Holiday Cookies Worth the Wait --- Even Though You Don't Have To

By Lisa Messinger

November 21, 2013 7 min read

"The Ultimate Shortcut Cookie Book" by Camilla V. Saulsbury (Cumberland House, $24.99)

Although her book title —- "The Ultimate Shortcut Cookie Book" —- promotes her as a "shortcut" baking expert, Camilla Saulsbury wasn't known before writing it for taking shortcuts. Instead of turning a love of cooking as many do into a fun hobby, she studied for years to receive a doctorate in sociology from Indiana University with a specialization in food studies —- after writing a dissertation that was a multifaceted study on the contemporary meanings of home cooking in American culture.

The recipe developer then went on to wipe out thousands of competitors and win the $25,000 grand prize cookie recipe on Food Network's "Ultimate Recipe Showdown."

Even her first cookbook, "The Ultimate Shortcut Cookie Book," was no quick effort, as she included 745 recipes —- more than quadruple the number in an average cookbook. This is why I agree Saulsbury was accurate including "ultimate" in her title and that this is still the best shortcut cookie —- or, for that matter, any cookie —- cookbook around.

If you are looking for the perfect showstopper for that school bake sale, neighborhood potluck, time-crunched dinner party or, especially, the fall and winter holiday season, Saulsbury has the time-saver for you. The Texan's recipes all have jump-starts like refrigerated cookie dough, cake mix, brownie mix and ready-to-eat cereal. Others shave a lot of minutes off their preparation times by being no-bake.

Saulsbury more than passes the test for quick-cook books like these: The recipes are distinctive, interesting and virtually guaranteed to make a memorable splash.

Dried Apple Cider Cookies start with yellow cake mix and then combine cider, dried apples, walnuts and cinnamon for a powerful flavor punch. Double Lemon Ginger Gems emerge from refrigerated sugar cookie dough before being moistened with cream cheese and flavored with crystallized ginger, lemon zest and lemon icing.

That fresh citrus frosting (which can be varied with additions of orange or lime) is just one of the easy icings Saulsbury has created to make her wares stand out. Others include Irish cream, Kahlua coffee, maple, mocha buttercream, peppermint, chocolate chip and peanut butter-honey.

Her improved-on-mix brownies are a clue to her terrific tweaks, like chocolate malt, truffle-topped, chocolate mint, raspberry cream cheese, rocky road, rum raisin, triple-shot espresso, whiskey-glazed and spicy Aztec.

These Turkish Coffee Brownie Bars —- which play on the strengths of both refrigerated sugar cookie dough and packaged brownie mix, in combination with instant espresso, coffee liqueur and cardamom —- are one of many examples that show just how well Saulsbury has put her extensive recipe-development education to use.

TURKISH COFFEE BROWNIE BARS

1 (16.5-ounce) roll refrigerated sugar cookie dough

1 (19.5- to 19.8-ounce) package brownie mix

2 large eggs

1 / 2 cup vegetable oil

1 / 3 cup coffee liqueur

1 tablespoon instant espresso or instant coffee powder

3 / 4 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

Yields 24 brownie bars.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Spray a 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Break up the cookie dough into prepared pan. Press dough on bottom of pan.

Mix brownie mix, eggs, oil, liqueur, espresso powder and cardamom in a large bowl until just combined. Spread batter over sugar cookie dough. Sprinkle with chocolate chips.

Bake for 38 to 40 minutes, or until edges are set. Cool in pan on a wire rack. To serve, cut into bars.

DOUBLE LEMON GINGER GEMS

Cookies:

1 (16.5-ounce) roll refrigerated sugar cookie dough

6 ounces (3 / 4 of an 8-ounce package) cream cheese, cut into bits

1 / 2 cup finely chopped crystallized/candied ginger

2 teaspoons ground ginger

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

Fresh lemon icing:

3 cups sifted powdered sugar

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (see note)

5 to 6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Yields 42 cookies.

To prepare cookies: Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray cookie sheets with nonstick cooking spray.

Break up the cookie dough into large bowl; add the cream cheese bits to bowl and let stand for 10 to 15 minutes to soften. Add the chopped crystallized ginger, ground ginger and lemon zest; mix well with your fingers, the paddle attachment of an electric stand mixer or a wooden spoon.

Drop dough by kitchen teaspoons, 2 inches apart, onto prepared cookie sheets.

Bake for 10 to 13 minutes, or until just set and golden at the edges. Transfer cookies to wire racks and cool completely. Drizzle with lemon icing.

To prepare icing: Place powdered sugar in a medium bowl. Mix in zest and enough juice as needed to make icing just thin enough to drip off fork.

Note: Icing variation: Use orange or lime zest and fresh orange or lime juice.

Lisa Messinger is a first-place winner in food writing from the Association of Food Journalists and the author of seven food books, including "Mrs. Cubbison's Best Stuffing Cookbook" and "The Sourdough Bread Bowl Cookbook." She also writes the Creators News Service "After-Work Gourmet" column. To find out more about Lisa Messinger and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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