fresh-baked holiday cheer?

You know, it’s never too late to get a jump on your holiday baking – unless it’s December 26, that is.  I’ve got some bad news for you if that’s the case.  Best thing to do is just concentrate on getting your party plans in place for New Year’s Eve now, and put off worrying about gingerbread houses and sugar cookie Santas for the next 11 months.

As of now though, you’ve still got time.

That’s what I love about cookies (among countless other reasons) – they’re not only delicious and appropriate for just about any holiday and social gathering, they’re fast.  Most recipes, as long as you’re not dealing with something that requires an exotic flavoring or Monet-level of frosting decoration, you can deliver a batch of delicious little sugar bombs fresh from the oven in just half an hour.  Which, let’s be honest, is probably why you’re here, reading this mere days before Santa is scheduled to shove his big behind down your chimney – your forgot to stay on top of your baking this season, didn’t you?

Didn’t you?

Well, that’s ok.  ‘Cause I’m here to help.

*Cracks knuckles*

It’s time to remedy that little problem.

*****

What immediately comes to mind when someone says “Christmas cookies”?  I can guess.  Gingerbread men surrounding gingerbread houses, sugar cookies topped with candy cane powder, cookie-cutter Santa Clauses and reindeer and snowmen dressed in Technicolor frosting-clothing with their happy, sugary smiles.

How do I know?  Because it’s the quintessential Christmas cookie experience – and for good reason.  They’re classics.  They embody everything that we love about the season.  Christmas cookies are bright and colorful and comforting.  Frosted smiles, gumdrop buttoned gingerbread families, the rich spiced flavors.  It all keeps us joyous and smiling our way through an otherwise dark and dreary time of year.  A sweet little slice of sanity that serves as a welcome and much-needed distraction from the cold winds, the biting ice, dark winter skies, and the inevitable seasonal credit card debt (who says I’m not a little ray of sunshine?).

Cookies, and holiday cookies especially, unarguably serve a very special & unique purpose.

There’s something else I think of when considering all the various foods and flavors of the season – cranberries.

Cranberries are fantastic any time of the year.  They’re a perfect addition to bowls of homemade trail mix, or even if you just want to grab a handful of the little dried berries if you’re in need of a simple snack.  But there’s just something about the Christmas season that brings out a very special craving for these sweet, tiny red bombs of flavor.  If you and the family have got a hankering, you could always go a more “traditional” route and cook up a pot of hot, gooey cranberry relish – and that would be perfectly fine.  For my money, when I’m in the mood for incorporating cranberries into a special holiday treat, it’s going to be cookies almost every time.

*****

White chocolate is another story.  White chocolate is very unlike traditional dark chocolates used in baking – milk chocolate, semi-sweet, bitter dark chocolate, or even just simple unsweetened cocoa powder.  The unusual flavor and unique texture of sweetness is enough to turn most people off of the confection.  In fact, white chocolate is not really chocolate at all but rather a confectionery blend of cocoa butter and sugar.  Don’t let that fact dissuade you, though!  It may not be real chocolate, but it nonetheless has its place in the baking world.

Cranberry cookies are just such a place.

The super-sweet power of white chocolate balances out perfectly with the natural bitter-yet-fruity essence found in dried cranberries.  It’s similar to the sensation when munching on a chocolate-covered pretzel – the sweet candy and bitter salt, what you would expect at first thought to clash in a battle of the flavors, instead harmonize in a ying-and-yang style of clashing balance.  The interplay of flavors that you find in white chocolate and cranberries is of a similar caliber.  And a batch of fresh cookies is the perfect medium to deliver such a taste infusion.

Ok, enough with the sappy poetry.  You get the point – it tastes amazing.

*****

This was a recipe that came to me out of necessity by happy chance of fate.  My office was having our annual holiday party and I, in typical habit, forgot to properly prep for a dessert to bring in.  So I did what anyone does in such a situation – I turned to the Internet for help in finding a fast, easy Christmas-y recipe I could use.  In fact, it worked a little too well – dozens and dozens of ideas came flooding in across my screen, too many to research, too many to pick from, too many to even make a dent in even if I had had an entire week free with nothing else to do.

I didn’t even have a Plan B in my back pocket.

And that was when I got on the phone with my parents.

It wasn’t what you call a “fateful” call – just my folks calling to see how things were going, what our plans for the holiday were, how everyone is out by me, the usual kind of killing-time-on-a-slow-Sunday-afternoon kind of conversation.  Then my mom mentioned the cookie party she had just had at work, and the cookies she had made for the occasion.

Having grown up in a home where I spent so much time in the kitchen with the family, it wasn’t a surprise that they had stumbled across something like this just in time for the Christmas season.  They sounded too good to pass up, and a quick trip to the grocery store and a half hour later, the smell wafting through the house and the bright red-and-white treats covering my kitchen table were evidence that I had made the right choice.

How can you, then, make these simple holiday masterpieces for yourself?

Like this:

cran_01

  • Butter – ½ cup, softened (1 stick)
  • White & brown sugar – ½ cup of each
  • 1 Egg
  • Flour – 1 ½ cups
  • Baking soda – ½ tsp.
  • White chocolate chips – ¾ cup
  • Dried cranberries – 1 cup
  • Oven – preheated to 375 F (190 C)
  • Stand mixer w/ mixing paddle (A bowl and rubber spatula works too

Now some people will tell you that it all comes down to technique.  My stand mixer likes to say otherwise, and I’ve learned to listen to it when it comes to these kinds of things.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m not going to tell you to dump everything in a mess into the bowl and flip the switch; that’s how disasters happen.  That being said, it’s not complicated at all.

 

cran_02

Start with the “wet team”- the softened butter, the sugar, and the egg.  Yes, sugar counts as a wet ingredient in baking.  When you think about it, sugar pours and otherwise behaves almost just like a liquid, so into the wet team it goes.  Once you’ve got your sugar, butter, and egg together in the bowl, mix on low until everything has creamed together nice and smooth.

 

cran_03

 

Once that’s done add in the dry team, minus the chocolate and berries, and mix until the whole mess comes together into a thick dough.  If you’ve ever eaten a spoonful (or two) of raw frozen cookie dough as a treat, you’ll know exactly the consistency you’re looking for.  Now you can add the chips and berries.  Give it all one last spin in the mixer, and we’re ready to cook!

 

 

cran_04

Divide the bowl out onto a couple of cookie sheets – this recipe will make about two dozen cookies, depending on how big you want to make them.  Your call.  Me, I like to get an even two dozen.  Either way, toss those trays into the oven and let ‘em cook for the next 10 minutes.

Remove and let sit for a minute or so, transferring your finished cookies to a cooling rack.  After that, what you do with them is your business – take them to a family party, store in a cookie jar on your table and try not to eat them all at once, bring them to your girlfriend or boyfriend’s house for dessert, swap them in the lunchroom, whatever floats your boat.

 

cran_06

And – voila!  There you have it.

So if you find yourself in dire need of a last-minute holiday treat, don’t despair.  Just 30 minutes of free time and a well-stocked pantry is all you need to whip up a plate of festive goodness.  Bring a batch of these cookies to your family gathering this season and I guarantee they’ll be begging you for more before the day is out!

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