Fruitcake Cookies

Happy New Year, darling readers!

I hope everyone had an awesome time ringing in 2011, and that you did something spectacular that involved a fancy outfit and lots of expensive cocktails. If so, the look you see on my face right now is one of puzzled wonderment--I do hope you'll tell me what that was like. I was at home, in stretchy pants, eating caramel cheesecake bars (more on those in the coming days, I promise). But don't worry about my waning inner party girl--I was taking in plenty of ice-cold Champers while I waited for the ball to drop and thought about how I was going to justify posting about something involving fruitcake a full week after Christmas. Do I know how to party or what?!

Here's the thing: I don't know what you're resolving to accomplish in the New Year, but I can be pretty sure that all of us are trying to be a little less wasteful these days, either because it's fantastically trendy or because of the mounting guilt of realizing how much food we actually toss in a given day. For me, its the latter; I've really been trying to use my culinary creativity to really use as many odds and ends that I find in my cupboards and fridge as humanly possible. The terrific thing about these Fruitcake Cookies is that I'm willing to bet that after a month full of holiday baking, cooking and being given random gifts of holiday-ish food, you probably have nearly all the ingredients needed to make these cookies in your possession right this second. Just the thing to get you through the dreary month of January.

You might remember a couple weeks back that I threw out the idea of making your own candied cherries. Well, the inspiration for doing so came the first time I made these cookies as gifts in early December. With the sort of good fortune and forethought that so rarely strikes a woman who spends her days reading aloud Pinkalicious books, warding off tantrums and halving grapes, I made extra candied cherries just in case I was moved to make a second batch of these cookies for sport. And hot damn--these cookies were so utterly surprising in their buttery, slightly sandy texture, pop of boozy fruit and soft spark of clove, I indeed ended up making a second batch. In a season of baking fury, that's really saying something, don't you think?

The best part about this cookie is its riff-ability, which is to say you can have the fruit and nut mixture consist of just about anything you have on hand. Use up all those bits and pieces of raisins, dried fruits, nuts, chocolate chips, etc., that you might have rattling about in your cabinets. Soak them in a bit of honey, lemon and sherry if you have it, but I don't see why you couldn't use brandy, dark rum or cognac instead. Whatever combination you come up with, I'm sure it will be dynamite. If ever there was a sleeper cookie hit of the winter, I'd have to say this would be it.

Fruitcake Cookies
Adapted from Ina Garten

This is the perfect sort of cookie to make a full batch of, wrap both logs of dough, and slice and bake just one log at a time. Or bake off just a few cookies at a time, for that matter. Steep the fruit and nut mixture overnight before mixing it into the dough, or use my heating instructions to speed things up.

For the fruit and nut mixture:

1/2 pound dried figs, stemmed and coarsely chopped
1/4 pound raisins, dark or golden
2 ounces candied cherries, coarsely chopped
2 ounces dried apricots, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons dry sherry
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 ounces chopped pecans
Pinch of salt

For the cookies:

2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (or a generous 1/8 teaspoon table salt)
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 large egg

In a medium bowl, combine the figs, raisins, cherries, apricots, honey, sherry, lemon juice, pecans, and a pinch of salt. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and heat in the microwave on high for 3-4 minutes, or until the mixture is hot and the raisins have begun to plump up. Ensure the bowl is tightly covered with plastic wrap, and let sit for 30 minutes. Alternatively, you can skip the microwaving step and let the fruit steep at room temperature overnight.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, ground cloves, sugar, and brown sugar on medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add the egg and mix until incorporated. With the mixer still on low, slowly add the flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt just until combined. Stir in the fruits and nuts, including any liquid in the bowl. Divide the dough in half. Shape each half into a log (circular or square-shaped), each about 12 inches long. Refrigerate the dough for several hours, or until firm.

When you're ready to bake, position oven racks to the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees.

With a small, sharp knife, cut the logs into 1/2-inch-thick slices, making about 2 dozen cookies out of each log. Place the slices 1/2-inch apart on the prepared pans (you can fit 2 dozen on each sheet--they don't spread much while baking) and bake for 20-22 minutes, or until mostly firm and lightly golden on the very edges. Cool on the baking sheets for a few minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

CookiesShauna Sever