Ah, the joy of the holiday cookie tray. I adore the holiday cookie tray! I even love the boxes of butter cookies that appear on store shelves just before Halloween, heralding the season. Is it the variety of shapes only seen once a year? Is it the fact that each is in it's own special space of white ruffled paper, pretty ballerinas all in a row? Or maybe it's the ...
size of the cookies. Cookie trays are typically made of smaller treats, just a bite or two so that you can sample several without breaking the calorie budget. Yes, I think that may be a big part of the attraction for me. Being able to sample 4 or 5 different cookies makes me feel like a princess being served delicacies on a silver platter, each more unique and tasty than the last.
Cookie trays also hold great memories for me. Coming from a very small family of just 5 people (no aunts, no uncles, no cousins) I've always adopted family where I could. When we first moved to Barre, Massachusetts we adopted my Gramma Coppolino. Gramma Coppolino lived across the street from us, and had lost her husband the year we moved in. It may have seemed odd for a French/Scottish girl to have a first generation Italian noni, but it worked for me!
We would visit her on Sundays after church, and make sure she was doing well. She nearly always had delicious treats to share. I had my first pizzelle at her house, as well as nutmeg logs and the best pizza ever, bar none. If Gramma's family couldn't be with her for an occasion, we would get together and eat and share. I still have some of her recipes and make them every year.
So, how do Gramma Coppolino and cookie trays fit together? Well, she was a great cookie baker, but it's really through her daughter Mary. For those of you in New England, this may ring some holiday bells, as Mary Bevilacqua was one of the founders of the Wellesley Cookie Exchange, one of the first major cookie exchanges, or cookie swaps in the country.
The Exchange, as it is known was written up in most every newspaper in New England and has made numerous appearances in Yankee Magazine and other national publications. For those of you who are new to cookie exchanges, each person brings a few dozen special cookies, along with the recipe and these cookies are passed around. Each person takes a few of each cookie, and when you leave you have a tray full of many, many delicious cookies and new recipes to match. It's a lovely way to share your special recipes and traditions, plus for the time and effort of baking one batch of cookies, you end up with all of your cookies for the season. Genius!
Gramma Coppolino of course went to the Exchange every year, so she baked and baked and baked beforehand. We always received beautiful trays of cookies and treats which I'm sure were a big part of the reason I love to bake.
And then one year, my mother and I received an invitation to the Exchange. I mean to THE EXCHANGE! I don't remember too much about the actual day, I was only about 13, it's more like feelings I have. I remember a warm house, full of laughing women in their holiday best. I remember twinkling lights and holiday greens with touches of gold. I remember tray after tray after tray of the most lovely cookies, and stories from each lady about the cookies she had chosen for that year.
What I don't remember is what cookies we brought, it may have been my mother's lemon bars, but I do know that if I had had the recipe then for these Chocolate Bon Bon Drops, they would have been there, with the best of the best of the season. These deep chocolate cookies have a sandy, shortbread like texture and the thick vanilla glaze melts on your tongue. With their tiny size, about as big as a silver dollar (remember those?), you can have more than one with your tea or coffee, and still try a few other goodies too. Let's make Chocolate Bon Bon Drops.
Combine all of the cookie dough ingredients in the bowl of your mixer and blend on medium speed until a soft, smooth, cohesive dough is formed. The dough will move in one mass and clean the sides of the bowl. Easy clean up for you!
Shape the dough into a disc, about 3/4" thick. You won't be rolling this dough, but the even thickness will help the dough chill evenly.
Wrap the disc well in cling wrap and press it out a bit further if desired. Place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, or as long as overnight.
When the dough is well chilled, it will have a consistency close to fudge, or baked brownies.
Using a teaspoon scoop or your hands, shape the dough into small balls, about the size of a large gumball. You can roll the balls smooth, or leave them rough. It won't make much of difference in the final cookies.
Space the cookies evenly on a parchment lined pan. Leave about 2 inches between the cookies. These cookies will dome up nicely, like little chocolate bon bons. They don't spread much, but you still want to leave space so that the air can circulate around them evenly. Bake at 350° for 7-10 minutes.
Chocolate cookies can scorch easily, so keep an eye on them. If you begin to smell chocolate in the kitchen, they're done. Do not allow yourself to get distracted!
OKAY! I allowed myself to get distracted by Susan Reid's onion cheese pizza (recipe coming in a later Baking Sheet). I nearly burned a whole batch of cookies, but caught them just in time.
While the cookies are cooling on their trays, it's time to prepare the icing. I understand that it's helpful to have substitutions and options, so I'll show the 3 different glazes I tried on these cookies and how they differ. First, measure out 2 cups of confectioners' sugar, and sift it well. I did this once for each of the 3 bowls, so each bowl is equal. Remember, you only need to make one version, whichever suits you best.
1/4 cup of heavy cream is added and the icing is stirred until smooth. Now, which vanilla to use?
First up, Madagascar Bourbon vanilla extract, a kitchen staple. It makes a good icing with nice vanilla flavor. A good go-to for all around vanilla baking.
Next up, the new kid on the block, Vanilla Bean Crush. A mixture of Madagascar and Tahitian vanillas, with vanilla bean flecks.
Slightly thicker than regular vanilla extract, it won't thin out your icing as much. If you want a flavorful floral vanilla, this is a good choice.
Last but certainly not least, the winner of our taste tests for this icing, Vanilla Bean Paste.
Thick as syrup and full of vanilla bead flecks, this paste gives the icing rich flavor, vanilla at it's best. Vanilla Bean Paste is my personal favorite for icing, glaze, whipped cream and vanilla ice cream. It's a bit too sticky to use as a perfume, but I have tried!
Clockwise from top left, Vanilla Bean Paste, Madagascar Vanilla Extract and bottom, Vanilla Bean Crush. Chose whichever best suits your tastes and pantry. It's all vanilla and it's all good!
With the icing done, it's time to choose some simple decorations. I've totally in love with our new chocolate pearls. These are not chocolate coated "choc-o-late" filling. These are pure, solid dark chocolate by Barry Callebaut. Think gourmet chocolate in pretty shiny pearl shapes. FABU!
For a brighter, cheerier topping try maraschino cherries. You can go whole hog and use whole cherries, but I like to cut mine in half with scissors.
Allow the cherry pieces to drain a bit on paper towels to avoid juice dripping down your cookies.
I like to ice the cookies while they are still just barely warm. It helps the icing flow just a bit down the cookie.
Add your toppers before the icing sets to avoid cracks in the icing. The icing will stay soft and smooth but does get a thin crust on the outside over time.
An alternative to icing each cookie by hand is to place the icing in a heavy zip top bag and snip off a corner.
Use the zip top bag like a piping bag and squeeze a dollop of icing on each cookie.
Don't worry about the little peak on top. Just push it down with your chocolate pearl topper.
Look at those sweet little sweets, each packing a big burst of chocolate and vanilla goodness, not to mention good cheer and holiday wishes! Gramma Coppolino, these are for you, I miss you every day.
Please bake, rate and review our recipe for Chocolate Bon Bon Drops.