Last week, my dining room table was covered with cookies. After tins for teachers and plates for friends and neighbors, it’s dwindled to a manageable amount for the remainder of the holiday. We’re crazy about cookies at our house, but no one’s crazier about them than Anna Ginsberg, an Austin mom who writes the popular blog Cookie Madness. She’s also a former winner of the Pillsbury Bake Off and several other recipe contests. LiveMom got the chance to ask her a few questions and got two of her favorite holiday cookie recipes!
Photo credit here.
LM: We know you won the “big one” – the Pillsbury Bake Off – a few years ago. Do you still enter a lot of contests?
AG: These days I don’t enter a lot of contests. My blog keeps me busy, but I’ve also noticed a lot of cooking contests have turned into online voting contests. To me, those are a measure of how good you are at getting friends to vote for you rather than how well you write a recipe. I’m starting to see more old fashioned “create a recipe and send it in” contests, so that’s a good thing. Lucky Leaf just announced theirs. The prize is $4,000 and all you have to do is come up with a creative use for pie filling.
LM: How did you start experimenting with baking? Did you bake with your mother or grandmother when you were young?
AG: My mother and grandmother hated to cook and didn’t like having kids in the kitchen because it made them even more anxious than they already were! In third grade I was a latchkey kid, so I took the opportunity to sneak into the kitchen and try to bake when my mom wasn’t home. I remember calling a friend’s mom and asking her to read me her sugar cookie recipe over the phone. We only had a couple of cookbooks in the house and they were all newlywed-type books focusing on dinner. Later, after I learned how to clean up messes and my family was confident I wasn’t going to burn the house down, someone gave me a Betty Crocker kids’ cookbook.
LM: Do you include your daughter in baking now?
AG: The funny thing is, she’s just not that into it. I keep bringing her in and trying to teach her things, and she’s always up for learning, but she doesn’t seem super enthusiastic about it like some kids. She spent a few days at a friend’s house and this particular friend loves to cook dinner for her family. Her mom told me that Emma was more into turning the kitchen into a pretend restaurant and making little menus than actual cooking.
LM: How much baking do you do at Christmas? Do people expect baked goods from you at this time of the year?
AG: People are so used to seeing me in the kitchen that no one expect anything different (no more, no less) at Christmas. My dad used to love it when I’d make almond toffee, but I taught my stepmom how to make it so she does it. At Christmas, I just do the same thing as always – bake cookies and give them away, only in Christmas tins.
LM: Would you share one or two of your favorite holiday cookie recipes with us?
AG: Here are two of my absolute favorites.
Apricot-Orange Shortbread Bars
(Adapted from Julia Hasson’s recipe in Bon Appétit)
1 cup apricot preserves
3 tablespoons orange liqueur (such as Grand Marnier)
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup almond paste (from 7-ounce roll), crumbled
1/2 cup sliced almonds, divided
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a 9×9-inch pan with parchment. If making half batch, use a 9×5 inch loaf pan. Combine preserves and orange juice; set aside.
In a small mixing bowl, crumble up almond paste and set that aside as well. In a large mixing bowl, beat together butter, sugar and almond extract. By hand, stir in flour and salt. Scoop out 1 cup of the flour mixture and add to the bowl with almond paste. Mix this together to form topping. Add the sliced almonds.
Press remaining flour mixture into bottom of lined pan. Spread apricot/orange mixture over top. Crumble flour/almond paste/almond mixture over filling. Bake for about 1 hour at 325 degrees. Cut into 32 bars.
Tex-Mex Chocolate Cookies
This one is from a recipe contest I judged; it was submitted by Michael Hegedus.
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder (natural is key – don’t use Dutch or European Style)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon chipotle powder
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup unsalted butter, softened (2 sticks)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup honey (local honey, if available)
3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 large package (12 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 cups pecans, roughly chopped and toasted
Cinnamon sugar for coating:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt and spices together in a medium bowl.
In a separate large bowl, cream butter with sugars, honey and vanilla extract. Add eggs, one at a time. Slowly incorporate dry mixture into batter. Stir in pecans and chocolate chips.
Chill batter in refrigerator for approximately 15 minutes.
Roll into tablespoon-sized balls (1 1/2 inches) and coat with cinnamon sugar coating, then place on cookie sheets that are greased or lined with parchment or silpat. Bake for approximately 10 minutes or until outer surface begins to crack.
Place unused raw batter back in refrigerator between batches. Cool cookies on a wire rack before storing in an airtight container. Yields approximately 3 dozen cookies.
Written by: Shannon Oelrich