Thank goodness RVA still has an honest-to-goodness newspaper that actually publishes some original content. Though its lifestyle sections have definitely shrunk over the last several years, the Richmond Times-Dispatch still comes through with a Wednesday Food section that includes articles by local reporters Holly Prestidge and Claire Schapiro. One of the section’s annual traditions is hosting a holiday cookie contest.
I grew up helping my mom bake cut-out sugar and gingerbread cookies. Every year she also made a fruit-nut cookie with green and red chopped maraschino cherries and a hard-as-a-rock kitchen-sink kind of cookie. Mom was not an adventurous baker, but somehow I have become one. When my children were little we decorated the cut-out cookies, too, but that’s where the traditional cookies stopped. I love finding and trying new cookie recipes and rarely bake the same Christmas offerings twice.
Last Wednesday’s Times-Dispatch cookie contest included ten recipes that immediately intrigued both Ellen and me. We decided to each make a couple of the ones that caught our eye and have a taste-testing. Here are the results of our cookie inspiration (you can find the recipes by clicking on the link for each cookie).
Bourbon-Chocolate Pie Pecan Thumbprint Cookies
I have always been a sucker for thumbprint cookies. Over the years I have tried many versions, so the contest’s recipe for Bourbon-Chocolate Pie Pecan Thumbprint Cookies was a no-brainer choice. The hardest part of the recipe was finely chopping the pecans.
The bourbon chocolate filling also didn’t come out quite as smoothly as it probably should have, but I am confident that my next batch will work better. And there definitely will be another batch of this grown-up cookie. It’s the perfect addition to a cocktail buffet most any time of year.
Browned Butter Pecan Shortbread Cookies
True confession: I completely screwed up my first attempt at Browned Butter Pecan Shortbread Cookies and just dumped 3 sticks of butter, 1½ cups of pecans and too much of the wrong sugar into the trash. Pretty sad for a short list of five ingredients. I’ve got to stop relying on my short-term memory when it comes to baking.
The second attempt at browning the butter went much better in a larger skillet and smelled divine. These shortbread cookies would be perfect for a Christmas coffee or afternoon tea. I do wonder if they will appeal to my kids.
Mary Randolph’s Tavern Biscuits
I was intrigued by this recipe. First, the name…which Mary Randolph? (in Virginia there must be oodles of them). Did she run a tavern? Second, I had never before cooked with the toxic-sounding ingredient mace. Figuring the Times-Dispatch wouldn’t poison us, I had to give these biscuits a try.
Guess what? I loved them! They are buttery and not-too-sweet with an old-fashioned flavor thanks to the mace and nutmeg.
The simple recipe was pretty straight-forward. There are two methods to rolling and cutting the dough. I opted to roll the dough directly onto the parchment-lined pan, bake the dough, then cut into rounds.
Next time I will use a smaller cutter, perhaps a 2″ round rather than the 2.5” one I pulled from the drawer first, and cut, then transfer the biscuits to the pan. I didn’t think the dough cooked evenly, and I had to lengthen the cooking time by 2 minutes longer than the recipe recommended to get the middle of the dough cooked enough. I might also consider using a star-shaped cutter for baking at Christmas, but the dough isn’t sturdy enough for more intricate shapes.
Turns out this Mary Randolph included the Tavern Biscuit recipe in her cookbook, The Virginia House-wife, published in 1824. Like other Virginia classics, it has stood the test of time!
River City Reindeer Bark
When a recipe calls for bacon and chopped Heath Bars, I have to try it. River City Reindeer Bark uses matzo crackers as the base, with bittersweet chocolate melted on top to hold the scrumptious chopped toppings.
The maple-glazed bacon added an unexpected punch to the bark, but the base of matzo and chocolate was not substantial enough to hold the toppings. Next time I will just try a base of tempered chocolate.
After a thorough and delicious taste-test (one of the perks of blogging), we chose the Bourbon-Chocolate Pie Pecan Thumbprint Cookies. It’s fresh and so on-trend for 2014, but we agreed 1824’s Tavern Biscuits rate a close second!
You Can Take a Taste-Test, Too
Today (Wednesday, December 10th) Southern Season is hosting a tasting of all ten recipes from noon ’til 4. Holly Prestidge and Claire Schapiro are whipping up batches in Southern Season’s amazing test kitchen. After tasting, you too can vote for your favorite here.
Guess where Ellen and I will be this afternoon? We can’t wait to see how our versions compare with the pros and taste the other entries that didn’t make our baking cut. If you do vote for a favorite, please leave us a comment letting us know your choice.
December 10, 2014