Five Phenomenal Winter Cookies

Nostalgic Christmas treats to jam-filled Italian classics, these are the holiday confections to crush any bake-off.

By Benjamin Tepler November 14, 2016 Published in the December 2016 issue of Portland Monthly

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From bottom left: Peppermint chunk cookies, almond amaretti, cowboy florentines, malted chocolate pixies, Nonna’s jam squares

Eve Küttemann and Michelle Vernier, two of the city’s most talented pastry chefs, are here to make your winter holidays better. Küttemann most recently ran the sweets departments at Trifecta Tavern and Roe while staging her old-timey Sage Hen dessert pop-ups (#sagehenportland). Vernier has also worked in the trenches, at places like Paley’s Place and Imperial, while focusing on her dream project: Bella Mercato, a farmers market and catering business devoted to Italian sweets. We asked them to prepare a spread of personal favorites—nostalgic Christmas cookies to jam-filled Italian classics—to squash any holiday bake-off.

Editor's Note: As of 2019, you can find Küttemann at Cup & Bar and Vernier at Bella's Italian Market


Cowboy Florentine

Makes 50 cookies

Nutty, butterscotchy, and lace-thin, Küttemann’s cookies get their oomph from zesty notes of orange and a bitter, dark chocolate coating that cuts the wafer’s sweetness.

  • 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • Zest of 1 small orange
  • 4 tsp orange juice
  • 4 tsp whiskey
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • ½ cup sliced almonds
  • 8 oz dark chocolate, 75 percent cacao or darker

MAKE DOUGH Mix flour, sugar, salt, and zest together in a large bowl. Add orange juice, whiskey, and melted butter, and mix until incorporated. Add almonds. Cover and refrigerate mixture for 30 minutes.

BAKE AND SHAPE Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Scoop teaspoon-size dough balls onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, spacing them at least 3 inches apart. Bake until golden brown, around 15 minutes. When cool enough to handle but still warm and flexible, quickly press cookies over a rolling pin set on a kitchen towel; the cookie will drape over the curved edge and take its shape. Let cool.

DIP Set a heat-safe bowl over a pot of simmering water to make a double boiler. Add the chocolate to the bowl, reserving a small amount (about an ounce). Stir. Once completely melted, remove bowl from heat, add the rest of the chocolate and stir until smooth. When chocolate feels slightly cool to the touch, dip each cookie ⅓ of the way in, shake the excess, and lay on parchment paper. Refrigerate at least 15 minutes. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 weeks. 

Peppermint Chunk

Makes 30 cookies

These candy-pocked sugar cookies, a staple of Küttemann’s childhood Christmases, are as simple as holiday baking gets. The real gift is aromatic: heavenly wafts of butter and peppermint that linger for hours.

  • 1½ sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¼ cup sugar, plus more for rolling
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup crushed peppermint candy canes, ½ cup of the larger chunks reserved

MAKE DOUGH In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar on high speed for about 3 minutes. Add vanilla and egg, mixing a minute longer. Turn the mixer to low and add flour, beating for about 3 minutes or until smooth. Add the ½ cup of the more finely crushed peppermint candy, mix a few minutes longer, and refrigerate 30 minutes.

BAKE Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Form dough into 1-inch balls, roll in sugar, and space at least 2 inches apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment, and press the remaining ½ cup crushed candy into the center. Bake for 15–20 minutes, or until firm but not browning, and transfer to a clean sheet of parchment paper. Cookies will keep for 2 weeks at room temperature in an airtight container, or freeze for up to 1 month.

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Mezcal-spiked habanero-caramel drinking chocolate from Xico, with a pixie cookie

Malted Chocolate Pixie

Makes 60 cookies

Pudgy, fudgy, and aided by milkshake-powered malt, Küttemann’s sugar-dusted pixies are the all-chocolate cookies you’ve been dreaming of.

  • ½ stick unsalted butter
  • 8 oz dark chocolate, 85 –100 percent cacao
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • ½ cup malted milk powder
  • 1¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Confectioners sugar for rolling

MAKE DOUGH Make a double boiler by setting a heat-safe bowl over a pot of simmering water. Stir in butter and chocolate, melt, and let cool to room temperature. Beat sugar and eggs in a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment on high speed until light yellow and thick, about 1 minute. Switch to the paddle attachment, add the chocolate mixture, and beat for 2 minutes. Turn the mixer to low, add all remaining ingredients except the confectioners sugar, and beat 2 minutes longer. Refrigerate until firm enough to handle, around 30 minutes.

BAKE Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Form dough into 1-inch balls, roll in confectioners sugar, and bake on a baking sheet lined with parchment until edges are firm but centers leave an indentation when touched, around 10 minutes. Consume immediately! (Or, if you can resist, they’ll keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a month.)

Almond Amaretti

Makes 30–40 cookies

Vernier’s little almond hedgehogs are ubiquitous in Italy’s corner cafés, have a moist, fruity bite, and are gluten- and-dairy-free.

  • 3 cups blanched almond flour (available in the bulk section at New Seasons Market)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 egg whites
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ cup apricot jam
  • ¼ tsp almond extract
  • 2 cups sliced almonds

MAKE DOUGH In a large bowl, mix almond flour and sugar. In a separate bowl, whisk egg whites with salt until they form soft peaks. Whisk in apricot jam and almond extract. Using a rubber spatula, fold the egg white mixture into the almond flour mixture. When it’s almost homogeneous, use your hands to knead a few times until the dough is stiff and sticky.

SHAPE Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Use your fingers to pinch off pieces of dough and roll them into roughly the size of a large marble. Pour the sliced almonds on a plate and roll each piece of cookie dough around, pushing gently so almonds adhere.

BAKE Arrange the cookies evenly on the baking sheet, leaving at least ¼-inch of space between. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until light golden brown, rotating the trays halfway through. Cookies will keep for a week in an airtight container at room temperature and up to 2 weeks in the freezer.

Nonna’s Jam Squares

Makes 16 cookies

A hand-me-down from Vernier’s Italian American matriarchy, these bars are like a troop of miniature berry pies: buttery, cakey dough sandwiching a sweet, jammy filling.

  • 1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp heavy cream
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ⅛ tsp baking powder
  • ⅛ tsp salt
  • ½ cup jam or fruit preserves

MAKE DOUGH In a stand mixer set to low speed, cream butter until smooth, about a minute. Increase to medium speed, add sugar and beat until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Turn back to low, add cream, egg yolk, and vanilla extract, and mix until combined, about a minute. Scrape down the sides, add flour, baking powder, and salt, and slowly increase the mixer back to medium speed until a smooth, soft dough is formed, about 1½ minutes. Divide the dough in two; keep ½ out at room temperature and wrap the rest in plastic, pat into a square, and refrigerate until firm, 40 minutes to an hour.

ROLL AND CUT Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with foil, making sure there is at least 1 inch overhanging the edges of the pan. Lightly grease the foil. Use a spatula or damp hands to smooth the room-temperature dough in an even layer across the bottom of the pan and slightly up the sides (about ¼ inch). Put the pan in the freezer. Remove the other half the dough from the refrigerator and roll out between two sheets of parchment, forming a large square about 116-inch thick. Cut ¼-inch-wide strips of dough.

LAYER AND BAKE Remove pan from freezer and spread preserves in an even layer. Weave the strips into a lattice pattern on top and press into the edges of the dough in the pan to adhere. Bake approximately 40–45 minutes, or until deep golden brown, and let cool completely. Grasping the overhanging foil on either side of the pan, lift out the square and place on a cutting board. Cut into 16 squares. Cookies will keep 2–3 days at room temperature in an airtight container and up to 3 weeks in the freezer.

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