Growing up, my family didn’t have a tradition of baking Christmas cookies. My mom would place several orders of Bûche de Noël (Christmas log cake) for our family dinner on Christmas eve and to give away to friends but nary a sugar cookie was in sight.
I never realized what I was missing until I moved to the United States where everyone I met seemed to have a favorite family Christmas cookie. My husband has fond memories of churning out pizzelles (even though his adopted family is of mostly German descent, go figure!) in a pizzelle iron with his sister. My church friend Karen introduced me to biscochitos, or Mexican wedding cookies, the official cookie of New Mexico. And Deb was baking glazed lebkuchen (gingerbread cookies) months before Christmas, packing them into tins to “age.”
When my sister and I lived in the same city for a couple of years, we baked an assortment of Christmas cookies to share with our friends: Snickerdoodles, Mexican wedding cookies, thumbprint cookies, etc. But that arrangement didn’t last after we moved away.
Two years ago, when my son was a year and some, I decided I wanted to create my own Christmas cookie tradition. These lemongrass and pandan cookies were the result of my experimentation (read my original post here).
To make them festive for the season, I sprinkled the cookies liberally with colored sugar. Stacked, wrapped in cellophane, and tied with a bow, they make a lovely edible gift. Or, invite your girlfriends over for a spot of afternoon tea to escape the hectic atmosphere of the season and a plate piled with cookies will be a welcome – and pretty to look at – treat on your table.
Lemongrass and pandan Christmas sugar cookies
Adapted from Easy Sugar Cookies on Allrecipes.com
Makes about 4 dozen cookies
Cake flour produces a softer cookie with a finer crumb and I combined it with white whole wheat flour (that’s what I had but you can use all-purpose flour, too) so that it would still stand up as a sugar cookie. You can make the cookies entirely with all-purpose flour if you desire. I also prefer natural cane sugar to white granulated sugar. I like its richer, almost molasses-like flavor. If you prefer a sweeter cookie, add up to 1/2 cup more sugar.
2 cups cake flour
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup natural cane sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup lemongrass confetti (see below)
1 tablespoon pandan extract (see below), or 1/2 teaspoon pandan paste (available at Asian markets)
Sugar sprinkles or other decorations
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Combine the flours, baking soda, and baking powder in a small bowl and set aside.
3. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg and vanilla until well mixed.
4. Add the dry ingredients gradually, blending each batch in before adding more. Mix well.
5. Divide the dough into 2 balls and place in separate bowls. Add the lemongrass bits and pandan juice to each bowl respectively. Knead each ball with your hands until the flavoring is completely mixed in.
6. Roll rounded teaspoonfuls of dough into balls, and place onto ungreased cookie sheets. Flatten with the back of the spoon and sprinkle with colored sugar or other decorations.
7. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until golden. Let the cookies stand on the cookie sheet for 2 minutes before removing to cool completely on wire racks.
8. Rinse out cookie sheets, wipe down, and repeat until all the cookies are baked. (Don’t place dough on hot cookie sheets or they will cook unevenly and/or burn quickly.) Or refrigerate (up to 2 days) or freeze (up to a week) remaining dough to bake later.
Trim about an inch from the hard root end of one plump lemongrass stalk and chop off the woody top where it just starts to turn from green to pale yellow. You should have 6 to 7 inches of lemongrass stalk remaining. Peel off the loose, tough outer layers to expose the tender white core, then bruise the entire length of the stem with a meat pounder, large knife, or heavy glass to release the aroma and oils.
Cut the stalks crosswise into very thin ringlets (as thin as you can possibly cut them). Then rock your knife blade over the pieces to chop them into confetti-sized flakes. The tinier you can chop the lemongrass, the less chance you’ll be chomping down on hard bits when you bite into the cookie. Or whirl in a food processor. You should get about 2 to 3 tablespoons from one stalk so you’ll probably need 2 stalks for this recipe.
Pandan (also called pandanus or screwpine) leaves are considered the Southeast Asian equivalent of vanilla extract and are used to flavor cakes and kuehs in Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia. You can find pandan leaves in the freezer section of Asian markets. They are occasionally available fresh. (Go here for an article on pandan leaves I wrote for Saveur magazine)
Rinse 10 pandan leaves and snip off sharp tips and hard bases. Snip into 1/2 inch sections. Place the leaves in a small food processor with 3 to 4 tablespoons of water. Whirl until pulpy and wrap in a cheesecloth placed over a bowl. Squeeze out as much pandan juice as possible. You’ll have more than the required 1 tablespoon. You can boil it down in a small saucepan over low heat for a more concentrated flavor or just save the extra for making other desserts or add some to a pot of tea.