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My grandmother used to send Christmas cookies in several tins, most of them large, round and gently dented. However, there was often a slightly smaller tin tagging along. Nestled in the waxed paper of this tin would be these powdered-sugar coated crescents, rich with nuts and butter.

Theoretically, these cookies were packed on their own because they were a bit fragile and because the powdered sugar would otherwise have had its messy way with the other types of cookies. But really, they were packed alone so Dad could abscond with the tin. The look he’d get as he popped a whole sugary cookie into his mouth was pure guilty bliss.

The recipe below is lightly adapted from Grammy’s, which came from a slender book, “Holiday Cookies,” from Peter Pauper Press. (I wish Peter Pauper Press still published cookbooks: I’d go straight to them to publish the Baking Family dessert book. Beautiful typesetting and design, all in a neat little old-fashioned package.)

For finishing, I just pour about a half-cup of confectioners’ sugar into a cereal bowl and gently roll the cookies one by one in the bowl.

Almond Crescents

Makes 5-6 dozen cookies

  • 1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup blanched slivered almonds, finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1-2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • Confectioners’ sugar

Cream butter and sugar together. Mix in chopped nuts and salt, then add flour gradually, mixing well after each addition. Refrigerate dough for at least one hour and as long as two days.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Remove dough from refrigerator. Pull off small pieces and work with hands until somewhat pliable. Roll into two-inch long pencil-thick strips and shape into small crescents.

Bake until set, not brown — about 14-15 minutes. Allow to cool for a few minutes on the cookie sheet, then remove to cooling rack or plate. When fully cool, roll in confectioners sugar.

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!

This past weekend I went to dinner at the house of one of my kitchen mentors, Beth. This woman has written her own cookbooks, and edited and published countless more. And she asked me to make dessert.

“Just family,” you understand, and we were eating cold lobster, so this did not have to be too fancy. I thought “lemon,” and then remembered that when Beth and I sat down to discuss desserts and the book a while ago, she’d mentioned really liking almonds, particularly in cookies. A lemon dessert plus some almond cookies sounded like a good finish for a rich lobster dinner.

I have an almond cookie in the cookbook stack, but it is brutally rich, too rich for this. Then there is always a macaroon, light and chewy. But what I wanted was something thin and crispy, sweet and buttery enough to show off the almonds but not kill them, something that would rest well on the side of a plate of lemony dessert.

I found a good start, tucked away in a Christmas-cookie cookbook, and then adapted like crazy. Toast the almonds to kick up their flavor; add a bit of almond extract for the same purpose. Don’t grind the almonds too fine, and don’t worry about cake flour (though I may rethink that).

The kicker was cooking: I tried four different ways of getting the dough from bowl to cooked — drop; drop and mash; roll into a marble-sized ball and then mash; and refrigerate in a long block-shape before cutting thin rectangular wafers.

Almond cookie dough, refrigerated and sliced

The judges at the table were close to unanimous in liking the refrigerated version, so here’s the adapted recipe. (That is, adapted so far; I have a feeling I’ll keep working on this one.)

ALMOND FLATS

Makes about six dozen cookies

  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon each almond and vanilla extracts
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1-1/4 cup blanched slivered almonds, lightly toasted* and ground
  • 1/2 cup blanched slivered almonds, lightly toasted* and chopped

Cream butter, then add sugars slowly, creaming well as you go. Add egg and extracts; mix well. Measure dry ingredients together and add with the ground almonds, mixing just until well blended. Using waxed paper to help you shape it, form the dough into two flattened rolls, about an inch and a half high and three inches wide. Refrigerate for at least two hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and line a cookie sheet with parchment. Spread chopped almonds on a cutting board or counter. Remove dough from the fridge and take off the waxed paper. Press the sides of the dough-blocks into the chopped almonds. Slice the dough-bars a scant one-quarter inch thick and arrange on cookies sheet (they will not spread much). Bake 12-14 minutes; cool for a few minutes on cookies sheets, then transfer to tin or serving plate.

*This is where a toaster oven helps — put blanched slivered almonds on the pan in the oven at 350 degrees, and watch them ferociously. They take about 3-5 minutes to get toasty light tan (your goal), and about 7-10 minutes to start burning. If you have no toaster oven, dry-roast the almonds in a pan on the stovetop. Again, the watching is key.

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