By Allison Campbell-Jensen
Baking cookies for the winter holidays warms us twice, once with the heat from the oven and secondly with the cheerful feelings from those tasting the sweet treats. We asked baker and librarian Megan Kocher, the curator of the Doris Kirschner Cookbook Collection in Magrath Library, for her favorite cookie cookbooks for the holidays.
Each of her three favorites is grounded in Minnesota and can be found in the Kirschner Collection. The collection doesn’t circulate, so you can always find the books on the shelf.
Kocher starts with Sarah Kieffer’s “100 Cookies: The baking book for every kitchen with classic cookies, novel treats, brownies, bars, and more” (Chronicle Books, 2020).
“I’ve made many recipes from this cookbook and every one is my new favorite,” Kocher says. “I got my friend, Paul Wester, head of the National Agricultural Library and avid baker, into it, too,” she adds. “We like to share our progress as we bake our way through this book. My kiddo’s favorite recipe from this book is the Neapolitan cookies, which are a good way to put little hands to work in the kitchen.”
Kieffer, based in Minneapolis, dived into cookie baking while working at the Blue Heron Coffeehouse in Winona, Minnesota. She also was a baker at Bordertown Coffee in Dinkytown for many years. After her two children were born, she became a home baker. Kieffer is the author of the Vanilla Bean Blog, where one can find many of her recipes (including the famous pan-banging chocolate chip cookies), answers to frequently asked questions, and links to buy her cookbooks.
‘The Minnesota Cookie Book’
Next up is “The Great Minnesota Cookie Book: Award-winning recipes from the Star Tribune’s Holiday Cookie Contest” (University of Minnesota Press, 2018). The authors — former editor of the Star Tribune’s award-winning Taste section, Lee Svitak Dean, and James Beard Award–winning writer Rick Nelson — collected more than 70 standouts by local bakers.
“What I most appreciate about this book,” Kocher says, “is that it offers all levels of recipes. You can find simple delicious ones as well as intricate, complex recipes that really stand out on a cookie tray.”
The authors write: “We are not looking for recipes that everyone already has — this contest calls for something different. The recipes that make the winner’s circle must delight and inspire both longtime bakers and those entering the kitchen for the first time.”
‘Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book’
Charming images and keepsake recipes are featured in the final book on Kocher’s short list, “Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book,” first published by Minnesota-based General Mills in 1963. Doris Kirschner owned the book in the collection; it bears her book seal.
In addition, one can find some marginal notes in Kirschner’s tight yet elegant handwriting. By the recipe for White Fruit Bars, she wrote: “For boys who didn’t like candied fruit, they sure did a good job on them.”
“Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book” has been so popular over the years that it was reissued in 2002, Kocher notes, and you can still get brand new copies from your local bookstore (these lack the helpful notes from Doris, however). Sugar cookies from this cookbook are a must-do for Kocher; bakers can exercise their creativity with an array of cookie cutters and decorations.
Three recipes for you to try
Check out the following three recipes, fresh from your Libraries.
1. Orange Almond Shortbread Cookies
From “100 Cookies”
Orange Almond Shortbread Cookies
Makes about 40 cookies
2 large egg yolks
2 Tbls. triple sec or other orange liqueur
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup confectioner’s sugar
1 Tbls. orange zest
½ tsp. salt
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup sliced almonds
Sanding sugar, for sprinkling
Line several sheet pans with parchment paper. In a small liquid measuring cup or bowl, use a fork to mix the egg yolks, triple sec, and vanilla together. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade, pulse the flour, granulated and confectioner’s sugars, orange zest, and salt together. Scatter the butter over top of the flour mixture and pulse until the mixture looks like wet sand, 8 to 10 one-second pulses. Pour the egg yolk mixture over the top of the flour mixture and pulse until the dough is smooth and starts to pull away from the sides of the processor, about 10 more one-second pulses.
Scrape the dough out of the processor and wrap it in plastic. Chill for 20 to 30 minutes in the refrigerator, just until it is cool to the touch, but not hard. Flour a work surface and roll the dough out somewhere between 1/8 inch and ½ inch thick (the thinner the dough, the crispier the shortbread, so this is a personal preference). Use a 1½-inch biscuit cutter to cut out circles, then place the cookies on the sheet pan, 12 to a pan. (If your shortbread circles stick to the counter at all, you can slide a spatula underneath to help move them to the baking pans.) Extra dough can be rerolled to make more cookies.
Adjust an oven rack to the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Cover each cookie with sliced almonds and gently press them into the dough. Generously sprinkle sanding sugar over the top, then chill each pan in the refrigerator for 15 minutes before placing it in the oven. Bake one pan at a time, rotating halfway through baking. Bake until the edges are light golden brown, 13 to 14 minutes.
Leave the cookies on the pans for 10 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to finish cooling and crisping up. Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.
2. Chocolate Peppermint Cookies
From “The Great Minnesota Cookie Book,” a recipe from Karen Evans of Minneapolis that is her family’s all-time favorite. Karen works in the U’s Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, and Biophysics.
Chocolate Peppermint Cookies
Makes about 2 dozen cookies
1½ cups flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1½ tsp. vanilla extract
3 Tbls. unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. peppermint extract
1 to 3 Tbls. milk (or heavy cream)
⅓ cup crushed hard peppermint candies, such as candy canes
To prepare cookies: Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line the baking sheets with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder, and baking soda, and reserve.
In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high, beat the butter until creamy, about 1 minute. Add the granulated sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla extract, and beat until thoroughly combined. Reduce the speed to low, add the flour mixture, and mix until just combined.
Shape the dough into 1-inch balls and place 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets, flattening the dough slightly. Bake until the cookies are set and dry-looking, about 10 minutes. Remove the cookies from the oven and cool for 2 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.
To prepare topping: In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed, combine the butter and the powdered sugar, and beat until creamy. Add the peppermint extract and enough milk (or cream), 1 tablespoon at a time, to achieve a smooth mixture. Spread the icing on the cooled cookies; then press the cookie top into the crushed candy.
3. Ethel’s Sugar Cookies
From “Betty Crocker’s Cooky Book”
Ethel’s Sugar Cookies
“A time-tested family favorite,” according to the editors.
Makes about 4 dozen cookies
¾ cup shortening (part butter or margarine)
1 cup sugar
½ tsp. lemon flavoring or 1 tsp. vanilla
2 ½ cups Gold Medal Flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
Mix shortening, sugar, eggs, and flavoring thoroughly. Measure flour by dipping method or by sifting. Stir flour, baking powder, and salt together; blend in. Chill at least 1 hour.
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Roll doll ⅛-inch thick on a lightly floured board. Cut with 3-inch cooky cutter. Place on ungreased baking sheet. Bake 6 to 8 minutes or until cookies are a delicate golden color.
About Megan Kocher
Kocher is a science librarian in the areas of food and nutrition; animal science; and soil, water, and climate. She is also the curator for the Doris Kirschner Cookbook Collection, which is housed in Magrath Library.