The winter holidays are the prime occasion for friendly gatherings, giving thanks, and starting floury snowstorms in the kitchen. It's time to place Sinatra on the stereo and spatula in hand, and let the baking and dancing begin. Below, some of Philly's best-known cookie creators reveal their favorite recipes to get the oven going.
The Cookie: Bittersweet Chocolate Chip Cookies with Sea Salt and Dried Cherries
Why it's the holiday favorite: "They are like a chocolate chip cookie only amped up," says James Barret, co-owner and chef of Metropolitan Bakery. "The quality dark chocolate and the little dusting of sea salt on top really make it. The salt is a nice salty counterpoint to the sweetness."
Bittersweet Chocolate Chip Cookies with Sea Salt and Dried Cherries
1 cup rolled oats
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 3/4 cups light brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups extra bitter sweet chocolate chunks
1 1/4 cups dried tart cherries
Coarse sea salt
1. In the bowl of a food processor, grind oats into a fine flour. Sift the all-purpose flour with baking powder and baking soda. Add kosher salt and oat flour. Set aside.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar until light, approximately 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time. Stir in vanilla.
3. Add flour and mix until just combined. Fold in chocolate and cherries. Mix until just incorporated.
4. Using an ice cream scoop, portion cookie dough into 4-oz balls. Place cookies on a parchment lined tray. Wrap and chill overnight, or up to 3 days.
5. Preheat oven to 350F. Place cookies on a baking tray two inches apart. Press slightly to flatten cookies and sprinkle each cookie with 1/4 tsp. coarse sea salt. Bake cookies 15 to 18 minutes rotating the baking sheets between the upper and lower oven racks half way through, baking until golden brown around the edges. Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool completely or serve while warm.
The Cookie: Thumbprint Cookies
The Bakery: Sweet Freedom Bakery (1424 South St.)
Why it's the holiday favorite: "In a time when pumpkin pie and gingerbread is so popular, it's nice to shake things up a bit with an old standard that isn't seen as often these days," says Jen Kremer, manager of Sweet Freedom Bakery. "The thumbprint is my personal favorite for two reasons. I just love a fruity treat, and I also prefer a cookie that is soft and doesn't crumble when you take a bite."
Vegan, Gluten-Free Thumbprint Cookies
(Yield: about 34)
2 3/4 cup brown rice flour
1 1/2 cup garbanzo-fava flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
3/4 tsp. sea salt
1 1/4 cup coconut sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1 cup coconut oil (melted)
2 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1 cup coconut milk
Jar of fruit puree, fruit of your choice
1. Preheat oven to 375F. Line large sheet tray with parchment paper.
2. Combine first 5 ingredients into a large bowl. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the coconut sugar, oil and vanilla until well mixed.
3. On low speed, add the flour mixture and coconut milk alternately, a little at a time, until well mixed, about 3 minutes.
4. Using a #30 scoop, place dough on a parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving 3 inches between the cookies.
5. Using the back of the scoop, make a deep indentation in the center of each cookie (dipping in water avoids scoop sticking to dough). Fill each indentation with a heaping teaspoon of fruit puree. Sprinkle the edges of the cookies with coconut sugar.
6. Bake for 7 minutes, rotate 180º and bake for 5 more minutes.
The Cookie: Orange Ginger Cookie
The Bakery: The Flying Monkey Bakery (Reading Terminal Market)
Why it's the holiday favorite: "Our Orange Ginger Cookie is sweet and chewy and packed with holiday flavors such as orange zest and spicy ginger," says Elizabeth Halen, owner of The Flying Monkey Bakery. "With a roll in raw sugar before baking, the cookies come out of the oven sparkling a little bit."
Orange Ginger Cookie
(Yield: about 24)
1 stick unsalted, room-temperature butter (115g)
1 1/4 cup brown sugar (325g)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
Zest of 1 orange
Juice of 1 orange
3/4 cup all-purpose flour (135g)
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 cup crystallized ginger, diced small (60g)
1 cup rolled oats (110g)
1 cup graham cracker crumbs (160g)
Raw sugar, for rolling
1. Preheat oven to 350F. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and brown sugar.
2. Add egg, vanilla extract, zest and juice of an orange, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and mix until combined.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, ground ginger, baking soda and salt. Add flour mixture to the creamed mixture and mix on medium until thoroughly combined.
4. Finally, add the diced crystallized ginger, oats and graham cracker crumbs and mix to combine. Dough will be thick.
5. Roll 2 tablespoons of dough into a ball and roll in raw sugar before placing on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through. The edges of the cookie should be a light golden brown. Let cookies stand for 2 minutes before moving to a wire rack to cool completely.
The Cookie: Peppermint Sugar Cookies
Why it's the holiday favorite: "I love this cookie for its simplicity, and nostalgic quality," says Melissa Torre, Cookie Confidential owner and baker. "I've become so know for my weird and crazy cookies, that sometimes the classics I do get overlooked, which is sad because they're just as good as the wild ones. Ingredient quality is so important in a sugar cookie because the butter and vanilla flavors really come through and there's not much competing with them, so you really want to make sure you're using the best you can get. Local/organic really can't be beat when it comes to superior flavor. Weighing out ingredients makes a huge difference as well. Kitchen scales can be very inexpensive, and are well worth the addition if you like to bake."
Peppermint Sugar Cookies
227g butter (I strongly recommend a high fat (90%), pastured, grass fed butter. We use Trickling Springs at the bakery.)
300g cane sugar
3 yolks from large, pastured eggs
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
331g all-purpose flour (if using a standard fat butter (80%), decrease this to 313g flour)
5g baking powder
3g baking soda
3g fine sea salt
6-8 pulverized candy canes
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Cream room temperature butter, sugar, and vanilla. Add in yolks one at a time.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, then add in three parts to the butter/sugar mixture, fully incorporating each addition. Add in candy canes.
3. Chill dough for at least one hour, and then drop in 1-inch balls (a #60 disher works great) on a cookie sheet. Once scooped, roll balls in demera or turbinado sugar, and flatten to about half size with your palm or bottom of a glass. Bake for 8-10 minutes.
The Cookie: Alfejores (Dulce de Leche Cookies)
The Bakery (Truck): Sugar Philly
Why it's the holiday favorite: "I love sandwich cookies," says Daniel Tang, pastry chef of Sugar Philly. "Two cookies and smooth rich filling in between, what's not to love? During the holidays these are the cookies I make for my family and friends since they are a little off beat the traditional holiday cookie trail. They are called alfejores and they originate from South America, I first had one in San Francisco at a farmers market and have never stopped loving them. They are more or less two sandwich cookies filled with dulce de leche, sometimes dipped in chocolate and always dusted with powdered sugar. If you aren't in the mood for, or can't make the dulce de leche, take your pick of fillings: chocolate ganache, lemon curd, varieties of buttercream, Nutella or anything your heart desires."
Yield: Varies upon shape
For the cookie:
8 oz. (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
2 cups flour
1 tsp. of salt
1 vanilla bean or 2 tsp. of vanilla extract
For the Dulce de leche:
1 can of condensed milk (We use the Vietnamese longevity brand.)
1. In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment (or a food processor or a mixing bowl and a wooden spoon) combine the ingredients until they are a homogeneous dough.
2. Take a sheet of plastic wrap and lay it on your kitchen counter. Put the cookie dough in the center of that plastic wrap. Take another sheet of plastic wrap and place it on top of the cookie dough.
3. Use a rolling pin to form a 10 x 10 inch square or until the dough is a little less than a 1/2-inch thick. With the baking pan you are going to use for the cookies, slide the dough with the sheets of plastic wrap onto the pan and place it in the refrigerator for at least 15-20 minutes.
4. Preheat over to 350F. Once the refrigerator time has passed, remove and take off the top piece of plastic wrap. Cut out cookies using whatever cookie cutter you like -- I usually use a fluted 2-inch circle or rectangle cutter. The size of the cutter will determine how many cookies you yield. Place the cookies at least 2 inches apart on the baking sheet, removing the bottom piece of plastic wrap.
5. Bake for 15-20 minutes, rotating the pan and switching oven shelves halfway through, until cookies are golden brown. Cool on rack. When completely cooled, fill with dulce de leche or filling of your choice.. Finish with a dusting of powdered sugar.
For the Dulce de leche: We recommend doing this the day before serving the cookies.
1. Preheat oven to 300F.
2. Take a deep baking pan, stainless steel pot, or something that is deep and can hold up in the oven. Remove the label of the condensed milk and place it into whatever pan/pot you are using. Fill the pan with very hot water so that it's at least two inches above the can. Wrap the top of the pan/pot you are using twice with aluminum foil. Place it into the oven on one of the lower baking racks and let bake for 4-4.5 hours.
3. After the time is up, take the whole can out and place it on a kitchen counter. Let sit for 30 minutes, and then remove from water with tongs. Do not open the can until it is completely cooled. We usually let it sit overnight. It does not need to be refrigerated, but once cool, you may refrigerate.
4. When you open the can there will be a rich, thick, dulce de leche caramel waiting to go between 2 shortbread cookies!
Note: You may also bake multiple cans of condensed milk for other uses. As long as they are refrigerated and not opened, they will last for 3 months.