Cooking Class: Chewy Tu Bishvat cookies

Made with fruit and nuts, these are holiday treats you can really sink your teeth into.

Oatmeal cookies 521 (photo credit: MCT)
Oatmeal cookies 521
(photo credit: MCT)
Baking cookies is a delightful way to celebrate Tu Bishvat. Naturally, I want my cookies to have plenty of the holiday’s signature foods – nuts and dried fruits.
A cookie I ate recently at a party had all the qualities I look for in a Tu Bishvat treat. It was full of goodies – dried apricots, toasted pecans and coconut.
Chef Ida Rodriguez of Melissa’s World Variety Produce, who developed the recipe, told me the cookies had no batter.
She mixed the components with only sweetened condensed milk and baked the cookies.
For Tu Bishvat, I choose cookies that need no rolling pin because cookie dough with generous amounts of fruit and nuts is easier to handle with other shaping techniques. I prefer cookies that are formed by rolling dough into balls, and drop cookies that are shaped by pushing dough from a spoon onto a baking sheet.
Bakers in Italy make use of these shaping methods in a variety of nutty cookies.
Nick Malgieri, author of A Baker's Tour, bakes classic brutti ma buoni (“ugly but good”) hazelnut cookies using the drop cookie method. To make them, he folds ground hazelnuts into egg whites whipped with sugar. The batter is heated in a saucepan, shaped into cookies with two spoons and baked.
Victoria Granof, author of Sweet Sicily, makes flourless almond paste and raisin cookies with grated orange zest, shaped in ovals and decorated with candied orange peel.
Another Sicilian sweet that’s good for Tu Bishvat is Granof’s chewy pistachio cookies.
They are made by grinding pistachios with almonds and sugar and mixing in eggs, honey, vanilla and orange zest, but no flour or butter. To shape these cookies, you roll the dough between your palms into logs, sprinkle them with powdered sugar and bake them.
It’s easy to find rich, nutty treats in the Austro-Hungarian baking repertoire.
Aliza Green, author of Starting with Ingredients: Baking makes hazelnut cinnamon cookies with red-currant jam.
She rolls small balls of buttery cinnamon- scented cookie dough in ground hazelnuts, then makes an indentation in each one. After baking, she fills the center with tart red-currant jam.
Many American cookies can make tasty Tu Bishvat treats. Most chocolate chip cookie recipes already include nuts.
You can add raisins or other dried fruit instead of the chocolate chips or include some of each. To make milk chocolate chip and pistachio cookies, Green blends melted milk chocolate into the dough and then stirs in coarsely chopped pistachios, as well as chopped milk chocolate.
American oatmeal cookies, which are often studded with nuts and raisins, are perfect for the holiday. Lisa Yockelson, author of Baking Style, calls her variation Lady Bountiful Cookies. They are actually a combination of an oatmeal and a chocolate-chip cookie with plenty of nuts and fruit added.
Yockelson explains how easy it is to vary the recipe for this drop cookie: “You cannot possibly wreck the dough with a bold exchange of ingredients... My standards are bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips, chopped toffee, sweetened flaked coconut, raisins, dried cherries, and walnuts. Cashews, macadamia nuts or pecans can replace the walnuts; dried cranberries are easily swapped for the dried cherries; and a combination of white chocolate chips and bittersweet chocolate chips can sub for the all-bittersweet or all-semisweet variety. In all, a terrific and terrifically flexible recipe.”
Makes about 40 cookies These moist, soft chocolate-chip cookies are enriched with sour cream and accented with a touch of lemon zest. If you like, substitute chopped dates or dried cranberries for the raisins. You can keep the cookies up to 1 week in an airtight container at room temperature or you can freeze them.
They lose their softness after three days but still taste good.
✔ 11⁄4 cups all-purpose flour ✔ 11⁄4 tsp. baking powder ✔ 1⁄4 tsp. baking soda ✔ 1⁄4 tsp. salt ✔ 110 gr. (1⁄2 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature ✔ 3⁄4 cup sugar ✔ 1 large egg ✔ 2 tsp. grated lemon zest ✔ 1⁄4 cup sour cream ✔ 1 cup flaked coconut ✔ 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans ✔ 3⁄4 cup raisins ✔ 3⁄4 cup bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 175ºC (350ºF). Butter 3 baking sheets. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a medium bowl.
Cream butter in a mixer bowl, add sugar and beat until smooth and fluffy.
Add egg and beat until smooth. Add lemon zest and beat until blended. Stir in 1⁄2 of flour mixture until blended. Stir in 1⁄2 of sour cream. Repeat with remaining flour mixture and sour cream. Stir in coconut, walnuts, raisins and chocolate chips.
Push batter from a teaspoon with a second teaspoon onto prepared sheets, using about 1 Tbsp. batter for each cookie, mounding them high and spacing them about 5 cm. (2 inches) apart.
Bake about 12 minutes or until light brown at edges and nearly set but still soft to touch in center. Using a metal spatula, carefully transfer cookies to racks. Cool completely. Cool baking sheets and butter them. Make more cookies with remaining batter.
Makes 36 to 48 cookies
These cookies are from Starting with Ingredients: Baking. Author Aliza Green writes that these oatmeal cookies are ”packed full of chunky fruits and nuts...
Instead of the more familiar additions of raisins and walnuts, the cookies get a share of bittersweet candied orange peel, sweet, chewy dates, tart red dried cranberries, and chopped pecans.”
Green makes use of a technique that she learned from food styling for TV: “For more colorful cookies, reserve a portion of the fruits and the nuts and press a few of each into the top of each cookie before baking.”
You can keep the cookies in a cookie tin or similar container for up to a week, or you can freeze them before baking.
“Once the dough balls have been formed, they will freeze perfectly, ready for baking. Spread in a single layer on a pan lined with parchment or wax paper and freeze until hard. Transfer to zipperlocked freezer bags with the air squeezed out and freeze.”
Green makes the dough from 110 gr. (1 cup plus 2 Tbsp.) white whole-wheat flour.
Since this flour is not easy to find, I have substituted a mixture of whole-wheat and all-purpose flour.
✔ 55 gr. (about 1⁄2 cup) whole wheat flour ✔ 55 gr. (about 1⁄2 cup) all-purpose flour ✔ 110 grams (1/4 pound or 1 1/2 cups) oatmeal, not instant✔ 1⁄2 tsp. fine sea salt ✔ 1⁄2 tsp. baking soda ✔ 110 gr. unsalted butter, softened ✔ 1⁄2 cup sugar ✔ 1⁄2 cup well-packed dark brown sugar ✔ 2 tsp. vanilla extract ✔ 2 large eggs ✔ 55 gr. (6 Tbsp.) chopped candied orange peel, homemade or purchased ✔ 110 gr. (3/4 cup) pitted dates, sliced ✔ 55 gr. (1⁄2 cup plus 2 Tbsp.) dried cranberries ✔ 170 gr. (11⁄2 cups) pecans, roughly chopped
Preheat oven to 175ºC (350ºF). Line two 46x33-cm. (18x13-inch) half sheet pans with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients: flour, oatmeal, salt and baking soda.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar, dark brown sugar, and vanilla until light and creamy, 5 to 6 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time.
Add the flour mixture and beat just enough for the mixture to come together and form moist clumps. Add the candied orange peel, dates, cranberries and pecans and beat briefly to combine.
Scoop or spoon the dough into walnut-sized balls. Arrange the balls equidistant from each other in rows of 3 and 2 on the baking pans and press down with your palm to flatten slightly. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool to room temperature on a wire rack.
Faye Levy is the author of Chocolate Sensations.