The bright (and not-so-bright) side of making Jell-O cookies

Jell-O and cookies are two super kid-friendly desserts, but what happens when you combine them?

A few weeks ago, a reader emailed me about Jell-O cookies that she’d seen in an Arizona newspaper and thought me and my boys might like to try for a summer project. I picked up some Jell-O on a slow weekend day, and we set out to try this somewhat weird combination.

Making Jell-O cookies is easy, but don’t use more Jell-O than the recipe calls for. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

The recipe (below) is a simple sugar cookie recipe, but some of the sugar is replaced with the Jell-O. The original recipe said you could halve the recipe to make different colors, so that’s what I did, but I made the mistake of using the whole package of Jell-O in each.

To be honest, I was just trying not to waste half a pack of Jell-O, but looking back, I should have just tossed that extra 1 1/2 ounces because the resulting cookies — though cute — were too tart and sour to really enjoy. The cookies do need that extra 1/2 cup of granulated sugar and even the decorative sugar (or, in our case, Skittles) to sweeten the treats.

These Jell-O cookies were fun for my kids to roll out and cut. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

Otherwise, this was a fun cookie to make! The dough has a nice texture to it that’s easy to roll and cut with the cookie cutters. The bright red color of the cherry Jell-O was more eye-popping than the grape flavor, and even though we didn’t like that first batch (because of my error), I’m going to try again with the lime Jell-O, just to see how the green turns out.

We added Skittles to our Jell-O cookies. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

If you’re looking for a brightly colored cookie that does not have Jell-O in it, you should check out this story we did a few years ago about making colored dough for the most adorable sugar cookies ever.

You can just use food coloring to brighten up your sugar cookie dough. Tina Phan / American-Statesman

RELATED: True love colors: These bright bites are perfect for any Valentine celebration

Jell-O Cookies

3/4 cup butter, slightly softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 (3-ounce) package Jell-O or flavored gelatin powder (not sugar-free)
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 1/2 cups flour, or slightly more if batter is too sticky
Food coloring, if desired for more color
In a mixing bowl, cream together butter, sugar and Jell-O until well blended. Add eggs and cream well. Add salt, baking powder and flour, mixing well. Add food coloring if desired.
Scoop batter into a bowl, cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours to harden. When ready to bake, heat oven to 350 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough 1/4- to 1/2-inch thick. Use cookie cutters to cut out patterns. Sprinkle with decorative sugar.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place cookies on baking sheet about 1-inch apart. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until done. Let cool on baking rack and then store in airtight container.

— Adapted from a recipe by Jan D’Atri

If you’ve never baked bread, here’s the absolute easiest way to get started

To paraphrase the great Oprah Winfrey: “I love bread.”

OK, that’s her Weight Watchers quote verbatim, so I’m not paraphrasing. I, too, love bread, especially the homemade kind.

No-knead breads are a great introduction to baking bread. You mix together the dry ingredients, add the wet and then stir with a spatula. Alexandra Stafford’s method calls for baking the dough in a buttered Pyrex bowl, which is a great use for this common cooking vessel. Other oven-proof bowls are fine, but the 1 1/2 quart bowls are the right size for two loaves. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

Over the years, I’ve baked bread the laborious way and the easy (but overnight) no-knead way and now I’ve found a new no-knead technique that doesn’t require fermenting the dough for 12 hours but yields a wonderful loaf nonetheless.

MORE: Headed out on your own? Here’s a no-knead bread for beginner bakers 

This new technique comes from Alexandra Stafford’s new book, “Bread Toast Crumbs: Recipes for No-Knead Loaves & Meals to Savor Every Slice” (Clarkson Potter, $30), which I got a few months ago and have been baking with ever since. I’ve made her regular loaf, a quinoa flax loaf, one with olives and another with cinnamon and raisins, and each I would make again, if I haven’t already.

From Stafford’s base recipe, you can make all kinds of additional loaves, like this one with quinoa, flaxseeds and pumpkin seeds. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

In today’s food section, you can find three of those recipes, but I wanted to share the base recipe here and encourage you to try it, even if you’ve never baked bread before.

Baking bread isn’t one of those skills you have to have to feed yourself, but I have found that baking bread gives me the confidence to try other kitchen tasks I might have thought were out of my leave. Plus, it’s cheap to experiment with, and unlike my previous no-knead favorite, this recipe doesn’t take much time to complete.

The Peasant Bread Master Recipe

Here it is: The no-knead bread recipe my mother has been making for 40 years, the one she taught me to make 20 years ago, the recipe I published on my blog in 2012, the recipe that inspired the creation of every recipe that follows in this book. This formula is simple — 4 cups flour, 2 cups water, 2 teaspoons each salt and sugar, and 2 1/4 teaspoons yeast — and can be adapted in countless ways. Make it once as described below, then tailor it to your liking.

— Alexandra Stafford

4 cups (512 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
2 cups lukewarm water
Softened unsalted butter, for greasing

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, sugar and instant yeast. Add the water. Using a rubber spatula, mix until the water is absorbed and the ingredients form a sticky dough ball.

Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel or plastic wrap and set aside in a warm spot to rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until the dough has doubled in bulk.

Set a rack in the middle of the oven and heat it to 425 degrees. Grease two 1-quart oven-safe bowls with the softened butter — be generous. Using two forks, deflate the dough by releasing it from the sides of the bowl and pulling it toward the center. Rotate the bowl quarter-turns as you deflate, turning the mass into a rough ball.

Using your two forks and, working from the center out, separate the dough into two equal pieces. Use the forks to lift each half of the dough into a prepared bowl. If the dough is too wet to transfer with forks, lightly grease your hands with butter or oil, then transfer each half to a bowl. Do not cover the bowls. Let the dough rise on the countertop near the oven (or another warm, draft-free spot) for 10 to 20 minutes, until the top of the dough just crowns the rims of the bowls.

Transfer the bowls to the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375 degrees and bake for 17 to 20 minutes more, until evenly golden all around. Remove the bowls from the oven and turn the loaves out onto cooling racks. If the loaves look pale, return them to their bowls and bake for 5 minutes longer. Let the loaves cool for 15 minutes before cutting. Makes two 14-ounce loaves.

— From “Bread Toast Crumbs: Recipes for No-Knead Loaves & Meals to Savor Every Slice” by Alexandra Stafford (Clarkson Potter, $30)


Science proves that baking these brownies will make you happy

Need an excuse to make these brownies?

Three brownies from our Year of Baking project. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

You probably don’t, but just in case you do, scientists have recently figured out why baking, cooking and other creatives tasks make you feel better on a gray, rainy or otherwise blue day.

I’m usually annoyed by stories and claims like this, but something about this one struck me. Maybe it was this part from the lead author of the study: “People who worked on little creative projects every day also felt they were “flourishing”—a psychological term that describes the feeling of personal growth.”

My go-to dessert right now are these fudgy brownies from our Year of Baking series last year. Good Housekeeping originally published the recipe years ago, and it’s so good, it’s worth republishing on the blog.  (Want a vegan or gluten-free brownie recipe? We got ya covered.)

Click here to check out all of our Year of Baking recipes and projects.

Good Housekeeping’s Fudgy Brownies

Super rich, with lots of deep, dark chocolate flavor, these brownies have a moist and fudge-like texture. The sugar cools down the heated butter and chocolate so that you don’t accidentally cook the eggs. Feel free to use any combination of chocolate you’d like. Eight ounces of chocolate chips will work in a pinch but not quite as well as the bars of chocolate you’ll find in the baking aisle. You could reduce the recipe for an 8-inch-by-8-inch pan by using half of a cup flour, a pinch of salt, a stick butter, 2 ounces of chocolate, a cup of sugar, a teaspoon of vanilla and two eggs.

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. granulated salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
4 oz. unsweetened, semisweet or dark chocolate, broken into chunks
4 oz. semisweet chocolate, broken into chunks
2 cups sugar
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
5 large eggs, beaten

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9-inch-by-13-inch baking pan with foil and coat with cooking spray. In a small bowl, whisk together flour and salt.

In a heavy, 4-quart saucepan over low heat, melt butter and add chocolate pieces, stirring with a whisk or wooden spoon until smooth. Stir in sugar and vanilla. Add eggs and stir until well mixed. Stir flour mixture into chocolate mixture until just blended. Spread batter evenly in prepared pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.

When cool, lift out the brownies and peel foil away from the sides. Cut into pieces and serves. Makes about 24 brownies.

— Adapted from a Good Housekeeping recipe

Why fondant and small-batch baking are a parent’s best friend

It’s February now, so I’m finally recovering from the crazy Year of Baking we had last year.

We ended the year with cookies. Lots and lots of cookies. Then I went into a month-long cooking challenge, where I needed the oven and baking sheets for roasting meat and vegetables. The only time I used my pie crust was to make quiche.

But February is here, and I’m starting to get the sweet tooth again. We’re also dealing with a serious case of technology overload in my house, so last Friday, just after we got home from school, I made them put the devices away and do a project together. Any project. We’d just made chocolate butter earlier in the week, so sweets and Valentine’s Day were also on their mind.

MORE: Two-ingredient chocolate butter will keep your kids busy, learning about science


One of the shows they watch on those Internet-abled machines is Nerdy Nummies, Rosanna Parsons’ super fun geek baking show. She made a motherboard cake in a recent episode, complete with graphics card slots, plugs, a processor mount and capacitors made with chocolates and candy. My kids aren’t quite old enough to nerd out about the microchips and motherboard design just yet, but they were inspired to make a basic motherboard using fondant, the Play-Doh of icing.

Fondant is a type of thick, mold-able icing that kids love playing with. You can buy it in different colors, or you can have your kids knead in food coloring for a fun afternoon baking project. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman
Fondant is a type of thick, mold-able icing that kids love playing with. You can buy it in different colors, or you can have your kids knead in food coloring for a fun afternoon baking project. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

While they got to work kneading the fondant with food coloring, I made a quick brownie recipe that stands out only because of its size. It’s a small-batch recipe, which I have finally figured out is perfect for my family of three.

Here’s why small-batch baking makes sense: Traditional baking just yields too much sugary deliciousness.

My kids recently made this Nerdy Nummies-inspired motherboard brownie. We used a small-batch brownie recipe, which made a treat that we could reasonably eat in a few days without overindulging on sugar. They loved playing with the fondant, which is like an edible Play-Doh. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman
My kids recently made this Nerdy Nummies-inspired motherboard brownie. We used a small-batch brownie recipe, which made a treat that we could reasonably eat in a few days without overindulging on sugar. They loved playing with the fondant, which is like an edible Play-Doh. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

If I bake a whole tray of brownies, either I’m eating them, the kids are eating them or I’m taking them to work. Not bad options, but not if I’m trying to make sure we eat a sensible amount of woah foods. Small-batch baking means making a quantity of treats that we could responsibly eat over a few days.

Like baby bear’s porridge, that CD-sized brownie from a souffle dish seemed just the right size for us. After the big brownie cooled, they started decorating it like a motherboard with that fondant Play-Doh they’d been busy kneading and rolling out with a rolling pin. (Feel free to break out the cookie cutters if you try this at home.)

Seriously, that fondant kept them busy for an hour. And then we got to eat the results, without a mountain of leftovers to tempt us all week long. That’s a win-win if you ask me.

You can buy fondant in the baking section of many nicer grocery stores, and it’s definitely for sale at Make It Sweet Bake Shop and some arts and crafts stores, such as Michael’s and Hobby Lobby.



Royal icing tips to make those Christmas cookies extra special

Royal icing can be deceptively simple. Some powdered sugar icings or glazes are made with simply powdered sugar and a little liquid, but real royal icing is a little different.

Or a lot different, depending on whom you ask. In “Christmas Cookie Swap! More Than 100 Treats to Share this Holiday Season” (Oxmoor House, $19.95), you’ll find this base royal icing recipe from that has meringue powder to get the correct consistency for decorated sugar cookies or gingerbread houses. Meringue powder is usually sold in cans in the baking aisle of the grocery store. If you don’t have meringue powder on hand, you follow Alton Brown’s recipe for a three-ingredient egg white royal icing.

Royal icing is what makes decorated sugar cookies so special. You'll have to pipe a thin line around the outer edge of the cookie and then fill it in after the outer line has dried. Contributed by Oxmoor House
Royal icing is what makes decorated sugar cookies so special. You’ll have to pipe a thin line around the outer edge of the cookie and then fill it in after the outer line has dried. Contributed by Oxmoor House

To fill in cookies like the one shown here, pipe a thin outline around the edge of the cookie and let it dry before filling the cookie in with additional icing. If you don’t let the outer line dry, your icing will spill over the edge of the cookie before it dries. A hint: If you are going to use it to decorate a gingerbread structure, decorate the panels of the house while they are lying flat so the icing doesn’t drip. Let the icing dry for an hour before you start packing them up or building your gingerbread construction.

And just a reminder: If you missed our Christmas cookie section a few weeks ago, you can find the winning recipes from our holiday cookie contest, as well as some impressively decorated cookies from local bakers and tips from Dorie Greenspan, at

1 (16-oz.) package powdered sugar
3 Tbsp. meringue powder
5 to 6 Tbsp. warm water
1 tsp. light corn syrup
Food coloring paste (optional)

Combine powdered sugar, meringue powder, water and corn syrup in a large bowl. Beat at medium-low speed with an electric mixer for 5 to 7 minutes. Divide and tint with food coloring, if desired. Icing dries quickly, so keep it covered at all times. Makes 3 cups.

— From “Christmas Cookie Swap!: More Than 100 Treats to Share this Holiday Season” (Oxmoor House, $19.95)

Winning iced lemon cookies will be a keeper for your recipe box, cookie tin

Few of our contestants bake (and ship) as many cookies as Arleen Acton, who ended up winning the taste category of our Holiday Cookie Contest with her iced lemon cookies.

Arleen Action won our Holiday Cookie Contest with these iced lemon cookies that are topped with crushed pistachios. Mark Matson / For the American-Statesman
Arleen Action won our Holiday Cookie Contest with these iced lemon cookies that are topped with crushed pistachios. Mark Matson / For the American-Statesman

The Leander-based baker, who moved to Central Texas from Indiana a few years ago, starts making cookies before Thanksgiving so she can make any tweaks to the recipes and test out new ones to add to the rotation. She packs them up carefully by placing layers of bubble wrap and parchment paper — cut to match the size of the tin — between the cookies, so they won’t shake around. She then sends dozens of these cookie packages to friends and families all over the country.

The pistachio-topped lemon cookies she brought in were just perfect, in part because they were bite-size but also because they were baked and iced with such precision. Each was uniform, and the judges loved the salty, tart, sweet combination of the shortbread, nuts and lemon icing.

Iced Lemon Cookies

Acton makes these cookies a little smaller than you might expect them to be, so, as with all cookies, the yield will vary greatly depending on the size of the dough you place on the pan.

For the cookies:
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. grated lemon peel
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
1/4 tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. sugar, for flattening cookies
For the topping:
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 to 3/4 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup coarsely chopped shelled pistachios

In large bowl, beat butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in egg, oil and lemon peel until well blended. Beat in flour, baking soda, cream of tartar and salt until well blended. Cover dough with plastic wrap, refrigerate 2 hours.

Heat oven to 325. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten cookies into 2-inch rounds with bottom of glass dipped in sugar. Bake 9 to 11 minutes or until light golden brown.

Blend powdered sugar and enough lemon juice for desired spreading consistency. Spread frosting on cooled cookies. Sprinkle pistachios on frosting before it sets.

— From Arleen Acton

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