Food & Wine

Stuff your cookies with seasonal treats

Eliza Ridgeway/Town Crier
Stuff cookies with nuts and fruit, above, and top with a sprinkle of flaked salt to create a hearty holiday treat.

Chock-full of nuts and fruit, my go-to holiday cookies (which I cook all year round) are hard to mess up even during busy party prep and they offer a hospitable premise: a thoroughly sweet treat, with redeeming qualities.

They’re tart, rich, nutty and crunchy, with a crinkle of salt on the top. The red and white of cherries and white chocolate suit the season, but this isn’t a cheesy Christmas cookie that puts appearance over flavor – it’s a fully loaded feast. The half-oat, half-flour base provides a satisfying heft while the add-ins add up to an almost granolalike effect.

British baker and food magnate Nigella Lawson, who inspired these cookies, calls for only white chocolate, but I don’t think we should stop there – I add white and dark chocolate, preferably chopped from a bar rather than premade chips. The fractured irregularity of chopped chocolate makes for a beautiful-looking cookie and gives entertaining variation in each bite.

For dried fruit, Lawson chose cranberries, but I prefer the bright, sharp flavor of cherries. Anything with an acid bite will do. For nuts, pick a favorite (or what’s in the cupboard) – I alternate between walnut and pecan.

Lawson’s holiday book, “Feast: Food to Celebrate Life” (Hyperion, 2003), includes the original version of the recipe that follows and offers a model for thinking about how we bake. Although some baking requires great precision (see: Lawson’s peanut brittle recipe, which I botched three times in a row), other treats allow for a roguish amount of variation, tuning the taste to your whims and what’s on hand.

The felicitous conjunction of salt and sweet on the dessert menu isn’t news to anyone at this point, but this recipe can convince you that it has a place in the world of humble homemade cookies.

Lawson has a long-professed love for Maldon Sea Salt, a flaky variety so light it brings bursts of flavor without the too-strong punch of heavier-grained varieties. Widely available in the U.S. in recent years, you can now regularly stock up on boxes that once had to be hand-carried from the UK.

Years ago, I forgot to add salt to one round of these cookies – a disaster caught too late – but rashly decided to rebound by crushing flakes of Maldon salt on the top of each cookie as I put it in to bake. The outcome: weirdly successful, and almost certainly assisted by the fact that, like a heathen, I bake with salted butter (increasing the amount of salt that goes into a recipe, but also accidentally hedging against a forgotten ingredient). This forgiving formulation tastes delicious regardless of the liberties (accidental or otherwise) you may take with it.

Cherry White-Chocolate Cookies

• 1 cup flour

• 1 cup rolled oats

• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

• 1/4 teaspoon salt

• 9 tablespoons chilled butter

• 2/3 cup dark brown sugar

• 1/2 cup white sugar

• 1 egg at room temperature

• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

• 2/3 cup dried cherries

• 1/2 cup pecans, roughly chopped

• 1/2 cup white chocolate, chopped

• 1/3 cup dark chocolate, chopped

• 1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and rolled oats in bowl. Beat together butter and sugars until creamy, then beat in egg and vanilla.

Delicately beat flour mixture into butter/sugar (minimal mixing keeps the cookies tender), then fold in cherries, nuts and chocolate.

Using your hand or a spoon, scoop tablespoon-sized chunks of dough, gently mold into roundish shapes and place on cookie sheet. Use fork to gently flatten each ball. Sprinkle with sea salt, crushing flakes with your fingers as you go.

Bake 15 minutes, until cookies are tinged a pale gold. They will be too soft to lift immediately off the baking sheet, so let cool unmolested.

Makes two dozen cookies.

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