Delicious New Ideas for Holiday Treats

Gingerbread and sprinkles overload? Try Sara Moulton's picks for innovative holiday treats. These mouthwatering recipies from GOURMET magazine will keep everyone coming back for more.

Meringue Stars

MAKES 7 DOZEN COOKIES
ACTIVE TIME: 35 min
START TO FINISH: 4 1/2 hr (includes cooling)

Ingredients:

3 large egg whites, at room temperature 30 minutes, divided
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 pinches of cream of tartar, divided
3/4 cup superfine granulated sugar, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons instant-espresso powder
2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 (3 1/2-oz) bar 70%-cacao bittersweet chocolate, melted
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Equipment:

3 (12-inch) disposable pastry bags; a 1/2-inch star tip

Make Vanilla Meringues:

Preheat oven to 200°F with racks in upper, middle, and lower thirds of oven (or use 2 racks and bake in batches). Line 2 or 3 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Beat 1 egg white with vanilla (for vanilla meringues) and a pinch each of cream of tartar and salt with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until it just holds soft peaks. Add 2 tablespoons superfine sugar, a little at a time, beating, then increase speed to high and beat until meringue holds stiff, glossy peaks. Fold in 2 tablespoons superfine sugar gently but thoroughly.

Transfer meringue to a pastry bag fitted with tip, then dab some meringue under corners of parchment on all baking sheets to secure to sheets. Pipe 1-inch-wide stars (1 inch high) about 1/2 inch apart.

Make Coffee Meringues:

Use the same amounts and procedure as for Vanilla Meringues, but use espresso powder (1 1/2 teaspoons) in place of vanilla.

Make Chocolate Meringues:

Sift cocoa through a fine-mesh sieve and whisk together with 2 tablespoons superfine sugar.

Beat remaining egg white with a pinch each of cream of tartar and salt with mixer at medium-high speed until it just holds soft peaks. Add remaining 2 tablespoons superfine sugar, a little at a time, beating, then increase speed to high and beat until meringue holds stiff, glossy peaks. Fold in cocoa mixture gently but thoroughly.

Transfer meringue to a pastry bag and pipe more stars.

Bake Meringues:

Bake, switching position of upper and lower sheets halfway through baking, until dry, crisp, and firm, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. (Meringues are done when they release from parchment.)

Turn off oven and cool meringues in oven with door propped open about 1/2 inch using handle of a wooden spoon 1 hour, then slide parchment with meringues onto racks to cool completely.

Dip meringues in chocolate: Line a large baking sheet with parchment or wax paper.

Stir together chocolate and vegetable oil until completely smooth. Peel meringues off parchment, then dip bottom of each into chocolate, allowing excess to drip off.

Transfer meringues to lined baking sheet, arranging as close together as possible, and when baking sheet is full, freeze meringues just until chocolate is set, about 3 minutes. Remove meringues from freezer.

Cooks' notes:

We used a Wilton 2110/1M star tip for our meringues. An Ateco 885 swirl star tip also works well.

To avoid stickiness, try to bake meringues on a dry day.

Dipped meringues keep, layered between sheets of parchment or wax paper, in an airtight container at cool room temperature 1 week or frozen, container tightly wrapped in plastic wrap, 1 month.

Thaw frozen meringues, still in wrapped container, until container reaches room temperature, at least 30 minutes. (Do not unwrap and open container until completely thawed.)

*Recipe courtesy of GOURMET magazine



Trios (also known as Thumbprint Cookies)

MAKES ABOUT 3 1/2 DOZEN COOKIES
ACTIVE TIME: 1 3/4 hr
START TO FINISH: 3 1/2 hr (includes chilling dough and cooling cookies)

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1/2 lb) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
About 2 tablespoons seedless raspberry jam
About 2 tablespoons apricot preserves
About 2 tablespoons strawberry preserves

Equipment:

A 1/2-inch-thick wooden spoon handle or dowel

Make Dough:

Whisk together flour and salt.

Beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until very pale and fluffy, about 4 minutes, then beat in egg and vanilla.

At low speed, mix in flour mixture in 3 batches just until a dough forms. Divide dough in half and form each piece into a 6-inch disk, then chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, about 1 hour.

Assemble and Bake Cookies:

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Roll 3 separate level teaspoons of dough each into a ball, then flatten each ball slightly (to 1 inch wide and less than 1/2 inch thick). Arrange them in a triangle on baking sheet with edges touching in center, then make a deep indentation in center of each round with wooden spoon handle. Make more cookies, arranging them 1 inch apart on baking sheets.

Fill indentations in each cookie with about 1/8 teaspoon jam (each cookie should have 3 different fillings), avoiding any large pieces of fruit.

Bake until cookies are baked through and golden-brown on edges, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool on baking sheets 5 minutes, then transfer to racks to cool completely.

Bake more batches on cooled baking sheets lined with fresh parchment.

Cooks' notes:

Dough can be chilled up to 2 days.

Cookies keep, layered between sheets of parchment, in an airtight container at room temperature 1 week.

*Recipe courtsey of GOURMET magazine



Chocolate Peanut Toffee


MAKES ABOUT 3 POUNDS OF TOFFEE
ACTIVE TIME: 45 min
START TO FINISH: 1 3/4 hr

Ingredients:

4 sticks (1 lb) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 cups whole cocktail peanuts plus 1 cup chopped (1 lb 10 oz)
7 to 8 oz 70%-cacao bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

Equipment:

A 15- by 10- by 1-inch baking pan; a candy thermometer; a metal offset spatula

Directions:

Butter baking pan and put on a heatproof surface.

Bring butter, sugar, and salt to a boil in a 4- to 5-quart heavy pot over medium-high heat, whisking until smooth, then boil, stirring occasionally, until mixture is deep golden and registers 300°F (hard-crack stage; see Kitchen Notebook, page 240) on thermometer, 15 to 20 minutes.

Immediately stir in whole peanuts, then carefully pour hot toffee into center of baking pan. Spread with spatula, smoothing top, and let stand 1 minute, then immediately sprinkle chocolate on top.

Let stand until chocolate is melted, 4 to 5 minutes, then spread over toffee with cleaned spatula.

Sprinkle evenly with chopped peanuts, then freeze until chocolate is firm, about 30 minutes. Break into pieces.

Cooks' note:

Toffee keeps, layered between sheets of parchment paper, in an airtight container at cool room temperature 2 weeks.

*Recipe courtsey of GOURMET magazine



Double-Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

MAKES ABOUT 3 1/2 DOZEN COOKIES
ACTIVE TIME: 1 1/4 hr
START TO FINISH: 4 hr (includes chilling dough)

Dough Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1/2 lb) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Ganache Ingredients:

1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 tablespoons light corn syrup
3/4 lb fine-quality white chocolate, melted
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
decorative sugar (optional garnish)

Equipment:

A 1 3/4-inch fluted round cookie cutter

Make Dough:

Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt.

Beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy, then beat in yolk and vanilla. At low speed, mix in flour mixture in 3 batches just until a dough forms. Divide dough in half and form each piece into a 6-inch square, then chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, 2 to 3 hours.

Make Ganache while dough chills:

Bring cream and corn syrup just to a simmer in a small heavy saucepan, then stir into melted chocolate. Stir in butter and vanilla until smooth. Cover surface with parchment paper and chill, stirring occasionally, until very thick, about 30 minutes.

Cut and Bake Cookies:

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter 2 large baking sheets.

Roll out 1 piece of dough between sheets of parchment paper into a 14- by 10-inch rectangle (1/8 inch thick). Slide dough in parchment onto a tray and freeze until dough is firm, about 10 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough.

Cut out as many rounds as possible from first chilled square with cutter, reserving and chilling scraps, then quickly transfer cookies to a buttered baking sheet, arranging them 1/2 inch apart. (If dough becomes too soft, return to freezer until firm.)

Sprinkle half of cookies with decorative sugar (if using), then bake cookies until baked through and slightly puffed, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on sheet on rack 5 minutes, then transfer to rack to cool completely (cookies will crisp as they cool).

Make more cookies with remaining dough and scraps (reroll only once).

Assemble Sandwich Cookies:

Beat ganache with an electric mixer at high speed just until light and fluffy. Transfer to a sealable plastic bag (snip off 1/8 to 1/4 inch from 1 corner with scissors).

Pipe ganache onto flat sides of plain cookies, then top with sugared cookies to make sandwiches. Chill, layered between sheets of parchment, in an airtight container until filling is set, at least 1 hour.

Cooks' notes:

Dough can be chilled up to 2 days.

Ganache can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, its surface covered with parchment. Bring to room temperature, then beat with mixer before using.

Sandwiched cookies keep, chilled, 4 days.

*Recipe courtsey of GOURMET magazine