Holiday Cookies and Chocolate-Brandy Balls from the Simply Sensational Cookies Cookbook

Cookies are made of butter and love. ~ Norwegian Proverb

Who doesn’t love a batch of freshly baked cookies, piping hot out of the oven with enticing aromas of spices, fruit, chocolate, or nuts?  It is truly one of life’s simple pleasures.  There is nothing better than a plate of warm cookies and a frosty glass of milk on a cold winter’s day.

Making cookies also reminds me of childhood, of times spent baking with my Aunt, and my early forays in the kitchen.  In more recent years, cookie baking has become synonymous with Christmas and holidays as I spend days in the kitchen baking and decorating batches of cookies for gift giving and guests who might drop by for a little holiday cheer.

Simply Sensational Cookies, a new cookbook by my friend, cookbook author, and fellow food writer, Nancy Baggett, is a perfect book to pull from your shelf this time of year.  Beautifully photographed by Diane Cu and Todd Porter (also friends who write White on Rice Couple blog), I was excited to receive my copy to gear up for the holiday baking rush.  This book was just named one of the Top 10 holiday cookbooks of 2012 by NPR.

In her book, Nancy combines descriptions of the cookies with helpful tips for baking and ingredients along with the level of difficulty of each recipe.  There are recipes for classic cookies you would expect to find (like rolled sugar cookies and brownies) along with plenty of new and creative recipes, like Sicilian-Style Fig, Fennel Seed, and Pistachio Biscotti.  There is even a chapter devoted to some of our favorites: savory cookies, crisps, and crackers.

Nancy has updated some older recipes by altering the methods of preparing them; sometimes replacing the traditional method of combining ingredients (like using a stand mixer) with a food processor or a one-bowl mixing method that begins with melting ingredients in the microwave.

The dough for these cookies is first mixed in the food processor and then finished by hand

She has created recipes for decorative touches, as she describes them, “au naturel powdered sugar icings and sprinkles.”  These recipes were developed for those cookie bakers who would prefer to make everything from scratch and use more natural products to decorate their home-baked goods.

One of the toppings that I made was an orange-scented sugar to decorate Cranberry, Orange, and Sage Cookies.  Made with fresh orange rind, sugar, and a bit of food coloring, the more “naturel” way to tint this sugar would be to use yellow or orange pansies or marigold petals.  The sugar was very festive and had the fragrance of a fresh orange.

Top the cookies with homemade orange-scented sugar before baking

We did enjoy the Cranberry, Orange, and Sage Cookies and actually preferred them sans orange-scented sugar.  They are rich and buttery, like a shortbread, and not too sweet.  You could certainly serve them with cocktails for entertaining during the holiday season.  The ingredients reminded me of some of  the components of Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner: sage dressing and cranberry sauce, minus the roasted turkey.

Cranberry, Orange, and Sage Cookies

I also made the Chocolate-Brandy Balls which combine crushed vanilla wafers, ground walnuts, powdered sugar, cocoa, and of course, brandy.  I would definitely add more brandy to the recipe next time to achieve a more pronounced brandy flavor and to keep them very moist. 😉 Nancy’s recipe stated that it made about 25 balls and I rolled precisely 25, so I was excited that the number was exact.  Be sure to use a good brandy for these, as the recipe suggests.  Better quality brandy will give you a superior flavor.  These boozy little chocolate balls are also much better after they have been left to “mellow” for a few days.

The recipe made exactly 25 Chocolate-Brandy Balls

If you love to make cookies, then this book will keep you occupied for awhile.  There are over 200 recipes, many with unique and surprising flavors; some that require minimal expertise (one-bowl baking) and others that are more challenging (French Macarons).  Nancy also includes recipes for creating Cookies-In-Jars Mixes which are perfect to give as holiday gifts.  This cookbook would be an excellent present for the baker in your family.

These boozy little balls are great for gift giving during the holidays

Happy holiday cookie baking!

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Chocolate-Brandy Balls

This recipe takes the good old rum ball and gives it a little spin. The cookies look a bit like chocolate truffles and feature bittersweet chocolate, walnuts, and a slug of brandy instead of rum. If you like the slightly sophisticated combination of chocolate and orange, add the optional orange zest, too.


2 cups coarsely crushed or broken-up vanilla wafers
1 2/3 cups chopped walnuts
3 tablespoons unsweetened natural (non-alkalized) cocoa powder or Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest (orange part of the peel), optional (* I did not include the orange zest.)
1/2 cup (2 ounces) bittersweet chocolate morsels (* I used 2 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate.)
2/3 cup powdered sugar
3 tablespoons light or dark corn syrup (* I used dark corn syrup.)
3 tablespoons good-quality brandy (* I would suggest adding a little more.)


1. Line a tray or rimmed baking sheet with wax paper or baking parchment paper.

2. In a food processor, process the wafers, walnuts, cocoa powder, and orange zest (if using) until finely ground. Remove a generous 1/3 cup; reserve in a shallow bowl for garnish. Add the chocolate morsels and powdered sugar to the processor; process until the chocolate is finely chopped.

3. With the motor running, add the corn syrup and brandy through the feed tube, continuing to process until the ingredients are just thoroughly blended. Let the mixture stand for about 10 minutes to firm up slightly.

4. Turn out the mixture onto a greased sheet of baking parchment. Shape the portions of the mixture using greased hands into 1-inch balls. Roll the balls in the reserved crumb mixture until coated all over. Space, slightly separated, on the tray. Let the cookies mellow, covered, at least overnight before serving.

Makes about twenty-five 1-inch cookies

Storage: Store these, airtight and at room temperature, for 2 or 4 days; refrigerate for up to 2 weeks. They can be frozen, airtight, for up to 1 month.

Nancy Baggett
Simply Sensational Cookies


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