December 22: Sugar Cookies

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I had some special guest stars helping me today: my three kids, and our friend Todd and his son Emmett. Emmett is 3 and embodies all the things I remember fondly about my children when they were that age. Somehow, Christmas with teenagers and a pre-teen doesn’t have the same magic and mystery that it did when they were little. Enter Emmett.

I invited Todd and Emmett over to help make and decorate cookies today, something I used to do with my kids every year, but only one day in December. It’s exhausting. It’s messy. It’s absolutely nutty. And I miss it. Sure, the kids will help me with cookies and maybe decorate a few, but it’s not the same as when it was when they were little, and I could create magic for them with some powdered sugar, food coloring, and sprinkles.

My little ones a few years ago, decorating to their hearts’ content!

I made the dough before our friends arrived and it chilled in the fridge for a couple of hours. Once they got here, we got to work rolling and cutting cookies. Emmett said he had never cut out cookies before. Even if it’s not true (not that I’m doubting a three-year-old), I’m choosing to believe that his first adventure into Christmas cookies happened with me.

We used two mixing bowls of frosting–one royal and one butter cream–and I think it was 8 different colors I mixed up. I brought the sprinkles to the table, and there we sat for about 90 minutes, frosting and laughing and watching Emmett’s eyes dance as he chose sprinkles for his creations.

When Emmett and Todd come over, suddenly my children leave their rooms to play with our favorite 3 year-old.

There’s nothing like letting kids frost cookies. It’s the wonder of childhood in its purest form.

We sent father and son home with all they made, ready for Santa to eat on Christmas Eve.

And about 30 minutes after they left, I crawled into bed, where I’m writing this from, and will shortly fall asleep. Little kids are amazing and funny and so damn cute. But they are exhausting. It was all worth it though.

Sugar Cookies
(from Gooseberry Patch’s Old Fashioned Country Cookies)

Ingredients:
1 1/2 c. sifted powdered sugar
1 c. butter
1 egg
1 t. vanilla
1/2 t. almond extract
2 1/2 c. flour
1 t. baking soda
1 t. cream of tartar

Directions:

1. Cream butter and sugar. Mix in egg and extracts. Blend dry ingredients and stir in.
2. Refrigerate 2-3 hours. Divide dough in half and roll out. Cut out desired shapes.
3. Bake at 375 for 7-8 minutes.

December 21: Almond Rosettes

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I know I’m posting these a day later, but I did make them on the 21st. My little brother’s birthday was yesterday and I went to his grown-up birthday party last night when I’d normally post about cookies. So like most things in a big sister’s life, let’s blame yesterday on the younger sibling.

I haven’t made almond rosettes in a few years, and I’m not quite sure I made them yesterday. Oh, I mixed together the dough (it’s delicious even raw) and put it in the pastry bag like you’re supposed to, but after decorating cookies the day before, my hand kinda hurt, and forcing the dough through a star tip was more than my old arthritic bones could handle. I tried. But then I decided life was too short to cripple oneself over baked goods. So I pulled it out of the pastry bag and tried different methods in making cookies.

I tried rolling the dough into snakes and then curling it around itself. I also rolled the dough into balls by hand. And then I used my cookie scoop and just plopped them onto the parchment paper like that. Again, life is short. And these cookies are good.

They may not be rosettes, but I have a feeling they will still get eaten.

Almond Rosettes
(from The Spirit of Christmas Cookbook, Volume 4.)

Ingredients:

1 c. butter, softened
1 c. sugar
1 egg
3 T. milk
1 t. almond extract
2 1/2 c. flour
1 t. baking powder
sliced almonds to decorate

Directions: 

1. Preheat oven to 350. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add egg, milk, and almond extract. Beat until smooth.

2. Combine flour and baking powder in a small bowl and add to creamed mixture; stir until a soft dough forms. 

3. Transfer about 1/3 of dough into a pastry bag fitted with a large open star tip. Pipe 2″ diameter rosettes onto a lightly greased baking sheet. Press an almond slice in the center of each cookie.

4. Bake 8-11 minutes or until bottoms are lightly browned. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool. Repeat with remaining dough.


December 20: White Velvet Cut-Outs

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I’ll make a real sugar cookie before Christmas, because I don’t really consider these sugar cookies. They’re actually a little better than that. I make them nearly every year, and the cream cheese gives it a nice smooth texture and mellowness. It’s so good, in fact, I’d rather give them to people that savor them rather than eat them mindlessly by the dozen (like one tends to do with regular sugar cookies).

Plus, I’ve gotten into royal icing and flooding and making my own pastry bags this year, and I wanted to try decorating some cookies on my own before the kids get off from school.

My mother is an artist, and let’s just say I’m…not. I’m a writer and a poet, and while those are surely artistic endeavors, I can’t color in the lines to save my live. Never have been able to. (Looking back now, this must have frustrated my mom, kinda like how it frustrates me when my kids end a sentence in a preposition or opt for a haiku when the school assignment is to write a poem of their own. #thestruggleisreal.)

The dough is one you mix together and put in the fridge overnight. Because I’ve been on deadline, let’s just say that this dough might have lived a few nights in the fridge.

And let’s also just say that maybe I was busy with jobs I actually get paid for, so I forgot to take a picture of me mixing this dough together. Hey, something’s got to pay for all the butter I use, you know?

Generally, I make these cookies into bells because that was the first cookie cutter I ever had, and I love it and the person that gave it to me, and I have a hard time letting go.

So I made one pan of bells, but then I decided my antidepressants are working better than ever, so I ventured out into snowflakes. There were no tears. I consider it a moment of personal growth.

So let’s talk royal icing, shall we? I ventured into royal icing at the beginning of the month with my gingerbread people and my Louisiana cookies, and it went pretty well…after a while. So I mixed up some more for these cookies. I think I watched one too many episodes of the Holiday Baking Championship, because suddenly I’m all “You have to flood the cookies” and “these still aren’t dry.” Armed with my royal icing, some pastry bags, and Google images, I decorated my first pretty cookie…well, pretty much ever.

I decorated other bells too, but this one turned out the best.

So then I turned my sights towards my snowflakes and ventured out into other colors. I’m still quite shocked they turned out as well as they did.

I need to get my frosting consistency right and maybe a smaller tip, but for the most part, I’m pretty happy.

These might go in the freezer next to the macarons that no one’s allowed to touch.

White Velvet Cut Outs

(from Gooseberry Patch’s Old-Fashioned Christmas Cookies)

1 c. butter, softened                           1 egg yolk

3 oz. cream cheese, softened              1/2 t vanilla

1 c sugar                                          2 1/2 c flour

Cream butter and cream cheese together. Beat in sugar. Add egg yolk and vanilla, then stir in flour. Gather dough in a ball and chill overnight. To prepare, pre heat oven to 350. Rolll dough out to 3/16″ and cut into desired shapes. Bake for 12 minutes or until edges are light brown.

December 19: Pecan Sandies

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I’m at the tail-end of a writing deadline, but I did take time out to bake. My mom came by to watch my daughter cheer at a basketball and she asked if I’d make her favorite cookies. Who can say no to that?

She even stopped off and bought me vanilla extract because as I started, I realized I was out of vanilla. (I’m now on bottle #3 since the month started.)

Now that I live in the area, things like this can happen…her going to my kids’ activities, me baking cookies, and her going to the grocery store for me. It’s kinda cool.

My mom’s favorite cookies, well at least the ones I make, are Pecan Sandies. I haven’t made them in years, but I figured I could whip these up in a just a little bit and then get back to writing.

It’s just your basic butter shortbread recipe, but with nuts–butter, powdered sugar, flour, and pecans. No fancy ingredients. No chilling in the fridge. Hell, there aren’t even any eggs. Into a 350 degree oven for 12-15 minutes, and then let them cool. When they are cool to the touch, roll in powdered sugar.

These are also known as Mexican Wedding cookies, I hear, but for me, they’re just Mom’s cookies.

(And now, back to the job that pays me.)

Pecan Sandies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter 2 sticks
  • 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar plus more for rolling baked cookies
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350º F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. 
  2. Cream together butter and sugar with electric mixer. Add in the flour and vanilla extract and mix until well combined. Slowly stir in the pecans. 
  3. Scoop a teaspoon of the cookie dough and roll between your palms to form a ball. Place the ball of cookie dough onto the prepared baking sheet. Bake until lightly golden, about 12 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool to the touch. Roll in confectioner’s sugar. 
  4. When ready to serve and once the cookies have completely cooled, roll or dust them with a bit of additional confectioner’s sugar, if you prefer.


December 18: Mint Meltaways

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We are one week from Christmas and 6 days away from the end of this year’s cookies. My cookie table is looking quite crowded with this month’s abundance.

After making the world’s largest meatloaf last night, I ran out of eggs. I didn’t feel like going to the store today, so I remembered back to a few years ago when I was in the same situation. Mint Meltaways (auto spell check keeps trying to change this to Beltways) contains no eggs, so that is my cookie today.

This is our star today.

The thing with peppermint extract is that’s not like vanilla extract, in that if a little is good, more must be better. Peppermint extract is strong and spicy, and nothing you want to overdo it on. Use the exact amount called for. Don’t improvise. I saw an episode of Holiday Baking Championship on Food Network where someone did, and he was eliminated. I bet whenever he smells peppermint extract, he becomes sick with failure.

Anyway, enough of my PSA.

I mixed together my dough and brought out another shining star.

If you’ve followed my blog for a few years, you’ll recall how I’ve tried various different colors for this, all in the name of fun. One year, it was black. One year it was Oscar the Grouch pulp green. This year, I wanted to do red. But not just any red. The best red. No offense to Wilton, but their reds suck, and this one by AmeriColor is the best red around. I mean, besides me.

I plopped my red balls on a tray and baked them. The recipe says bake until golden, but there’s no golden in my blood-sacrifice red mint cookies. I timed it pretty well and they came out nicely.

The mint frosting (again, do not add more–1/4 teaspoon is just enough) whips up pretty quickly. I used a star tip to put a dollop of minty goodness on each. Generally, I have peppermint dust to sprinkle on the tops of these cookies, but not today. I put a little red ball on each, which kinda makes them look like strange red nipples, but hey, more mature people may not think they look like anything but fun festive cookies.

Mint Meltaways

(from tasteofhome.com)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • FROSTING:
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1-1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tablespoons 2% milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 2 to 3 drops red food coloring, optional
  • 1/2 cup crushed peppermint candies

Directions:

In a small bowl, cream butter and confectioners’ sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in extract. Combine flour and cornstarch; gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well.

Shape into 1-in. balls. Place 2 in. apart on ungreased baking sheets.Bake at 350° for 10-12 minutes or until bottoms are lightly browned. Remove to wire racks to cool.

In a small bowl, beat butter until fluffy. Add the confectioners’sugar, milk, extract and, if desired, food coloring; beat until smooth. Spread over cooled cookies; sprinkle with crushed candies.

Store in an airtight container.

December 17: Peanut Butter Blossoms

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I woke up at an ungodly hour this morning. Actually, I’m not sure I ever fell asleep last night. Either way, I was up to see the sunrise. I wrapped presents in the dark. I organized my shoe rack. And then at 7 a.m., I decided it was a perfectly acceptable time to make cookies. 

About 10 minutes after sunrise. This is not something I normally see.

So, as my children were starting to get up for school, I was creaming together shortening and peanut butter. Because my loathe of mornings is something to be taken quite seriously, I think I alarmed all my kids. “Mom, are you okay?” I heard about a dozen times before they left for school.

I think by now we all know the deal with Peanut Butter Blossoms. It’s a peanut butter cookie that you stick a Hershey Kiss in the middle of when they come out of the oven. I used the traditional Hershey recipe, and as always, it’s posted at the end of this entry. 

However, when it came to the part where you roll it in sugar, I wanted to try something fun. I got out my red sugar and green sugar, and rolled them in that instead, just to make them more Christmas-y. I did this last year with Snickerdoodles, and that worked like gangbusters, so why not try with these?

Obviously, the pattern is for all of you. Although, I only took one picture of a tray, and I did the same alternating pattern on the next tray too, so maybe it’s not just about you. 

And as I drank my morning coffee, I was unwrapping Kisses. I remember one year I was doing this while drinking spiced wine at night. It was almost the same, minus the delightful buzz.

I was almost done baking when my daughter texted me, asking if I could bring her eyedrops to school (don’t ask), so I took it as the perfect opportunity to pack up some cookies for the office staff at the middle school. For as much time as I spend there, I need my own parking space and a place on payroll. 

I get asked a lot what I do with all the cookies. I do this. Teachers, neighbors, mailmen, friends…and whatever is left, I bring to my family Christmas at my dad’s house. 

Officially, I was done with cookies at 8 a.m. this morning. I feel like a Marine, only way less important and with way more sprinkles at my disposal.

Peanut Butter Blossoms

(courtesy of Hershey’s)

INGREDIENTS

  • 48 HERSHEY’S KISSES Brand Milk Chocolates 
  • 1/2 cup shortening 
  • 3/4 cup REESE’S Creamy Peanut Butter 
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar 
  • 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar 
  • 1 egg 
  • 2 tablespoons milk 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda 
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt 
  • 1/3 cup additional granulated sugar for rolling

DIRECTIONS

  • 1. Heat oven to 375°F. Remove wrappers from chocolates.
  • 2. Beat shortening and peanut butter in large bowl until well blended. Add 1/3 cup granulated sugar and brown sugar; beat until fluffy. Add egg, milk and vanilla; beat well. Stir together flour, baking soda and salt; gradually beat into peanut butter mixture.
  • 3. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll in granulated sugar; place on ungreased cookie sheet.
  • 4. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Immediately press a chocolate into center of each cookie; cookie will crack around edges. Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely. Makes 48 cookies.

December 16: Almond Crescents

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Greetings from 10 o’clock at night. 

Today, I graded most of the morning (only 11 essays left) and this afternoon I took my son for a haircut and then the kids and I went to Jeanne’s birthday party. (For more on Jeanne, see December 14.

We got home and I realized two things: 1.) I have to get these last 11 essays graded so I can put final grades in and 2.) I hadn’t baked any cookies yet. And while I can grade essays from bed, I can’t bake cookies from there (yet…I have hopes for the future generations to figure out something). So I took my remaining energy and whipped up some Almond Crescents. 

Now, if there’s one thing I know about these cookies, it’s that you can’t sneak one and get away with it. These are the delicious little morsels covered with powdered sugar. They are evidence-inducing, and I like that. Bravely show the world you have eaten one (or more) of these cookies. Own it. 

They are kind of a crumbly cookie to make, but as long as you know that going in, you’ll be fine. 

The recipe calls for a cup of butter, 3/4 cup of sugar, and then 3/4 cup of finely chopped almonds. Thanks to a fantastic coupon last week, I have nuts coming out of my ears, so this was not a problem. 

The flour is then added (I used 2 cups and about 2 Tablespoons), and you mix. Like I said. It’s a little crumbly.

I tried several methods for shaping my cookies and what worked best was quickly dashing my hands under the faucet and then rolling snakes on my cutting board. The water keeps it together until the heat from your hands warms the butter and that then keeps it together. 

Once they are out of the oven, they get a gentle dipping in some powdered sugar. You know, the evidence. 

Almond Crescent Cookies

(courtesy of An Italian in my Kitchen)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • pinch salt (if you use unsalted butter add 1/4 teaspoon salt)
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped fresh almonds, walnuts or pecans
  • 2 -2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • powdered sugar 

Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350°  
  2. In a large bowl beat butter until fluffy, add sugar and beat again until fluffy.
  3. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add nuts, flour  (add 2 cups to start and 1 tablespoon at a time and salt.
  4.  Bring dough together with your fingers.  Break off small pieces and form into a crescent shape.  Place on ungreased cookie sheets and bake for approximately 15 minutes . While cookies are still warm roll in icing/powdered sugar.  Can be frozen.  Enjoy!

December 15: J-Dub’s Toffee Grahams

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I haven’t talked about her much this year, but J-Dub is my friend and baking antithesis. I love her to pieces, which is why I tease her, and the stories I tell (her starting a fire once with chocolate chips and a microwave; her wanting to wrangling both of our little kids instead of making a treat to sell for our MOPS fundraiser; me using her oven for its first baking even long after she moved in…) are absolutely true. 

She loves this picture of us. I just know it.

Much like Clark Griswold dedicates his tree to the Griswold Family Christmas, I dedicate these cookies to J-Dub and the one time she made them. Good things must be celebrated. 

These are pretty simple. I put two sticks of butter in a pot (and then use the wrappers to grease my pan) and add a cup of brown sugar. While it’s coming to a boil, I arrange my graham crackers on my greased cookie sheet (with edges…this is very important). I go edge to edge with the graham crackers and leave only a little space at the end. 

Once the mixture has been brought to a bowl, let it boil for 2 minutes. Then pour on the graham crackers. (Also? My kids normally couldn’t care less about graham crackers. But when I’m using them in a recipe, they ask for some. I don’t get it.) Top with chopped pecans and bake for 10 minutes. When it comes out, it should be bubbly. 

Cut it when it’s still somewhat warm and wait to eat it. Otherwise, you risk pulling out a filling. I’ve done it. It’s expensive. Wait. 

There’s been no word from J-Dub if she’s attempted these or any other baking adventures this year. I feel pretty safe in assuming there haven’t been any. 

J-Dub’s Toffee Grahams

(from Gooseberry Patch’s Old Fashioned Country Cookies)

24 square graham crackers

2 sticks butter

1 c. brown sugar

1 c. chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 325. Arrange cracker squares on a lightly greased cookie sheet with edges around it. In a saucepan, bring the butter and sugar to a boil and boil for 2 minutes. Pour over crackers, covering them well. Sprinkle with nuts and bake for about 10 minutes. Cool slightly and cut into 24 squares or 48 “fingers.”

December 14: Chocolate Zingers

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Jeanne and I have been friends since we were 10 years old. Now that we’re almost 40, that means we’ve lived nearly 3/4 of our lives being friends. Wow. That sentence made me feel old. 

Anyway, Jeanne came over this afternoon to be my special guest star. She forwarded me one of her favorite recipes a few days ago and I made sure I had the right ingredients on hand. 

Jeanne, my friend for nearly 30 years. She’s the keeper of the secrets and baker of the cookies with pepper in them.

Well, most of them. 

Because this recipe calls for both black pepper and cayenne pepper, and I only saw the black pepper part, I had to go to the store once Jeanne got here. Eh. It happens. 

Once I got back from the store, we were able to finish the recipe.

Jeanne and her husband Mike always have the most fun recipes to share (and parties to attend…and twins to play with…and…well I guess they are just fun people in general). Like I said above, this one has two kinds of pepper in it, but it works in the recipe. It’s not spicy, it’s more like a heat that you get in the back of your throat. And it’s definitely more chocolatey than other chocolate cookie recipes!

(This is the recipe as Jeanne sent it to me.)

December 13: Buttery Jam Thumbprint Cookies

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This week seems to be a weird mix of super busy and “Oh I have plenty of time until Christmas.” Today I decided to use the preserves I purchased a week ago and make Buttery Jam Thumbprint Cookies. 

I made these a few years ago, and learned the important lesson that jelly won’t cut it for these. My classy red currant jelly ended up looking like a murder scene on a cookie sheet. So when I was grocery shopping, I made sure I chose preserves. 

The recipe is a simple one, which I love, and these bake up pretty quickly. I’m still not great at filling the thumbprints, but they didn’t overflow and I dust powdered sugar over them anyway. 

Through the magic of television, I mean the internet, my cookie balls were transformed into thumbprint cookies. I used strawberry preserves and mango-peach preserves. And I filled a few with almond pie filling, but those are just for me. 

When it came to dusting with powdered sugar, I apparently have a heavy hand. 

It reminds me of the scene in Annie Hall where Woody Allen sneezes into the cocaine. 

These are a crowd pleaser, and makes your house smell amazing!

Buttery Jam Thumbprint Cookies

(from http://www.chewoutloud.com)

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup salted butter, softened
  • ½ cup confectioners’ (powdered) sugar, plus ¼ cup more for dusting
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ tsp table salt
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • ½ cup fruit preserves

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, blend butter and sugar until fluffy and light, 2 minutes. Add vanilla and salt, scraping down bowl as needed. Switch to low and gently mix in flour, just until combined. Don’t over mix.
  3. Roll tablespoonfuls of dough into 1-inch balls. Place dough balls on parchment lined baking sheets. Press down the center of each ball with a spoon (or your thumb!) making a slight depression.
  4. Fill cookie centers with a teaspoonful of preserves. Bake 12-15 minutes or until golden brown and puffy, but take care not to overbake. Let cool a few minutes on baking sheet, then transfer to finish cooling on wire rack.
  5. When cookies are completely cooled, dust with confectioners’ sugar. Cookies can be kept in airtight container at room temp for a few days.