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Most of Grammy’s recipes are not detailed. Yes, they list all the ingredients, though sometimes in the text rather than the way we’re used to seeing them now, all lined up at the top of the recipe. And yes, there are usually directions — often vague on cooking times, pan type or size, or special mixing needs. So when I came across a recipe for Helen Witty’s Blonde Brownies in the typed parchment sheaf, I was curious. This recipe was remarkably detailed, with three whole paragraphs of instructions. Hmmm. Was this really a Grammy recipe?

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Got a question from “a needy baker in Albany.” (This is NOT how I would characterize her — this woman is a baking machine.) She’s got a classic holiday-party dilemma, though:

I am having 75 people for a cocktail party this Saturday night (12/12). We are having some of it catered but I want to make holiday cookies that are easy (fast) and elegant. I have already made mint brownies, chocolate chip bars, cranberry orange bread and lemon blueberry bread – all are frozen in prep for Saturday. Any other suggestions?

See what I mean by “baking machine”? She’s got three key elements covered — chocolate, mint and orange — and there are great colors and shapes on that dessert table. I have two immediate recommendations from right here: Butterscotch Creoles and Almond Flats. Both fit the bill in a couple of ways: They add a new note to the table — nuts — and are elegant and fast (not tons of things to put together or ice). The added benefit of Butterscotch Creoles is the recipe makes a ton, eight to nine dozen cookies.

A couple of other ideas:

Ginger-ginger petticoat tails, from today’s Washington Post — who does NOT love shortbread, and this is the time of year to eat it.

Coconut macaroons, from Brown Eyed Baker’s blog — because they are elegant and easier than all get-out. I’d bag the chocolate-dipping for your table.

Good luck — tell what you made!

These used to arrive in the Christmas cookie tins, packed carefully with waxed paper and a slice of Pepperidge Farm bread to keep everything fresh. The batch I made last night tasted just like I remember.

It is a mystery as to why they are called Creoles — all the butter they use? the pecans? — but the butterscotch appellation comes from the happy melding of lots of brown sugar with lots of butter with lots of dates. According to my cousin Rebecca, the dates, cut into small bits, are not as cloying or imposing as whole dates may be. The nuts help add a no-nonsense note.

All of last night’s testers nodded sagely and took another . . . and another . . . and agreed that these were “deceptively light.” And then we went off a bit sideways and tasted the cookies with thin slices of Manchego cheese on top, thinking about how good dates and cheese can be together.

We’re looking for other opinions on that.

Butterscotch Creoles

Makes 8 to 9 dozen cookies

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups finely chopped dates (about 1 lb. of whole dates, before pitting)
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1-1/4 cups firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs

In a large bowl, mix together flour, baking powder and salt. Add dates to flour mixture, using forks to separate clumps of chopped date somewhat. Add nuts.

In another large bowl, cream butter until soft; gradually beat in brown sugar, then vanilla. Add one egg at a time. Stir in flour mixture; dough will be soft. Form dough into rolls about 2 inches in diameter, using waxed paper to help you shape the rolls. Wrap waxed paper around rolls and chill dough thoroughly in the refrigerator, for a few hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Cut chilled rolls crosswise into 1/8-inch thick slices; place slices on ungreased or parchment-lined cookie sheets. Bake for 8 minutes, until lightly browned.

Recipe and photograph copyright 2009 Garside Group LLC

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