When I was growing up I looked forward to Christmas morning at my Granny’s house. It seemed like magic how I’d go to bed at night and wake up with a stocking stuffed with goodies at the foot of my bed. Later I learned that this was her way of keeping us kids in bed for an extra hour. Smart lady! My Granny had rituals that she never strayed from and one of them was making Christmas cookies. I remember tins of them all over the house. On every table, in every room there would be a different kind of wonderful sweet. I would search all over for my favorite, the maple shortbread cookies that had a sticky caramel coconut topping and a rich buttery bottom. It always seemed to me there were less of these lying around than the others. It turns out they were my father’s favorite as well and he beat me to the tins.
It never occurred to me, as a child, the immense amount of effort my Granny went through to produce a dozen different Christmas cookies every year. All these years later, now that I make Holiday cookies  for my own family, I know it was a bit of magic and a whole lot of love that she used to create them, not to mention her precious time! This year she sent me several of those recipes, some of them on the original yellowed index cards from my great grandmother and great aunts. This year I intend to make every single one of them for my boys. It may take a while, not only because there are so many, but the instructions on some of the cards were minimal, proving it really was magic!
A little note about sifting flour, which I hate to do and will avoid it at great lengths! My Granny’s recipe calls for 1 1/4 cups sifted flour, which means you have to sift the flour over the measuring cup and once it is full sweep a knife over to level it off. This takes way too much time and is quite messy. I decided to weigh the flour and see if there was an easier way to get the same amount. It turns out that if I whisked the flour in my bin to aerate it, spooned it gently into my measuring cups and sweep a knife over it, I got exactly the same amount as I did when I sifted it. I was very pleased and intend to do this with most everything, except the most fragile cakes.
Here is the Maple Brown Butter Shortbread Cookies:
1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cup sifted flour (see above note on sifting flour if you hate to do this!)
2/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups flaked coconut
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons dried cranberries or cherries, very finely chopped (optional)
2 tablespoons candied fruit, very finely chopped (optional)
Prepare a 9″ square baking dish with parchment paper (or use a Rectangular Tart Mold with Removable Bottom )
To make the brown butter shortbread:
In a small sauce pot heat the butter on medium heat until it boils and the butter turns a light golden color, about 3-5 minutes. Strain the butter into a medium bowl. Add the sugar and flour and mix with a spoon until well incorporated. The dough will be quite loose. Cover and refrigerate for about 10 minutes. If the dough gets too cold just let it sit out until it is soft and pliable again.
Preheat oven to 375°
Put into the pan and distribute it evenly,
cover in plastic wrap and then you can easily spread with your fingers without the dough sticking to you. Bake on a cookie sheet for 20 minutes or until the dough is a nice golden brown. Remove and allow the crust to cool on a rack while you make the maple filling.
Maple coconut filling:
In a sauce pot combine the maple syrup, salt, coconut and vanilla, cook over medium heat until boiling. Continue to cook for about a minute, add the dried and candied fruits if using.
Pour the coconut mixture over the cooled crust. Bake at 375° for about 15-20 minutes, until the coconut turns golden brown.
Cool completely before removing from pan. (If you are using the 9″ pan with parchment you will need to cut around the edges with a knife to loosen and invert onto a plate. Peel off the parchment and invert onto a cutting board.) Cut into rectangular bars or little squares if you want them to last a few extra minutes!
Here they are with the dried fruit and candied grapefruit peel that I made.
Several people have asked me what products they should put on their Christmas wish lists this holiday, here are my ultimate must haves in your kitchen to bake breads and pastries! And my camera equipment, for those of you that can’t bake without taking pictures of your food. It happens to the best of us!
Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day  – But you knew I’d say that! 😉
Baking Stone  I like this one because it is thick and will last
Pizza Peel  This one is simple and has lasted me for years
Round Storage Container 6 Quart Clear  I find the round bucket easy to mix in, but the square may fit your fridge better?
Escali Measuring Scale  I’ve had a few different scales and put them to very good use, this is my favorite and it reasonably priced!
KitchenAid 5-Quart Stand Mixers  I’ve had mine for 20 years and it is still going strong. Okay, I blew out the engine the first year by putting a pound of frozen butter in it. The company rebuilt it for me! That was a life time ago and I’ve learned a thing or two! 😉
Spatula Set  – different sizes for different jobs
Nonstick Silicone Baking Mat  I use this for everything! Make sure it has a high baking temperature
Microplane Grater/Zester  If you only get one of these, make sure it is the super fine one. I use it for lemon zest, garlic and ginger. Great for hard cheese too.
Wüsthof Le Cordon Bleu 10-Inch Serrated Super Slicer  – best thing for cutting cakes and chocolate!
Piping Bag – Featherweight – 18″  I like the featherweight because they are pliable and easy to hold.
Pastry Tip Set  This is the basic set, perfect for the beginner wanting to try new borders and simple flowers
PASTRY BRUSH SET  I prefer the old fashion natural bristle brush to the rubber ones
8 by 3-Inch Round Cake Pan  I like how deep this pan is, I use it for everything!
Marble Rolling Pin  I like the weight of this pin and that the marble stays cool
The Simple Art of Perfect Baking  – excellent for the basics, out of print and hard to find
Baking with Julia Savor the Joys of Baking with America’s Best Bakers  – nice overall baking book with great pictures
On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen  – for the true food geek who wants to know all about the science, great book!
Canon Digital Rebel XSi Camera with 18-55mm Lens (Black)  This is the camera I use to shoot everything on my websites. I love the camera because there is a view screen, so I can see exactly what I am shooting.
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Camera Lens  This lens allows me to focus on the little detail. It is a modestly priced lens and won’t allow you to get crazy close like the more expensive version!
Happy Holidays and I hope you enjoy the cookies and get everything on your wish list!
***Thanks Granny for the great recipes and wonderful memories of devouring them!
***Here is a nice piece that Rick Nelson did recently on my Granny’s Brown-Butter Shortbread Cookies for the Star Tribune Website . He used a picture of me from 8 years ago when I was pregnant with my youngest son, the Aebleskiver maker I mentioned above! 😉