On Monday my office had a white elephant gift exchange, something like Secret Santa except the gifts are meant to be inexpensive and sometimes humorous. I’ve never participated in one of these before, so I was pretty excited and a little nervous. I heard that in our office the gifts were usually a mix of gags and real gifts, so I opted for a something in the middle.
I acquired a wonderfully tacky Christmas cookie jar from my mother-in-law. Imagine a very shiny and bright red, green and gold round Christmas tree ornament, except enlarged about five times. I thought this would be a perfect white elephant gift, remembering the quote, “One man’s trash is another’s treasure.” But I was nervous that maybe this was TOO silly.
So to “sweeten” the deal, I scoured my cookbooks for a Christmas cookie recipe to fill the cookie jar with, something classic that would appeal to multiple people, but something that I wasn’t already planning on baking. I settled on a great, versatile recipe found in one of my old Kraft Food magazines.
I’ve mentioned before that Kraft has some very useful recipes, especially for people strapped for time or those trying to get into cooking and baking but aren’t sure how. This particular cookie recipe can make four variations of cookies, all using the same basic dough recipe but with minor variations. I chose to only make one kind this time – Thumbprints Cookies.
Because I still fear the scale, I substituted fat free cream cheese in place of regular. This probably wasn’t the best decision because, well, fat tastes good! If you’re making food for others you want it to shine, and I broke one of my cardinal rules by substituting. To make up for this and sweeten the dough a bit without adding more sugar, I added a teaspoon of ground anise seed. Anise seed is expensive, but I’m always willing to blow my budget a bit when holiday food is involved. The anise seed was very aromatic and added a distinctive, but not overpowering, sweetness.
For future confections, I need to make a rule that I will never post about baked goods the same day I make them – I always enjoy them more the next day! I’m glad I reserved judgment on these cookies. My husband really loved them right out of the oven, but I think they got even better after they set. It’s rare when I find a cookie my husband really gets excited about; these are a keeper!
1 package cream cheese (8 0z, I used fat free)
1 1/2 sticks butter, softened (3/4 cup)
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 cup finely chopped pecans
1 tsp. anise seed, ground
blackberry and apricot jam (or jam of your choice, but the apricot is excellent)
Beat cream cheese, butter, sugar and vanilla in a large bowl until well blended. Add flour and baking soda gradually. Mix well. Stir in pecans and anise seed (you can grind the anise seed by putting it in a bag and hitting it with a tenderizer). Make sure it’s well-blended. Cover and refrigerate dough for 30 minutes (make sure you do this so that the butter doesn’t get to soft; you don’t want your cookies to fall flat in the oven).
Preheat oven to 350 F. Using a 1/2 tablespoon measure, scoop dough in 1 inch balls, rounding dough into balls. Place on parchment lined baking sheet about 1 1/2 inches apart. Indent the dough using your thumb. Bake for 10 minutes.
Remove from oven. The indentations may have risen in the oven, just push it down as needed and carefully fill eat cookie with jam. Continue baking for 8-10 minutes.
Makes about 5 dozen cookies.