December 15: Almond Butter Sticks

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Note: I got behind because of illness.. Now that I can at least sit upright for more than a few hours, I am catching up. But with that, these are going to be more bare-bones than in the past.

Almond Butter Sticks

(courtesy of Saving Dessert)

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons almond extract
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, plus 1 tablespoon (divided)
  • 6 ounces cream cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 egg, separated (white reserved for glazing)
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 teaspoon coarse sugar for topping

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  3. In a small bowl combine the sugar and almond extract; cover and set aside.
  4. In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder.
  5. In a large mixing bowl combine 8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) butter and cream cheese. Beat on low until blended. Add the egg yolk and blend until smooth. Add half the flour mixture and beat on low until combined. Add the remaining flour and blend just until the dough starts to come together.
  6. Transfer the dough to a floured work surface. Knead by hand about 25 strokes until the dough is pliable. Roll or press into a 12×12 inch square. Spread with the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter.
  7. Cut the dough in half and place one half on the prepared cookie sheet, butter side up.
  8. Spoon the sugar mixture to within 1/2-inch of the dough edges all the way around. Place the remaining dough half, butter side down, over the sugar. Press the edges tightly to seal.
  9. Brush the dough with a lightly beaten egg white. Sprinkle with almonds and coarse sugar.
  10. Bake 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. It’s best removed from the oven when you think it needs one or two more minutes.
  11. Cool at least 30 minutes.
  12. Cut the pastry in half lengthwise and then into 1/2 to 1 inch strips crosswise.
  13. Store in an airtight container.

Somewhere in the original recipe for this, it says that the author likes that these don’t immediately appeal to children, and therefore are leftover when cookies trays are passed.

I feel this in my soul.

These are my hands-down favorite fave cookie that I make. I love almond extract. I love butter and cream cheese and sugar and actual almonds, and I love making a cookie so good, it flies under the radar like a spy drone.

Here’s the link to when I made them last year, if you need the play-by-play. I doubled them last year, because I don’t like sharing. I still don’t like sharing, but I only had one brick of cream cheese left in my fridge and it’s supposed to be 10 degrees outside tonight.

No problems at all making these, as usual. Even with the rolling out and measuring going on here, these are pretty straight forward. By far, the biggest challenge with these cookies are hiding them from my kids, because they’ve caught on how awesome they are.

December 14: Meringue Cookies

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Note: I got behind because of illness.. Now that I can at least sit upright for more than a few hours, I am catching up. But with that, these are going to be more bare-bones than in the past.

Snowflake Meringue Cookies
(from The Spirit of Christmas Cookbook, Volume 4)

Ingredients:

4 egg whites
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar
1 t. almond extract
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. cream of tartar
decorating sugar

Directions:

1. Cover baking sheets with waxed paper.
2. In a large bowl, beat egg whites until foamy. Add powdered sugar, almond extract, cinnamon, and cream of tartar; beat until very stiff.
3. Spoon meringue into a pastry bag fitted with a small star tip. Make snowflake design. Add decorating sugars.
4. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.

I think these may be my kids’ favorites all around. They ask about them more than another cookie. When they smell the batter in the air, suddenly they are three obedient kids who get along fabulously and do any chore I ask of them.

I did something a little different this year. At the end, I put a little gold or white sprinkle pearl at the top of them, just for a little pizazz. And they stuck!

So maybe when these disappear, my kids will at least feel fancier as they snarf them down.

December 13: Nate’s Eggnogg Cookies

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Note: I got behind because of illness.. Now that I can at least sit upright for more than a few hours, I am catching up. But with that, these are going to be more bare-bones than in the past.

Nate’s Eggnog Cookies

(adapted from Cooking Classy)

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg , plus more for topping
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter , at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp rum extract
  • 1/2 cup eggnog

Frosting

  • 1/2 cup butter , at room temperature (I used 1/4 cup salted and 1/4 cup unsalted butter)
  • 3 – 5 Tbsp eggnog
  • 1/2 tsp rum extract
  • 3 cups powdered sugar

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon for 30 seconds, set aside. 
  2. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip together butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar until pale and fluffy. 
  3. Mix in egg yolks one at a time, blending just until combined after each addition. Mix in vanilla extract, rum extract and egg nog. With mixer set on low speed, slowly add in dry ingredients and mix just until combined. 
  4. Scoop dough out by the heaping tablespoonfuls and drop onto Silpat or parchment paper lined baking sheets, spacing cookies 2-inches apart. 
  5. Bake in preheated oven 11 – 13 minutes. Allow to rest on baking sheet several minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool. Cool completely then frost with Eggnog Frosting and sprinkle tops lightly with nutmeg.

For the Eggnog Frosting:

  1. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip butter until very pale and fluffy. Add in rum extract and 3 Tbsp eggnog and mix in powdered sugar. Add additional eggnog to reach desired consistency.
  2. Recipe Source: slightly adapted from allrecipes.com and inspired by Parent Pretty

Many years ago, my precious first-born came to me at 7 o’clock at night on a school night, and said, “Mom, I read a cookbook for my book report, and I have to bake cookies for it. Oh, and it’s due tomorrow.”

Ahhh…here’s that sweet boy, and how that turned out. That’s right, I was the meanest mom in the world and made him make his own cookies.

And in the seven years since this fateful night, it turns out I have not gotten any nicer and he hasn’t gotten any better and forethought.

Nate had a cookie exchange at school in his AP Chemistry class. He told me the night before, and I said cool, get a recipe and go at it.

He acted like he was annoyed, but I could tell he was into it. Well, until the mixer turned on for the first time. There might have been a jump and a scream. And by might, I mean there was.

This is the cookie he found for me last year, that properly demonstrates his love of eggnog. I brought the eggnog home and the other two kids were so excited! Until they found out Nate would be making cookies with it. I’m the mom in these parts, so I’m sure I’m not privy to all that happens here, but I’m pretty sure the other two made credible threats to their brother for not sharing the eggnog.

I think he did a pretty good job. I said I’d frost them if he mixed up the frosting for me, which he did.

And I hear the cookies were a hit at school, too.

December 12: Kolaczki

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Note: I got behind because of illness.. Now that I can at least sit upright for more than a few hours, I am catching up. But with that, these are going to be more bare-bones than in the past.

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 lb. margarine or butter
  • 3 1/2 c. flour
  • 8 oz. cream cheese
  • pinch of salt
  • Solo filling of your choice, like Raspberry, Cherry, Almond, or Apricot

Directions:

Allow shortening and cream cheese to soften before beginning. Mix cream cheese and butter; gradually add flour and salt. Refrigerate for 3-4 hours. Set out 1 hour before rolling out. Roll very thin (1/4″), cut, fill, and press seams closed. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes.

I’ve never made kolaczki before, because as I’ve said before, my family has about as much cultural heritage as a piece of loose leaf paper. Though I have enjoyed these through the years. Fruit filling? Powdered sugar? Yes and yes.

Man Friend’s mother had this recipe, typed, that she would make at Christmas. She was nice enough to share it with me a few weeks ago.

I consider myself pretty good at the cookie baking. Every now and then, one challenges me. And these were challenging for me.

Here’s why–I have no sweet Polish or Hungarian or Czech grandmother to show me how to make these. I had two grandmothers, both lived a 1000 miles away, and while one definitely could bake, the only thing I ever saw the other make was a reservation. And I don’t remember really being around Granny (the baking grandmother) before Christmas. (Not that she made kolaczki…but she would make delish southern things.)

Anyway.

I had a heck of a time getting these to stay closed. After two trays and many words I wouldn’t want my children to say, I finally looked up a video on how to fold these. There’s water involved to have them stick together, and way less filling than I was hoping for.

And no, I took no pictures of my failures. But they were delicious just the same.

Now, one word on filling. Jam and preserves still seep out the cookie, so use the Solo filling. Also, as much as I love almond things, almond filling — at least in this cookie — tasted the way play-doh smells. And no one wants that!

December 11: Stroopwafels

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Note: I got behind because of illness.. Now that I can at least sit upright for more than a few hours, I am catching up. But with that, these are going to be more bare-bones than in the past.

Stroopwafels

(from http://www.food.com)

Ingredients

Waffle cookies

4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup unsalted butter
2 large eggs
1 (1/4 ounce) package active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water

Filling

1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
1 cup unsalted butter
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons dark corn syrup

Directions

Preheat a pizzelle iron.
To Make Waffles: Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Cut butter into the flour. Mix in the sugar, cinnamon, eggs and yeast mixture. Mix well and set aside to rise for 30 to 60 minutes.
Roll dough into 12 small balls; Squeeze each ball into the preheated pizzelle iron and bake for about 30 seconds. Cut the waffles into two thin waffles and spread with filling.
To Make Filling: In a saucepan boil the brown sugar, the remaining one cup of the butter, cinnamon (this is a must-have ingredient), and dark corn syrup until it reaches the soft ball stage (234-240°F, 112-115°C), stirring constantly.

I haven’t made these the past couple of years, mainly because I like to try different recipes and something has to go. Generally that means something with yeast, because it takes too long.

But I love these. They are definitely in my Top 3 faves. You can buy them out in the wild; I’ve seen them more and more in places like Trader Joes and even Target. Which is how I was reminded that I haven’t made this in a few years.

There’s something about the cinnamon caramel in the cookie…it’s so welcoming and homey. You’re supposed to heat this on top of a steaming cup of coffee or tea, which definitely makes the cinnamon caramel filling become gooey and wonderful.

I use a pizzelle iron, because I can’t find a stroopwafel iron for less than three figures. (If you find one, let me know!) So if you have a pizzelle iron, give these a shot. It’s a different process and a different flavor, but in the end it’s another cookie, and that’s always a good thing.

December 10: Italian Sand Cookies

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Note: Because of illness, I got behind. Now that I can at least sit upright for more than a few hours, I am catching up. But with that, these are going to be more bare-bones than in the past.

Italian Sand Cookies

(courtesy of Chef Tess Bakeresse)

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups flour (we used AP)
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup butter
1 1/4 cups confectioners sugar *
1 1/2 t. vanilla extract
2 eggs
*(we also liked 3/4 c. conf sugar & 1/4 c. granulated which made them a slight bit sweeter)

Directions:

Creaming method. Put through bag with large star tip. Bake @ 375 F for 12-15 minutes or until lightly brown. Decorate with choc chips, sprinkles or leave plain and dip half in melted choc., etc.

So, in making these, I realized too late that I was out of my traditional red, white, and green sprinkles. So, the Italian Sand Cookies this year represents my vast sprinkle collection. Well, at least the ones that show up on chocolate.

These don’t last very long in my house, even with my threats to the kids.

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 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 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.