Sometimes the simplest things are the best things.
It's a mantra worth repeating at this time of year, when it's tempting to pile on just one more present, one more decoration, one more side dish, one more snack, and well... one more of pretty much everything.
If there's one lesson I'm taking away from 2020, it will be to find comfort in stripping things down to the basics, if only because it makes the occasional foray into fanciness all the more enjoyable.
In keeping with that spirit, my Day 11 recipe is a relatively simple cookie that's perfect for dunking in a cup of hot coffee on a quiet afternoon, as you unwind from all the holiday madness.
This year, I want to help you get into the holiday spirit with a little something I'm calling the 12 Days of Christmas Cookies.
From December 14 to 25, I'm posting a new holiday cookie recipe each day. Did you miss one? You can catch up on my Christmas Cookies page.
Just Like Vovo (or Nonna or Yiayia) Used to Make
This recipe is my take on a cookie that's ubiquitous in Southern Europe.
They're known as biscoitos in Portugal, biscochos in Sephardic Spain, koularakia in Greece, and ciambelle in Italy. There are a variations as you move from one region to the next, of course, but the core remains the same - a buttery cakey cookie that's subtly flavoured with citrus and spices.
This version is closest to the Portuguese biscoitos that I grew up with, though I took the liberty of adding both orange and anise, which is more commonly found in the Italian versions.
What I love best about these is how un-fancy they are, like all honest-to-goodness grandmother cookies should be. And while they may not look like much, they totally deliver in the flavour department.
These cookies are best enjoyed with hot tea or coffee for dunking... though a small glass of port isn't a bad idea either if you're feeling like a more grownup treat.
How to Shape Butter Twist Cookies
While I made my cookies into little twists, you can actually shape them almost any way you like, so long as you first start with a short rope.
- Rings: This is the simplest option - simply roll your dough into a 6" rope, then loop the ends around each other and press to seal.
- Braided Rings: Split the dough ball in half, and roll each one into a 6" rope. Twist the two ropes together, then form into a ring, pressing the ends together to seal.
- Half Twists: Roll the dough into a 7" rope. Fold in half and make a single twist, leaving the loop on top open.
- Full Twists: Roll the dough into a 7" rope. Fold in half and make two twists, so that the entire cookie is twisted from top to bottom.
- Figure 8: Roll the dough into a 7" rope. Twist into a figure 8, and press the ends to seal.
- Letters: Roll the dough into a 7" rope, and shape into whatever letters you would like. S cookies are obviously a classic, but go nuts!
More Simple Cookies for the Holidays... or Any Day
I know there's a little irony in preaching simplicity after ten straight days of posting fancy cookies, but soon enough the holidays will be over, and we'll all be in need of a break from all the muss and fuss of the season. After all, we've got at least three months of winter waiting for us on the other side, and it's going to take a lot of cookies to help us survive until spring!
- Earl Grey Icebox Cookies from Crumb
- Ricotta Cookies from Cookies and Cups
- Brown Sugar Cookies from Sally's Baking Addiction
- Nova Scotia Oat Cakes from Kelly Neil
- Crispy Swedish Cardamom Cookies from The Food Charlatan
Orange-Anise Butter Twists
These old-school Southern European cookies may not look like much, but their subtle blend of orange zest and anise seed totally delivers in the flavour department. Serve them with a mug of hot coffee or tea for dunking.
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup melted butter
- 2 eggs
- 1 tbsp orange zest
- 2 tbsp orange juice
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 2 cups flour
- 1 ½ tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp anise seed, crushed with a mortar and pestle
- ¼ tsp salt
- In a medium-sized mixing bowl. whisk together the sugar, butter, eggs, orange zest, orange juice and vanilla until blended.
- In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, anise seed and salt. Add to the wet ingredients, and stir until the mixture comes together in a soft, smooth dough. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour.
- When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Divide the dough into 24 equal pieces. Roll each one into a 7" rope, then fold in half and twist. Arrange on the prepared baking sheets, spacing the cookies 1" apart.
- Bake in preheated oven for 12-14 minutes, or until tops are dry and edges are lightly golden. Let cool on the pan for 2-3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool off completely.
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