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 1: Oreshki

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Well folks, here we are again at the start of another December. I’m proud to say this is my 15th year doing this crazy cookie thing–it may not have always been documented, but it’s always been baked!

Before I get into today’s cookie, the kick-off cookie, the cookie that starts it all (you get the picture), I want to let you know of a style change I’ll be making. Instead of putting the recipe at the end of the post, I’ll be putting it at the start. Why? Because I’ve *also* scrolled through cooking/baking pages looking for the recipe, just like you do, and it’s annoying. While I hope you stick around and read my color commentary on the cookie at hand, I want to make sure you get what you need out of this first.

Oreshki (from Alonya’s Cooking)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 stick unsalted butter softened
  • 6 1/2 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp vinegar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • FILLING:
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter softened
  • 1 14oz can dulce de leche
  • 1 tsp sour cream

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Make the filling first, as it needs time to set; beat together the filling ingredients and refrigerate until needed.
  2. TO MAKE ORESHKI: In a medium bowl beat the eggs and sugar until pale and frothy; set aside.
  3. In a separate small bowl beat the butter until smooth then add the mayonnaise and mix to combine. Set aside.
  4. Dissolve the vinegar with baking soda and set aside.Sift together the flour and cornstarch into a large bowl.
  5. Add the egg mixture, butter mixture and soda mixture and beat everything together until a soft dough forms.
  6. Cover and refrigerate dough for at least 1 hour before handling.
  7. Once dough is cold enough to work with; scoop out 1 teaspoon full of dough into each oreshki mold.Lightly mold in the dough into the cookie iron.
  8. Cover mold with the lid and bake in a preheated 375 degree F oven for 30-35 min or until golden.
  9. Invert cookies onto a tray and continue to work with remaining dough chilling the dough in-between the handling.
  10. Cool cookies completely before filling.
  11. TO ASSEMBLE ORESHKI: Fill each cookie half with the filling mixture and combine the cookie halves to form a walnut shape cookie.
  12. Refrigerate shells and serve cold at all times. Enjoy!

Okay, now to the good stuff.

So I have a very cool grocery store within walking distance of my house. (Not that I walked there, no, it’s December and I’m not in the South anymore.) It looks boring enough from the outside, like most grocery stores do. However, inside it’s like an international vacation without ever pulling out a passport. They have Asian things, they have Hispanic things, they have Kosher and Hebrew things, and they have Russian and European things.

On this last point, there are a lot of countries in Europe represented here, but there is more Russian/Eastern European things in this grocery store than anything else. (And yes, I know Russian is in Asia.) There’s a large Russian/Eastern European population near where I live…though I don’t know if I’d know this without help of this grocery store.

My point is, they have cool stuff there in other languages that look amazing. I saw these a few weeks ago and haven’t stopped thinking about them.

They looked like walnut shells, but baked, and apparently you fill them with things. As I was contemplating Googling that exact phrase, I saw the name Oreshki on the package and instead Googled that.

I literally saved myself hours in doing that.

I found a number of recipes for this cookie, generally considered a Slavic cookie, and in all of them, the recipe talks about getting a special pan to make these cookie shells. In fact, every recipe I saw talked mostly about how to prepare the cookie part of this, and the filling was mainly an afterthought.

I brought out my Santa mug to soften my first butter of the season.

As I already had the cookie handled, I went straight to the filling. (Though I’m now intrigued with this pan and it’s on my Amazon list.)

Once I found a recipe I thought I could handle, I assembled the filling. In this case, it was literally three ingredients: Dulce de Leche, butter, and sour cream. All things I love.

Mix, chill, and plop.

Or so I thought. I mixed. I chilled. And I plopped…and then discovered I put too much filling in each and had to scoop out a spoonful from half my shells.

Live and learn.

Once I was able to assemble these cookies without a Dulce de Leche lava trail, I sprinkled them with powdered sugar and put them in the fridge. This recipe says specifically to keep them there. I have no problem with keeping these cold, but I live with 2.5 teenagers (my youngest is 12 and a half). Things in the fridge tend to disappear quickly, without a trace, and with no one taking responsibility for the disappearance.

Therefore, these will live safely in the trunk of my car.

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 9: Peppermint Meltaways

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These were a big hit last year, and because I pander to the general public for attention, I decided I had to make them again.

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And the mess begins. Because this recipe calls for more corn starch than I used to use in battling my kids’ diaper rash, it got a little out of hand. And cup. And counter. I’ve clean it all up three times now, and I’m still slipping on the floor where it happened.

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I added some green Wilton food coloring to the batter this year, because I think you all know by now that my policy is “the more artificial colors there are, the better the cookies will taste.” This is the Kelly Green, and I think it turned out really well.

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With my handy-dandy (sorry, left-over from the kids’ Blue’s Clues days) cookie scooper, I doled out a dozen slippery spheres. And Hoover, my middle guy, decided it was his job to lick everything once I was done.

Hoover, making sure no leftover batter went to waste.

Hoover, making sure no leftover batter went to waste.

Let the cookies cool on a rack while you make up the frosting.

Gandalf kept an eye on these for me. (Don't worry, Mom, he didn't go on the table.)

Gandalf kept an eye on these for me. (Don’t worry, Mom, he didn’t go on the table.)

I used the recipe for the frosting, and had to actually make it twice because I ran out half-way through. I found it a little thick, so keep that in mind. And, of course, more food coloring. This time, it was from AmeriColor and it’s their “Super Red.” I wanted Wilton to go the distance for me, and in all colors but red they have. I needed something to put Santa to shame this year, and I’ve found it.

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I threw it (again) through my pastry bag with a big star tip and just plopped a big dollop on the tops of all of these cookies. I didn’t think about it at the time, but they have a certain rose-resembelance now.

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The fun part was crushing the candy canes. I put these guys in a ziploc bag–still with the wrappers on–and closed it. Then I took my super-heavy Pampered Chef meat tenderizer and crushed the hell out of them.

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Side note: I made these last year the same way. Since then, I have noticed a notch missing from my stove. I could not figure out how this happened. Well, as I pounded this years brave peppermint soldiers, I figured it out. I must have hit the side of my stove with the meat tenderizer last year, because I did it again this year. So now I have a bigger notch missing from my stove, but fewer questions as to why.

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I sprinkled the candy cane ashes over my cookies as a garnish and boxed them up. These will certainly be the first cookies my kids devour in full this year.

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Peppermint 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. Yield: 3-1/2 dozen.

Cookies today: 41

Cookies this year: 376

December 8: Brandy Snaps

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Anytime you can incorporate booze in a recipe, I’m on board. I’m not even sure how I found this recipe, other than I was on The Pioneer Woman’s website trying to win a contest (didn’t win) and I guess I saw the picture that goes along for this recipe on there.

I love The Pioneer Woman. I don’t want to be all hipster about this, but I was reading her before she ever had a cookbook out and before she was ever on TV.

She did such a beautiful job documenting how to make these, that my pictures will pale in comparison. I want to be her so bad, but I’m just not. At least, that’s what the courts tell me.

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So I started my slummed-down version of Princess Ree’s Brandy Snaps. I got out my skillet and threw in a stick of butter. Yes. Off to a good start. Then I measured out 1/2 cup of molasses, which took longer than the labor with my first child. I poured the molasses on the butter, which was quite satisfying, and then added the sugar. Before I turned on the stove, I read ahead a little and saw I needed to get my other ingredients ready, since I really, really didn’t want to deal with burnt butter, sugar, and molasses in my nice All Clad skillet.

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I was quite serious about this. When the recipe said to let it boil for a minute, I wasn’t about to take any chances.

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When it was time, I threw in my remaining ingredients and stirred it all up. The final ingredient is brandy, and because we live in Wisconsin, we happen to have a small bottle on hand.

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Wine bottle shown for scale.

Wine bottle shown for scale.

I was unsure if parchment paper would work for this, but I gave it shot anyway. Measured out about a tablespoon per cookie, leaving a lot of space around each one, as the spread out.

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Oh, and I made a mess too.

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Ten minutes later, I pulled the tray out of the oven and thanked Ree for having a picture of what they were supposed to look like. If I hadn’t known, I would have thought something went horribly wrong.

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Now, when I pulled them out of the oven, they reminded me of something else I’ve made in the past: some Chewy Ginger Cardamom cookies that didn’t turn out so well. See?

Not-so Chewy Ginger Cardamom cookies from 2012. If I only I knew then what I know now...

Not-so Chewy Ginger Cardamom cookies from 2012. If I only I knew then what I know now…

But had I known what I could have done with those a couple years ago, maybe I could have made some sort of Ginger Cardamom cannoli. Hindsight is 20/20.

Anyway, I waited a few minutes until the cookies didn’t stretch when lifted, and I wrapped the warm cookies around my stainless steel whisk.

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Turned out really well. I mean, it looked like I was the oil assistant on Kim Kardashian’s latest photo shoot, but that’s the price I paid for deliciousness.

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Now, I will say that not all the cookies turned out so well. I had to set another tray-full on the counter away from the stove, and those cooled much quicker…too quick to wrap. Just so you know.

When I was done with all the cookies, I got going on the whipped cream. I put my mixing bowl in the freezer for 10 minutes, just to make sure it was really cold.

Now, before I start this part of the recipe I want you all to benefit from the wisdom that comes from my mistakes. The VERY last line of Ree’s recipe says something like “Serve immediately.” I didn’t see that until I had already filled the cookies. If you are not planning on serving these immediately, wait to fill the cookies until you are. Disgruntled Husband and I got a little intoxicated on the couch because we didn’t want the cookies to go to waste. This morning, I pulled the container out of the fridge, and the cookies were no longer crispy. In this case, you want them to be crispy, so plan accordingly.

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I made the booze-infused whipped cream and filled my pastry bag with it.

With a star tip, I filled half of the cookie, then turned it around and filled the other half.

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And just so you know, they are divine. ::hiccup::

Brandy Snaps

(from www.thepioneerwoman.com)

Ingredients

  •  COOKIE
  • 1 stick Butter
  • 1/2 cup Molasses
  • 1/4 cup Sugar
  • 1/4 cup Brown Sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon Brandy
  • 3/4 cups Flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon Salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon Ground Ginger
  •  Filling
  • 2 cups Heavy Cream
  • 1/3 cup Sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons Brandy (more To Taste)

Preparation Instructions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with a baking mat or parchment paper.

To make the cookies/shells, melt butter in a skillet with molasses, sugar, and brown sugar over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Allow to bubble and cook for one minute, then turn off heat.

Dump in flour, ginger, and salt. Stir together quickly until just combined, then stir in brandy.

Use a tablespoon to spoon mixture onto cookie sheet; do only eight cookies per sheet, as they will spread out in the oven.

Bake for 10 minutes, or until bubbling in the oven. Remove cookie sheet from oven and allow to cool on the pan for 2 to 3 minutes. Lift up circles one at a time and drape them over a cannoli mold (or a large metal handle of a whisk or potato masher!) The cookies will naturally drape over the mold; help it along by pressing the seal.

Slide cookies off the mold and set them on a cool plate. Repeat with remaining cookies. Be prepared to slightly reshape cookies as they cool. Fill with cream filling when completely cool.

FILLING

Combine cream, sugar, and brandy (make sure cream is very cold.) Place into a cold mixing bowl (chill ahead of time) and mix on high until cream is very stiff. Place cream into a pastry bag fitted with a large tip. Carefully fill cooled brandy snaps. Serve within a couple of hours.

Cookies today: 17

Cookies this year: 335