Friday, December 19, 2014

Cookiemaggedon - 2014 Edition

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Happy Advent, everyone! Silence, silence, silence and then WHAM-O!!! Mega update in one night. That’s how I roll. It's been too busy to write amidst all the baking (except for all the catching up I just did). But I am very happy to report (from my desk, listening to jazz holiday on Pandora while the world sleeps) that I am now in the post-apocalyptic phase of cookiemaggedon wherein I am actively foisting cookies upon hapless visitors and friends. The real point of making hundreds of dozens of cookies (not exaggerating) was to create  nice, thoughtful gifts for my husband's sales clients. Translated for you: 29 platters of cookies to give away (plus 7 plates to keep for our own numerous Christmas functions, 2 packages to mail to out-of-town siblings, 3 plates for classroom parties, and 7 plates to give to wonderful neighbors new and old).

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I made 13 varieties of cookies over a period of 9 days. Not going to lie - it was intense. And intensely messy. A few dozen cookies got burnt. By the end, I was an oven-mitt-wearing, floury-be-aproned kitchen zombie. There were probably pecan bits and coconut flakes in my hair, but my hands had never felt more moisturized after rolling and cutting out about a million buttery cookies. Delicious... Buttery... Cookies...

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The 2014 line-up, hyperlinked for your convenience (the starred ones are new to me this year!):

Rolled and cut out cookies:
My family favorite Sugar Cookies
Classic Gingerbread

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Shaped cookies:
Cranberry Ribbon Icebox Cookies
Split Second Cookies (aka Jam Logs - some apricot and some serviceberry from our trees)

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Bar cookies:
*Raspberry Coconut Magic Bars
Magic Cookie Bars (though I only made them with 6 layers this year... No pecans)
*English Toffee Bars

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Drop cookies:
Gingerbread Drop Cookies (I will add more molasses next year so they aren’t the spiced twin of the PB cookies)
Mint Chocolate Chip Sugar Cookies
*Soft Peanut Butter Cookies
Natalie’s Chocolate Crinkles

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No bake cookies:
*Coconut Pecan Pralines
*Mint Oreo Bark

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Folks, THAT WAS A LOT OF COOKIES! But they were all scrumptious. My underdog favorite turned out to be the Pralines. Too good. Had to give them away! If you like German chocolate cake with The Frosting... Well... Mom and Dad, you'll love them.

I feel very happy and proud to have accomplished such a monumental task. Of course, as is always the case, other aspects of  life suffered… and there was a little bit of cookie snitching and hiding under TV tray tables… but overall it was a good BIG experience for me and filled my need for creativity in the absence of other, less-edible pursuits. And hopefully these small but numerous labors of love will be enjoyed thoroughly my husband’s clients as well as our family and friends.

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Snitched cookies are guilty pleasures.  Sneaking pictures of snitching munchkins… totally guilt-free!

No-Bake Coconut Pecan Pralines

My new favorite no-bake cookie! And gluten-free, if that’s your thing :)

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Coconut Pecan Pralines

Ingredients
  • 2-1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk
  • 1/2 cup corn syrup
  • 1 stick salted butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2-1/2 cups chopped pecans
  • 2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
Directions

1. In a medium sized bowl, combine coconut and pecans; set aside.

2. In a heavy saucepan over medium high heat, stir sugar, evaporated milk, corn syrup and butter. Cook and stir until mixture comes to a full rolling boil -- let boil and stir for 3 minutes.

3. Remove pan from heat and stir in vanilla and coconut and pecan mixture. Stir off the heat for about 4 minutes, until mixture starts to cool and thicken.

4. Drop by large spoonfuls on wax paper (small cookie scoops work well). Let harden completely – a couple hours-- before serving or storing.

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English Toffee Bars

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English Toffee Bars

Ingredients
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup pecan halves
  • ⅔ cup butter
  • ⅓ cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Chips
Directions

1. Heat oven to 350°F.

2. Combine flour and brown sugar in bowl of your food processor. Add butter and process until fine crumbs form. Press mixture onto bottom of ungreased 13x9x2-inch baking pan. Sprinkle pecans over crust. Prepare toffee topping; drizzle evenly over pecans and crust.

3. Bake 20 to 22 minutes or until topping is bubbly and golden; remove from oven. Immediately sprinkle milk chocolate chips evenly over top; press gently onto surface. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Cut into bars.

TOFFEE TOPPING: Combine 2/3 cup butter and 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar in small saucepan; cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Continue boiling, stirring constantly, 30 seconds. Use immediately.

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Cranberry Ribbon Icebox Cookies

I adapted this amazing recipe from a site called From My Sweet Heart, only because I was too lazy to type out the recipe shared with me by the Tholen family. My generous and fun college roommate was the lucky recipient of a care package from her mom one year near finals, and it contained some of these… I don’t think I had ever eaten anything rivaling my love of chocolate before then, but we agreed that these cookies were IT. And still are. Thanks for that care package, Mama Tholen!!
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I wanted to use only cranberry instead of the cherry preserves (which I did not have on hand, unlike the 4 pounds of fresh cranberries), so I made my own cranberry preserves to substitute (in case that suits your needs too). Pretty sure the jam recipe I used is here on Popsugar. I used some and put some up in jars some for the future. Tasty!
This recipe is so delicious and makes such pretty cookies, but it makes you work. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
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Cranberry Ribbon Icebox Cookies
Ingredients
  • 2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 3/4 cup of sugar
  • 1 Tablespoons of unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 Tablespoon of pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 5 oz. of dried sweetened cranberries
  • 1/2 cup of cherry jam or preserves (I subbed my own cranberry jam)
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons of sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon of almond extract
Directions

For the cranberry filling:

Place the cranberries, jam and sugar in a food processor and process until it is coarsely pureed. Transfer to a small saucepan and heat over medium-high, stirring occasionally. When the mix just comes to a boil, remove from heat and let cool. Stir in almond extract and cover and refrigerate for 1 hr. and is well chilled. This can be made up to 4 days in advance.

For the shortbread dough:

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. With an electric mixer on medium, cream sugar and butter until smooth and well blended. Add the egg, vanilla and almond extracts and beat till well blended. Add the flour mixture and beat until well incorporated.
Line a 4 ½ by 8 ½ inch bread pan with tin foil (I used parchment paper), leaving about a 3 inch overhang over the long sides of the pan. On top of the foil, repeat this procedure using 2 long pieces of plastic wrap.

Divide the dough into quarters. Gently roll one quarter of the dough into a shape that will roughly fit the bottom of the bread pan. Place the dough into the pan and pat it to spread as evenly as possible. Smooth 1/3 of the filling over the top of the dough. It will be stiff, but an offset spatula works best to push the jam evenly over the dough. Repeat the process in the same way with the remaining dough and jam. Wrap the plastic wrap over the top of the dough and place the pan in the freezer for at least 1 ½ hours or longer.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Line your baking sheets with parchment or spray your pans with nonstick spray. Remove the dough from the pan using the tin foil ‘handles’. Remove the plastic wrap. Cut the loaf crosswise into thirds. Trim and cut the sides as necessary to make sure the blocks of dough are straight and not flared. Work with one block at a time, keeping the others in the fridge, and cut each third into ¼ inch thick slices. Wipe your knife clean between cuts if necessary. Place each slice on a baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake one sheet at a time, in the upper third of your oven for about 10-15 minutes, or until just slightly brown at the edges. Immediately transfer to wire racks to cool.

Store in an airtight container for up to a week or freeze for up to a month. (Yeah right! Good luck with them lasting that long!)

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I tripled this recipe and layered it in two long pullman loaf pans. That worked marvelously for my big batch needs, for those of you who also mass produce Christmas treats!

Classic Gingerbread Recipe for Rolled Cookies (also good for Gingerbread Houses)

Another worthy repost with updated pictures.

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Classic Gingerbread Rolled Cookies

Ingredients

· 6 cups sifted all-purpose flour
· 1 teaspoon baking soda
· ½ teaspoon baking powder
· 1 cup butter
· 1 cup packed dark-brown sugar
· 4 teaspoons ground ginger
· 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
· 1½ teaspoons ground cloves
· 1½ teaspoons salt
· 2 large eggs
· 1 cup molasses
Directions
In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside. In an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Mix in spices and salt, then eggs and molasses. Add flour mixture and combine on low speed.
Divide dough in thirds and wrap in plastic and flatten into approximately 1” bricks. Chill for about 1 hour. Heat oven to 350°. On a heavily floured surface, roll dough 1/8”-1/4” thick (depending on preference). Cut into desired shapes. Transfer to ungreased baking sheets. If dough will not hold shape well, refrigerate cut-outs for 15 minutes before baking. If dough is too stiff to roll without cracking, allow to warm up before rolling and cutting.
Bake about 8 to10 minutes, until puffed but not darkened, or longer if you prefer crispier cookies. Allow cookies to cool on wire racks, and then decorate as desired.
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As with all of my hand-piped cookies, I use royal icing. Need specifics? Ask Martha.

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Soft Peanut Butter Cookies

I adapted this yummy recipe from Averie Cooks… my cookies are smaller and the process here is a bit less fussy. The cookie? Uncompromisingly good.

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Soft Peanut Butter Cookies
Ingredients
  • 2 large egg s
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter (not natural or homemade, too runny)
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoon baking soda
  • pinch salt, optional and to taste
  • granulated sugar, for rolling
Directions

Preheat oven to 350F, line a baking sheet with a Silpat or spray with cooking spray; set aside.

Beat egg, peanut butter, butter, sugars, and vanilla on medium-high speed until fully incorporated, light and fluffy. Add the flour, baking soda, salt, and beat on low speed until just incorporated. Scrape down the bowl as needed.

Use a 1” cookie scoop or your hands to make balls. Rolls each in granulated sugar and place on prepared cookie sheet. Bake for about 9-10 minutes, or until tops are juuuuuuust starting to get the teeniest bit golden.

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Raspberry Coconut Magic Bars

This recipe I luckily found on the interwebs (specifically at Mom on Timeout) after enjoying some of these delights made by a friend’s mom at a baptism party about 3.5 years ago. These are magical, have no doubt!

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Raspberry Coconut Magic Bars

Ingredients
  • 3 1/3 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 cup butter, melted
  • 4 Tbls sugar
  • 6 cups sweetened, flaked, coconut
  • 2 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 cup seedless raspberry preserves {or the flavor of your choice}
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2/3 cup white baking chips
  • 2 tsp shortening
Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Combine the graham cracker crumbs, butter, and sugar in a small bowl.

3. Press into a lightly greased 9x13 baking dish.

4. Sprinkle the coconut over the crust and drizzle the sweetened condensed milk over the top.

5. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until coconut is lightly browned.

6. Let cool completely.

7. Spread the preserves over the cooled coconut crust and sprinkle with pecans.

8. Melt the chocolate chips in the microwave and stir until nice and smooth. Drizzle over pecans.

9. Melt the white chips in the microwave and add shortening. Stir until nice and smooth. Drizzle over the top.

10. Let chocolate firm up in the fridge or on the counter and cut into bars.

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Mint Oreo Bark

I found this keeper on a fun site called wineandglue.com. It looked good and tasted even better. I love mint. And Oreos.

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Mint Oreo Bark
Ingredients
  • 15.5 oz package of regular Oreos (about 40 cookies)
  • 48 oz almond bark
  • 1 tsp of peppermint extract (or more or less, to taste)
  • green food coloring to your liking
Directions

Break the Oreos into a bowl, maybe roughly into quarters. Melt the almond bark according to the directions on the package. Quickly add the peppermint and food coloring. Then stir in the Oreos. Pour the mixture into two wax paper or parchment paper lined pans and spread it out as much as possible (thinner spreading makes it easier to break, and bite!). Put the trays in a cooler area for two hours or until thoroughly hardened throughout. Break it up and enjoy!

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Karen’s Favorite Sugar Cookie Recipe

I have posted this recipe before, but here it is again with current pics. Bake and enjoy (in several days cuz these puppies take a while)!

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Karen’s Favorite Sugar Cookies
Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup shortening
  • 2 cup white sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoon salt
Directions

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, shortening and white sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in vanilla. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir into the creamed mixture. Cover dough and chill for at least one hour. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease cookie sheets, if necessary. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/4” thickness. Cut into desired shapes with floured cookie cutters (or use a large clear quilting ruler and a pizza cutter to cut perfect squares and rectangles, as I did here for gift-shaped cookies). Place cookies 1 1/2” apart onto cookie sheets. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes (I like these soft, so I only bake them for 6 minutes). Remove cookies from baking sheets to cool on wire racks. Cool completely before icing.

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Notes

I use a royal icing recipe that includes powdered sugar, meringue powder, vanilla, and water. Consistency is up to you, but I like mine to be able to spread with a knife (to do the base color of the gift) and also pipe on the bows. Ice cooled cookies and decorate with sprinkles if desired. Dry until icing is fully set (several days would be great… the icing helps keep the cookies fresh and chewy even after that long!). Enjoy!

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Adventures with Hard Cider

I have always had an interest, however passing, in brewing. Back in my study-abroad days, I was enrolled in microbiology… and not all of it was scary stuff. Some of it was really amazing and delicious! Cheese and beer. Worth the hype.

Now that I am more-or-less grounded once again (and happily so), I have wanted to attempt some sort of easy, non-risky fermenting. Perhaps you don’t share my fascination, but feeling the intoxicating effects of something I have fermented myself was a bucket list bullet point until now. Like Steve McQueen’s potato concoction at the Fourth of July party in The Great Escape, but tastier and with less burning.

What is the gateway homebrewed beverage? CIDER, my friends. Hard apple cider is the answer.

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It is hard to even call this a recipe, and others have given an even easier method (“leave the cider in your basement and forget about it for 2 weeks”). But here is what I did after some amount of actual research and a trip to our trusty local home brewing store for airlocks (about $2 each) and champagne yeast (about $1 for a packet that can handle 5 gallons). I procured my apple cider at Costco for a meager $4 per gallon. I haven’t seen it cheaper (and still preservative-free) anywhere else.

Homebrewed Hard Cider

Yield: About 1 gallon

Ingredients:

  • 1 gallon pasteurized, preservative-free apple cider
  • 2 cups white sugar (optional, for higher alcohol content and/or sweeter cider)
  • Champagne yeast

Directions:

  • Sterilize (or not) a clean glass jug (or other container that can accept an airlock (or not). Add 2 cups of sugar and enough champagne yeast to the jar. Add half of the cider, and swirl to dissolve the sugar. Add the rest of the cider (or until the jug is full with a bit of space for bubbles, as shown) and close with the sterilized (or not) airlock. If you don’t have an airlock and you don’t want to let any other microbes in, you can cover the top with a balloon, and just poke several holes to allow the air pressure in the jug to remain positive (so air only flows out). Apparently you can leave it loosely capped without an airlock too, but I understand it is best practice for the most predicable results.
  • Leave the cider at about room temp (or slightly cooler… 55-65 degrees) for 5-21 days. It will start to bubble and release CO2 through the airlock in a day or two. The shorter fermenting times will yield sweeter, slightly sparkling ciders with lower alcohol content. At a certain point, around the 14 day mark (depending on temp and sugar content), the yeast will have consumed all the sugar and the cider will be dry and still (not my favorite, but good for mixing with fresh cider). I think 7-11 days is a good fit for my general reference for sweeter cider and moderate alcohol content.
  • Whenever you decide to drink it, it should be cooled to help the yeast settle out, and then siphoned off directly into glasses or a secondary storage container to avoid drinking a lot of yeast. Alternatively, it could be bottled then with or without extra sugar to make it sparkling, but that sounds laborious and not as easy to get a buzz (safely) while so doing. You choose.

This is a fun process and my kids greatly enjoyed watching the airlock (as did I). Here is the airlock in action (it is sort of mesmerizing to watch the bubbles… when it really got going, a bubble escaped about every 7 seconds #nerdalert):

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Since I have been making my own cider, I have been saving some of the yeast that settles out as a starter for my next batch (obsessed much?). My new sorta-secret plan is to make a BIG batch of this for our annual Thanksgiving party. Homemade booze in bulk? Yes, please. And thank you!