December 4: Peppermint Meringues

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I will start off by saying, no one’s perfect.

I made the Peppermint Meringues from the current Food Network magazine, and had a lot of trouble with them. Actually, nine times out of ten when I’ve made cookies from Food Network magazine, I’ve had trouble.

I’m not a baking novice by any stretch of the imagination, and if I were, this recipe would discourage me and make me think I just wasn’t cut out for baking cookies.

Again, no one is perfect. I certainly screw up. Even with cookies. At least once a year while I do my 24 days of cookies, one batch doesn’t work.

This is that batch.

I make meringue cookies every year band have been doing so since Britney rocked a belly chain and low-rise jeans. I know the concept. So when my meringue didn’t set up (using the directions exactly as written), I was perplexed.

And then I started over. This time, I used powdered sugar instead of granular. While it wasn’t as bad as the first batch, it definitely wasn’t up to my meringue standards. That was the first problem.

My second problem came when trying to paint the red stripes in the pastry bag. It’s tough to do, and I ended up using an unused paint brush from my arts and crafts collection. I tried a pastry brush before this, and it looked like a crime scene. It was too big, and the plastic pastry bag isn’t exactly the easiest surface to paint on.

Novice bakers aren’t going to necessarily know to try something else. Heck, I really didn’t know what to do. I totally winged it.

I piped the shapes on the parchment, and because it was a limp and runny meringue, the consistency was off. But I figured I’d try and see what happened. The red stripes did come through, but as I piped more, the color wasn’t as strong. This makes sense to me, but the photo editors at Food Network magazine didn’t get the memo that their picture was to actually look like the cookies their readers would be creating.

After the hour in the oven, I turned off the oven and had them sit in the oven for another 2 hours. As the directions state.

When I took them out, I was again not pleased.

Brown. My white runny meringues spent too long in the tanning bed before prom, and didn’t look like what they were supposed to look like. That was the final problem with this recipe.

Did anyone else make this recipe and have it turn out well? Because at this point, I’m not actually convinced anyone at the magazine tested this recipe.

December 3: Italian Sand Cookies

Italian Sand Cookies
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As I was saying yesterday, I felt the need to get to the bottom of the difference between Italian Sand Cookies and Italian Butter Cookies.

But first–the ever popular Italian Sand Cookies recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 c flour
  • 1/2 c cornstarch
  • 1/2 c shortening
  • 1/2 c butter
  • 3/4 c. confectioners sugar
  • 1/4 c. granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 t. vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • melted chocolate
  • jimmies or other sprinkles

Directions:

  1. Cream together butter, shortening, sugars, vanilla, and eggs.
  2. Add cornstarch and mix again
  3. Add flour and mix again. The consistency should be like cake batter
  4. Put batter through a pastry bag with a large start tip
  5. Bake at 375 for 10-12 minutes. Edges should just start to be golden brown when you take them out.
  6. Melt chocolate and dip or spoon the melted chocolate on half of the cooled cookie. Decorate with sprinkles or jimmies.

Yeah. None of that happened. (But can you imagine an International Journal of Cookie Pathology?! My scholar’s heart fills with happiness imagining such a scholarly source!)

So, I poured over research. I went to the International Journal of Cookie Pathology to find out what the difference between sand and butter cookies were. I contacted the head of culinary baking studies at the University of Rome. I put in my Freedom of Information request to Congress to open the sealed Italian Butter Cookies – Sand Cookies inquiry from the 70s.

There’s not a lot of research out there on this.

So I did my own. It was a taste test between the Butter Cookies and the Sand Cookies, and here are my scientific results:

  • The Italian Butter Cookies have more butter in them, and no cornstarch like the Italian Sand Cookies. And with that, the Butter Cookies are thicker and the Sand Cookies are lighter and spread out more.

As to why they are Italian? My best guess is based also on personal research: most of the best bakeries I’ve ever been to are Italian.

(I once helped plan, and then participate in, a cannoli tour in the North End of Boston. I think we went to 6 bakeries to determine which had the best cannoli. It was some of my best work.)

Thus concludes my research into this important matter.

Oh, and I also replaced my supply of my jimmies for my Christmas cookies. The line at Joann’s was astronomical, especially for a weekday! Be nice to those retail workers–they showed up!

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December 1: Brown Eyed Susans

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I have no idea why these are called Brown Eyed Susans. Maybe they look like eyeballs? But I don’t want to think about that for too long, nor do I want to think about why they are Susan’s eyeballs.

Brown Eyed Susans

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter
  • 3 T sugar
  • 1 t almond extract
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 2 c all purpose flour

Cream the butter with a mixer and add sugar, almond extract, and salt. Add flour. Place on to parchment papered cookie sheet in rounded tablespoons, then flatten either with a glass or your fingers. Bake at 400 for 10-12 minutes. Cool on rack. Frost and top with sliced or chopped almonds.

Frosting:

  • 1 c powdered sugar
  • 2 T cocoa
  • hot water
  • 1/2 t vanilla
  • sliced or chopped almonds

Blend sugar and cocoa, add just enough hot water to make frosting spreading consistency. Stir with whisk. Add vanilla.

I will admit, I was skeptical with these. Only 3T of sugar? Weird frosting that asks for hot water, and not even a measurement with that? What sort of Christmas cookie sorcery is this?

But it all worked out.

Oh, and hey, it turns out I haven’t gotten any better at not making a giant mess with the mixer.

December 3, 2017–Cherry Divinity

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In every cookie blogger’s life, a little sugar must fall. Or in my case, Cherry Divinity.

I’ve never made this before, but I had some marshmallow fluff leftover from the night before (it’s a long story) and google was there for me this morning with the answer to “Christmas Cookie with Marshmallow Fluff.”

Enter Cherry Divinity.

I supposed Divinity is more a candy than a cookie, but I make allowances for butter mints and toffee, so Divinity is given a pass.

The recipe seemed simple enough, though there was a glaring typo that I was ready to pounce on. Joke’s on me though, because this one didn’t quite turn out the way it should have.

I did everything right up until the 10 minutes of mixing, when I left to go write some of my research paper. When I returned, the substance in the mixer looked a little grainy. But I thought maybe it would be okay.

It wasn’t really.

Divinity isn’t supposed to look like this. I don’t know what it’s supposed to taste like, but this is SUPER sweet. However, my kids have been snacking on it all day long, which tells me maybe there’s a market for this treat. I’m just not it.

And Dixie Sugar, it’s “loses” not “looses,” but after my experience, it’s clear that maybe I’m the loser on this one.

Cherry Divinity (from Dixie Sugar)

INGREDIENTS

DIRECTIONS

  1. Line countertop with wax paper.
  2. Place marshmallow fluff in stand mixer bowl and attach the paddle attachment. Set aside.
  3. In a large sauce pan over medium-high heat, combine sugar and water whisking constantly. Bring to a boil and let boil for 3 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat and slowly pour sugar mixture into the marshmallow fluff with the mixer on medium.
  5. Bring the speed up to medium-high and beat until the mixture thickens and looses it’s glossy sheen (and looks more matte), about 10 minutes.
  6. As soon as it’s the right texture, stir in vanilla and candied cherries. Working quickly, drop the divinity onto parchment paper using two large spoons: one spoon to scoop it and one spoon to push the candy off the other. Place a cherry onto the top of each piece of divinity.
  7. Allow to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

December 2, 2017–Snickerdoodles

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Today is Aaron Rodgers’ birthday. Now, I’m not a big football fan, but many of my friends are, which is how I know today is Aaron Rodgers’ birthday. I lived in Wisconsin for 14 years, home of the Packers, and when I think of Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, I think of my friend Nichole, who is from Wisconsin. And when I think if Nichole, I think of Snickerdoodles, her favorite cookie.

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This one’s for you, Nichole.

(Like how I went from December 2nd to Snickerdoodles? I’m smarter than your average bear.)

So Aaron, Pack, Wisconsin, and Colie, this cookie is for you.

I made this cookie years ago (at Nichole’s house, actually) and it was Trisha Yearwood’s recipe. Today, when I wanted a Christmas-fied up version of a snickerdoodle, Trisha’s recipe again popped up…in someone else’s blog. I guess Mrs. Garth Brooks isn’t just a country singer given her own Food Network show because of her name…she is actually pretty legit!

Now, the recipe calls for sifting together the dry ingredients. Because it’s only December 2nd, I did it. But had I waited until like December 16th to make this cookie, it would be just a regular measure-and-dump. I hope the recipient of these cookies enjoy the extra effort taken.

I mixed it all up and went hunting for my colored sugars. Thankfully, I always seem to have those in abundant supply. And because it’s Christmas, I stuck with the traditional red and green…no black or lavender today!

Now when I moved into my new place earlier this year, I ordered some new bowls from Amazon. They were white! They were cheap! They came in a pack of six! And…when I got them…they were super tiny. Not what I needed for morning cereal. Thankfully, my laziness in returning them meant they were still in my cabinet, and ready to fulfill their destiny.

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Seriously, the tiniest ceramic bowls you’ve ever seen.

Because I love you all and want to make a good impression right now, I put them on my cookie sheet in alternating order. So pretty, but truth be told, after I snapped this picture, it was every colored-cookie for themselves. I don’t have time to prettify my cookie sheets.

In and out of the 400 degree oven, and my house smelled like Christmas.

Trisha Yearwood’s Snickerdoodles

(from http://www.foodnetwork.com)

Ingredients

1/2 cup salted butter, softened
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 medium eggs
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine the butter, shortening, 1 1/2 cups sugar and the eggs and mix thoroughly with an electric mixer on medium speed until creamy and well combined, 1 to 2 minutes. Sift together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt, and stir into the shortening mixture.

In a small bowl, stir together the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar (*I used colored sugar) with the cinnamon.

Shape the dough into 1 1/2-inch balls (1 tablespoon per ball), and roll each ball in the cinnamon-sugar. Arrange the dough balls 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake two sheets at a time until the edges of the cookies are set but the centers are still soft, 8 to 10 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through. Transfer the cookies to wire racks for cooling. Repeat with the remaining dough balls. Store in an airtight container.

December 1, 2017–Italian Sand Cookies

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Whoa, is it that time of year again? My tree is up, Elf is on prime time, and I have a pile of final exams to grade. Yup, it must be December!

It was a little up-in-the-air whether or not I’d do this, and in the spirit of openness, the way I was feeling in December, I didn’t know if I could ever get in the Christmas Spirit again. But I’ve prevailed against the doldrums, and here I am.

I’m starting the season off with one of my favorites–Italian Sand Cookies. I got this recipe a few years ago off the internet and they are always a crowd-pleaser.

Tonight, as I was starting to bake, I couldn’t find cornstarch. So, despite my best efforts, I was not prepared, and back to the store I went. Sigh.

Mixed it all together and piped it on a cookie sheet (I also didn’t have parchment paper, which I discovered after I got home from the store for the second time today. I was not about to return for a third.)

Now, when I lived in Wisconsin and made these, the piping came through a lot better.

See?

Now, I don’t know why it is that these have spread out so much the past few years, but my inclination is that it has something to do with humidity and general Louisiana-ness. (50th in everything, except humidity.) If you happen to know the real reason, please let me know.

To celebrate my first day (night?) of holiday baking, I picked up a little something at Albertsons when I went for corn starch.

No, not the cat. That’s Zelda, and she’s a new addition. I’m talking about the glass of Prosecco, also a new addition of sorts.

When they were cooled, I melted some milk chocolate with a little coconut oil and dipped them, and then added the mandatory sprinkles.

My best friend once caught a glimpse of all the sprinkles on my shelf via FaceTime and made me count them for her. There were 20 different kinds. This was a few years ago, and the collection has indeed grown. I don’t have a problem; I can stop any time I want!

Welcome to December friends. Now would anyone like to write a 20 page paper for me this weekend?

SAND COOKIES

(from www.cheftessbakeresse.com)

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)

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.

December 18: Meringue Cookies

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I had a little help making these.

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Larry Potter–now a fully grown 13 year-old man-boy–wanted to make some cookies unassisted. The four egg whites needed to make this recipe turned into about 8, due to some mistakes in de-yolking. But he finally did it.When the egg whites were whipped, he added the rest of the ingredients and left. It’s okay. I told him to. The next step involved a pastry bag, and I make a big enough mess as it is.

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Now, here’s the awful truth: it’s nearly impossible to make meringue cookies in 100% humidity. They need to be whipped and dried, and the barometric pressure just doesn’t care. Even still, we (or at this point, I) forged on. About 15 minutes later (WAY longer than it should have taken), my mixture was stiff enough to pipe on to cookie sheets.

The recipe says to leave them out at room temperature. That was not going to happen.

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Even for Louisiana, it’s a weird and too warm Christmas. I put the trays in the oven at 200 and checked on them frequently. After about 20 minutes, I had some cookies.

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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.

December 17: Gingerbread Wookie Cookies

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There’s a fad on FB (and probably other forms of social media and internet-ing) where someone takes a recipe and does a fast-action shoot of it. They’re interesting. I’ve never made a recipe from a video like that. But that all changed.

This fast little video amused me so much, I had to try it.

Because the video already exists (and in viral form), I decided not to take pictures of the actual making of the dough. That, and I forgot. But here’s when I took it out of the fridge to start cutting out my wookies.

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I did what I was supposed to…stretch out the gingerbread men. I found that starting with the legs one at a time was easier, but as the dough warmed, I could stretch them head first. (This kinda sounds like a mafia how-to.)

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I pricked them with a butter knife and baked them for 10 minutes at 350. Every time I pulled a batch out of the oven, I just laughed. I was baking Wookies!

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When it came time to decorate them, I lined them up like playing cards and went to town. Melted chocolate chips makes for a good medium.

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Insert Chewbacca roar.

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And, in case you are wondering, they are delightfully Chewie. 😉

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Gingerbread Wookie Cookies

(from http://www.buzzfeed.com)

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup melted butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 egg

Directions:

Combine all ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. Once dough begins to form a ball in the center, dust generously with flour. Separate into three sections to make rolling easier. Cover dough with plastic wrap or wax paper and chill for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

Dust a smooth surface with flour, and roll out a section of the dough to about 1/4 inch thick. Use a gingerbread man cookie cutter, or a knife to slice out your Wookiees.

Wookiees are tall, so you may want to stretch out the head and feet! Place on parchment paper on a baking sheet, and score the cookie’s surface to look like fur.

Bake at 350˚F/180˚C for 10-12 min. Your Wookiees will puff up quickly! Next, with melted chocolate in a piping bag, add the bandolier, eyes and nose.

 

December 16: Stroopwafels

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Truth be told, these are the fanciest cookies I make. They are also the ones that take longest to create. They are ALSO my personal favorites of any of the cookies I make, and if you get one, it’s because I really, really like you. Actually, with this economy, I’m going to need to bump that up to love now.

(They are also the cookie that got me an award and some serious poetic street cred because I wrote a poem about making them. But we don’t need to talk about that.)

(I can see you’re not going to let this go…here’s the link.)

I don’t expect any one to have a pizzelle iron at home (or even better, an actual Stroopwafel one), but on the off hand chance you do, well, let me introduce you to my favorite of the favorites.

This one needs yeast. Don’t be afraid of yeast. Just make sure the water you’re using is warm, not hot. You don’t want to kill the yeast.

IMG_4556While my yeast was yeasting, I went to get my flour. I was digging at the bottom of the barrel (bucket) for this recipe, but thankfully, I had enough.

(Also, I keep flour and sugar in food grade buckets. Write a cookie blog sometime and tell me you won’t do the same.)

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You have to cut the butter into the flour, and I find it’s easier if you cube the butter first.

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Anytime I bring out my pastry cutter, I think of my friend Jenny B., who once had some very important questions about using such a device. You don’t need one–you can do the same thing with two knives–but I’ll tell you it’s easier to use the pastry cutter.

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After I added in all the other ingredients, I mushed it into a ball and let it rise for an hour.

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And through the magic of the Internet…

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Time to make the heavenly filling for the Stroopwafel. It’s pretty easy–butter, brown sugar, dark Karo syrup, and cinnamon. This is the Karo syrup, in my Pampered Chef measuring cup–a measuring cup that has paid for itself many times over because of it’s syrup-measuring (and peanut butter, and mayonnaise) abilities.

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Let it boil until it reaches the soft ball stage. Don’t let it go any further than that, or you will have crunchy cookies that take your fillings out.

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Once the filling is done, I like to pour mine into an extra large measuring cup.

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The dough needs to be made into cookies. I take biggish balls (okay, 8th grade boy…) and press them until they are juuuust lightly golden. It takes a few tries. You want it just on the brink of being fully cooked.

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I take a serrated knife and cut through the cookie. This is why you want the cookie to be just almost done. It helps you find the sweet spot in the cookie without tearing the whole thing apart. I would have had a picture of this for you, but I’m a safety gamble using two hands doing this, and I wasn’t about to try it with one, just so there’d be a picture.

(Adulting kind of blows, btw.)

I filled the cookies with the delicious insides. I don’t know why this picture is sideways. Deal with it.

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And then I quickly put the tops on the cookies, pressing lightly.

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As you can see above, these cookies make my counters look like there’s been a struggle. Or neglect. Or both. But all in the name of good cookies.

It’s recommended that you put a Stroopwafel on top of a hot cup of coffee or tea to really get the insides gooey. This was a coffee cup I painted at one of those “Paint your own ceramics” places a few years ago. It’s holiday-themed and says exactly what you think it does.

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Again, you are only getting my stash if I love you.

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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.

To Assemble: Cut each waffle (only if home-made waffles) into 2 thin waffles and spread with filling. Repeat this process until all the filling is used. If using store bought, simply spread about 1 tablespoon of filling on one waffle cookie, let it cool about 1 minute, and squeeze a second cookie on top.

 

December 15: Orange Drop Cookies

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This cookie comes with a story. I mean, they all come with a story, but this one comes with a recent story.

We had an apple tree at our old house in Wisconsin. We got it (and another one that didn’t make it) many years ago when our city cut down our large tree for power line reasons, and we got three new trees out of the deal. (Other one was a beautiful Blaze Maple.) Hoover, our middle son, loves apples, which is why we chose an apple tree.

Fast forward to now, and we live 30 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, where we have no apple trees (I don’t know if they grow here or not, but we don’t have access to one anymore).

Hoover has always been obsessed with seeds and planting and all sorts of stuff. He used to save his orange seeds in Wisconsin to try and plant orange trees. Guess what; it didn’t work.

But, do you know what does grow in Southwest Louisiana?

The other day, our grandfatherly neighbor came to the door with a grocery bag full of oranges from his tree. Hoover’s enthusiasm seemed to charm him, and he then offered Hoover the chance to pick oranges whenever he liked. Hoover and I went to his side yard and encountered a 20 foot Satsuma Orange (or tangerine, possibly…jury is still deliberating what a Satsuma really is–other than a scent at The Body Shop) tree.

Walter (not the neighbor’s name, but it’s something like that) is lousy with oranges, and looks to be quite sick of them, much like my dad was when he had two giant apple trees. He emphasized that any time he wanted to pick oranges, Hoover (and his brother and sister) could and should, otherwise they’d just go to waste.

Didn’t have to tell this kid twice.

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He asked me if I could make orange cookies with the oranges. Many years ago, I made Orange Drop cookies, so I knew I could. And how can you resist fresh oranges?

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This is some of Hoover and Mini-Me (my daughter)’s second stash, after they juice a half-gallon of juice by hand. (And then drank it.)

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Luckily, I had a helper in juicing.

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Had to strain it so I’d just get the juice.

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Chopping a half cup of walnut, graciously given to me by my poetry professor Amy!

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Into the oven it went. Now, I’ll say this. These cookies come out looking light and airy if you do it right. I did it right. 🙂

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Seriously, don’t they look like meringue tarts?

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The frosting involved a pound of powdered sugar, and more orange juice and zest. This is probably the tastiest frosting I make, and the fresh ingredients only enhance it!

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As my kids noted, they aren’t all that orange. When I’ve made these with regular store-bought juice, they aren’t all that orange, either. But, they sure do taste (and smell…holy smokes, the smells in my kitchen…) great!

Orange Drop Cookies

(I’m sorry, I can’t remember where I got it from! If you do, let me know and I’ll credit it accordingly!)

1/2 c shortening                                   2 1/2 c flour

1 c sugar                                             1/2 t salt

2 eggs                                                 1 T grated orange peel

1/2 c orange juice                                 1/2 c walnuts

1 1/2 t baking powder

Cream together shortening and sugar, add eggs one at a time and beat well. Add orange juice and mix. Blend in dry ingredients. Drop onto cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes.

Orange Frosting:

6 T Butter                                              2 t grated orange peel

1 lb. bag of powdered sugar                    2 T orange juice

1 1/2 t vanilla

Cream together butter and orange peel; gradually add about half of the sugar, blending well. Beat in orange juice and vanilla. Add enough sugar to make spreading consistency.