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Festive cookies

Almond Cardamom cookies made by Tracy Mattson, owner and chef of Cookie Take a Bite.

Crista Jeremiason/ PD
Published: Tuesday, December 4, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, December 3, 2012 at 1:48 p.m.

When Tracy Mattson was growing up in the 1970s and '80s, her mother used to bake holiday cookies twisted into candy-cane shapes or trimmed into Christmas trees.

They looked pretty but tasted bland. Still, the baking ritual left a lasting impression on the Santa Rosa pastry chef.

“It was a big deal,” recalled Mattson, who launched her own company, Cookie ... take a bite!, in 2011. “It was the one time people got into their kitchens to bake.”

These days, cookies are a year-round obsession for Mattson, who handcrafts 2,000 gourmet cookies a week in a dozen classic shapes and perky flavors, from Coconut Macaroons to Lemon Moons, her signature.

The only thing these flavor-packed cookies have in common with her mother's is that they are small, so you can munch them up in two or three bites.

“It's the shape that attracts people,” she said. “But the flavor brings them back.”

According to Mattson, the quotidian cookie has enjoyed a sweet upturn during the down economy, along with cupcakes and other small, affordable luxuries.

“Cookies are back,” she said. “They are the new couture treat. (Cookbook author) Dorie Greenspan just opened three Beurre & Sel (cookie) shops in New York. If New York is doing it, Sonoma County is next.”

This holiday season, Mattson is baking up lots of festive bites, from a Pistachio and Lemon Biscotti to a Ginger Molasses Delight. The cookies, which come in red and gold boxes, make perfect hostess gifts and sweet finales for a holiday feast.

“At the holidays, I like the warm spices like ginger and cinnamon,” she said. “It's amazing how nostalgic people are for the cookies that their grandmothers used to make.”

While she was working as the pastry chef at Cyrus restaurant in Healdsburg, Mattson started experimenting with pink peppercorns.

“It's not too hot, but warm and citrusy,” she said of the pretty pink spice. “I often use lemon or orange as a flavor layer. The acid tempers the sweetness.”

When she developed her Zesty Tea Cookie — a twist on the traditional wedding cookie, dusted with powdered sugar — she decided to add pink peppercorns and lemon to the butter-and-almond flavor.

“It's a very classic cookie, but we don't do a traditional take on it,” she said. “We give a new experience.”

Mattson's signature cookie, Lemon Moons, are made from the Eureka lemons she picks off her own tree. The pastry chef ices half the cookie, creating an arc in the shape of the crescent moon.

“It's a great after-dinner cookie, elegant and clean,” she said. “I always view cookies as a complete ending to a meal. It seals the deal.”

If you're looking for something a bit more decadent, check out her Double Chocolate Chunk, which boasts both white and dark chocolate chunks.

At Cookie ... take a bite!, Mattson's philosophy is to make sure there's a cookie that appeals to everyone. So among the rotating flavors, she also includes four kinds of flourless and three kinds of vegan cookies.

Her vegan recipe for Almond-Cardamom Rolls came from chef Rob Hogencamp of the Ceres Project in Sebastopol, a nonprofit that teaches teens to cook and delivers healthy meals to people suffering life-threatening illnesses.

“It has almonds, maple syrup, freshly ground cardamom, orange zest and ginger,” she said of the perky cookie. “There's a crust on the outside, but it has a chewy, nutty center.”

For those who want to avoid flour, she would advise baking the Chocolate Orange Krinkles.

“I whip the egg whites, and it bakes and pops,” she said. “It tends to crack on top.”

With the help of her husband, Chris, and 7-year-old son, Jack, Mattson sells her cookies year-round at the Redwood Empire Farmers Market at the Veterans Building in Santa Rosa.

Her cookies are also available at Oliver's Markets, Summerfield Cinemas and the Sixth Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa. At www.cookietakeabite, you can order cookies to be shipped across the country.

The following four recipes are from Mattson of “Cookie … take a bite!”

Lemon Moon Cookies

Makes 36 small cookies

8 ounces butter (2 sticks), room temperature

1¾ cup granulated

1 lemon, zested

½ teaspoon salt

¾ teaspoon baking soda

1 egg

2 tablespoons whole milk

½ ounce lemon juice, approximately juice of one lemon

2 ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream butter, sugar and lemon zest in the mixer with the paddle attachment. Add egg, milk and then lemon juice, gently mixing after each ingredient is added. Sift dry ingredients and add to batter. Cookie dough will be sticky. Use a pastry bag to pipe small circles onto parchment paper. Flatten the tops slightly with a wet finger. Alternatively, roll dough into logs and freeze. Bake at 350 degrees until edges are golden. To decorate, mix powdered sugar and lemon juice together and either dip or brush glaze on cookies.

Double Chocolate Chunk

Makes 50 small cookies

4 ounces butter (1 stick), cold

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ½ cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons cocoa powder,unsweetened

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup white chocolate, chopped

½ cup dark chocolate, chopped (chocolate chips work too)

— Maldon salt (optional garnish)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cream the butter in the mixer with the paddle attachment until pale yellow. Add the sugars and mix well. Add the egg and vanilla and mix only until the egg is incorporated - do not overmix. Sift the dry ingredients and slowly add. Mix on low speed just until mixed. Add chocolate chips. Use a scoop or spoon to portion and drop dough on parchment paper with enough room for the cookies to spread. We add a little Maldon salt on top. Bake in 350 degree oven until the cookies look dry. Do not overbake for a soft inside.

Flourless Chocolate Almond Crinkles

Makes 24 small cookies

6 tablespoon cocoa powder, unsweetened

1¼ cup powdered sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 large egg whites

1 cup almond meal (grind almonds if using whole, blanched almonds)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a bowl, whisk the cocoa powder, powdered sugar, salt, and egg whites together until the batter is smooth and shiny - usually only takes a minute or so. Stir in the almond meal and vanilla extract. Use a scoop or spoon to portion and drop onto parchment paper leaving some room as the cookies will spread a bit. As the batter is very sticky, it helps to dip the scoop in water before scooping. Bake on 325 degree until the tops crackle. Sprinkle powdered sugar on top or leave plain.

Zesty Tea Cookies

Makes 50 small cookies

8 ounces butter (2 sticks), room temperature

¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon almond extract

¼ teaspoon salt

1½ teaspoon ground pink peppercorns

1 lemon, zested

½ cup almond meal (grind almonds if using whole, blanched almonds)

¼ cup powdered sugar

1¾ cup all-purpose flour

— Powdered sugar, for finishing

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Cream butter and flavors/spices until smooth. Add almond meal then powdered sugar. Lastly, add flour. Roll dough together on the counter to make sure everything is incorporated. Wrap in plastic and chill. When the dough is cold, use a scoop to portion the cookies on parchment paper. Bake on 325 degrees until the cookies are set and only a touch of color on edge. Roll in additional powdered sugar when cool.

This vegan recipe is from Rob Hogencamp of Ceres Community Project in Sebastopol.

Almond Cardamom Roll

Makes 20 cookie balls

1½ cup of almonds

6 tablespoon maple syrup

1 teaspoon ginger, grated or zested

½ teaspoon salt

1 orange, zested

1 ½ teaspoon water

½ teaspoon of ground cardamom

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grind everything together in a food processor. Use a scoop to portion, pressing the batter into the scoop to form attractive balls. Bake at 350 degrees on parchment paper until the tops are lightly toasted.

You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com.

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