Holiday Baking Time is Here

Greetings, fellow bakers!

What with Thanksgiving being so late this year, I’m rather behind in planning my holiday baking.  This week I’ve been getting a mind set for the Christmas Holidays, ordering a few gifts, and am just now trying to sort out all those tempting recipes for baking up cookies and other goodies for gift-giving.  It’s at this time of year that I can bake to my heart’s content and not feel guilty about who is going to eat it all.  I’m giving most of it away!!  Each year I struggle with choosing which treats will make the cut and be included in the packages I make for friends and family, and each year the choice becomes more difficult as I always find a couple new must-makes to include.

For many of you Christmas cookies conjure up thoughts of rolled out gingerbread boys and girls, or brightly decorated trees.  I like decorated cookies certainly, but with time having gotten away from me,  my focus this year will be on great texture and superior flavor rather than cutting and piping. I’m also going to try and emphasize some of the popular flavors and get a diverse mixture going.

While I sort this all out and come up with a few treats to share with you, here are some previous favorites that I will be considering  when I finalize my list this week.

Anytime Sugar Cookies

Anytime Sugar Cookies

Of all the incredible holiday cookies out there, in my opinion, nothing beats a great sugar cookie. These Anytime Sugar Cookies  are simply delicious and are so adaptable to any kind of decorating;  frost or not, sprinkles, colored sugars, etc.  They are sure to please.

Funfetti Truffles

Funfetti Truffles

Truffles are always a favorite of mine.  These Funfetti Truffles are so easy to make, and  you can vary the colors and flavors.

Salted Butterscotch Blondies

Salted Butterscotch Blondies

When I’m baking so many large quantities of treats, I aways appreciate something that is simple to make but garners rave reviews every time.  That would be these Salted Butterscotch Blondies.  One batch makes a large panful and goes a long way.

Chocolate Caramel Thumbprints

Chocolate Caramel Thumbprints

Last year I made these Chocolate Caramel Thumbprints and they totally wowed everyone.  Sort of  a pecan pie in cookie form.

Gingerbread Biscotti

Gingerbread Biscotti

Some kind of biscotti are always included in my gift packages.  These chocolate dipped Gingerbread Biscotti with crystalized ginger are my favorites, and everyone who has received them always loves them.

Red Velvet Crinkle Cookies

Red Velvet Crinkle Cookies

These Red Velvet Crinkle Cookies, made from a cake mix, are so festive, they really add color to a cookie platter.  They are so moist and chewy, always a popular addition to a box of treats.

Maraschino cherries in a buttery shortbread cookie, dipped in white chocolate, with colored sprinkles decorating the edges.  I made these Shortbread Cookies for the first time last year and they moved right to the top of my list of favorite cookies.  They are pretty to look at, and the flavor is awesome.  I know I’ll be making these again this year.  Can’t wait!!

If, like me, you do a lot of baking for the Holidays, any one of these recipes would be a good place to start.  By next week I should be better organized with my own baking plans and have some new goodies to share with you.  Happy Baking!  😀

Anytime Frosted Sugar Cookies

Anytime frosted sugar cookies.

Anytime frosted sugar cookies.

Psssst—-Gather ’round everyone, I have a secret to tell you.   You know those soft, frosted sugar cookies that you see in those plastic containers at the grocery store?  The ones that have changing color schemes depending on the season and upcoming holiday?    Well, you can make them at home,  only BETTER!     I don’t buy them myself, but if someone offered me one, I guess I’d have a hard time saying,  ” no, thanks.”   They’re nicely decorated, make you feel festive, and it’s so easy to buy a package and put them out on a plate,  what’s the harm?    Artificial ingredients, that’s what.

I’ve found a recipe for a homemade version that blows the competition right out of the water.    These taste buttery and delicious because, well, they’re made with real butter, with real vanilla, and real eggs.  Real beats artificial every time.  These are easy to make and they can be customized to the season or holiday just by tinting either the cookie dough or the frosting with food coloring and sprinkling on some decorative sugars or jimmies.  The only problem once you make these is that they taste so much better than the store-bought, you won’t want to stop at having just one.  So having a batch of these around is kind of a problem, but at least it’s a good problem to have. 😀

ANYTIME FROSTED SUGAR COOKIES

Yield:  2 – 3 dozen large cookies

Change colors to suit the occasion or holiday.

Change colors to suit the occasion or holiday.

Ingredients:

  • 4  1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4  1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1  1/2 cups ( 3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 5 tsp. vanilla extract

1.  Preheat oven to 350*F.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper or grease lightly.

2.  In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt, and whisk together to blend.

3.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar and beat together on medium-high speed until soft and fluffy, about 2 – 3 minutes.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the bowl as needed.  Blend in the vanilla.

4.  With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients mixing just until incorporated and evenly mixed.  Cover and chill the dough for 1 hour.

5.  When you are ready to bake the cookies, scoop a scant quarter cup of cough and roll into a ball.  Flatten the ball slightly and place on the prepared baking sheet.  Repeat with the remaining dough, spacing the cookies at least 2 – 3 inches apart.  Bake about 10 – 12 minutes or just until set.  (Do not over bake.)  The edges should be only very lightly browned if at all.  Let cool on the baking sheet for several minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Frosting:IMG_5546

  • 4 – 5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1/3 cup  ( 5  1/3 Tbsp.) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 7 – 8 Tbsp. milk, plus more as needed
  • food coloring, optional
  • sprinkles and colored sugars, optional

To frost the cookies:

1.  Place the confectioners’ sugar in a medium bowl.  Add the melted butter, vanilla, and milk to the bowl and whisk until smooth.  Whisk in additional milk as necessary, 1 teaspoon at a time, until you reach your desired consistency.  Tint with food coloring if desired.  Use an offset spatula or knife to frost the cooled cookies.  Top with sprinkles as desired.   Store in an air-tight container.

Let frosting dry before storing in air tight container.

Let frosting dry before storing in air tight container.

SOURCE:    Martha Stewart

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Cookies

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Cookies

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Cookies

Happy Halloween, everyone.  There are no tricks today, just treats!!

Every fall–it never fails, when the leaves start to fall and the weather gets crisp, I start thinking about these cookies–it’s crazy.  Usually I like my cookies to be crisp or chewy, but these are the exception.  They have a cake-like consistency which seems perfect and they taste like a combination of pumpkin pie and chocolate.  After they have cooled I like to drizzle some vanilla glaze over the tops to dress them up a little.   Honestly, they are the best pumpkin cookies I’ve ever tried!

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CHOCOLATE CHIP PUMPKIN COOKIES

Yield:  about 2 dozen cookies, depending on size

Ingredients:

Pumpkin,  spices and chocolate chips = Yummy

Pumpkin + spices + chocolate chips = Yummy

  • 1 cup pumpkin puree ( canned or homemade)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil ( can use applesauce instead)
  • 1 egg
  • 3 drops red or orange food coloring (optional)**
  • 2 cups flour ( white, whole wheat, or a combination)
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. milk
  • 1 cup chocolate chips (we love dark chocolate chips)
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Directions

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 *F.  Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.

2.  In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, sugars, oil and egg.  Add food coloring, if using.

3.  In another bowl, Whisk together the flour, baking powder, spices and salt.

4.  Dissolve the baking soda in the milk and set aside.

5.  Add flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture and stir together.  Stir in the baking soda/milk mixture and mix well.  Stir in vanilla, chocolate chips and nuts.

6.  Drop by tablespoon onto prepared cookie sheet (s) and bake at 350* for approximately 10 minutes or until lightly brown and firm.    I like to roll the dough into a ball and then flatten a little with a fork for a uniform look.  It makes the tops smoother if you plan to drizzle with icing.  An orange butter cream icing on top is wonderful also.

A little frosting drizzled on top fancies them up.

A little frosting drizzled on top fancies them up.

** These cookies will not be orange, therefore by adding the red or orange food coloring, you bring out the orange color of pumpkin.  Somehow when they look like pumpkin, the flavor of pumpkin seems to be more pronounced.  No kidding!

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SOURCE:   ALL RECIPES.COM

Apple Spice Snickerdoodles

Apples and cookies just seem to go together in the fall, don’t they?  And along about now bake sales start happening again.  I was involved in baking for a sale this past weekend, and these are the cookies I contributed.

Apple Spice Snickerdoodles

Apple Spice Snickerdoodles

At most bake sales that I’ve been to the cookies that are the standard favorites  seem to be chocolate chip, sugar and peanut butter.  But I really like snickerdoodles.  Buttery, light, and slightly  crunchy with that crusty coating of sugar that makes it impossible to stop at just one.  Although  this cookie is a classic, it seems to get forgotten, so I decided to give it a slight makeover by incorporating apple into the cookie dough through the use of apple cider (or apple juice), and adding apple pie spice mix to the sugar coating.  As I said apples and cookies just seem to go together and these give you a fresh apple flavor that’s hard to resist.

Buttery, light and crunchy with a sugar-spice coating.

Buttery, light and crunchy with a sugar-spice coating.

I was told that the sale of these cookies was brisk, so I was happy that folks were adventurous in sampling a new twist on an old favorite.  You may want to try them too.

APPLE SPICE SNICKERDOODLESIMG_5220

Yield:  about 40 – 48 cookies

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup shortening, butter flavored preferred
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1  1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup apple cider, or apple juice
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2  3/4 cups all-purpose flour

For coating:

  • 2 tsp. apple pie spice
  • 1/2 cup sugar

1.  Preheat oven to 400 *F.  Lightly grease or line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

2.  In a medium bowl, beat together the shortening, butter, and 1 1/2 cups sugar until smooth, then beat in the egg, again beating until smooth.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Beat in the cider, baking powder and salt, then add the flour, mixing slowly until combined.

3.  In a separate shallow small bowl, mix together the apple pie spice with the 1/2 cup sugar.

4.  Drop the soft dough by the tablespoonful into the sugar mixture.  Gently roll the dough balls in the sugar until evenly coated.  Place them on prepared cookie sheets, leaving about 1 1/2″ between them.  Gently flatten each cookie until it’s about 1/2″ thick.

Roll each ball of dough in the sugar mixture, then flatten.

Roll each ball of dough in the sugar mixture, then flatten.

5.  Bake for 9 to 11 minutes, or until lightly golden.  Remove from the oven and let them cool on a rack.    Store at room temperature in a covered container.

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SOURCE:   Slightly modified from The Taste of Home Baking Book

Not Your Average Cup of Joe

Coffee Macadamia Nut Biscotti

Coffee Macadamia Nut Biscotti

In Ka’u, the historic district of the Big Island of Hawaii, coffee and  Hawaii Volcanoes National Park are the two big things.  The area is home to about 50 coffee plantations that ship beans around the world.  Four years ago, the community created an annual weeklong K’au Coffee Festival, that included a recipe contest.  It has since become one of its most popular events.  Last year’s winner created this recipe that was the grand-prize winner.  Oddly enough, this talented baker doesn’t drink coffee, but nevertheless she was able to come up with this winning recipe.

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These coffee-spiked biscotti include other Ka’u ingredients like local honey, macadamia nuts and toasted coconut.  Even if you’ve never been to Hawaii, you can get a taste of the local flavor by making these award-winning biscotti.  They are really good with a cup of hot coffee or iced coffee.

COFFEE-MACADAMIA NUT BISCOTTI

Yield:  Makes 30 – 35 cookiesIMG_4531

Ingredients:

  • 2  3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup ground coffee
  • 1 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
  • 1 12-oz. bag white chocolate chips
  • 1  1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut, toasted

1.  Preheat the oven to 350*F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2.  Whisk the flour, coffee, cocoa powder, baking soda and cinnamon in a medium bowl.  Combine the sugar, butter, honey, vanilla, and eggs in a large bowl with a mixer on medium-high speed.   Reduce the mixer speed to low, beat in the flour mixture until just combined.  Stir in the macadamia nuts with a wooden spoon.

3.  Form the dough into two  8 – 10 inch logs on the prepared baking sheet, about 3 inches apart.  Bake until browned about 25 minutes.  Let cool 10 minutes, then cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices using a serrated knife.

4.  Reduce the oven temperature to 325*F.  Arrange the slices cut-side down on the baking sheet; return to the oven and bake 20 more minutes, flipping the cookies over halfway through.  Let cool 10 minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer to racks to cool completely.

5.  Melt the white chocolate chips in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water  (do not let the bowl touch the water), stirring until smooth.  Dip the biscotti partway into the melted chocolate, then roll in the toasted coconut.

This is how I stand them up to dry.

This is how I stand them up to dry.

Place on a baking sheet lined with fresh parchment; refrigerate until set, about 30 minutes.

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I spread chocolate on only one side of some of them, and sprinkled with coconut.

I spread chocolate on only one side of some of them, and sprinkled with coconut.

SOURCE:   Food Network Magazine

Very Berry Strawberry Cookies

Very Berry Strawberry  Cookies

Very Berry Strawberry Cookies

This is the time of year when strawberries are reappearing at the market and they look so beautiful; red, ripe and juicy.  They never fail to get my creative juices flowing.  The native berries that grow here where I live have not ripened yet  (usually not till the end of May), so until those are available I will use the California-grown berries available at the market.

However, I have found from past experience  that baking with strawberries does not produce a true, vivid strawberry flavor.  They are so much more enjoyable in their natural state, luscious and juicy with just a little sugar on them.  So for baking I have been exploring ways to get a true strawberry flavor.  I think I have found the answer, and it happened quite by accident.  One morning I was eating Special K cereal with Red Berries and was struck by how strong the berry flavor was.  These freeze-dried strawberries had the color and flavor I have been looking for.  So I searched the dried fruits section of the supermarket and there I found bags of freeze-dried strawberries.

Freeze dried strawberries can be pulverized into powder.

Freeze dried strawberries can be pulverized into powder.

Bingo!  I was on to something.  Reasoning that if I could crush or pulverize those freeze dried berries and mix the powder into the dough,  I could get the strong flavor I wanted.    I love to experiment,  so I was excited to give this a try.  The results, I’m happy to tell you, were quite good.   Using a recipe I had for a basic sugar cookie that also uses some cream cheese, and adding the strawberry powder to the dough,  I got a tender cookie with a pretty pink color and real strawberry flavor.  They are just great on their own, but you know what?   You can also mix this strawberry powder into cream cheese frosting and make sandwich cookies for a double-whammy of strawberry goodness.  (Notice that I’m not mentioning calories here!)    Ok, Ok, let’s be reasonable.  Let’s enjoy these cookies with a dish of strawberry ice cream instead!!!

The perfect accompaniment to Very Strawberry ice cream.

The perfect accompaniment to Very Strawberry ice cream.

VERY BERRY STRAWBERRY  COOKIES

Yield:   Makes about 4 1/2 dozen 2″ cookies, or 27 sandwich cookies

For the Cookies:

  •  1 cup  ( 2 sticks) butter
  • 1/2 cup  ( 4 ounces) cream cheese at room temperature.  Reduced fat version is OK.
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 cup strawberry powder
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 cups flour,  I used half white whole wheat flour;

For the Filling:

  • 1/2 cup cream cheese  (4-ounces)
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons strawberry powder
  • 1 Tablespoon strawberry jam
  • milk or cream as needed for spreading consistency

To make the cookies:

1.  Preheat oven to 375*F.  Lightly grease two baking sheets or line with parchment paper.

2.  Begin by crushing the dry strawberries.  I used a mortar and pestle and was able to get a fine powder with little or no lumps.  If you have difficulty getting it smooth, you can always sift the powder to remove any lumps.   Measure 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons if making the filling.

3.  In a large bowl, cream together the butter, cream cheese, salt and baking powder, strawberry powder and sugars.

Mixing up the cream cheese, butter, sugars and strawberry powder.

Mixing up the cream cheese, butter, sugars and strawberry powder.

4.  Once the mixture is nice and light and fluffy, beat in the egg and then mix in the flour.

5.  Scoop by the tablespoon onto the prepared baking sheets.  Flatten each cookie into a 2″ circle with the bottom of a glass dipped into sugar.

Drop by tablespoon onto baking sheet and flatten into  2-inch circles.

Drop by tablespoon onto baking sheet and flatten into 2-inch circles.

Bake for 14 – 16 minutes, until barely golden around the edges.  Remove from the oven and cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely.  Makes about 54 cookies.

To make the filling:

1.  Beat the cream cheese until soft and fluffy.  Add the strawberry jam, and blend into the cream cheese.  Add the sugar and strawberry powder gradually  along with small amounts of milk or cream to achieve a spreading consistency.

2.  Generously frost the bottom side of one cookie and top with another to make a tasty sandwich.  Makes about 27 sandwich cookies.

These are not going to last long.

These are not going to last long.

You can never have too much of a very good thing!

You can never have too much of a very good thing!

SOURCE;  a Carolyn Original based on a modified recipe for sugar cookies from Taste of Home

Lemon Tassies

Lemon Tassies

Lemon Tassies

A “tassie” is a small cup-shaped cookie or tart, and comes from the Scottish word tass + ie. which means small cup.  Taking this idea to its simplest form I made the lemon tassies from supplies that I had on hand.  They were extremely easy to make and insanely good to eat.

I started with a package of refrigerated sugar cookie dough,  the kind that comes in a block and can be separated into 24 “squares”,  one for each cookie.  Using two mini-muffin pans,  I placed a block of cookie dough into each well, and with my fingers pressed it to cover the bottom, and up the sides of the muffin cups.  Then I baked them.  After baking, there was a depression in the center of each one where I spooned about 1 teaspoon of lemon curd.

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The heat from the still warm cookies, softened the curd so that it spread and filled the depression.  After they were completely cool, I put a dab of white frosting on each one.  (Frosting was left over from a previous baking project.)  If I didn’t already have the frosting, I would have dusted them with confectioners’ sugar, because I thought they needed something white on them for garnish.  For a special occasion a candied flower, like a violet, would be a lovely garnish.

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When first made the cookie part was crisp, but I kept them in a covered container, and the next day the cookie had softened and become chewy.  That seemed to fit the smooth, lemony filling better and we liked them better that way.

For some reason I always seem to want something lemon in spring time, and I already had a small amount of lemon curd that I had made, so that’s how I came up with this idea.  I think these little finger cookies ( or tarts) would be great served at a tea, a Mother’s Day Brunch,  a shower, or any other springtime occasion.

A few simple supplies are all you need:

  • mini-muffin pans, for a total of 24 cookies
  • 1 package of preformed , refrigerated sugar cookie dough, 24/pkg.
  • 1 jar lemon curd, or your own homemade.**
  • a small amount of vanilla frosting, or other garnish

Spray the muffin cups with non-stick spray.  Preheat the oven as the cookie package suggests.

Place one block of cookie dough in each of the muffin cups; with your fingers press to cover the bottom and up the sides to form a shell.

Press dough into the wells of a mini-muffin pan.

Press dough into the wells of a mini-muffin pan.

Bake for the recommended time on the cookie package, starting to check on them early, so they don’t get too brown.  Remove from the oven, and while still warm, spoon about 1 teaspoon of the lemon curd into the depression of each cookie.

After baking the shells, fill depressions with lemon curd.

After baking the shells, fill depressions with lemon curd.

Allow to cool completely on a wire rack,  loosening the cookies so they don’t stick.

Garnish the top of each cookie with your choice of frosting or other decorative garnish.

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**If lemon curd is not available, any flavor of jam would be a nice substitute.

SOURCE:  A Carolyn Original

Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Who doesn’t like chocolate chip cookies?   If a vote were taken for favorite cookie they would probably win by a landslide, and it seems as though every cook has their favorite recipe for making them.   Mine would have to be the traditional Toll-House cookie, so I don’t usually look at other recipes for chocolate chippers.   But you know how popular the addition of salt has become in the dessert world, so when I happened on this recipe for Salted Chocolate Chip cookies, I was curious what they would be like and had to try them.

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A sprinkle of salt on the cookies before baking is the finishing touch that brings out the chocolate flavor and tones down the sweetness, creating the ultimate sweet and salty snack.  We found these cookies to have a very nice taste, but they do flatten out quite a bit as they bake.  I normally like a thick, chunky cookie with lots of depth to bite into, and these were not that, but I did enjoy that hit of salt against the sweetness of the chocolate.  These cookies are crisp on the outside but chewy on the inside; a nice contrast in textures.  We both liked them enough for me to make them again, so I would recommend you try them especially if you would like to experience that sweet and salty combination.

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After baking the first sheet of cookies and seeing how they turned out, I put the remaining two sheets in the refrigerator to chill the dough and firm up the butter, before they hit the heat of the oven.  It’s important also be keep your oven at 375*F  throughout the baking time. For best results  bake only one sheet of cookies at a time, instead of two and rotating them, as the recipe suggests.

When using salt on your desserts, a sprinkle of one of the following will get the job done—just don’t use table salt.   Kosher salt, large crystals, dissolve quickly;   flaky sea salt,  light, crunchy texture, provides ideal finishing touch on cookies, etc.;  coarse sea salt,  grains are crunchy, but don’t dissolve as quickly, good with assertive flavors and textures.

SALTED CHOCOLATE CHUNK COOKIES

YIELD:   makes about 30 cookies

INGREDIENTSIMG_3423

  • 1  1/2  cups flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 cup  ( 1 stick ) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup ( packed ) light brown sugar
  • 1/2 granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 8 oz. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips or chunks
  • flaky sea salt

1.  Preheat oven to 375*F.  Prepare baking sheets with non-stick spray or line with parchment paper.

2.  Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda in a medium bowl; set aside.

3.  Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter, brown sugar, sugar, and powdered sugar until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes.  Add eggs and vanilla.  Beat, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl, until mixture is pale and fluffy,  4-5 minutes.  Reduce mixer speed to low; slowly add dry ingredients, mixing just to blend.  Using a spatula, fold in chocolate.

4.  Spoon rounded tablespoons full of cookie dough onto prepared baking sheets, spacing 1″ apart.  Sprinkle cookies with sea salt.

5.  Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through, until just golden brown around the edges, 10 – 12 minutes.  Cookies will firm up as they cool.  Let cool slightly on baking sheets, then transfer to wire racks;  let cool completely.   Store airtight at room temperature.

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SOURCE:   adapted from Bon Appetit,  January, 2013

Pecan Sour Cream Sandies

Pecan Sour Cream Sandies for Valentines Day

Pecan Sour Cream Sandies for Valentines Day

When I was young my favorite cookies were Keebler’s Pecan Sandies.  What I loved about them was the thickness of the cookie, and how rich and crunchy they were.  That was my after school snack with a glass of milk.  I don’t know if they even exist anymore.   I no longer look for them because I don’t buy packaged cookies at the grocery store  when I bake so frequently at home.

This recipe came to my attention one year around the holidays  when I was lining up the cookies I planned to bake for Christmas.  It has since become a favorite, and if I don’t make it for the holidays, I usually make it at some other time during the year.  The dough is easy to make and although initially a little sticky, after chilling a while it firms up and becomes a very forgiving and manageable dough for cut-out cookies.  Since there are all sorts of cookie cutters available for just about any occasion, this dough is a good one to have in your recipe box as a dependable go-to when you want to make a cookie that will always come out good.  If you bake for someone who is nut-sensitive, just leave out the nuts, they will still be a delicious butter cookie.

On a side note:  I used to wonder what it was about pecans that makes them so expensive, when they are widely grown in the South, and used lavishly in southern cuisine.  During my vacation in North Carolina last fall, I think I learned the answer.  The folks we visited have a large pecan tree on their property–see photo below–and it was laden with pecans that hung in clusters.  I thought the tree was beautifully shaped and so I took a picture of it.   I did not realize that a pecan tree can grow to such a large size.

A pecan tree.

A pecan tree.

Not quite ripe pecans in their pods.

Not quite ripe pecans in their pods.

When the nuts are ripe the pods which hold them crack open and the pecan in its shell falls to the ground where they are picked up.  The quantity of nuts a tree will produce in any one year varies,  some years are “good’ and other years “not so good”. Weather and rainfall play a big part.  The pecan is one really protected little nut.  It resides inside the tan-brown shell that we recognize, but that shell is covered by another outer green shell or pod.  If you have ever shelled pecans you know how difficult that can be especially if you want perfect halves.  I don’t know how they are harvested commercially, but for folks who have a pecan tree, harvesting and cracking pecans is a lot of work.  Knowing this helps me to understand and appreciate their price.

Here is the recipe for the pecan sandies.  I made these as part of my cookie packages for Valentines Day this year.  I like to give gifts of home-baked treats to close friends and family for V-Day, a day for love, hearts and all things frilly!

PECAN AND SOUR CREAM SANDIES

Decorated treats!

Decorated treats!

YIELD:   Makes about 5 dozen cookies, depending on size of cutter used.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1/2 cup pecans
  • 2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 recipe Royal Icing (recipe below)

1.  Grind the 1/2 cup pecans in a nut grinder or food processor.  Stir together the nuts, flour and baking powder in a bowl.

Mix finely chopped nuts with flour.

Mix finely chopped nuts with flour.

2.  In large mixer bowl beat butter about 30 seconds.  Add sugar;  beat till fluffy.  Add egg, sour cream, and vanilla; beat well.

Creaming butter, sugar, egg, sour cream and vanilla.

Creaming butter, sugar, egg, sour cream and vanilla.

3.  Add dry ingredients, beating till well combined.  Divide dough in half, cover and chill at least 3 hours, or overnight.

An easy to work with dough.

An easy to work with dough.

4.  Working with half the dough at a time, on a lightly floured surface, roll to 1/8 inch thickness.  Cut with desired cookie cutters.  (Or dough may be shaped into 1-inch balls).  Place on silpat or parchment-lined baking sheets.  Chill each pan of cookies while you cut the next batch.  Bake cutout cookies in 375*F oven for 7 – 8 minutes,  shaped cookies for about 10 minutes.  Remove to a wire rack to cool.

Cookies cooling before frosting.

Cookies cooling before frosting.

5.  Spread with Royal Icing, sprinkle with nuts, decorative sugars, or other kinds of trims.

Royal Icing, tinted pink

Royal Icing, tinted pink

IMG_3054Royal Icing is a smooth fluid icing that holds its shape well and sets hard.  Once it is set you can carefully write on it with gel-food pens.

ROYAL ICING

In a mixer bowl, beat 1 egg white till frothy.  Add 1 1/2 cups sifted powdered sugar, 1 Tablespoon lemon juice, and a dash of salt.  Beat well.  Add a drop or two of food coloring (optional) to all or part of the glaze.  Decorate as desired.

Various sizes of square cookies.

Various sizes of square cookies.

I cut my cookies with several sizes of square cutters, divided the icing and tinted half of it pink, then stacked some of them, sprinkled some of them, and wrote on others with food-gel pens.  Simply done, but pretty.  Oh, the large cookie with the heart on it (a one of a kind) I will put into Mr. D’s lunch as a surprise!

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SOURCE:  Better Homes and Gardens Special Edition, Baking for the Holidays

Nutella Crackles

Nutella Crackle Cookies

Nutella Crackle Cookies

Does the thought of Nutella make you swoon?  It does me.  I love the stuff, but I tend to forget about it hiding there in the back of the cupboard.  Then when I see the jar it’s like meeting up with an old friend, picking up just where we left off.  You might say we have an “on and off” relationship.

Wouldn't you like to taste one?

Wouldn’t you like to taste one?

I had that same reaction when I saw George Clooney recently in the movie, The Descendants.  He was so good in that role.  I had forgotten how much I like him, until I saw him again.  The same for Rosemary Clooney,  she is one of my all-time favorite singers.  There is nobody who can make you feel a song like she could, and I love to dance to her music.  It’s so romantic, dreamy, jazzy, and cool.  Isn’t it odd that I have such strong feelings for the two of them?  They both make me swoon. You could say that I get swooney for Clooney.  Did you know that Rosemary was George’s aunt?  Yes, his father’s sister.  Such a talented family.

Likewise, just a taste of Nutella is all it takes to make me swoon for it and want to create something sinfully delicious.  I think this recipe for Nutella Crackles has what it takes on all counts:  crispy sugary exterior, crunchy with nuts;  a surprisingly chewy interior, the perfect blend of hazelnuts and chocolate.  Try them, you might get “swooney”, too.

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NUTELLA CRACKLES

YIELD:   about 4 dozen cookies

INGREDIENTS

Beat up the Nutella, butter and sugar.

Beat up the Nutella, butter and sugar.

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 – 1/4 cup Nutella spread
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 – 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon instant expresso powder
  • 2 large eggs,
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 – 1/2 cups hazelnuts, chopped fine
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar

1.  Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.

2.  With electric mixer on medium speed, beat Nutella, butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add vanilla, expresso powder, and eggs and mix until incorporated.  Reduce speed to low.  Add flour mixture and milk, and mix until just combined.  Fold in 2/3 cup hazelnuts.   Refrigerate dough until firm, about 1 hour.

3.  Preheat oven to 375*F.  Line baking sheets with silpat or parchment paper.

4.  Place remaining hazelnuts in a shallow bowl. Place confectioners’ sugar in another shallow bowl.   One at a time, roll dough into 1-inch balls, roll in nuts, then in confectioners’ sugar.  Place balls 1 1/2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets.  Refrigerate the first sheet while preparing the next sheet.  Bake the first sheet and all others for approximately 8 minutes.  As each sheet is baking, chill one while you make up the next.

Cooling Cookies.

Cooling Cookies.

5.  Transfer to wire cooling racks to cool completely.  Repeat with all dough.

Crispy, chewy, deliciousness

Crispy, chewy, deliciousness

SOURCE:  Taste of Home Baking