Fresh rosemary adds a subtle, mysterious something extra to Hazelnut Rosemary Jam Cookies. And unlike so many holiday treats, they're not overly sweet. So they're perfect with a cup of tea — and when holiday guests drop by.The holidays and baked treats warm from the oven go hand in mittened hand this time of year. But for non-bakers like me, baking can just add to other seasonal stresses--finding the right gifts for everyone, putting up with Uncle Carl's bad jokes and trying to stay just sober enough at the office party.
But cookies are easy. They're the perfect holiday treat for cooks who don't bake. There's no yeast, no punching dough down and letting it rise again in some mysterious warm, dark place (or is it a cool, dark place?), no patching cracks in cake layers...
Another great thing about cookies is that, unlike cakes or pies, you bake them in batches. So if one batch gets screwed up, you've got more chances to get them right.
Batches also mean you can store them in airtight containers and have them on hand for unexpected holiday guests. With a cake or a pie, once you've cut into it, you can only offer it to family or really good friends afterward without looking, well, overly thrifty.
I must be the only person in the known universe for whom making humble, aptly named "thumbprint cookies" was not a family tradition. If I can make them, you totally can. Make the dough up to one day ahead and refrigerate it. The cold dough is easier to work with when making the cookies.
1 cup shelled hazelnuts
1 cup butter, softened (2 sticks)
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups sifted flour
1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary
Good quality jam
Special equipment: Parchment paper (seriously)
Toast and grind hazelnuts. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Spread hazelnuts in single layer on a baking sheet. Toast in oven until fragrant, about 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a pie plate or other dish where they can cool quickly, in a single layer. When nuts are totally cooled, grind in a food processor, using short bursts; if the nuts overheat, they can grind into a paste. After several short bursts, I let them sit as I worked on the dough, occasionally giving them quick blasts until they were finely ground into uniform particles. Don't go crazy with the grinding--you want ground nuts, not powder. Leave in the food processor bowl.
Make the cookie dough. Cream softened butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric beater. Beat in egg and salt. Using a low speed on the mixer, gradually incorporate flour, occasionally scraping down the bowl sides to make sure it combines evenly with the butter/sugar mixture. Sprinkle chopped rosemary over hazelnuts in food processor and pulse a few times to incorporate it evenly in the ground nuts. Gradually add to butter/sugar/flour mixture, again using a low speed on your mixer. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate dough for 2 hours or overnight (the more firm and chilled it becomes, the easier it is to form the cookies).
Bake the cookies. Preheat oven to 375ºF. Roll dough into 1-inch balls, about 1 level tablespoon of dough per cookie. Arrange a dozen of them on a sheet of parchment paper that fits your cookie sheet. Slightly flatten balls with the palm of your hand--they will spread more during baking, so don't squash them. Slide the parchment paper sheet onto cookie sheet and bake until the cookies are lightly golden, about 8 to 12 minutes. While they're baking, prepare another dozen on a fresh sheet of parchment paper.
Also, slightly warm the jam to make it easier to work with--setting small bowls of preserves near my oven's exhaust vent on the stovetop did a great job.
When the first batch is done, slide the baked-cookie-laden parchment paper off the cookie sheet and onto a table or countertop. Slide the raw-cookie-dough-laden parchment sheet onto the cookie sheet and pop it into the oven.
While cookies are still warm, press indentations into the tops. You can use the rounded end of a wooden spoon, but sticking with the thumbprint tradition, I used gingerly touches with various digits so my thumbs didn't take all the heat. It gave me better control over the shape of the dents. Spoon a half-teaspoon or so of warmed jam into each cookie. Let cookies cool slightly, then transfer to plates.
Storing the cookies. These cookies will keep for several days in an airtight container. But don't stack them, store them in a single layer; the jam centers will stick to the undersides of other cookies and won't be as company-ready pretty.
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(Images: Terry Boyd)