Growing up in a Taiwanese household, my family never really celebrated Christmas. For us, the biggest holiday was the eagerly awaited Chinese New Year, which was right around the corner. However, every year around this time, my mother would put up the old artificial tree she bought when I was a baby (since replaced with a new artificial tree). She'd decorate it with lights, a set of store-bought ornaments I'd damaged as a child, and a few coils of tinsel that had seen better days. Underneath it, she'd stack the numerous presents her Chinese School students had given her out of affection and duty, trying to make the tree look like the ones in the department stores. She didn't really understand Christmas, but she knew that my siblings and I wanted it to be special, so she tried to give us at least one thing that was similar to the family Christmas traditions we envied our friends and schoolmates for having.
As we got older, my little brother, sister, and I developed our own, modest family traditions. We exchanged small gifts with one another, built a roaring fire in the fireplace, and played board games or read in front of it while sipping Martinelli's Apple Cider. My parents would read the paper or watch Asian dramas, and we would enjoy being together and a family during this special time of year. Central to our celebrations was the baking of Christmas cookies, which we siblings always did together. Although it was never formalized, we inevitably found ourselves cooking together in front of a hot oven each year. The fruits of our labor were always dutifully presented to our father, who would carefully select and eat a cookie before making his pronouncement about the quality. We loved it.
This cookie recipe is one that I developed and adapted from several that I found. I was hoping to make it with my siblings. Unfortunately, I'm not going to be able to spend Christmas with them this year, so it will have to wait. (Don't feel too bad for me. I'll be spending Christmas with Cat's family instead.) However, I'm very happy to share this cookie with all of you.
1 standard baking sheet
1 food processor
1 rubber spatula
1 cleaver (Chinese ones work well here.)
1 pastry brush
1 stick of unsalted butter
1/4 cup sugar or Splenda
1 large egg
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1-1/4 cups of all-purpose flour
2 tsp of baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
Chocolate-covered caramels (Your favorite brand)
Freeze the butter.
Place the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in the food processor and pulse gently to sift. Separate the egg yolk from the egg whites and retain both. Mix the egg whites with a tablespoon of water and set aside.
Using your cleaver, cut the frozen butter into cubes. I usually cut the butter into 8 1-tablespoon sized squares, then quarter the squares to make 32 smaller cubes.
Add the frozen butter cubes to the flour mixture in the food processor and buzz until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk and vanilla, and pulse a few more times until the dough clots together.
Pour the dough bits out onto your work surface and press together firmly until you have a rough brick. Try not to work the dough too much, since you don't want the butter to melt or gluten to form. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest in the refrigerator for an hour. Don't skip this step. It's necessary for the dough to hydrate and become pliable.
Roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thickness on a floured work surface. Using your cleaver, cut as many 1-1/2 inch squares as you can. Place one of your chocolate covered caramels in the center of each dough square. Carefully fold the dough around the caramel and press it into a squat cylindrical shape. Make sure there are no tears. Depending on the size of your caramels you may need to cut them into smaller pieces with your cleaver.
Heat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Set your dough rounds on the baking sheet roughly 1 inch apart. These cookies will neither expand nor run during baking.
Bake the cookies for between 8-12 minutes depending on the strength of your oven. You want a light golden color. Start checking after 8 minutes. Until then, do not open your oven door unless you think the cookies are actually on fire. They'll be fine.
When the cookies are very close to done, pull them out. Lightly brush each cookie with the egg white mixture, then either add sprinkles or dust with cocoa powder. Place back into the oven until done, then transfer the cookies to a rack to finish cooling. Stored in a Ziploc bag at room temperature, they'll last for up to a week. They're best enjoyed after they've had a chance to fully cool.
(Makes 12-16 cookies.)
Good Eating and Happy Holidays!