Saturday, December 21, 2013

Bird's Nest Cookies

In the midst of all the chaos, there is still Christmas.  Maybe it's having a child of my own, maybe it's just that I've always been violently attached to traditions, but this year, I have no tolerance for change.  A few years ago, we overthrew the family bird's nest cookie recipe in favor of Ina Garten's Jam Thumbprints, which are delicious, rich, buttery and shortbready.  But this year, with my mother making a gluten-free version for my dad, I wanted nothing more than the original.  Of course, no one HAD the original. My mother had tossed the original recipe deeming it too fussy to deal with.  She claimed her brother might have a copy, but nope.  And the whole time I couldn't get the recipe out of my head.  I could picture it so clearly.  Why could I picture it so clearly?  Maybe because I had it all along.  Safely written in the cookbook my mom gave me full of family recipes, was our bird's nest cookie recipe.  So with my little one safely in my mother-in-law's arms, I whipped up a batch.  They are every bit as good as I remember.  They are also, a bit fussy in parts, but I'll try to help you through that.

Makes ~ 3 dozen
recipe courtesy of someone my mother's family once knew (a  little help on this mom?)

2 sticks of softened unsalted butter (this is 1 C)
1 C brown sugar, lightly packed
2 T vanilla extract
1/2 t almond extract
2 eggs (reserve the white of one, so you need 1 whole egg + 1 yolk for the cookie, 1 white for rolling)
2 C flour
1/2 t baking powder
2 C chopped nuts (I used a mix of walnuts and pecans)
assorted jams, jellies and marmalades

Preheat your oven to 350 F.
Cream together your butter and sugar. This was a bit harder than usual.  Maybe brown sugar is softer than white and can't break up the butter as well?  So maybe soften the butter properly (I am notoriously lazy and rarely soften the butter enough).  You don't want it to be liquid, but it should be soft to the touch.  Then add your eggs, mixing well after each. Next add the extracts and quickly mix again.  Finally, mix together your flour and baking powder and slowly add to the wet ingredients.

I used a mini-prep to chop my nuts.  They should be small so they stick, kind of like this:

Prepare to roll the cookies.  You'll need a small plate covered with nuts, a bowl with the egg white and an ungreased cookie sheet.  

First, create a small ball with the dough.  If you make them too small, it's hard to make an indentation for the jam. If you make them too big, well, you don't get as many, and it's a lot harder to fit in your mouth.  I think about 3/4" is the best which is a bit smaller than I usually make cookie balls.  

Next, dip the ball in the egg white.  Then roll it in nuts and place on the cookie sheet.
You may not need the full two cups of nuts and if you'd like to save nuts, I'd say only pour some on the plate and replenish periodically.  You can't save what's left on the plate after you've rolled because of the egg white.  Ew.

The balls should be 2" apart on the cookie sheet.

Bake for 10-12 minutes. This baking thing is the other fussy part.  If you over bake it's extremely hard to make an indentation.  If you under bake, well, you have gross raw cookies.  So watch them carefully.  I had some take longer than 12, but most came in at 12 minutes.  My mom's recipe said 10.  In order to check for doneness, I wanted them to sort of slide off their spot when poked, have a light golden underside if checked.  When you pull them out, make a small indentation in each and allow to cool on a cooling rack.  You can make your indentation with your thumb (ow! hot!) or with the back of a teaspoon measure (which isn't great because it's more likely to make the edges of the cookie split apart).  Your call which you use.

When the cookies are cool, place a small amount (about a teaspoon) of jam into the indentation. I used blueberry, raspberry and apricot for these, but you can use whatever you like!

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