So, it’s our last Friday in November which means that it’s the last day for cookies in our cookie series. Have you guys been having fun so far? If you think that I should keep up with the cookie posts all through December, could you shout it out in the comments, otherwise, I think I’ll be moving on to another fascinating food topic. Actually, while you’re there, why don’t you tell us your favourite holiday cookie? I’d love to hear what your family staples are for the holiday season.
When I was searching for the perfect cookie to finish off our series, I was focused on eggnog. For me, eggnog is another of the classic holiday flavours. I wasn’t convinced that a simple cookie could convey all the depth and richness of the real stuff, but I went Googling anyway. There are a lot of people out there who have some excellent uses for leftover eggnog. When I finally came across these cheesecake bars from Martha Stewart, I knew that I’d hit gold. In fact, the reasons I selected these cookies are the same reasons that you should make them this weekend (or next if you happen to be busy celebrating Thanksgiving this weekend): the custard base of the cheesecake really allows the eggnog flavour to shine, they freeze well, and bar cookies are fast and easy.
Ok, so let me just say a bit more about bar cookies. If you only have a sort of limited time to pay attention to what you’re baking, bar cookies are the way to go. They aren’t as easy to scale up as other cookies, especially if you don’t have multiple pans but all you really need to do is whip up the batter and then put one dish in the oven instead of moving cookies in and out of the oven, through a few dozen, which can sometimes take over an hour. I made these bars while my daughter was napping. When she woke early, I wasn’t in the middle of anything and I didn’t have to slice or scoop or wave hot pans above her head in the kitchen — I just popped down to check on them around the time that they were supposed to be done and pulled them out of the oven. Whammo, 18 cookies! And, really, they are so simple, I probably could have had my preschooler help mix them. One bowl. That’s it!
Alright, so bar cookies are fantastic but what about freezing them? You might be (but you shouldn’t be) surprised that a lot of bar cookies freeze really well. Cheesecake bars, brownies, nut bars all hold up well in the freezer. In fact, if they can do it, why not you? I did check with a couple of the pros on this issue and everyone agrees that a well wrapped cheesecake can stand up in the freezer for a few months. In the case of cheesecake bars, I’d freeze the pan whole. I’d even be tempted to use a waxed paper or foil pan to do the job, then thaw in the refrigerator overnight before you need them and slice right before you serve.
Eggnog Cheesecake Bars
From Martha Stewart Living, December 2009
Yield, 18 bars
12 graham crackers, finely ground (or 1 1/2 cups of crumbs)
3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
2 ounces (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
1 pound cream cheese, room temperature
2 large eggs 1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup eggnog
1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon brandy
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, plus more for dusting
1/4 teaspoon salt
Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9-inch square baking pan with cooking spray. Stir together graham cracker crumbs, 3 tablespoons sugar, and the melted butter. Press into bottom of pan. Bake until crust is just brown around the edges, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool. As an aside, you can boost the nutmeg flavour here by adding 1/4 teaspoon to the crust. I didn’t do it, myself, but if you’re a big fan, I’d say go for it.
Meanwhile, beat cream cheese with a mixer on medium speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the remaining 3/4 cup sugar, the eggs, yolk, eggnog, flour, brandy, vanilla, nutmeg, and salt; beat until smooth. Never has it been more important to have your ingredients at room temperature. Even the eggnog. It’s best to leave it out of the fridge a bit or maybe even warm it a little in the microwave. You’ll get a much smoother filling. Pour filling over crust.
Set pan in a roasting pan, and add enough hot water to come halfway up sides of baking pan. Bake until just set, 40 to 45 minutes. Remove baking pan from water bath, and transfer to a wire rack. Let cool slightly, about 30 minutes. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight. The entire tray of squares can be wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen for at least two months. Cut into 1 1/2-by-3-inch bars. Be sure to have chilled the cheesecake bars before you cut them. I tried to rush this step and got a few messy bars. I immediately put the tray into the fridge and ignored it for a few hours. When I started cutting again and they were perfect.
Lightly dust tops of bars with freshly grated nutmeg just before serving.
Cookies generally store best as doughs. If you have the time, the best way to plan ahead is to mix the doughs, store them in the freezer and then scoop/slice/roll and bake when you need them. For drop cookies and cookies that you roll into bars, you can store the dough in tubs. For cookies that get rolled out and cutout (like our gingerbread men), store them in 1/2 thick circles or rectangles in plastic bags. Cookies that get sliced can be stored as logs. If you don’t have time to do any last minute baking, certainly feel free to bake them up first and then freeze them.
Store baked cookies undecorated and unfrosted. Store each type of cookie in its own container. Cookies that are stored together tend to share flavours. This is especially true for peppermint flavours. Flat cookies can be store between layers of waxed or parchment paper.
Always cool baked cookies before wrapping and freezing them (or sealing in containers and freezing them).