Sometimes, I have an internal speedometer going on when cooking at home. Twice in the past few weeks I made a batch of these cookies in record time, before taking off to bring them to holiday house parties. Even when I’m not in any rush, I get a keen satisfaction out of completing a (good) meal that was surprisingly fast. That’s something you don’t really get to see through the recipes on this blog. I could add an “estimated cooking time” to each one, like some practical cookbooks and magazines do, but that would betray the fact that sometimes, at no instigation, I’ll work at a glacial pace, and other times I might cook like I’m on Hell’s Kitchen and Gordon Ramsay’s counting down the seconds in that boorish tone, calling me something like Snozzlehead or Stinkypants or whatever that crazy Brit comes up with in attempt to make me crack.
So, as tested twice, these cookies are pretty easy to turn out, STAT. Jam thumbprints are one of my favorite holiday cookies. I’ve made them enough times to not have to worry about exact measurements, and have added to the batter all manner of nuts, seeds and grains. My favorite add-in to the cookie batter besides jam would have to be chopped walnuts, rolled around the surface of the cookie. This is what I did for the second go-around, with the cranberry jam filling. The first time I merely tossed in some rolled oats to the batter.
The real reason I made these cookies, though, was to use up the last half-bag of cranberries that have been in my freezer since Thanksgiving. Do you have some of those lurking around, too? Even when frozen, the cranberries cook into a tangy, jam-like sauce on the stove very quickly. Along with sugar and a splash of water, I decided to add some fresh grated ginger to the hot, bursting berries. This gave their sourness a spicy kick.
The time-saving trick is to put the berries on the stove while you mix the cookie batter in a bowl. Preheat the oven at the same time. Stir the cranberries every once in a while. Then, once the dough has been rolled into balls and squashed down in the middles with the namesake finger, they’re into the oven and out in fifteen minutes. Make ‘em smaller and they’ll be done even faster.
There’s been much talk about perfecting the basics of cookie baking lately; this Julia Moskin piece in the New York Times that mentions freezing the dough before baking it stands out to me the most. While these new tips and insights are intriguing, I find that it’s also hard to screw up a basic shortbread-like cookie. Baking may be all about science and precision, but as long as you’re a casual sweets-maker like me, the smart cookie just might be the quickest.
Cranberry Ginger Jam Thumbprints
(makes about 20)
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of salt
1/3 cup chopped nuts or 2 Tb rolled oats
for the cranberry jam:
1 1/2 cups cranberries (fresh or frozen)
1/4 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
1-2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Heat cranberries, sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat. In a medium bowl, cream the butter and sugar for the cookies. Add the egg yolk, vanilla and salt and beat well. Gradually add the flour until fully blended. Fold in the optional rolled oats at this time.
Meanwhile, stir occasionally as the cranberries cook over medium heat. Once all of the berries have “popped” (you will hear them pop) or have been smushed with your spoon or spatula, add the grated ginger. Stir and taste — adding more sugar if desired. Continue cooking over low heat, stirring occasionally, until it reaches a jam-like consistency and sweetness is right. (Total cooking time should be 8-10 minutes.)
Roll the cookie dough into roughly 1-inch balls (or slightly smaller). If using the chopped nuts, place the nuts in a bowl and roll each ball in them to coat its surface. Place on a greased baking sheet 1 inch apart. Create a small well in the centers with your thumb (or other fingers). Bake for about 10 minutes and remove from oven. Fill the centers of each cookie with a small scoop of the cranberry jam. Return to oven and bake another 5 minutes or until the edges are just slightly crisp and golden. Let cool on a cooling rack before serving.
(for about 20 cookies)
1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries: $0.40
1 stick butter: $1.00
1 egg yolk: $0.12
1/4 plus 1/3 cup sugar: $0.30
1 cup flour: $0.25
2 Tb rolled oats: $0.15
2 teaspoons grated ginger: $0.10
pinch of salt, butter for greasing the pan: $0.05
Seven brownie points: They’re cookies, alright, no question about the baked butter and sugar-like substance. But fresh cranberry “jam” — or something like that — give it a boost of nutrients lacking in so many members of this class. Cranberries are a powerful source of antioxidants and Vitamin C; their deep red will cue you into its offering of lycopen. My favorite part about cranberries, though, is that they’re known to help balance out bad cholesterol. The same is often said of oats, which are an option here, too.
Five maple leaves: Green, but not great. The cranberries that the fall season have brought to us can stay intact in the freezer until all used up, so I’m planning on grabbing a few other bags before the harvest is out. Fresh ginger is another story; it’s grown in hot climates, obviously quite far from the blustery New York of recent weeks.