Savory and Sweet Holiday Finger Foods

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Every Wednesday we talk about food. In honor of everyone throwing a holiday party this year, we asked Ed Levine, founder of, to give us some strategies for making affordable, easy finger food recipes for holiday parties. 

Check out Ed Levine's Top 5 Holiday Party Planning Tips and his favorite recipes.

Ed Levine’s Top 5 Holiday Party Planning Tips

  • Make dips, cause they’re easy, flavorful and won’t break the bank.  Plus you can serve them with a nice, cheap French baguette, pita or blue corn chips, which makes it look classy while maintaining the holiday party budget.
  • Assembling is just as good as cooking. It takes less time and as long as you use good ingredients, you'll be in good shape.
  • If you are going to use fresh mozzarella, leave it out of the fridge for an hour before you cut it. Otherwise your guests bill be biting into a dense piece of flavorless white sponge.
  • You don't have to use expensive, fancy butter when you make holiday cookies. Some of the best pastry chefs in the world use everyday butters like Land 'O Lakes, and if it's good enough for them, it should be good enough for the rest of us.
  • There are a gazillion holiday cookie recipes, so branch out from sugar cookies and chocolate chips if you’re serving sweet finger foods at your holiday party.


Serious Cookies: Shuna Fish Lydon's Shortbread

Shortbread Cookies

- makes a baker's dozen -

  • 8 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 4 1/2 ounces sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • Dash of vanilla extract
  • 9 ounces all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons minced herbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice; or 1/2 a vanilla bean, scraped; or 1 tablespoon finely ground toasted hazlenuts; or 1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds

1. Cream butter until smooth, add sugar and salt and cream a bit further, but do not beat ferociously as you do not want to incorporate air. Mix in all additions, one at a time, and fold in the flour gently but well.

2. Wrap dough as a flat disc and refrigerate for 2 hours.

3. You may do any number of things with this shortbread. I like to roll it out (sheet) between two pieces of parchment so as to get an even cookie without adding any more flour, which will make this cookie tough. If you sheet the dough, you may use any shape cutter. Shortbread can also be re-sheeted this way until you have no more dough.

4. You may also roll it in a log and chill or freeze log, baking only what you need when inspiration strikes you. If you go the log route, you may want to roll log in raw or turbinado sugar and then slice. Slice rounds no thicker than 1/2 inch.

5. Preheat oven to 300°F or 150°C.

6. Place cookies on a parchment or silpat lined baking sheet. If the bottom of your oven runs hot, double pan to ensure safety of your cookies. Set first timer for 15 minutes, at which time turn pan around to get an even bake. Set second timer for 8 to 12 minutes, but depending on your oven they may need a little more time.

7. With shortbread it is very important that a low and slow bake takes place and that the cookie is evenly dark golden. Color is flavor here. Think of it this way: In shortbread, your aim is to confit the butter.

8. Shortbread will keep two days at room temperature, although they are best eaten the day they are baked.

Chocolate Sparklers

- makes about 30 cookies -

  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch cocoa powder
  • Pinch of cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 1/2 sticks (10 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • Sugar, for coating

1. Sift the flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon and salt together and keep close at hand. Place the butter in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed to soften. Gradually add the sugar and vanilla and continue to beat, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until the mixture is smooth and creamy, but not airy. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture, mixing only until the ingredients are just mixed—no more. Alternatively, you can remove the bowl from the mixer and stir the flour into the dough with a rubber spatula. The point is to mix the dough as gently and as little as possible—this light touch is what will give the cookies their characteristic crumbly texture. As soon as the last of the flour is no longer visible, divide the dough in half, shape each half into a ball, wrap the balls in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.

2. Working on a smooth surface, form each piece of dough into a log that's about 1 1/2 inches thick and 7 1/2 inches long. (Aim to get the thickness right and the length will be fine.) To get a solid log, one without the commonly found hole in the center, use the heel of your hand to gently flatten the dough, then flatten the dough lightly each time you fold it over on itself to make the log. Assured that the log is solid, you can roll it gently under your palms to smooth it out. Wrap the logs in plastic and chill for 1 to 2 hours. (The dough can be made to this point, wrapped airtight, and stored in the freezer for up to 2 months.)

3. Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set them aside. In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolk until it is smooth and liquid enough to use as a glaze; keep it close at hand. Spread some of the sugar out on a piece of wax paper.

4. Remove the logs of dough from the refrigerator, unwrap them and brush them very lightly with a small amount of the egg yolk. Roll the logs in the sugar, pressing the sugar gently to get it to stick, if necessary, then, using a sharp slender knife, slice each log into cookies 1/2-inch thick. Arrange the cookies on the baking sheets, leaving about an inch of space between each cookie, and bake for 15 to 18 minutes, rotating the pans front to back and top to bottom at the midway mark, until the cookies are just firm to the touch. Transfer the cookies to racks to cool to room temperature.

Keeping: The unbaked logs of dough can be frozen for up to 2 months, but once they're rolled in the sugar, they're unsuitable for freezing because the sugar will melt. Once the cookies are baked, they can be kept in an airtight tin at room temperature for 3 to 5 days.

Mexican Chocolate Crackle Cookies

- makes about 45 cookies -

  • 3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon coffee liqueur or cooled brewed coffee
  • 6 ounces 70 percent cacao bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) plus 1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup (3 3/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (3 ounces) whole almonds, toasted and cooled completely
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ancho chile powder (optional)
  • 3/4 cup (3 ounces) unsifted confectioners' sugar

1. Bring 2 inches of water to a boil in the bottom of the double boiler. Place the butter, liqueur, and chocolate in the top of the double boiler (off the heat). Turn off the heat, then set the chocolate over the steaming water. Stir occasionally with the spatula until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove and let cool slightly while you whip the eggs.

2. Place the eggs and 1/2 cup of the granulated sugar in the bowl of the mixer and whip on high speed until very light in color and thick, 5 to 6 minutes. You can also use a hand mixer and a medium bowl, though you may need to beat the mixture a little longer to achieve the same results. Scrape the melted chocolate mixture into the eggs and whip until blended, about 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

3. Place the flour, nuts, cinnamon, baking powder, and chile powder (if using) in the food processor and process until the nuts are very finely chopped, 60 to 90 seconds. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and beat on low speed just until combined. Stir gently a few times with the spatula to make sure there are no patches of unincorporated flour or butter lurking near the bottom of the bowl. Cover the dough with plastic and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours, until firm.

4. Preheat the oven to 325°F and position an oven rack in the center. Line the baking sheets with parchment paper.

5. Scoop the chilled dough into tablespoon-size balls using the ice cream scoop or a spoon. Place the remaining 1/2 cup of granulated sugar in one small bowl and the confectioners' sugar in the other. Roll each dough ball in the granulated sugar and then in the confectioners' sugar. Be sure to coat the dough generously with the confectioners' sugar—in this instance, more is better. Space the cookies about 1 1/2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets.

6. Bake the cookies one sheet at a time, rotating the sheet halfway through the baking time, for 11 to 14 minutes, until the cookies are puffed and cracked. If you nudge a cookie, it should slide on the sheet rather than stick. It is better to slightly underbake these cookies than to go too far--when overbaked they are dry and unpalatable. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely.

Storing tips:These cookies are best the same day they are baked. Any leftovers can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 3 to 4 days.

Healthy & Delicious: Tomatillo Guacamole

- serves 12 -
Adapted from All Recipes.

  • 3 avocados, peeled, pitted, and roughly mashed
  • 2 medium tomatillos, husked and small diced
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 3 plum tomatoes, seeded and small diced
  • 1 medium jalapeno, minced
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together in a medium bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes, but preferably overnight.

Healthy & Delicious: Spinach and Cannellini Bean Dip

Spinach and Cannellini Bean Dip

- makes about 2 1/3 cups of dip -

  • 4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 10-ounce bag fresh spinach or 2 (6-ounce) bags baby spinach
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon (or more) fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 teaspoon olive oil over medium heat. Add half the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add 1/2 the bag of spinach and cook until fully wilted, about 2 to 5 minutes. (If there are still large unwilted stems at that point, cut them off.) Remove spinach to a bowl to cool, and repeat the whole process with another teaspoon olive oil and the remaining half of the garlic and spinach.

2. Combine the remaining olive oil, spinach, beans, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper in a food processor. If it all doesn't fit at first, pulse a few times with 1/2 the spinach, and then add the rest.

3. Blend until mixture is to the consistency you like. Serve with tortilla, pita, or veggies.

Cook the Book: Creamy Mushroom Pâté

  • 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 3 tablespoons minced shallots
  • 2 cups finely chopped wild mushrooms (shiitake, porcini, Portobello)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried savory or thyme
  • One 8-ounce package cream cheese, cut into 8 cubes
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream

1. Melt the butter or margarine in a medium skillet over medium-high heat.

2. Add the shallots; cook, stirring, until softened, about 1 minute. Add the mushrooms; cook, stirring until softened, about 5 minutes. Continue cooking until any mushroom liquid has evaporated. Stir in the parsley and savory; cook, stirring, 30 seconds.

3. Remove from the heat. Stir in the cream cheese, 1 ounce at a time, until melted and completely combined. Stir in heavy cream. Chill.

Variation: Mushroom Tartlets: Spoon a rounded teaspoonful of the spread into baked 1-inch tartlet shells. Makes about 40.


Ed Levine

Comments [3]

Martha Hillhouse

I was wondering about the butter comment -- thanks for 'clarifying' - ha! ha!

Dec. 16 2009 07:37 AM
Martha Hillhouse

I was wondering about when he said that about the butter ---- thanks for clarifying --- ha! ha!

Dec. 16 2009 07:36 AM
Josh Himwich

In general, I'm all for the democratization of food, and making it more accessible and less fussy. That said, great tasting food requires great (or at least very good) raw ingredients. Poor ingredients almost invariably translate to poor results. So when Ed Levine says you should use Land-O-Lakes because even a chef as famous as Pierre Herme does, he's not speaking with full knowledge of the truth.

Check out this article from the NY Times:

There, Pierre Herme specifically spurns American butter for baking, citing its low acid levels. For him, it's French butter or nothing.

Also, anyone who has baked with high (82% or higher) butter-fat butters (and there are many great American examples), there is an INSANE difference in taste. High butter-fat translates to amazing flavor.

Dec. 16 2009 07:22 AM

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