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Corby's Table
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Corby's Holiday Cookies

December 1995

For holiday recipes I dare to plunder my own book, The Joy of Coffee, which of course makes an ideal gift together with a half pound of coffee.

Now that that blatant piece of self-promotion is out of the way, I can wholeheartedly recommend these recipes because I didn't create them. Lisë Stern, an extremely talented baker--the best cookie baker I know, and an incredibly gifted maker of chocolate truffles too--shared them with me for the book. Lisë used to work in both the art and editorial departments of The Atlantic, making herself invaluable to everyone. She was much loved, unsurprisingly, because she would often bring in some of her homebaked goods, and they were always worth eating.

These three recipes are not only worth eating, they're worth making. I include two cookies to put on your holiday tray. One is a variation of the cookie variously called Russian Tea Cakes, Mexican Wedding Cakes, more prosaically Pecan Balls, and I'm sure you've heard of them under yet another name. They're usually as irresistible as they are rich, and they're terribly rich: just butter, nuts, and sugar. These use ground espresso to cut the richness and provide a marvelous jolt of flavor (a danger-free one if you use decaffeinated coffee).

Praline Crisps are somewhere between confection and a cookie, based on the marvelous brown-sugar and nut wonders of New Orleans. They'll add gloss and elegance to a cookie tray.

Mocha Truffles are so rich and so good that even I, an avowed candy Scrooge, had to finish the plate Lisë set in front of me with her usual shy but proud smile. She knows that she has few peers at homemade truffles. These are something of a project for those who don't make truffles often, but perfectly manageable, and a lovely thing to do on the down days during Christmas vacation after the presents have been opened and the paper tossed into the fire--or, as is done in my family, carefully folded and kept ready for the next round of gifts.

    -- Corby Kummer

Russian Wedding Cakes

Usually called Russian Tea Cakes or Mexican Wedding Cakes, these crumbly spheres disappear in your mouth just as you're registering how incredibly good they are. Hazelnuts and espresso-grind coffee make them much more interesting than the plain walnut versions you've doubtless tried. The coffee amplifies the nuttiness and cuts the sweetness. These are by far the best version I've ever tasted of these dangerously good cookies.

YIELD : 4 Dozen Cookies


1 cup whole hazelnuts

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened

2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 tablespoon finely ground coffee, preferably espresso

1 cup all-purpose flour


1 cup confectioners' sugar

1 teaspoon finely ground coffee, preferably espresso

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, with a rack in the middle.

2. Make the cookies: Spread the hazelnuts on a baking sheet. Toast for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the smell permeates the air. To see if the nuts are toasted, cut one in half; it should be golden brown in the center. Remove from the oven; let cool slightly. To remove the skins, place the nuts in a tea towel, cover with another towel and rub; the skins will slip off.

3. Finely chop the hazelnuts in a food processor with 1 tablespoon of the granulated sugar. The sugar helps prevent the nuts from turning into paste. Set aside.

4. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer on medium speed, cream together the butter, the remaining tablespoon granulated sugar and the confectioners' sugar, about 1 minute. With the mixer running, add the vanilla and ground coffee and blend for about 1 minute more.

5. Add the flour and hazelnuts together and mix well on medium speed. The dough should be firm and not sticky, and should form a ball around the mixing paddle or beaters.

6. Form the dough into two 12-inch-long logs. Cut each log into 24 even pieces. Roll each piece into a ball and place on an ungreased baking sheet (or a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper) about 1/2 inch apart.

7. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until firm and lightly golden.

8. Meanwhile, make the coating: Combine the confectioners' sugar with the coffee in a small paper or plastic bag.

9. When the cookies are done, immediately place 3 or 4 cookies at a time in the bag and shake to coat. Cool on a rack. After the cookies are cool, repeat the coating procedure. Store in an airtight container for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 4 months.

Praline Crisps

Browned butter is the secret of these lacy butterscotch toffee crisps, which shatter into crackling layers in the mouth, leaving a lovely caramel aftertaste.

YIELD : 8 Dozen 2-inch Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar

1 large egg

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2 cups chopped pecans

1. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Heat until it begins to brown and turns a deep golden color, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Watch carefully to make sure it doesn't burn. Pour into a heatproof container to cool. Scrape out the little dark brown flakes, as they add flavor, but don't scrape out the darker film on the bottom. Refrigerate until solid, about 2 hours or overnight, or for 1 hour in the freezer.

2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. with a rack in the middle. Lightly grease 2 baking sheets or line them with parchment paper.

3. Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt into a small bowl; set aside.

4. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer on medium speed, cream the browned butter for 1 minute. Add the brown sugar and cream until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, blend in the egg and vanilla.

5. Gradually add the sifted dry ingredients and blend on low speed until smooth, about 1 minute.

6. Stir in the chopped pecans with a wooden spoon.

7. Drop the batter by rounded teaspoonfuls onto the baking sheet, about 2 inches apart; these cookies spread. Bake 1 sheet at a time for 10 to 12 minutes, or until firm and dark gold. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 1 minute; remove and cool on wire racks. Store in an airtight container in layers, with wax paper between, for up to 1 week, or freeze for up to 4 months.

Mocha Truffles

The coffee-infused cream in the incredibly smooth filling of these truffles takes the sweet edge off the milk chocolate and adds a marvelously pronounced coffee taste. The casing of milk chocolate flecked with tiny bits of espresso-grind coffee sets off the filling without dominating it.

YIELD : About 30 Truffles


1 teaspoon ground coffee (regular grind)

1/4 cup heavy cream

6 ounces milk chocolate, finely chopped

2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter

1 tablespoon brewed coffee

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Unsweetened cocoa powder, for dusting hands


9 ounces milk chocolate, finely chopped

2 teaspoons ground coffee (regular grind)

Whole coffee beans (optional)

1. Make the truffles: Microwave method: Add the ground coffee to the cream in a microwave-safe small bowl and microwave on high for 45 seconds.

Stovetop method: Place the ground coffee and the cream in a small saucepan and heat just until bubbles begin to form on the surface of the cream; remove from the heat.

2. Let stand for 30 minutes.

3. Microwave method: Combine the chopped milk chocolate and the butter in a microwave-safe medium bowl. Heat on high power for 1 minute and 30 seconds. Remove from the microwave and stir. If the chocolate is still fairly solid, heat for another 30 seconds. Stir the mixture until smooth. If there still seem to be several unmelted pieces of chocolate, heat again for about 20 seconds, and then stir.

Stovetop method: Combine the milk chocolate and the butter in the top of a double boiler. Bring the water in the bottom to a simmer. Stir the chocolate mixture occasionally. As the chocolate begins to melt, stir more frequently until the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat.

4. Add the coffee-cream mixture, brewed coffee and vanilla and stir until smooth.

5. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Alternatively, freeze for 2 hours. (The mixture may be prepared in advance to this point and frozen for up to 3 months.) When you are ready to form the trufffles after a long freezing, place in the refrigerator overnight; otherwise, the mixture will be too firm to form into balls.

6. Line a baking sheet with wax paper. Scoop the truffle mixture into rounded teaspoonfuls and drop the mounds onto the paper. Dust your hands with cocoa and roll the mounds into smooth balls. Place in the freezer for at least 1 hour or overnight.

7. Make the coating: Microwave method: Place the chopped chocolate in a microwave-safe medium bowl and heat on high for 1 minute. Stir until smooth. If the chocolate is still fairly solid, heat for another 30 seconds. Stir the mixture until smooth. If there still seem to be several unmelted pieces of chocolate, heat again for about 20 seconds, and then stir. Be careful, as the chocolate should not get too hot.

Stovetop method: Place two-thirds of the chopped chocolate in the top of a double boiler. Bring the water in the bottom to a simmer. Stir occasionally. As the chocolate begins to melt, stir in some pieces of the remaining chocolate. Do not let the melting chocolate get too hot. When most of the chocolate is melted but some lumps remain, turn off the heat and add the remaining chocolate; stir the mixture until smooth.

8. Stir in the ground coffee.

9. Coat the truffles: Remove the truffles from the freezer. Drop a truffle into the chocolate coating. Using 2 forks, roll it around to coat it thoroughly, then lift, letting the excess chocolate drip off. Return it to the baking sheet. If desired, top with a whole coffee bean. Repeat with the remaining truffles.

10. Let the truffles set in the freezer for about 1 hour. Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks or freeze for up to 6 months. Remove them from the freezer about 20 minutes before serving.

  • More by Corby Kummer in Atlantic Unbound

    Copyright © 1995 by Corby Kummer. Recipes copyright © 1995, Lisë Stern.

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