Lemon buttercream filling helps these soft gingersnaps stand out from the crowd

A few weeks ago, we were utterly charmed by the father-daughter duo of Lily and Les Canter, who had the biggest smiles on their faces when they came to the Statesman on our cookie contest day.

Lily and Les Canter goof around while they enjoy Lily's gingersnap cookies with lemon filling, which were a finalist in the Austin360 Holiday Cookie Contest. Mark Matson / For the American-Statesman
Lily and Les Canter goof around while they enjoy Lily’s gingersnap cookies with lemon filling, which were a finalist in the Austin360 Holiday Cookie Contest. Mark Matson / For the American-Statesman

They were in the office to show off 15-year-old Lily’s lemon frosting-filled gingersnap cookie sandwiches, and these cookies, I tell you, were a near-winner for the whole contest.

They aren’t too gingery and are just divine with the lemon filling, which is a somewhat new addition to the cookie in the Canter household and one that turns it into a sandwich.

Lily is the youngest of four kids in this active Austin family, and she started baking more seriously a few years ago. Dad is in charge of mixing together the dry ingredients and helps devour the results.

Some notes: Make sure you chill the dough well before baking, and Lily mixes the dough by hand in the pot in which she melts the butter.

Father-Daughter Gingersnaps with Lemon Filling

For the cookie:
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cloves
2 cups sugar, divided
1/4 cup dark molasses
1 large egg
For the filling:
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter (3/4 stick), at room temperature
1 Tbsp. finely grated lemon zest (from 1 medium lemon)
1 Tbsp. lemon extract
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 1 medium lemon)

Melt the butter in a large, heavy saucepan over low heat. Cool to tepid. While the butter is cooling, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt and cloves. Set aside.

Using a wooden spoon, stir 1 1/2 cups of the sugar, the molasses and egg into butter, mixing until smooth. Add the dry ingredients, one-half at a time, and blend well. Cover with wax paper and chill for 30 to 45 minutes, until firm.

Heat oven to 375 degrees and butter two cookie sheets. Shape dough into 1-inch balls between the palms of your hands. Place the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar in a shallow dish and roll the balls of dough in the sugar. Place the balls 2 inches apart on the cookie sheet. Bake 8 to 9 minutes. Let cool.

To make the filling: Place the powdered sugar, butter and zest in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until the mixture looks crumbly. Gradually increase the speed to medium and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to low, add the lemon extract and juice and beat until combined, about 30 seconds. Increase the speed to medium and beat until fluffy, about 1 minute more. Spread a thin layer between two cooled cookies and then serve. Makes about 20 cookie sandwiches.

— From Lily Canter

Pretzels, granola bring salty crunch to these Magical Cookies

Barbara Reiss was stuck in New Orleans one Christmas because it was too snowy in New York for her to fly home.

She was with her sister, who was a teacher and always received piles of granola, pretzels and nuts for Christmas from her students, and they decided to use those snacks in their own version of a kitchen sink cookie. Use any combination of salty, crunchy snacks you might find in the pantry. (And Reiss has tried them all, including Triscuits, which she does not recommend. Pretzels hold their crunch better, she reports.)

Barbara Reiss' Magical Cookies (at 1 o'clock on this clock o' cookies) are made with salty, crunchy snacks you might find in your pantry. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman
Barbara Reiss’ Magical Cookies (at 1 o’clock on this clock o’ cookies) are made with salty, crunchy snacks you might find in your pantry. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

As Reiss says, these cookies are fun, flexible, not fancy but really delicious. Ever since her husband and brother-in-law called them the best cookies ever at Christmas that year, she’s made them for birthday parties, gifts and celebrations.

“In our family, cookies make miracles,” she says.

Magical Cookies

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup granola (or other cereal, such as rolled oats)
1/2 cup crushed salted pretzel pieces (or other salty snack food)
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips, chopped chocolate candies, or a small bar of good dark chocolate, chopped into chunks
1/2 cup chopped pecans or other nuts (optional)

Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in medium bowl.

In another bowl, beat butter and sugars at medium-low speed until just combined, about 20 seconds. Increase speed to medium and continue to beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute longer. Scrape down bowl with rubber spatula. Add egg and vanilla and beat on medium-low until fully incorporated, about 30 seconds. Scrape down bowl again.

Using a wooden spoon or a mixer on slow speed, add flour mixture and mix until just incorporated and smooth. Gradually add granola, pretzels, chocolate and nuts and mix until well incorporated, ensuring that no flour pockets remain and ingredients are evenly distributed. (Restrain yourself from eating the raw cookie dough.)

Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Scoop dough into balls, each about 1 1/2 tablespoons, then roll between palms until smooth. Place cookies on prepared baking sheets, spacing them about 2 1/2 inches apart, or about 8 to 12 per sheet. Freeze at least 20 minutes or refrigerate at least one hour before baking. (They will still spread a lot.)

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Bake one sheet at a time until cookies are deep golden brown, 13 to 16 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through.

Let cool completely before gently moving cookies to wire rack. They will be fragile, especially on the edges. Makes 24 to 30 cookies.

— From Barbara Reiss

Secret ingredient to these cakelike cookies? Nostalgia (and ricotta)

Sue Dorrance from Round Rock surprised us with her mom’s ricotta cookies.

Sue Dorrance's mother made these ricotta cookies for many years, and now she's carrying on the tradition. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman
Sue Dorrance’s mother made these ricotta cookies for many years, and now she’s carrying on the tradition. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

“These were a staple back when I grew up in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Every bridal shower, every baby baptism featured these cookies,” she says. “When I eat these, I think of all the people who enjoyed these cookies with me over the years.”

Like many Italian ricotta cookies, this one has a somewhat cakelike consistency, and they aren’t very sweet, but they are just right with the royal icing on top. Dorrance is a librarian at Stony Point High School, and she tints the icing with blue and gold when she makes these cookies for the softball team. “I am their super fan,” she wrote in her submission.

Joan White’s Ricotta Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) butter
2 cups sugar
1 lb. ricotta cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tsp. vanilla
4 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
For the icing:
1 lb. powdered sugar
3 Tbsp. milk, plus more for thinning icing
Food coloring, as desired

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Using standing mixer, if possible, blend butter and sugar. Add cheese, blend well. Add beaten eggs and vanilla and mix until blended. Mix in flour, 1 cup at a time; add baking soda and salt with the first cup of flour.

Drop by heaping teaspoonfuls on greased cookie sheet — they will spread a bit. Bake 15 minutes or until edges just begin to brown. (You can check the bottom of a cookie; it should be golden but not brown.)

For the icing: Blend powdered sugar with 3 Tbsp. milk. If necessary, add more milk, a little at a time, to make a spreadable consistency, but not so thin as to be a glaze. Add food coloring as desired, and spoon a little on top of each cooled cookie. Depending on size of cookie, this recipe can make 4 dozen or more cookies.

— From Sue Dorrance

Despite cancer treatment, baking was therapy for this cookie contest finalist

Anna Núñez has had an incredibly difficult year. Earlier this year, the single mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent various treatments for breast cancer.

The day we emailed her in November to let her know her white chocolate cranberry cookies were a finalist for our Austin360 Holiday Cookie Contest, she was in Houston, recovering from a mastectomy.

She couldn’t make it to Austin to drop off her cookies, but she was able to bake a batch to send to the Statesman with two women from her office. Those same women had already donated sick days so that Núñez didn’t have to miss a paycheck and cooked her food while she was in treatment.

Anna Núñez made these white chocolate cranberry cookies. Mark Matson for American-Statesman
Anna Núñez made these white chocolate cranberry cookies. Mark Matson for American-Statesman

Núñez’s story was a powerful reminder of not only the joy in giving but the necessity of generosity. Baking and sharing holiday cookies might simply brighten someone’s day, but for someone else, it could provide an even greater lesson about the deep goodness in humanity.

“At church and school, I have always shared my baked love, and in an incredible twist of fate, I was blessed for the gifts of food in return during my cancer battle,” she wrote after finding out she was a finalist. “To me, food is love, which is why I love to bake and share my cookies, breads and cakes with everyone. Even throughout my chemotherapy, I have continued to bake cookies for daughter’s school monthly Teacher Appreciation Lunches because I wanted to do my part as a parent. I cannot volunteer or donate money, but I can show my love and gratitude through my baking.”

This cookie bakes at a low temperature, allowing it to spread more slowly as it bakes. Her trick to making soft cookies is moving them from the hot cookie sheet to a clean, cooled one, not a wire rack. The combination of white chocolate and cranberry is a delicate one that kept me coming back for seconds even though I usually don’t like white chocolate.

Anna’s White Chocolate Cranberry Cookies

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground Saigon cinnamon
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, at room temperature
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
1 Tbsp. Mexican vanilla
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries
1 bag (11 oz.) white chocolate chips

Heat oven to 325 degrees. By hand, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a small bowl. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugars and vanilla. Beat in the eggs, cranberries and white chocolate chips.

Combine dry ingredients into the creamed mixture, being very careful not to overmix. Carefully spoon dough onto a cookie sheet and bake for 8 to 10 minutes until golden brown.

— From Anna Núñez

Skip the trip to Starbucks with these knock-off Cranberry Bliss Bars

Starbucks sells a cranberry bliss bar that lots of bakers have been able to re-create at home. One of them is Debbie Crowe, whose recipe was part of our Austin360 Holiday Cookie Contest. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman
Starbucks sells a cranberry bliss bar that lots of bakers have been able to re-create at home. One of them is Debbie Crowe, whose recipe was part of our Austin360 Holiday Cookie Contest. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

Among the many submissions to our holiday cookie contest were cookie bars, which in my mind are cookies because you can eat them without a fork and they’re small enough that you can eat a few at a time.

Although we didn’t end up with any bars in our top five, we decided to publish three bar recipes that very nearly cracked into the finalist round.

Reader Amy Robertson’s holiday squares use raspberry jam, raisins, walnuts and oats, a lovely combination of sweet with just a hint of the bitter from the walnuts and the slight chew of the oats. Laurie Nelson wasn’t afraid of rocking the pecan pie boat by adding both spices and chocolate to her pie-inspired bars, and with this blondie recipe, Debbie Crowe convinced me that I do like white chocolate, as long as it’s paired with cranberries and cream cheese frosting.

Cranberry Ginger Blondies

Crowe, who lives in Lakeway, has been working on her copycat recipe for the popular Starbucks’ cranberry bliss bar. Line the pan with parchment paper for the easiest removal.

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 Tbsp. minced crystallized ginger
1 cup dried cranberries
4 oz. white chocolate chips
For the frosting:
4 oz. cream cheese
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cream together butter, brown sugar and salt. Add eggs and vanilla, mixing until fluffy.

Add flour, baking powder and ginger. Stir until well mixed. Fold in cranberries and white chocolate chips. Spread batter evenly in a 12-inch-by-16-inch baking pan. Bake for about 20 minutes. Allow to cool.

Combine the first four frosting ingredients and mix until smooth. Frost uncut bars and sprinkle with dried cranberries. Cut into shape of your choice and arrange on holiday platter.

— From Debbie Crowe

Food rescue group Keep Austin Fed wins top grant from Austin Food & Wine Alliance

Keeping good food from going to waste is what drives the people who run Keep Austin Fed.

The volunteer-run nonprofit distributes extra food from restaurants and catering companies to Central Texas service organizations, which deliver it to the people they serve.

With an annual budget of less than $20,000, Keep Austin Fed rescues more than 50,000 pounds of food each month. Think what they could do with an extra $10,000.

Next year, they’ll get to do just that.

In 2014, Ira Kaplan, co-founder and events director for Keep Austin Fed, collected donated meals from the Snap Kitchen on Research Blvd. to deliver to a local service organization. Rodolfo Gonzalez / American-Statesman
In 2014, Ira Kaplan, co-founder and events director for Keep Austin Fed, collected donated meals from the Snap Kitchen on Research Blvd. to deliver to a local service organization. Rodolfo Gonzalez / American-Statesman

At a ceremony tonight at the AT&T Executive Education & Conference Center, the Austin Food & Wine Alliance gave out more than $27,000 in grants to groups like Keep Austin Fed, the top winner of the night.

The nonprofit plans to use the money to hire part-time staff to coordinate the more than 200 volunteers who keep the organization running.

Miche Bread is a local bread subscription service whose founder, Sandeep Gyawali, won a grant to help bring mesquite flour to market. Contributed by Miche Bread
Miche Bread is a local bread subscription service whose founder, Sandeep Gyawali, won a grant to help bring mesquite flour to market. Contributed by Miche Bread

The other winners include: Miche Bread, the bread subscription service from baker extraordinaire Sandeep Gyawali, for $7,500 to go toward producing the first commercially available source of flour made from locally foraged mesquite; La Flaca Urban Gardens, whose founder Alejandra Rodriguez Boughton won a $5,000 grant to further her effort to transform underused urban spaces into sustainable gardens and microfarms; SRSLY Chocolate, which won $2,500 to buy a stone mill grinder the company can use to make more bean-to-bar chocolate, and capturing the first-ever Premiere Events Community Grant, the Austin Ed Fund for $2,500 to buy appliances and kitchen gear for local schools.

AFWA named Spun Ice Cream and LeRoy & Lewis as honorable mentions this year.

 

A reminder about the grant program, from a release:

The Alliance’s grant program is the first in the nation to provide funding to support culinary innovation that contributes to the local community. It is intended to support chefs; farmers; wine-, beer-, and spirits-makers; artisan producers; food-focused nonprofits; and educational groups. The grants align with the AFWA’s mission to foster education, awareness, and innovation in the Central Texas food and wine community.

Over the past five years, the Austin Food & Wine Alliance has given out $142,500 in grants and hosted dozens of events, including annual fundraisers, such as Wine & Swine and Live Fire. It also hosts a culinary conference every year for high school students pursuing careers in the food industry.

The organization is also the recipient of donations from the Austin Food & Wine Festival, which this year was canceled due to rain.

 

Recipe of the Week: Tarragon Chicken with Mushrooms and Chickpeas

This tarragon chicken dish is inspired by one traditionally served in southern France and is from Nina Parker, author of “The South of France Cookbook” (Weldon Owen, $35). Contributed by Paul Winch-Furness
This tarragon chicken dish is inspired by one traditionally served in southern France and is from Nina Parker, author of “The South of France Cookbook” (Weldon Owen, $35). Contributed by Paul Winch-Furness

After all this turkey we’ve been eating, maybe it’s time for a weeknight chicken dish.

This spin on poulet à l’estragon, or tarragon chicken, comes from Nina Parker, author of “The South of France Cookbook” (Weldon Owen, $35), who says it is most frequently served in a creamy mushroom tarragon sauce.

Although you could certainly add cream to the pan while making this dish, Parker prefers to serve it with an olive oil-based tarragon dressing drizzled on top. You could use chicken breasts, but the dark meat in the thighs is more flavorful, and the mushrooms and chickpeas soak up the juices while they cook, making a one-pot meal worth serving on a weeknight or at a dinner party.

Tarragon Chicken with Mushrooms and Chickpeas

3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
8 chicken thighs, bone in
Salt and pepper, to taste
3 banana shallots or 8 to 9 regular shallots, thinly sliced
2 cups rinsed and drained canned chickpeas
13 oz. fresh chanterelle mushrooms, halved
2 star anise
3 cloves garlic, sliced
Bunch fresh thyme, leaves picked
For the tarragon dressing:
3/4 tsp. chopped garlic
1/4 cup chopped fresh tarragon leaves
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. sugar

southoffrancebookHeat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Season the chicken thighs generously with olive oil, salt and pepper and add to the hot pan, skin side down. Cook for about 6 minutes, until the skins are golden brown. Turn them over, add the shallots and stir.

Add the chickpeas, mushrooms and star anise and allow the mushrooms to reduce in volume by half, then turn the thighs back to skin side down. Add the garlic and thyme and let everything infuse for a few moments. The chicken should be cooked through after about 15 minutes in total; the juice should run clear when a thigh is pierced with a knife.

While the chicken finishes, make the tarragon dressing by whisking together the remaining ingredients. Remove the star anise and serve the chicken with the dressing drizzled on top, reserving any extra for another use. Serves 4.

— From “The South of France Cookbook” by Nina Parker (Weldon Owen, $35)

Johnson’s Backyard Garden, Drafthouse hosting ‘Grinch’ screening on the farm on Saturday

Only in (warmish, if rainy right now) Texas could we host a Christmas movie screening at a farm.

On Saturday afternoon and evening, the Alamo Drafthouse and Johnson’s Backyard Garden are hosting a screening of “Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas” with a whole bunch of other family friendly holiday activities.

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“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” will show at Johnson’s Backyard Garden on Saturday night.

The movie doesn’t start until 6 p.m., but starting at 3 p.m., you can take a hay ride, pin the tail on the donkey, paint an okra santa ornament, eat from a food truck or compete in a Cindy Lou Who and Grinch look-alike contests.

Tickets cost $20 ($7.50 for kids ages 4 to 17), and you can also bring donations (money or canned goods) for the Central Texas Food Bank. The event is BYOB, and you can buy tickets online or at the door. (Note that they won’t be accepting cash at the door, so cards only if you wait until Saturday.)

Can’t make it on Saturday? The Drafthouse’s Rolling Roadshow is showing holiday movies for the next few Friday nights at the French Legation, plus a Dec. 17 screening of “Home Alone” at Live Oak Brewery.

Did Amazon just reveal the grocery store of the future? What happened to the check-out lanes?

It’s a Monday morning in December, and I just saw a glimpse of the future of grocery shopping.

A future where there are no check-out lines. Where sensors on the shelves can determine when you’ve picked up a product to buy but then change your mind and put it back. Where you scan your phone to walk into the store and then stroll out without interacting with a cashier.

People have been debating what the future of grocery stores looks like for a long time: Smart carts, digital coupons, smaller stores, bigger delivery sales, etc.

But I’m not sure any of us were prepared for what Amazon just announced.

Early next year, Amazon will open its premiere Amazon Go store at 2131 Seventh Ave. in downtown Seattle. From the video and an FAQ on the website, we know that you’ll have to scan your phone in order to get into the store, but once they know you’re there, the sensor technology in the shelves will know when you’ve picked up a product (or put it back) based on the proximity of your phone to the shelf.

(I have no idea what happens when the store is busy because the products themselves *probably* won’t have the sensors actually attached to them, but I could be wrong. Actually, I might be happy to be wrong on that one because it would require quite a bit of human labor to affix sensors to the thousands of products in the store, which would help offset some of the job losses that would come from not requiring cashiers.)

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Without check-out lines, the new Amazon Go store that will open next year in Seattle uses sensor technology to determine when you’ve selected an item, and then you are charged for it after you walk out of the stores. Contributed by Amazon

The retail giant could have picked any kind of goods to sell at this debut 1,800-square-foot store, but they picked food. Why? Food is expensive to ship and it’s a product we often prefer to buy ourselves because we rely on our senses to help us make purchasing decisions. Plus, if you just want to buy a drink or a sandwich, you don’t necessarily want to buy it online for delivery.

The store has been in development for four years, and it will feature “ready-to-eat breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks made fresh every day by our on-site chefs and favorite local kitchens and bakeries. Our selection of grocery essentials ranges from staples like bread and milk to artisan cheeses and locally made chocolates. You’ll find well-known brands we love, plus special finds we’re excited to introduce to customers. For a quick home-cooked dinner, pick up one of our chef-designed Amazon Meal Kits, with all the ingredients you need to make a meal for two in about 30 minutes.”

Yes, they’ve tapped into one more major food trend by making those meal kits available for purchase in the store, too.

It sounds like the store already open to Amazon employees in a beta program, but the company announced that the store would be open to the public in early 2017.

Is it crazy that I’m thinking about buying a plane ticket to Seattle just to check it out? Probably.

Am I crazy to think that this could be what the future of grocery shopping really looks like? Probably not.

Check out this Paramount Theatre made out of gingerbread

This Paramount Theatre-inspired gingerbread creation won the top prize at last night's competition at the Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman
This Paramount Theatre-inspired gingerbread creation won the top prize at last night’s competition at the Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

 

Yes, that’s a Paramount Theatre gingerbread “house.”

Pretty amazing, right?

It was one of the creations at last night’s competition at the Omni Barton Creek Resort and Spa. This is the 9th year for the contest, and crafty bakers at Blue Note Bakery made this amazing Paramount Theatre gingerbread and walked away with a $1,000 prize. Other entries in the Texas-themed contest included versions of the Alamo, a Congress Avenue bridge and several ranch scenes.