Much as fruitcakes are to some, these treats are traditional quintessential cookies baked in most southern kitchens.
The recipe varies from household to the next, from grandmother to mom and from country living to that of city, but one thing each version has going is the great, old-fashion taste based on a recipe from yesteryear. The test of a good, hand-me-down Ambrosia Cookie recipe is making sure certain key ingredients are included like, brown sugar, coconut, pecans, dried fruit and flavors of citrus (much like a fruitcake). And just like the Ambrosia many Southerners know and enjoy in salad form, it is no myth that these cookies are so prized by generations of good cooks for a reason. Like many desserts, sweets, cookies and pies, the immortal gods of the South know a thing or two about preserving tradition. It is done for a reason because recipes are worth sharing and preserving.
That said, this recipe comes from my kitchen, from one I remember some 30 plus years ago. Like most of my recipes, it somewhat resembles the original in carrying-on the basic idea of what an Ambrosia Cookie should be, one with the key ingredients of course, and in my opinion (and additions) one that is moist, full of citrus flavor with an alluring developed aftertaste.
makes about 8 dozen
Juice of 2 satsumas, tangerines or sweet oranges
1/4 cup golden sherry
1 cup chopped dates
1 cup golden raisins (or part raisin, dried apricot or pineapple mixture)
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups uncooked rolled oaks
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup flaked coconut, slightly toasted
1 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon or orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon orange extract
1/4 teaspoon lemon extract
4 dozen candied cherries, halved
Pre-heat oven to 340 degrees F.
In a small saucepan, heat the satsuma juice and sherry over medium heat and boil until liquid reduces to a syrup. Place the dried fruit (not cherries) in the saucepan with the warm sherry reduction for about 10 minutes to soften. Stir occasionally. Drain well if needed or lightly press liquid out of fruit with paper towels. Fruit should be plump but not totally wet,
In a bowl, cream the butter with electric mixer until pale yellow; slowly add the sugar beating at medium speed. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
In another bowl, combine the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture and add the remaining ingredients, including the plumped fruit, but not the candied cherries. Combine and stir well.
Drop mixture by rounded teaspoonfuls 2-inches apart onto lightly greased cookie sheets. Lightly press a cherry half in the center of each cookie, rounded side up. Bake for 14 to 16 minutes. Cool on the cookie sheet for 10 minutes before removing to racks to finish cooling. Store in a tightly covered tin or container when cookies are firm to the touch.
Note: I found (after my first batch) the oven temperature to be a little too high at my first setting of 350 degrees therefore, I reduced the temp to 340 and baked for 14 minutes with much better results. Your oven may differ.