Tuesday, December 15, 2009
This is a rare recipe that I’ve been making for my whole life. Since these are called “Florida Christmas Cookies,” and my family has been in Florida since the 19th Century, I thought it might be an old family secret. I’ve heard that my maternal great-grandmothers were both good cooks, so I used to imagine that this recipe had been lovingly handed down for the past hundred years or so.
When I finally asked my mom, she told me she clipped the recipe from Southern Living when I was a kid. That’s what I get for waxing sentimental. In any case, it’s a family tradition now.
These cookies call for substantial quantities of both orange and lemon zest. Before the advent of the micro-plane grater, making them was a chore. Micro-plane gratersare cheap, they work amazingly well, and they reduce the total zesting time from nearly an hour to around 10 minutes. On a slow day.
Perhaps I feel so strongly about this because I always had to zest the citrus for these when I was growing up. I would drag the oranges and lemons desultorily across our box grater while my sister would be, I don’t know, adding food coloring to frosting, which seemed to be her privilege most years. My mother would never be satisfied with my efforts. She got me in the habit of shredding the citrus down to the end of the pith, which is why these cookies taste kind of bitter when she makes them.
That’s not a bad thing; a hint of bitterness can be quite nice. However, it’s easy to avoid getting the bitter part of the peel when you use a microplane.
When my mom makes these, they fall victim to the same sad fate as her other pastry ventures: overbaking. My mom doesn’t think cookies are done until they look brown in the oven. You and I both know better than that.
The good news is that these cookies are still pretty great if you bake them till they’re crispy. However, I prefer my cookies soft, and the instructions that follow will reflect that preference.
Florida Christmas Cookies
1 cup shortening or butter (I use unsalted butter at room temp)
1 ½ c. white sugar
2 eggs (room temp)
1 tsp. vanilla
2 T orange zest (zest 2 oranges)
2 T lemon zest (zest 2 lemons)
3 T lemon juice (use juice from zest lemons)
7 T orange juice (use juice from zest oranges)
5 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
Preheat oven to 325. Zest and juice oranges and lemons.
Divide dough into quarters, wrap tightly in saran wrap, and refrigerate for at least an hour (or up to about 3 days).
Roll out one quarter portion dough at a time to 1/8” thickness. Cut with floured cookie cutters and bake on cookie sheets for 10-12 minutes. (I find that 9-10 minutes is usually enough time, and they bake up more nicely if you line the cookie sheet with parchment paper.)
If you see browning at the edges of the cookies while they’re baking, pull them out immediately and shorten the baking time or turn down the oven for the next batch. Cool completely before frosting. Yield: about 4 dozen of the size shown.
I don’t have a standard recipe for the frosting; generally, I beat together a stick of butter (room temp), 3 cups powdered sugar (sifted), 1 tsp. vanilla, a dash of milk or cream, dash salt, and leftover juice and zest to taste. Use more sugar for a stiffer frosting.
These cookies are like pillows of happy citrus goodness. People are often confused by the inclusion of both orange and lemon – they guess the cookies are one or the other variety of citrus. One can bring either flavor to the forefront depending on how you make the frosting – I love tartness, so I tend to use more lemon than orange to give these a little kick.
If you don’t overbake them, they’ll have a faintly crisp edge and soft, light interiors. Something about them is redolent of an inverted snowflake. For me, it wouldn’t be Christmas without plenty of these on hand.
My friend Marilee and I had a Christmas Cookie exchange last Sunday, so stay tuned for chocolate hazelnut thumbprints later in the week.
Printable recipe here.