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Cookies, cookies everywhere

  • AP PHOTOS ABOVE: Caramel peanut melt bars adapt well to any salty nut you may favor. LEFT: Key lime meltaways which are truly melt-in-your-mouth perfect.
    AP PHOTOS ABOVE: Caramel peanut melt bars adapt well to any salty nut you may favor. LEFT: Key lime meltaways which are truly melt-in-your-mouth perfect.
Published December 23. 2009 05:00PM

With Christmas fast approaching, bakers may be scrambling to find new cookie recipes to try out this year. So why not try one or more of these sweet snacks that will please any person's sweet tooth.

Caramel peanutmelt bars

We've all seen salt-crusted caramel candies. Now you can have them as a cookie. While peanuts are delicious, any salty nut would work, including chopped almonds, cashews or pistachios, or try a blend.

Makes 16 bars

For the dough:

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 egg

teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

For the caramel:

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup water

1 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Pinch salt

1 1/2 cups lightly salted shelled peanuts

For the chocolate sauce:

1 cup heavy cream

8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

Heat the oven to 375 F. Coat a 9-inch by 9-inch baking pan with baking or cooking spray.

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer on medium to beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in egg, salt and vanilla. Add flour and mix until just incorporated.

Press dough into prepared pan. Bake until golden and firm, about 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool.

Meanwhile, make caramel. In a medium saucepan over medium, combine sugar and water, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Bring to a gentle boil and cook until sugar reaches a medium brown, occasionally swirling the pan to prevent burning at the edges.

While sugar cooks, in a small saucepan over medium-low, heat cream until just warm. Once sugar is medium brown, add the lemon juice and salt, gradually whisk in the warm cream. Mixture will bubble vigorously.

Scatter the peanuts evenly over cookie crust, then pour caramel sauce over them. Let cool for 10 minutes, or until caramel sets.

Once caramel has set, make the chocolate sauce.

In a medium microwave-safe bowl, heat cream until boiling. Add chocolate and let sit for 1 minute. Stir with a wooden spoon until completely smooth and glossy, then pour over the caramel and peanuts.

Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour. Cut into 16 bars. Store bars in a single layer in the refrigerator.

Key limemeltaways

For a faster version, skip the indenting step and just dust cookies with powdered sugar instead of frosting them.

Makes 24 cookies

For the cookies:

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 tablespoon key lime juice

Zest of 1 lime (or 3 key limes)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup cornstarch

teaspoon salt

For the frosting:

1/2 cup (4 ounces) cream cheese, softened

cup butter, softened

cup powdered sugar

1 tablespoon key lime juice

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat sugar and butter until creamy. Mix in lime juice and zest.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, cornstarch and salt. Stir flour mixture into butter mixture. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

When ready to bake, heat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Drop teaspoon size balls of dough onto prepared baking sheet. Use your thumb to indent tops of the cookies and create a "nest" for the frosting to sit in. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until set. These cookies should not brown or spread, and will be quite fragile.

Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet before frosting.

To make frosting, in a medium bowl use an electric mixer to beat cream cheese with butter, scraping the bowl several times to ensure there are no lumps. Mix in powdered sugar and key lime juice. Frost each cookie with a dollop of the frosting.

Cookies can be stored for 3 days in an airtight container in the fridge.

Milk Chocolate meringues

Try these naturally lower-fat chocolate meringues.

Makes 30 cookies

3 egg whites

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

cup sugar

2 tablespoons water

1/2 cup finely chopped milk chocolate

Heat oven to 250 F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat egg whites and cream of tartar until they hold soft peaks.

In a small saucepan over medium-high, heat sugar and water, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Continue to cook until mixture reaches 240F on a candy or instant read thermometer.

With the mixer on high, pour sugar syrup into the egg white mixture, pouring it in a steady stream down the side of the bowl. Continue to beat until the meringue cools, then use a silicone spatula to fold in the chopped chocolate.

Use a pastry bag to pipe stars or use a tablespoon to dollop the mixture onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake until dry to the touch, about 45 minutes. Let cool on the baking sheet and store in an airtight container.

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