Sunday, November 14, 2010

Cranberry & Almond Cookies with Vanilla Icing

Cranberry & Almond Cookies 2, cropped

When I was a kid, my parents would organise the best birthday parties - I mean, really, THE BEST!!  Now, I'm going back a bit, and talking about a time long before a children's birthday party would set you back a few thousand dollars and would involve hiring bouncy castles, organising pony rides, bringing in Bobo the Clown or El Greco the Magician to entertain, hiring the best caterers, and unless you sent every child home with a substantial goodie bag then your own child was destined to become a social pariah.

Back in the day, Mum would do the food, which would almost certainly have included the standard party food that graced the table of almost every "Kiwi kid's" birthday table back in the 50's and 60s - fairy bread, pikelets (my mother's were legendary), chocolate-rice-bubble crackles, lamingtons, pizza, club sandwiches, sausage rolls and cheerios (with a bowl of tomato sauce for dunking).  Ok, now I know at least half of you are all of a sudden thinking - "cereal dunked in tomato sauce, gross" - but, here in New Zealand, cheerios are a little sausage, rather like a saveloy, but about half the size.

While Mum was busy in the kitchen, Dad would be in charge of the games.  Of course, there were the usuals - pin the tail on the donkey, blind man's bluff, musical chairs and pass the parcel (this was when the recycled wrapping paper from Christmas, which was always stored in a big box in the hall cupboard, would come in handy).  Then there were the extra games that Dad made up and which every kid in the neighbourhood loved.  There was "pass the grapefruit" - all the kids stood in a long line;  Dad would pick a fresh grapefruit off the tree and tuck it in under the chin of the first kid in the line;  keeping their hands behind their back, each kid had to then try and pass it on to the next kid, tucking it under their chin - if you dropped it you were out;  and so on.  Then the paddling pool was filled with water, and a whole lot of apples floated in the pool;  we all had to try and eat an apple out of the pool with our hands tied behind our backs;  first one to finish their apple was the winner.  Pikelets, dripping with golden syrup were hung from the clothes line, and once again we had to try and eat them with our hands tied behind our backs - turned out very messy with golden syrup in our hair and all over our clothes, but we loved it.  And last of all was the treasure hunt - all year long, Dad would put his spare pennies into a big jar, then on the day of the party he would hide them all around the garden for the hunt - this was everybody's favourite and, since it meant that no kid would go home entirely empty handed (even if they hadn't won a prize), it guaranteed that Geoffrey and I would be spared any possibility of becoming social outcasts.

Usually, round about the time the games were finishing, Grandad would arrive just in time for afternoon tea and would always bring a box of cakes.  If he'd picked up the cakes from the bakery (actually, back then bakeries were called "home cookeries") in Mt Albert, then it would usually be a box full of cream horns;  on the other hand, if he got the cakes from the little bakery in Sandringham (which was owned by a Swiss baker), then there would always be an assortment - my favourite being some little cakes that were like layers of sponge cake sandwiched together with jam and cream and then covered in marzipan (I suppose rather like petits fours - though we certainly didn't give them any such posh title).  I still love marzipan, and that almond flavour never fails to transport me back to my childhood.

The highlight of the whole day of course would be the birthday cake.  Every year, Mum would ask me what kind of cake I wanted, and the answer was always the same - Cherry Cake.  This was really a simple vanilla cake with lots of glace cherries in it, which were one of my favourite things (to this day I have a bit of thing for glace cherries).  It was very simply iced as I recall - there was certainly nothing grand about this cake - it wasn't frosted or decorated to within an inch of its life.  Back then cakes didn't look like they could grace magazine covers, but I loved that cake.  I've never eaten one like it since I was a kid, but I would gladly trade any cake I've ever eaten since for a piece of that cake.

All of that was a very long-winded way of telling you that our theme this week at I Heart Cooking Clubs is "Kid at Heart".  We are continuing to cook with Giada de Laurentiis, and our challenge was to choose a recipe that awakens some of that childhood nostalgia and makes you feel like a kid again.  As soon as I came across this recipe for Dried Cherry and Almond Cookies with Vanilla Icing, the memories began to stir and I knew this was what I wanted to make.  As it turned out I couldn't find any dried cherries, so I used dried cranberries instead - they were a perfect substitution and didn't dampen the memories in any way.  The recipe also called for toasting the almonds before using them, but I actually wasn't paying attention and completely forgot to do that - as it turned out they seem to get toasty enough in the baking of the cookies, and I think pre-toasting them would have been a completely unnecessary step.  Also, I used raw sugar instead of white sugar - I don't actually know what the difference in result would have been if I'd used white sugar, but I was certainly happy with my finished cookies.  They were crispy on the outside, soft (but not chewy) on the inside, packed full of fruit and nuts, and totally delivered on the nostalgia factor.  Also, I halved the quantity of ingredients for the icing, and still had loads left over.  I'm definitely making these again.

Cranberry & Almond Cookies 1, cropped

Cranberry & Almond Cookies with Vanilla Icing
Adapted from recipe by
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe

For the cookies:
113g (1 stick) butter, room temperature
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar (I used raw)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup dried cranberries (or coarsely chopped dried cherries)
1/2 cup slivered, blanched almonds

For the icing:
1 cup icing (confectioners) sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons water, plus extra as necessary

In a large bowl, using an electric beater (I actually used my food processor), beat together the butter, sugar, vanilla and almond extracts, cinnamon and salt, until everything is light and fluffy.  Then beat in the egg.  Add the flour and beat on low speed (or just pulse if using a food processor) until the flour is only just incorporated.  Stir in the dried cranberries and almonds.

Spread a sheet of plastic wrap out onto your work surface, and then transfer the dough to the plastic wrap.  Shape it into a log, about 4cm (1-1/2 inches) in diameter.  Wrap the log up in the plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours until firm.

Preheat the oven to 175 degrees C (350 degrees F), and line baking sheets with baking paper.

Cranberry & Almond Cookies 5, cropped

Remove the cookie dough log from the fridge, cut it into slices about 1.5cm (1/2 inch) thick, and place them on the prepared baking sheets about 3cm (1 inch) apart.  Bake for about 15 minutes until the cookies are golden around the edges and puffed (Note:  Mine turned golden, but definitely didn't "puff" - maybe this was because of the sugar I used - anyway didn't seem to really matter).  Transfer the cookies to a wire rack and allow them to cool completely before icing.

Cranberry & Almond Cookies 4, cropped

To make the icing, put the icing sugar in a medium bowl, and whisk in the vanilla extract and water.  You will almost certainly need more water, but just add it a teaspoonful at a time, until you have your icing at a drizzling consistency.  Then, with your cookies set out on a wire rack, drizzle the icing over your cookies using a fork, and then leave the icing to set before serving.

Cranberry & Almond Cookies 3, cropped

Interested in getting to know Giada a bit better?  Then do go and visit my friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs and see what they've all been cooking up ....


.... or check out Giada's Kitchen and many of her other titles, available from Amazon, Book Depository UK and Fishpond NZ

Giada's Kitchen: New Italian Favorites    Giada at Home: Family Recipes from Italy and California    Everyday Italian: 125 Simple and Delicious Recipes

I'm also submitting this post to the Hearth and Soul blog hop, a place where you'll find lots of wonderful people who are passionate about great food and cooking from the heart - do go and have a look at what they're all cooking this week.


  1. Great post Sue! You had some amazing birthday parties and such great memories to treasure. The cookies look delicious--loving that drizzle.

  2. You're story reminds me of my own birthday parties back in the days, that are some lovely memories. Great choice of cookies also! I'll be bookmarking this recipe

  3. Wonderful post! I wish birthday parties were still like this! Such lovely memories.

  4. This is such a delightful and wonderful post. You sure had your childhood birthday fun! Such sweet memories. The cookies looks really good. I love anything with cranberries! I have never tried Giada's recipes before, you have certainly brought it to my attention!

  5. What a lovely post!! I so enjoyed reading it. You made me feel like I was right there at your party! Your cookies look SO good! I always have a hard time finding dried cherries and always end up using dried cranberries. The icing on top is the perfect touch! Yum!

  6. Do you think your parents would be interested in adopting me? I'll just wait here until you ask...

    Great cookies! I loved the post. ♥

  7. Loved reading about your childhood.
    These cookies look amazing. I'll have to make them for my mom--she loves almond flavored sweets.

  8. Thanks everyone for such lovely comments - I loved being able to share these memories with you all.

    Natashya - sadly, I don't have my Mum any more, but my Dad has a very big heart and I'm sure he'd willingly adopt you :-)


  9. Hi Sue :-)

    I'm with everyone else. I loved reading this post about your birthday parties and enjoyed learning about all the treats. Your parents sound wonderful.

    I think that kids nowadays miss out on so much. Luckily for my son, we could never afford lavish parties when he was growing up so he had similar birthdays to the one you describe. To this day, his friends remember those parties with fondness.

    I'll go check out your Cooking with Giada group.

  10. Thanks Lyndsay - sad that there are so many simple pleasures that today's children miss out on. Your son was very lucky and I can well imagine all his friends would have loved those parties.

    Sue :-)

  11. This is a lovely post, Sue! I really enjoyed reading it. What wonderful memories! Oh, and the cookies look wonderful too :)

  12. What beautiful cookies! I LOVE the substitution of dried cranberries! Perfect for the season too! This theme for Giada's recipe (Kid at Heart) was so much fun!

  13. Wow! Beautiful Story and delicious cookies!!!
    Thanks a lot.
    Have a nice week!

  14. Oooh, these are binging out my inner cookie monster!
    Robyn x

  15. love the addition of cinnamon, they look stunning gorgeous pic's

  16. It's funny, in reading your story, I was catapaulted back into my own childhood. I was obsessed with cherry muffins-- muffins filled with the glace cherries. Every time mum would go to Sainsbury's, I'd beg for one. And pinch of tiny little bits of it at a time so that I could enjoy it for as long as possible.

    What beautiful looking cookies. I love the icing on the top too...

  17. I love that everyone has wonderful memories from their birthday parties and family gatherings. The very reason for my Sunday Cafe dinners. I also loved reading your story, and the cookies look delicious. It is also just the right size recipe for the two of us. Thanks.

  18. What a great post, and these look so yummy! Thanks for stopping by my blog. Your blog is great!

  19. I totalllly loveee these cookies!!!
    Definately on my list, i am sure i will love these!!
    And if i bake them longer they will be nice and crisp!
    Thannk u for the link ,m gng there in a bit!
    The combi is my fav too:-)
    Those birthdays sound soooo good!!!
    Do u have any idea @ which book of Giada's and more cookie recipes?
    COz i can only order online and i dont know which ones have the cookies!
    Thannnking ya lods~!

  20. I love baking but I've never got into making cookies for some reason. These look delicious though so I'll be sure to try them out! :)

    Thanks for sharing the recipe.

  21. I like this idea of using the cranberries thanks for sharing. My to be cooked list is definitely getting longer

  22. Hi April - thanks for stopping by and your lovely comments.

    Bella (roz) - thanks so much - I was very happy with the substitution of the cranberries.

    Thanks so much Barbara - I hope you have a great week too :-)

    Hi Robyn - unleash that cookie monster :-)

    Thanks Ananda - the cinnamon, together with the almond extract, gave them a bit of a taste of Christmas - I'm thinking of making more to give for Christmas gifts.

    Hi Angie - thank you so much.

    OMG Rebecca - I bet I would have loved cherry muffins if I'd ever had one - it never occurred to me before but I think I need to try making some :-)

    Thanks Melynda - those wonderful memories are like the glue that holds our families together, isn't it :-)

    Mangoes and Chutney - thanks for visiting and for such a lovely kind comment :-)

    Hi Sugar Plum Fairy - thanks for visiting and your lovely comment. I'm not sure which Giada book has the most cookie recipes, but I'm trying to find out for you and will let you know as soon as I get an answer.

    Aurelia - thanks for visiting, I hope you try them.

    Cheryl - thanks so much - I'm sure your "to be cooked" list couldn't be any longer than mine.

    Sue :-)

  23. Oh, they're so fat and gorgeous! I've always loved the almond scent and flavor, as well...but my childhood parties were nothing like yours :D I still love eating almond paste from a tube!!! Lovely post, Sue! Thanks so much for sharing it with both the hearth and soul hop and IHCC :D

  24. These look delicious and beautiful! I love it! I have got to get one of Giada's cookbooks. What a gorgeous presentation too. :)

  25. Hi Sue,
    What a great party, I felt like I was right there with you. This is a great post and a wonderful cookie. I just love Giada. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.
    Miz Helen

  26. Hi Heather - thanks so much. We don't get almond paste in tubes here - it usually comes in kind of logs that you can roll or sculpt as you like - and I love just breaking big pieces off and eating them :-)

  27. Hi Erin - thanks so much. I think a Giada cookbook is an absolute must-have. I am just hanging out for my copy of Giada's Kitchen to arrive - I check the post box every day :-)

    Hi Miz Helen - thanks for stopping by and your lovely comments. Always nice to come across another Giada fan.

    Sue :-)

  28. Oh Suzy Q! I am in tears here. why do you do this to me? I feel like I was at your lovely birthday party and the love your parents put into the party and making all the kids happy with games and food and silliness simply overflows my heart! What a lucky lucky girl you are! I am totally sharing this on my thoughts on friday at a moderate life because wonderful memories like these need to be passed on. If you do not make that cake for yourself one of these days, I will be very mad at you!!!! LOL The cranberry cookies look good too but pale in comparision to the soul food served up at your birthday party! Pass me a tissue will you? Tons of love and thanks for sharing this on the hearth and soul hop this week! Alex

  29. Sue - yet another "Wow" recipe from Cous-Cous and Consciousness! These look so good - like something you'd find at a high-end coffee/tea shop. Beautiful!

  30. Alex - thanks so much - I really enjoyed writing this post - it really did bring back all those wonderful memories as I wrote, and reminded me just how lucky I am - I know that not all children grow up with such loving and caring parents. Ok, I promise to have a go at making the cake for my next birthday :-)

    Michele - thank you so much - that is very kind :-)


  31. What beautiful looking cookies - and beautiful memories! Your childhood birthday parties definitely sound like the best (although I'm VERY partial to a bouncy castle) :)

  32. I am definately trying these - will pingback here when I do. Looking at the pictures, I want one NOW!
    Thanks for sharing,

  33. Hi hungryandfrozen - thanks for stopping by and for your lovely comment :-)

    Thanks Maggie - that's so kind - I hope you enjoy them.

    Sue :-)


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