PITTSFIELD — Monday afternoon, 10 or so Berkshire Eagle staff members were engaged in one of their favorite pastimes — eating holiday cookies and drinking tea or hot cocoa.
Nice job, if you can get it, right?
They had gathered for the annual employee holiday cookie swap, usually held at The Eagle on the second Monday in December. The longtime tradition began at The Eagle's former sister paper, The North Adams Transcript, and former Transcript staffers brought the tradition to the Eagle, where it has thrived ever since.
"I went to work at the Transcript almost 30 years ago, and it had been going on for a few years before that," said Catherine Wandrei, Eagle human resources manager, who recalled there had been years with a few as four participants and as many as 15 last year.
Cookies, this year, included: bakery-style butter cookies, chocolate gingerbread, Cherry Garcia, fudge and peanut butter chocolate candy cups, Christmas crescents, oatmeal scotchies, biscotti made "from a secret family recipe," chocolate peppermint, peanut butter blossoms and delicate vanilla almond spritz cookies.
Pure delight ...
VANILLA ALMOND SPRITZ COOKIES
(Becky Drees, features designer)
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 egg yolks
- 3/4 teaspoon almond extract
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 3/4 cups (8 ounces) all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- food coloring (optional)
- sanding sugar, sprinkles, chopped dried fruit or nuts for decorating (optional)
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Place a nonstick baking sheet in the freezer for at least 10 minutes before baking.
- In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes.
- Add egg yolks and extracts and beat on medium-high speed for another 2 to 3 minutes until creamy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
- Add flour and salt and mix on low speed until dry ingredients are just incorporated. If coloring, divide dough in half and add food coloring and knead until color is evenly distributed.
- Place desired design disk on end of cookie press. Fill tube with dough, then screw on lever top.
- Remove cookie sheet from freezer. Place cookie press flat on cookie sheet surface, press lever, pause for one second to allow the dough to freeze to the sheet, then gently lift press.
- Repeat with remaining cookies, leaving 1 inch of space between cookies (they won't spread very much so you should be able to fit an entire tube of dough onto one cookie sheet).
- If desired, sprinkle cookies with sanding sugar and other desired sprinkles, fruits or nuts. (I used an egg wash, sugar and slivered almonds).
- Bake for 6 to 7 minutes or until tops are set and edges are just starting to brown. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes, then transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Let cookie sheet cool, then freeze for 10 minutes before pressing out the next sheet of cookies.
Spritz cookies will keep in an air-tight container for up to 1 week.
CHRISTMAS CRESCENT COOKIES
(Lisa Elias — ad fulfillment coordinator)
Yields: 6 dozen
- 1 cup walnuts
- 1 cup soft butter
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
- 1 cup sifted powdered sugar
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- With fingers, gently mix walnuts, butter, granulated sugar and flour.
- Shape by teaspoonfuls into small crescents.
- Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet for about 15 to 18 minutes until lightly browned. Cool slightly.
- While still warm, roll cookies in powdered sugar.
CHEWY DOUBLE CHOCOLATE PEPPERMINT COOKIES
(Meggie Baker, calendar clerk)
Yields: 12 cookies
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter (softened, 1 stick equals 1/2 cup)
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1/4 tsp natural peppermint extract
- 1 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (or whole-wheat pastry)
- 1/3 cup cocoa powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp baking powder
- 1 candy cane (finely crushed)
- 1/3 cup dark, bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together for about 1-2 minutes.
- Add egg, peppermint extract and beat until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides as you go to ensure even mixing.
- Add flour, salt, cocoa powder, baking soda and powder to a sifter and sift gradually over the wet ingredients mixing as you go. Mix until well combined.
- Add chocolate chips and stir in with a mixing spoon and then chill in the freezer for 10 minutes while the oven finishes heating.
- Form the dough into small balls (heaping 1 tablespoon) and place 1.5 inches apart on an ungreased or parchment-lined baking sheet
- Press the tops down and then top with a few more chocolate chips (to indicate what's inside).
- Bake for 10 to 12 minutes — the edges should start to dry but the tops will still be slightly soft looking.
- Let set on the cookie sheet for a few minutes more but sprinkle crushed candy cane on immediately.
- Transfer to a cooling rack to rest until completely cooled.
- Store in an airtight container to keep fresh for up to a few days or freeze for several weeks.
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