Alex Guarnaschelli is an Iron Chef, Food Network celebrity chef, author of Old-School Comfort Food and the executive chef at New York City’s Butter restaurants. Read her PEOPLE.com blog every Tuesday to get her professional cooking tips, family-favorite recipes and personal stories of working in front of the camera and behind the kitchen doors. Follow her on Twitter at @guarnaschelli.
I never get tired of holiday cookie fieldwork.
What kind of chef would I be if I weren’t always making a new cookie or cake to try out? Plus, it makes people at the office, gym or wherever else very happy to snack on a few cookies.
Here are a few of my newest tests and an oldie but a goodie.
Almond Cranberry Cookies
My mom used to make versions of this cookie at Christmas. It was the light and somewhat guilt-free cookie of the bunch because its base is from egg whites and there is no butter. But what happens when you like the cookie so much you eat 12 of them? Anyway, it’s a good holiday cookie that is easy to put together.
1⅔ cups ground almonds
½ cup plus 1 ½ tbsp. superfine sugar
½ tsp. Amaretto or vanilla
¼ tsp. almond extract
½ tsp. kosher salt
Scant ½ cup dried cranberries, coarsely chopped
2 large egg whites
2 tsp. clover honey
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 325F.
2. Make the batter: In a large bowl, mix the ground almonds, superfine sugar, Amaretto, almond extract, salt and cranberries in a large bowl and rub with your fingertips to thoroughly mix the ingredients. Set aside.
3. Whip the egg whites: Using an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and honey on medium speed until they reach a soft meringue consistency, 5-8 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the meringue into the almond mixture. The batter should look like a loose paste.
4. With your hands, roll spoonfuls of the batter into about 20-22 rounds. Put the confectioners’ sugar in a medium bowl and roll each round in the sugar. Arrange the cookies on two foil-lined baking sheets with some distance between each. Place trays in the center of the oven and bake 12-15 minutes until light brown. There is no need to cook until dark brown because you want a slightly gooey, chewy center. Cool. Devour.
There is a zing to these cookies that comes from the fresh ginger supported by the dried ginger. They have all the makings of a holiday cookie and the spices we expect.
2 sticks unsalted butter
4 tbsp. freshly grated ginger
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground (dry) ginger
1 cup sugar
1 ½ tsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. finely ground black pepper
1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
2. Make the batter: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter, grated ginger, cinnamon, ground ginger, sugar, salt and pepper. Cream the ingredients together on medium speed, 8-10 minutes, until smooth.
3. With the mixer on low, add the eggs one by one. Add the flour and mix only until blended. Once flour is added, do not over mix or the cookies will be tough.
4. Mix and bake: Turn off the mixer and allow the batter to rest for 10 minutes. Refrigerate until the batter sets and then roll into rolls for slice and bake cookies. Alternatively, use a teaspoon to make drop like cookies. Either way, arrange the cookies a distance from one another on a greased baking sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until the top is slightly browned.
I like to retain some of the cake-like quality of these cookies. The traditional way is to bake the biscotti once, cool and slice and lay them out flat on a baking sheet to oven dry them. That “twice cooked” (the meaning of the word “biscotti”) part comes from drying them out in the oven a second time. I like to cook them a little less the second time around but that’s just a matter of taste. If you like your biscotti more cooked, lay them flat and bake them a second time as opposed to my suggestion of standing them back up.
Another thing I always find puzzling about recipes is the concept of “zest from 1 lemon.” How much is that? Good question! I like to take a microplane grater and run it over the surface of the lemon skin lightly (8-10 light grates total) getting only that outer skin and floral flavor for the batter.
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp. almond extract
Zest of 1 lemon
½ tsp. kosher salt
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for dusting
¼ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
1 cup whole almonds with the skin on, toasted
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
2. Make the batter: In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, eggs, almond extract and the zest from the lemon. Set aside. In another bowl, sift together the salt, flour, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon.
3. Assemble the dough: Whisk the egg mixture into the flour. Add the almonds and use your hands to finish combining the wet and dry ingredients.
4. Bake the biscotti: Prepare a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Divide the dough into two equal parts. Using your hands, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured, flat surface. Form each half of the dough into a loaf-like shape about 2 inches wide and about 12 inches long. They should look like two loaves of bread. Carefully arrange the two loaves, side by side, on the baking sheet. For optimum baking, leave as much space as possible between the two loaves.
5. Place the tray in the oven and bake, undisturbed, for 25-30 minutes. The dough should be light brown and may rise a little as it cooks. Remove from the oven to cool.
6. Cut and bake the dough again: Transfer each loaf to a flat surface and, using a serrated knife, gently saw the loaf into ½-inch thick slices, cut on an angle. Arrange the slices on the tray, standing up, back in their loaf position. There should be a little space between each slice. It will almost feel like the loaves are two puzzles that you take apart by cutting and then put back together on the baking sheet.
7. Serve: Return the tray to the oven but shut the heat off. Allow them to sit in the oven for 20 minutes. This will cause the biscotti to firm up and toast, but only ever so slightly. If too moist, leave in the oven longer. Remove from the oven to cool. Devour.