Cream Cheese Macaroons

My mother loved coconut, and these were her favorite cookies. If cream cheese and coconut isn’t enough yumminess for you, add a cup of M&M mini baking chips for variety.

1/3 C. butter
1 3-oz. pkg. cream cheese (full fat), softened
3/4 C. sugar
1 egg yolk
2 tsp. almond extract
2 tsp. Triple Sec, other liqueur, or rum flavoring
1 1/4 C. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
14-oz. pkg. of coconut, divided

Cream the butter, cream cheese, sugar, egg yolk, and flavorings. Mix in the flour and baking powder, and then 3 C. of the coconut. Chill dough at least an hour (or, it will keep for a few days in the fridge).

Preheat oven to 325º. Shape dough into 1” balls and roll them in remaining coconut, pressing it in. Bake on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper for 15 minutes, or until barely starting to brown. Cool on the sheet for a minute, and carefully remove to a wire rack.

Kitchen Hint: use good quality, moist coconut for this, and use full-fat cream cheese or the cookies won’t hold together right. If you don’t find bags of the mini M&M baking chips in the baking aisle, look for tubes of them at the check-out counter.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches

I made the mistake of not baking these one Christmas, and when my niece searched her cookie bucket and found none, Aunt Charlotte heard about it! A soft, yummy cookie beloved by those who can’t have chocolate.

1 C. butter-flavored Crisco
1 C. peanut butter (creamy or chunky)
1 C. sugar
1 C. brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
3 C. flour
2 tsp. baking soda
extra sugar
18 oz. jar of jelly/jam (see hint)

Preheat the oven to 350º. Cream the Crisco, peanut butter and the sugars, then mix in the eggs and vanilla until well blended. Add the flour and baking soda. Roll dough into 1” balls and then roll in the extra sugar to coat them. Place balls on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper, and bake about 7-8 minutes (don’t overbake!). Cool. Match pairs of cookies so they fit, then spread the flat side of one with jelly and press the flat side of the other cookie to form a sandwich. Allow jelly to dry before stacking in a storage container. Freezes well.

Kitchen Hint: I’ve used a lot of red jams/jellies and they each add their own special tartness or sweetness. Red plum is my favorite, but cherry is tasty and so is raspberry. Be aware that with strawberry jam, the chunks make the sandwiches harder to press together.

Brown Sugar Date Drops

Mom used to stir these up, and the aroma of the brown sugar and cooked dates made the house smell divine. A really moist, chewy cookie.

1 C. margarine or butter, softened
2 C. brown sugar
1/2 C. buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
3 1/2 C. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon

2 C. chopped dates
3/4 C. sugar
3/4 C. water

Preheat the oven to 375º. For the dough, cream the margarine/butter with the sugar, then add the buttermilk and the dry ingredients. Set aside and make the filling: place the dates, sugar and water in a medium pan on the stove and cook, stirring constantly, until thickened.

Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. To form each cookie, drop 1 T. dough, spread slightly with the back of the spoon, then drop on a tsp. of the filling and top with another tsp. of dough. Bake 10 minutes, or until firm. Cool a minute or so on the pan before transferring to a rack to cool completely. About 4 dozen.

Kitchen Hint: Don’t have buttermilk? Measure 1 T. vinegar or lemon juice into a measuring cup and then pour the milk to the 1/2 C. mark. Stir and let it sit until it thickens.

Shortbread Jelly Bites

Here’s a versatile shortbread cookie you can fill with any flavor of jelly or jam you prefer. I like this recipe because by baking the jelly filling (rather than adding it after you bake), you make the cookie much easier to freeze, ship, etc. I’ve nicknamed these “jelly eyes” because they’re so perfect and round with shiny centers!

1 C. softened butter (no substitutions)
2/3 C. sugar
1/2 tsp. almond extract
2 C. flour
1/3 to 1/2 C. jelly or seedless jam

Cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the extract and gradually add the flour until the dough forms a ball. Wrap the dough in wax paper and chill at least an hour, or up to 3 or 4 days, if that’s more convenient.

Preheat oven to 350º. Roll dough into 1” balls. Place balls on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper and carefully make an indentation in the centers with the end of a wooden spoon. Fill with jelly, and bake 12-14 minutes or until firm (I don’t let mine get even slightly brown). Cool on a rack.

For a decorative variation, make a glaze of 1 C. powdered sugar, 2-3 tsp. milk, and ½ tsp. almond extract. Tint with paste coloring, if you like. Carefully spoon the glaze into a pastry bag with a small round tip and then zig-zag the glaze over the tops of the cooled cookies.

Kitchen Hint: When I’m making the indentations in the dough balls, I “wiggle” the wooden spoon a bit so the top of the indention is wider—but don’t let the dough crack. Then I spoon the jelly into a pastry bag with a large round tip and squeeze it into the holes before baking, to keep the jelly nice and neat.

Lemon Cheesecake Bars

Here’s another great bar that starts with a cake mix—which means the flavor variations on this recipe are endless! The cream cheese filling keeps them moist and chewy.

1 lemon cake mix
2 eggs
1/3 C. oil
8 oz. bar of cream cheese, softened
1/3 C. sugar
1 tsp. lemon juice or ReaLemon
Colored sugars, jimmies, etc. if desired

Preheat the oven to 350º. Mix the dry cake mix, ONE of the eggs and the oil until the mixture’s crumbly. Reserve a cup for topping, and firmly pat the rest of the dough into a sprayed 9 x 13” pan. Bake for 15 minutes. Meanwhile beat the cream cheese, sugar, the remaining egg and the lemon juice until smooth. Spread over the baked layer, and then sprinkle with the reserved crumb mixture. Sprinkle with colored sugar or jimmies, if desired, and bake 15 minutes longer. Cool in the pan before cutting.

Kitchen Hint: I have also used a chocolate cake mix and sprinkled on nuts; strawberry cake mix and sprinkled with mini M&Ms; coconut cake mix and sprinkled it with chopped macadamia nuts. The possibilities are only limited by your taste and imagination!

Chocolate Mint Drop Sugar Cookies

Here’s a minty surprise in a firm, sweet cookie. I’m disappointed some years when I can’t find mint chocolate chips, but butterscotch chips (or Hershey Special Dark chips) make a tasty replacement.

1 C. sugar
3/4 C. oil
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 C. flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 10-oz. bag of mint chocolate chips
Extra sugar

Preheat the oven to 350º. In the mixer bowl, blend the sugar with the oil, eggs, and vanilla. Add in the flour and baking powder, then stir in the chips. Shape rounded spoonfuls into balls and roll in the extra sugar. Place balls on cookie sheets that have been covered with parchment paper and bake 8-10 minutes. Cool for a minute on the pan before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. About 5 dozen.

Chocolate Marshmallow Cookies

This recipe comes from Lovina Eicher’s “The Amish Cook” column (now featured on a Facebook page called “The Amish Cook from Oasis Newsfeatures”) and it’s indescribably soft and chocolate and wonderful with a marshmallow surprise beneath the rich cocoa frosting.

1 C. shortening (Crisco, for instance)
2 C. sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
4 C. flour
1 tsp. each baking soda and salt
2/3 C. cocoa powder
1 C. thick sour milk or buttermilk
36 big marshmallows, cut in half

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder. Set aside. Beat together the shortening, sugar, eggs and vanilla until fluffy. Add flour mixture alternately with the sour milk. Drop batter by spoonful onto greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees F for 8 minutes. Top each cookie with a marshmallow half and return to oven for 2 minutes to soften. Cool completely.

6 T. butter or margarine, melted
1/4 C. cocoa powder
1 tsp. vanilla
3 1/2 C. powdered sugar
5-6 T. milk
Combine all ingredients and beat together until smooth. Spread over tops of cooled cookies, covering marshmallows.

Kitchen Hint: to make sour milk, place 1 T. lemon juice or vinegar in measuring cup. Fill with milk to make one cup. Let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes until thick and lumpy.

Lemon Apricot Sandwiches

Soft, chewy, creamy, fruity . . . this cookie has it all! And because it begins with a cake mix, you can create lots of different flavor combinations.

1 lemon cake mix
1/2 C. oil
2 eggs
Jar of apricot fruit spread or jelly
Buttercream frosting (recipe included earlier)

Preheat the oven to 350º and cover cookie sheets with parchment paper. Mix the cake mix with the oil and eggs until well blended. Roll the dough into 1” balls and then roll the balls in sugar. Place about an inch apart and flatten slightly with the bottom of a glass. Bake about 8 minutes, until just firm, and then cool for a minute on the cookie sheet before transferring to a wire rack.

To make the sandwiches, match up cookies by size and spread the flat side of one with the apricot spread, the flat side of the other with buttercream. Press together. Let set for a while before storing. Freezes well.

Cherry Coconut Drops

Sometimes the simplest cookies can be the best! Here’s a moist, chewy macaroon made with colorful candied cherries and only five ingredients. No mixer needed.

2 7-oz. bags of flaked coconut
4 T. cornstarch
1 can sweetened condensed milk
2 tsp. vanilla
1 C. chopped candied cherries (mix red and green for the prettiest cookie!)

Preheat the oven to 325º and line baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large mixing bowl, stir the coconut and cornstarch together, then stir in the sweetened condensed milk and vanilla, and stir in the cherries last. Drop dough onto the prepared baking sheets by rounded spoonfuls, about an inch apart. Bake for 12-14 minutes, until just starting to brown on the bottom and edges. Cool on the baking sheets for at least a minute before transferring to wire racks. Store/freeze in layers separated by waxed paper. 4 dozen.

Peanut Clusters

A Christmas classic at our house. This is my mom’s recipe.

1 package almond bark
1 12-oz bag of semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips
1 oz. unsweetened chocolate (a square, chopped, or a pre-melted pkg.)
24 oz. (or larger!) container of dry roasted peanuts

Coarsely chop the almond bark into chunks and melt in a microwave or crockery pot with the chocolate chips and the unsweetened chocolate, stirring until smooth. Stir in the peanuts. Drop by spoonfuls onto wax-paper lined cookie sheets, allowing space for the clusters to spread. Cool completely. Devour.

Kitchen Hint: For a variation, use mixed nuts. This is one recipe you don’t want to make “healthier” by using unsalted nuts. The salt cuts the sweetness and makes them irresistible.

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