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 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 3: Shortbread

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Shortbread (from Old World Garden Farms)

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup butter, room temperature

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 1/2 cups flour

INSTRUCTIONS:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

1. In a large mixing bowl add butter and sugar and cream together.

2. Slowly add flour and mix just until incorporated.

3. On a lightly floured surface work the dough until it forms a ball.

4. Roll out the dough to 1/2 – 1/3 inch thickness.

5. Using cooking cutters, cut into desired shapes. Or cut into small rectangular shapes.

Today’s cookie is a new recipe for me, but it’s so simple, I still feel like I’m cheating. Shortbread is amazing…buttery, delicious, and only three ingredients. I frosted mine to give them a little more appeal, but honestly, my intended cookie-eaters today wouldn’t have cared if they were plain.

Oh yes, my intended cookie-eaters were my students. You see, my school recently acquired a table top oven, with the hopes that some kids will want to take fun baking classes with me.

Normally this holds my computer and not much else!

I wanted to take it out for a spin. This thing is not big by any means, but it did the trick beautifully. Cookies came out like they would at my house, but in smaller batches.

Now, the thing is about baking at a remote location–you have to pack everything up to take there. And this was not a fun part of my day. Between ingredients (even though there were just 3), bowls, frosting, a cooling rack, and few more things, I had to have help bringing all of this into the school today. Plus, acquiring said items made me late for work, and I hate being late. I hope offering my boss the first warm cookie from the oven helped him forgive my tardiness!

Since I work with kids, I had lots of helpers and lots of tasters. My students are 6th-12th grades, so their help resembles more actual help than if I had “helpers” of a younger variety.

But with that also came the downside…larger helpers have larger appetites. Sadly, I have no cookies left. I guess I shouldn’t say sadly though, because these kids were the most enthused and motivated as I’ve ever seen them! And the teachers were excited too! Eventually everyone’s noses led them to where I was with my mini-oven. It was amazing at what the smell of fresh baked cookies can do for people!

Literally all that were left after I remembered to take a picture. And then *these* were gone 5 minutes later!

One of my students said, “We’re baking cookies as a family.” And coming out of the mouth of a 15 year-old aspiring rapper, I was definitely touched. They may not be my own kids, but I think of them as part of my family, too!

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 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 11: Cesca’s White Chocolate Dipped Ginger Cookies

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Because I’m in a typhoon of grading/writing/shuttling kids, I’m going to leave this one as a pictorial today, along with the recipe. It’s like all these people that pay me expect me to finish my work on time. 

Do the recipe. Roll in sugar. Smash with glass and bake.

White Chocolate Dipped Ginger Cookies

(from http://www.cookingclassy.com)

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup + 3 Tbsp granulated sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 cups white chocolate chips
  • 3 Tbsp shortening
  • sprinkles

Directions:

  • In a mixing bowl whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg for 20 seconds, set aside.
  • In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter, 1/2 cup granulated sugar and brown sugar until well blended. Mix in egg, then blend in molasses and vanilla. With mixer set on low speed, slowly add in dry ingredients and mix until combined. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill 1 hour. Preheat oven to 350 degrees during last 10 minutes of chilling.
  • Scoop dough out about 1 1/2 Tbsp at a time, shape into balls then roll in remaining 3 Tbsp granulated sugar. Transfer to Silpat or parchment paper lined baking sheets, spacing cookies 2 inches apart (keep dough chilled that is not currently baking), flatten tops just slightly (to evenly level). Bake in preheated oven 8 – 10 minutes. Cool on baking sheet several minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  • In a microwave safe bowl, melt 1 cup white chocolate chips with 1 Tbsp shortening at a time in microwave on HIGH power in 10 second intervals, stirring between intervals, until melted, smooth and fairly runny (I did batches of it because it will cool as your dipping, plus its easy to burn so you don’t want to work with too much of it at a time. Then once you’ve used it up melt more, you may not need all 3 cups). Dip half of each cookie in melted white chocolate mixture then run bottom of cookie slightly along edge of bowl to remove excess, then return to Silpat or parchment paper to set at room temperature.
  • Sprinkle sprinkles on top, after the long journey to decide which ones to use

December 9: Meringue Cookies

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We had a busy day today. Or it at least seemed busy. We had pretty much one thing to do today, and it was at 4, but somehow the day got away from me. It was 2 before I started the cookies, which is why this post is a little later than normal. 

My kids love meringue cookies, especially these, and so do I . It’s something with the cinnamon in it, I think. These are a staple in our home at Christmas, well until they all get eaten. They go pretty quickly. 

To start these cookies, you need four egg whites. I found a new method for separating eggs earlier this month, and it works really well. Yes, I use my hand.

After the egg whites are frothy, I add the almond extract, cinnamon, cream of tartar, and powdered sugar. I keep whipping them until there are stiff peaks. 

This is not a stiff peak.

This is a stiff peak. 

Then comes the fun part…loading the decorating bag with gobs of sticky meringue. Thankfully, there were no casualties this year.

It always takes me a few tries before I find my rhythm. For this batch, I found it easier to put the tip on the cookie sheet, rather than start it above where I wanted it. To me, it looks more like snowflakes like this. After I piped them all, I found different colored sugars and shook them over the snowflake globs. I used a shimmery white, light blue, and gold, but you really can only see the gold. It’s cool; I know it’s there. 

I left for the 4 pm band concert at 3 (hey, those seats aren’t going to save themselves) and left the cookie sheets out to dry. When I came back at 6, they were no dryer than when I left, so I popped them in a 210 degree oven for about 25 minutes, and that seemed to do the trick.

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 7: Italian Sand Cookies

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Yesterday was my last day of the semester, so now it’s just grading to get done and I’m free until January! Well, minus my other gigs and parenting and general adulting. But I’m not worrying about those things today. Today, it was sleeping in, cleaning, and making Italian Sand Cookies. 

I found the recipe for this years ago on Pinterest, and ever since, they’ve been a staple in my December cookie baking. However, during the three Louisiana years, they didn’t turn out quite right. I’m not sure if it was the humidity or my own distraction (you know, leaving the mixer on too long while I write another paragraph about Elizabeth Barrett Browning), but they spread out way too much there. We still ate them, so I’m not exactly sure what I’m complaining about. 

Again, the recipe amuses me. It lists all of the ingredients, and for the directions, it says, “Creaming method.” If you don’t know what that is, it’s mixing together the butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla. 

It’s pretty simple really. Then you add the cornstarch and flour, and mix it all together. Again, I needed more flour than the recipe calls for…I used about another 1/3 of a cup. And when I was all done mixing, I looked for my beater-lickers, but alas, they were all at school.

So I guess I had to do it. It’s a sacrifice I was willing to make.

I piped them with a star tip onto my baking sheet and put them in the over. I also kinda burst the bag because I don’t know my own strength, and then had to put my finger over that part so the dough wouldn’t come out there. These are the behind the scenes things you don’t get with professional baking blogs.

They baked up wonderfully and looked the way they were supposed to look.  After they cooled, I dipped them in melted chocolate (chocolate chips with a little crisco to make it thinner), and topped them with sprinkles. These take a while to dry, so I set them outside on my back step for 15 minutes. (Thanks 21 degree Illinois day!)

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.

Welcome to December 2018!

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So we’ve made it to the end of this crazy year. A lot has changed for me this year–I have graduated from grad school (with TWO masters degrees), packed up the kids and cats and moved 1000 miles to the suburbs of Chicago, and somehow found a job in my field. 

When people ask me what I do for fun, I have to think. I’ve been so used to not having time for hobbies, that I’m lost when this question is asked. However, I realized that this is what I do for fun. I bake cookies. I look for complicated or classic recipes. I collect sprinkles. (Seriously. I think I have a problem.) 

I have been doing this crazy 24 days of cookies thing officially since 2004. I started posting my recipes on Facebook in 2008, and created this website in 2012. I’ve gone through a lot of sugar, a lot of butter, and a lot of my sanity. 

So welcome to this leg of my yearly journey. This year, I’m going to do something different and have at least 50% new recipes. Please tell me what you think, and if you’re following along with me. I love to hear from all of you!

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.