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Pistachio-cranberry icebox cookies

Pistachio-cranberry icebox cookies
Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times

Beyond the colorful decorations and after the initial rush of sugar, holiday cookies are about memories, tradition and sharing with those close to us. Be they humble or ornate, our baked goods are used to celebrate and give thanks — thanks for our childhoods, the blessings of family and friends and the magic that can be found only this time of year.

This fall, we again asked L.A. Times readers to share their special cookie recipes with us for our fourth annual Holiday Cookie Bake-Off and then to help us narrow down their favorites to the top 50.

We received more than 250 submissions, and more than 3,700 votes were cast. We took the top vote-getters to Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Pasadena, where students spent one Saturday morning baking batches of cookies. L.A. Times Food Editor Russ Parsons, Deputy Food Editor Betty Hallock and Times Test Kitchen Director Noelle Carter joined KCRW's "Good Food" host, Evan Kleiman, to taste and test each cookie, narrowing it to our 10 favorites.

Earlier this week, the L.A. Times Test Kitchen was jammed with happy bakers and their helpers for this year's photo shoot. Amazing cookies, memories and traditions were shared. The Czechoslovakian nut bars bring back memories of a finalist's Slovak heritage. The holiday crescent cookies bring sisters together one afternoon each year to bake in their mother's honor. The frosted orange crispies were given to a finalist years ago by a military wife; she would serve her cookies on a silver tray at the officers club. The candy cane chocolate mandel bread is a merging of holidays for one family, Hanukkah and Christmas honored together.

As much as holiday cookies might keep memories and tradition alive, they also help to share memories and traditions with new friends in new places. One family is known far and wide for its chocolate peppermint snaps: "Everywhere we have lived — Madrid, Nairobi, Suva, SoCal — we've given these cookies as Christmas gifts to friends."

Total time: 1 hour, plus chilling and cooling times | Makes about 3 to 4 dozen cookies
Note: "Pistachio-cranberry icebox cookies might be one of the most popular recipes among my family and friends. I like icebox cookies because I can start making up cookie dough a couple months before Christmas and do a baking marathon a week or two before Christmas." - Sandra Lee Smith
  • 1 1/2 cups (6.4 ounces) flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup (1½ sticks) butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
  • 1/2 cup shelled pistachios (2½ ounces), chopped
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten (for brushing)
  • 1/4 cup decorative sugar, preferably coarse

Step 1In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon and salt. Set aside.

Step 2In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat together the butter, granulated sugar and orange zest until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing until the dough just comes together in clumps. Stir in the pistachios and cranberries.

Step 3Gather and press the dough together, then divide it into 2 equal pieces. Using a sheet of plastic wrap or wax paper as an aid, form each piece of dough into a log about 11/2 inches in diameter. Chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, until very firm, at least 2 hours.

Step 4Place racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Step 5Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Lightly brush egg over the outside of the log, then sprinkle with decorative sugar. Cut each log crosswise into one-fourth-inch thick slices (if the dough softens too much, freeze the dough briefly until firm enough again to slice). Place the cookies about one-half inch apart on lined baking sheets.

Step 6Bake the cookies until pale golden, about 15 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway. Carefully transfer the cookies to wire racks, using a slotted spatula, to cool completely.

Each of 48 cookies:
Calories 62; Protein 1 gram; Carbohydrates 7 grams; Fiber 0; Fat 4 grams; Saturated fat 2 grams; Cholesterol 12 mg; Sugar 3 grams; Sodium 14 mg
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