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Kate’s Fab 5 Sweets

Kate’s Fab 5 Sweets

Recipes and photos by Katherine Costello


The holiday season is all about tradition. For my family, Christmas meant our annual cookie contest, complete with secret ballots, multiple categories and vote bribing. Everyone was a great baker, so competition was tough. Over the years, the family bake-off introduced me to many a sweet treat. And now, it’s not Christmas morning unless I’m dusted with powdered sugar — remnants of the Mexican Wedding Cake cookies I had with my coffee. While I’ve baked dozens of different types of cookies in years past, I’ve narrowed the roster to the “Fab Five Confections.” From sugar cookies to pistachios to fudge, there’s something for everyone’s sweet tooth.


Sugar Cookies


  • 1½ cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon grated citrus (optional)
  • 2½ cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda1 tsp cream of tart
  • buttercream icing
  • 1/3 cup butter, softened
  • 1½ cups sifted powdered sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 tablespoon cream (approximate)

1| Preheat oven to 375 degrees. For the cookies, mix sugar and butter in a large mixing bowl until fluffy. Add the egg, extracts and citrus (if using); mix thoroughly. Set aside.

2| In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour and baking soda. Combine all the ingredients and mix until just blended. Divide the dough in half, and then wrap and chill 20-30 minutes. Roll out dough on floured parchment paper or work surface to about 1/8 inch thick. Use your desired cookie cutters, being mindful of size, and place the cookies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 375 degrees until edges are golden (about 8 minutes); remove cookies from the oven and let them cool on a rack. Store in an airtight container until you’re ready to ice and decorate. The cookies are great on their own, but are divine when with a simple buttercream icing.

3| To make the icing, mix together all ingredients, using as much cream as needed to reach desired consistency.


English Toffee

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chocolate chips or pieces (white, dark or milk)
  • 1 cup nuts (your choice)

1| Combine the butter, sugar, water and corn syrup and place in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, continuously stirring until you reach the “hard crack” stage, or about 300 degrees. (You must work quickly once you reach about 280 degrees.) Stir in the vanilla, and pour into a prepared parchment paper-lined 9×13-inch pan.

2| While the mixture is setting, add the chocolate pieces. (For the photo, we melted our chips and then drizzled chocolate over the hard toffee.) As they melt on the warm candy, spread them across the pan. Sprinkle with chopped nuts. Once the toffee is set, break apart and store in an airtight container.


Chocolate Fudge with Walnuts

  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup evaporated milk
  • 3/4 cup (1½ sticks) butter
  • 8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
  • 4 ounces dark (72 percent) chocolate
  • 1½ cups marshmallow crème
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts (or another nut of choice)

1| Combine the sugar, milk and butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Heat on medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil. Stir the boiling mixture constantly for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture reaches 238 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and add the remaining ingredients, stirring until well blended. Pour into a parchment paper-lined 9×9-inch cake pan, and cool until set. To cut the fudge, turn the pan over and remove the paper.


Peanut Butter Chocolate Fudge


1| Make the above recipe, omitting the nuts and do not remove from the pan.


  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup evaporated milk
  • ¾ cup (11/2 sticks) butter
  • 1 tablespoon corn syrup
  • ¾ cup smooth peanut butter
  • 6-8 ounces good-quality white chocolate
  • 1½ cups marshmallow crème
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1| Combine the sugar, milk, butter and corn syrup in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir the boiling mixture constantly for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture reaches 238 degrees on a candy thermometer. Add the peanut butter, white chocolate, marshmallow crème, and vanilla extract and mix well. Pour on top of the chocolate layer. Cool on a rack until set, and then turn pan over and remove paper for easy cutting.


Mexican Wedding Cake Cookie

  • 1½ cups salted butter (room temperature)
  • 1 cup powdered sugar (preferably stored with a vanilla bean)
  • 1½ tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 2¾ cups all-purpose flour (stored in the freezer)
  • 1½ cups toasted pecans, cooled and rough chopped (optional)
  • About 4 cups powdered sugar, for coating

1| Beat the butter for 2 minutes on medium-high speed. Reduce the mixer speed and slowly add the sugar, and then the vanilla extract. Mix well, scraping the bottom of the bowl. Then, working quickly, add the chilled flour 1 cup at a time. Add the nuts. After the ingredients are mixed, use a small scoop or spoon and roll the dough into small balls about the size of a large grape. Place the dough on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and chill for 30 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees for 11 minutes, or until cookie is set (very lightly browned).

2| When rolling the cookies in the remaining 4 cups of powdered sugar, they need to be cool enough to handle but hot enough to melt the sugar. Use a large bowl and bury the cookies — 5 at a time — in the powdered sugar. After 30 seconds, roll them around in the sugar, and then place them on a rack to cool. Before storing the cookies, do a second coating of powdered sugar. If you choose to use pecans, toast them in browned salted butter.


Pistachio Cookies

  • 1½ cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup salted butter
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chopped pistachio nuts
  • 2-3 drops almond extract
  • 1 egg white, whisked
  • 2-3 drops green food coloring
  • About 1 cup nonpareils

1| In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar, and then add the egg and beat on low, scraping the bowl. Add vanilla extract and blend. Set aside.

2| In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, soda and salt until just blended. Combine the dry and wet mixtures, mixing on low until just combined. The dough should be soft, yet firm enough to manage with your hands.

3| Divide the dough in half. Take one half of the dough and roll into 2 rectangles approximately 10 inches long by 3.5 inches wide. Cover both rectangles in parchment paper and chill 20-30 minutes. To the second half of the dough, add a few drops of green food coloring. Use it sparingly; the dough only needs to be pale green.) Then add the nuts and almond extract mix until blended. Divide the second half of the dough in half and roll each into a log shape about 10 inches long. Take out the 2 rectangles and wrap 1 rectangle around each log; press where they meet and cut off excess so the log is enrobed. Working one log at a time, brush very lightly with the egg wash. Wait a few minutes for the egg white to become tacky to the touch, and then roll the log in the nonpareils, repeat with the other roll to cover well. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill. These can be stored for 24 hours in the refrigerator.

4| Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Slice the cookies about 1/8 inch thick and place on parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake until golden (8-10 minutes). Chill on a rack and store until service.


Pretty Packages

How you present your cookies can be just as alluring as the cookie itself. Pick up boxes, tins, and jars of all shapes and sizes at a hobby or craft store. Don’t be afraid to go all out — it is the holiday season, and ribbons, bells and bows abound.



Helpful hints for a successful baking experience

Stock up on parchment paper. When it comes to baking, you can’t have too much. Hit the restaurant supply store and pick some up. You can use it to roll out dough, line pans and separate cookies in a single container.

Store a vanilla bean with your sugars. Vanilla + sugar = vanilla sugar. (Yum.) For another flavor, store some sugar with a candied citrus peel, such as Buddha citrus (Buddha’s hand).

Keep storage containers close by. Your newly baked cookies are going to need a home. Store each type/flavor separately, be it in a Ziploc bag or a Tupperware container. That way, when it’s time to pack them into gift boxes, each cookie will hold steady its unique beauty and flavor.

Have extra ingredients at the ready. Nine pounds of butter might look like a lot when it’s in your refrigerator. But come cookie time, it goes fast.

Don’t settle. Use the best-quality ingredients you can find. Chances are, you’re giving your confections to the people you love. Shower them with mouth-watering treats, and they’ll beg for your recipes.

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