In a former life I oversaw a test kitchen for a food magazine. Given the long lead time needed for development, editing, and printing, that meant Christmas in July every year.
It was the job of a talented team of recipe developers to come up with dozens of new Christmas cookies for each holiday issue. They sparkled, twisted, dipped, stuffed, and decorated hundreds of variations on shortbreads, biscotti, spritzes, thumbprints, ginger folk, and crackle cookies. The sugar, spices, sprinkles, and icing flowed, and there were no holds barred when it came to butter. Needless to say, the work interfered with our summer bikini seasons.
One of the recipes that I still come back to for an annual spread is for a cranberry-orange cookie. It’s a simple cookie with the twist of dried cranberries blended into the dough to boost its tart berry flavor. They make this recipe from my Food Network days feels right at home on Cape Cod.
Rolling them in sanding sugar adds glint and crunch. The selection of glitters, luster dust, and edible decorations available has exploded in recent years and can transform any plain-Jane cookie into a Cinderella. I am partial to a bit of red disco dust that leans very kinky boots.
Makes about 2 dozen
1 cup cranberry juice cocktail
¾ cup dried cranberries
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1½ tsp. baking powder
Heaping tsp. finely grated orange zest
½ tsp. fine salt
¼ tsp. ground allspice
Generous pinch ground cloves
4 oz. (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
½ tsp. red food coloring
½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Red, white, or other sanding sugars, for rolling
- Pour the cranberry juice into a small saucepan and reduce to ¼ cup. I like to set a liquid measuring cup near the stove and pour the juice in as it reduces to check this progress. Chill the juice in the freezer until cold, 5 to 10 minutes.
- Pulse the dried cranberries and granulated sugar in a food processor until the cranberries are finely ground and the sugar turns deep red. Add the flour, baking powder, orange zest, salt, allspice, and cloves and pulse to evenly combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture looks like coarse meal.
- Whisk the reduced cranberry juice, food coloring, and vanilla in a small bowl and add to the food processor along with the egg; pulse until a dough forms. Transfer the dough to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.
- Heat oven to 350° Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or with silicon baking mats. Roll scant tablespoons of dough into balls, then roll the balls in sanding sugar and arrange about 1½ inches apart on the prepared baking sheets.
- Bake, switching the position of the pans halfway through, until the cookies are just set on top and golden on the bottom, about 18 minutes. If the cookies are browning on the bottom too quickly, slip a cookie sheet underneath to temper the pan. Let cool 5 minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer to racks to cool completely.