You probably know the Hanukkah story: in a fight over religious freedom in Judea, the temple in Jerusalem was ransacked before the Jewish Maccabee soldiers won the war, liberated the city, and reclaimed their temple in Jerusalem. Upon their return, the Macabees found only enough oil to keep the menorah lit for one day, but miraculously, the flame flickered for eight.
The culinary manifestation of the Hanukkah miracle just might be Dorie Greenspan’s Do-Almost-Anything cookie doughs. Yes, this is a poor segue, but bear with me for a moment. You know I adore Dorie (how could anyone not?), and her most recent cookbook, Dorie’s Cookies, hasn’t wandered far from my kitchen since I wrote about her salt-flecked kasha-studded chocolate chip cookies. When planning a baking birthday playdate with a friend’s twins (How old are you today? Three. How old will you be tomorrow? FOUR!!!!!), I settled on two easy roll-and-bake recipes – one chocolate, one vanilla – and a rainbow of colored sugars. The recipes were the perfect blank canvas for kiddos and left me with enough extra dough to last the entire holiday season. A miracle indeed.
For the playdate, we rolled out wide craft paper to cover the floor of my living room and got to work on the chocolate dough. The birthday boys measured out ingredients (we used a scale and practiced numbers and math), turned on the mixer (with a few puffs of flour and cocoa), and scraped the paddle and bowl (while resisting the temptation to sample raw dough at their mother’s request).
While the chocolate dough chilled, I pulled from the freezer two sheets of vanilla dough that I had made in the morning and rolled out in advance. Armed with cookie cutters, the boys pressed out shapes and went wild with the colored sugars. As they baked, we tried another method for the chocolate – a medium-sized scoop to squeeze and plop the dough onto parchment and a squish with the palm of the hand to flatten into discs.
As I pulled the first tray out of the oven, and the boys leaned over the cookies, inching forward as I backed away warning “be careful, they’re hot hot hot.”
“But they smell like grandma’s house!” I couldn’t have been prouder.
I don’t have any photos from the day, but two days later, I used some of the leftover dough to make some holiday cookies for my physical therapist.
A few nights later, my parents and I attended “The Eve” – my cousin Judy’s annual Christmas party. Inspired by Dorie’s recipe for vanilla polka dot cookies, I scooped up some mini chocolate balls, rolled them around in bright white pearl sugar, and pressed them into silver-dollar coin sized cookies. I baked up these tiny crispy treats, called them midnight sky cookies, and brought them along to add to the dessert table.
The party was a fun mixing of traditions – we lit the Christmas tree with a wand, the menorah with a blessing – and then there was a mad dash of present opening that left the floor knee-high with torn wrapping paper. Everyone caught up while we migrated from table to sofa and back again, trying to remember which glass of wine was which, nibbling snacks and digging into my cousin Roberta’s famous igloo-shaped yodel ice cream cake. My favorite part of the evening, just like when I drove out a few years ago, started around midnight when most of the guests had left and a core group – largely my parents’ generation – traded stories about “the old days,” discussed politics, and just gabbed away until 2:30 in the morning.
I shared a sofa and a blanket with my great Aunt Harriette (“that’s 2 Ts and an E,” she likes to remind people) and nodded off a few times. I spoke to her the next morning and she told me: “I enjoyed the gentle weight of your kepele on my shoulder.”
Here’s a picture of Harriette back in the day photoshopped with her daughters Judy and Roberta at a dance recital. My sister and dad made this for Harriette’s 90th birthday.
My parents stayed in New York for most of Hanukkah, and on the sixth night we lit candles together and my dad and I baked some more chocolate cookies for their car ride home the next day. Standing side by side in the kitchen, we got a small assembly line going, him scooping and plopping out the dough, me coating the dough in sugar and flattening out the cookies.
Finally, I baked up one more batch for New Year’s Eve, having perfected the scoop-plop-roll-squash technique and using it for both the chocolate and vanilla doughs.
I still have some vanilla dough in the freezer for 2017.
I realize now that I got all caught up in the stories and I forgot to talk about the cookies themselves. Both doughs lack leavening and are high in butter, so they bake up dense and crispy which is just the way I like them. The vanilla ones are very vanilla-y, the chocolate ones are rich in cocoa but taste less sweet.
Before we get to the recipes, I have a few tips:
The recipes have very few ingredients, so use the best vanilla and cocoa you can find. Dorie likes Sonoma Syrup Co’s vanilla bean extract crush – yes, it really costs almost $30, but you can find it at TJ Maxx for about half that. Dorie recommends Valrhona cocoa (as well as Guittard and Droste) and I keep a large stash of this one in my pantry.
If you’re going the cookie cutter route, roll out the still soft dough right after you make and between two pieces of parchment paper so you don’t have to use flour to prevent it from sticking. Chill the rolled out dough in the fridge (or, if you’re in a rush, slip it in the freezer) so it will firm up before cutting.
Since the cookies don’t spread, if you want to keep the shapes as sharp as possible, you can cut the dough on the parchment, remove the scraps, and bake as is.
Dorie Greenspan’s Do-Almost-Anything-Doughs
Both recipes make about 80 cookies if you roll and cut them into 2-inch shapes. I make my midnight sky cookies with a teaspoon scooper for silver-dollar sized cookies and I’ve lost count of how many the recipe made, but it’s closer to 150.
I know it’s annoying to have to link to another page, but I didn’t think it was fair to copy two recipes straight out of Dorie’s book.
Dorie Greenspan’s Do Almost-Anything Vanilla Cookie Dough as published in the Washington Post
Dorie Greenspan’s Do-Almost-Anything Chocolate Cookie Dough as published in Bay Area’s Mercury News
Midnight Sky Cookies
I adapted Dorie Greenspan’s Vanilla Polka Dots recipe in Dorie’s Cookies, replacing the Do-Almost-Anything Vanilla Cookie Dough with the chocolate version. If you make this with the vanilla dough, I found that they need only 12 minutes in the oven.
Makes at least 30
– About 1/2 C (96 g) pearl sugar (sometimes called Swedish sugar)
– 1/4 recipe Do-Almost-Anything Chocolate Cookie Dough, just made and still soft
Prep. Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Scoop, roll, and press. Using a teaspoon-sized cookie scoop, scoop out level portions of dough. Shape each portion into a ball between your palms. Roll the balls in the sugar to coat and place them on the lined baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Gently press each cookie down with the palm of your hand to slightly flatten.
Bake. Bake for 15 minutes until the cookies are just set – they’ll firm up as they cool. Transfer the sheet to a rack and allow the cookies to rest for 5 minutes before lifting them onto the rack to cool completely.