Friday, December 23, 2011

Cinnamon Sugar Christmas Cookies

I believe I've mentioned how much I love my sugar cookie recipe.  I found the original recipe on Iambaker several months ago and after a few tweaks I was left with a cookie recipe that consistently gets rave reviews and is a cinch to make.  So far I've experimented with the originally suggest almond extract and my switch to lemon extract flavoring.  This was my go-to for a while.  Until one day.

I was making cookies for Christmas and I just couldn't wrap my head around using lemon extract.  I didn't want the almond extract as I wasn't completely in love with that flavor.  I also couldn't shake the idea of a yummy snickerdoodle.  But snickerdoodles aren't roll/cut cookies.  They spread and have a sugary coating that keeps them from being iced.  Still, I couldn't be dissuaded.  So I decided, what the hell, I'd try it.  I love my original recipe, so I decided to use that as a jumping off point.  And I must say - without any modesty - that I may have even topped myself in the deliciousness factor.  And after a couple of missteps with decorating, I think they turned out pretty cutely too.

I started by creaming 3 sticks of SALTED butter with 2 cups of sugar.

Once the butter and the sugar are good and creamy, add in two egg yolks

Mix until they are blended in and then add in two whole eggs.

Finally, add in a tablespoon of vanilla extract.

While the wet ingredients are being creamed together, it is time to mix the dry ingredients.  To four cups of flour, add a teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of baking powder and a teaspoon of cinnamon.

Little tip from Martha - you can use a whisk to stir this all together instead of sifting it.  Works for me!

Very slowly add a cup at a time of the dry ingredients to the creamed butter and eggs.  Only mix it enough each time to barely incorporate the flour mixture into the butter.  You don't want to over mix at this stage or you could end up with tough cookies.

When I finished with the last batch of flour mixture, turn all the dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap.

Wrap the dough into a cylinder and store in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thick.  I always roll my cookies on a piece of parchment paper so that clean up is nice and easy.  I also line my baking sheets with parchment paper.  Basically - when there is a sale on parchment paper, I stock up!

In addition to the 3 different size circles, I also cut out some Christmas trees.  Make sure to put the cookies in the freezer for 15 - 30 minutes before baking.

Bake for 10 -12 minutes at 350.  If your oven runs a little cool (like mine does) you can push the temperature up to 375.  Just start checking the cookies at 10 minutes.  The reason for this is you don't want the oven temp to be too low or your cookies could spread into blobs.

The cookie on the left is baked at 350, cookie on the right at 375.  The difference in spreading is slight but important

Once all the cookies are cooled, it is time to decorate. I decided on three different decorations for my trees and circles:

When I made the first batch of these cookies a few weeks ago as a tester, Hubby picked up one of the pieces of white chocolate I had just unmolded for another project and put it ion top of the still warm cookie.  It melted.  And once it solidified again, this time coating the entire cookie, it was tremendous.  Because of this, I decided I wanted to coat the trees in green white chocolate.

Full disclosure - this was a mess.  I originally put the melted chocolate into a piping bag to make layered levels of needles on the tree.  About half way through, I realized it wasn't going to work so I just started spreading the chocolate.  But some of it was already dry.  So they were a lumpy mess.

They still tasted amazing, but I was hesitant to put them out on a buffet table looking like my 2 year old nephew had run his hands through them.  What was I going to do? Well, if watching Debbie Decorates Dallas has taught me one thing, it is that anything will look pretty if covered in enough glue and sparkles, so I reached for the baking equivalent - royal icing and sparkly sanding sugar.

I made "garlands" out of royal icing

Dunked the cookie in the sugar

And voila! A decent looking and delicious cinnamon sugar Christmas tree covered in white chocolate.

Next up were the large and medium circles.  I had it in my mind that I wanted to make snow flakes.  And again, I wanted to use white chocolate.  And again, it was a mess.  Note to self: self, white chocolate is not an easy swap for royal icing, it is more for a drizzle.

To hide the squiggly lines and uneven edges, I once again turned to my glue and sparkles.

I put a dot of royal icing at each point of the snow flake.

And after putting the cookie face down into a plate of sanding sugar, you couldn't even see all the uneven lines, all you could see was sparkle.

Finally, after reading Glorious Treats' blog I wanted to do some cute little snowballs out of the smallest size circle cookie.

I started out by outlining and filling the cookies with royal icing.

Next, I put four cookies at a time face down into some sanding sugar and give them a light press to really set the sugar.

Finally, place them on a drying rack overnight to dry. The pictures don't really do these little cuties justice.  They are so sparkly and the texture is so nice.

Usually when I make cookies, they are all the same.  Which is nice.  But sometimes, I like to see a little variation on a platter and these were perfect for my Christmas party.  I love the way the platter looks with the green of the trees, the lightness of the snowflakes and the little pops of sparkly snowballs.  And they are all tied together with the use of the sanding sugar so they still look cohesive.

I hope you and your families have a wonderful Christmas and I'll be back and posting more next week.

Shopping List for Cinnamon Sugar Cookies - makes about 50 cookies, depending on size. 

  • 3 Sticks SALTED Butter
  • 2 Cups Sugar
  • 2 Egg Yolks
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 Tablespoon Vanilla Extract
  • 4 Cups Flour
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
  • 1 Teaspoon Cinnamon
  • Royal Icing and/or Candy Melts and/or Sanding Sugar For Decorating

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tastes like Christmas

There are just some flavor profiles that instantly woosh you back to a moment in history.  For example, every time I smell nutmeg, I think of my grandmother's tortellini soup. Or whenever I taste melted cheddar cheese, I think back to after school snacks made by my little sister.  A few years ago, I found myself seeking out a little piece of Christmas and I couldn't shake this craving I was having for these little candies my grandmother used to make every Christmas.  They were what our family put out for Santa instead of cookies.

The funny thing is, I hated these chocolates growing up.  There were just too many conflicting flavors for my 11 year old palate.  But I decided to give it a go.  After a quick consultation with my cousin Sara to help jog my memory about what was exactly in these bad boys, I was ready to go.  And the result was a huge success!  I have now made these for Christmas and even Easter for the past few years and every time, they are met with oohs and ahhs.  So let's make them, shall we?

Start by melting 2 cups of semi-sweet morsels in a double boiler.  Or in my case, a glass bowl set over a pot of simmering water.  Typically, I use the microwave to melt chocolate.  But in this case, the quantity of chocolate and the size of the bowl dictates that I use the boiler method.  It also helps to temper the chocolate so that it is shiny and doesn't melt too easily.

While the chocolate morsels melt, chop up another cup of almond bark or dark chocolate bar or candy melts.  Basically you want something that has already been tempered since the morsels are designed to melt and you don't want these candies to melt that easily once they are done because they'd be a big mess.

Once the morsels are melted, remove the bowl from the heat, add the chopped bark and stir until all melted.  This will temper the chocolate to give it a good snap.

Meanwhile, measure out 1 cup of raisins and 1 cup of crushed walnuts.  No no, stay with me here.  I know a lot of people don't like raisins.  But you guys, they are so good in this mixture.  I have known several people who initially turned down a candy because they didn't like nuts or raisins and then finally decided to try one and went crazy over them.

Add the raisins and walnuts to the melted chocolate and stir to incorporate them fully.

Next measure out about a cup of mini marshmallows

Add them to the chocolate, walnut, raisin mix and fully coat with chocolate.  Don't worry about melting the marshmallows, the addition of the bark, raisins and walnuts should have brought the temperature of the chocolate down enough that it won't melt the marshmallows.

Working quickly, spoon out small clumpfulls of the mixture onto a parchment lined baking sheet.

I've tried putting these in a mold or making them like bark, but part of their charm is the organic pieces you get by just spooning them out.

Put them in the refrigerator for at least an hour.  Pack them up in a cute tin and these make a great little holiday gift for coworkers or friends.

Ooops, I couldn't resist taking a sample.  Trust me, you won't be able to either.  All those yummy walnuts and raisins and marshmallows.  No bite is the same.

Now that these are done, I'm officially full of Christmas Spirit!

Shopping List for Melly's Christmas Chocolates - Makes about 30 chocolates

  • 2 Cups Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels
  • 1 Cup Chopped Almond Bark, Dark Chocolate Bar or Dark Chocolate Candy Melts
  • 1 Cup Crushed Walnuts
  • 1 Cup Raisins
  • 1 Cup Mini Marshmallows

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Cookie That Launched 1,000 Cookies, Cupcakes and Recipes

This time last year, I found myself sitting at home - on an unplanned sabbatical from work - and CRAVING gingerbread cookies.  But I really didn't want to go out and buy some cookies.  Both because I didn't want to waste $2 on a dry, hard cookie from Starbucks and because I was lazy and that would have required me getting out of my pajamas.  

But then I remembered this lovely little book my mother in law had given me when we had celebrated an early Christmas with Hubby's family.  

Good Housekeeping's Cookie Swap Cook Book! And yes! They had a gingerbread cookie recipe.  I was very excited.  

After discovering just how many cookies the recipe in the book makes (108! yikes! Shyeah, Right! I wanted A cookie, let alone many cookies that would necessitate an entire rack) I decided to cut the recipe in half.  But uh oh, 3 eggs can't be split in two.  So split into thirds it is! Time to break out the calculator. 

Once the calculations were all done, I started by pouring 1/2 cup molasses into a medium sauce pan on medium heat.

Next, add in 1/2 cup sugar and combine the two with a wooden spoon.

Now we add the spices that make gingerbread cookies so delicious: Ginger, Cinnamon, Cloves and Allspice.

Stir them all together and let the mixture simmer for a few minutes.  And then add in 2 teaspoons baking soda.

Stir the baking soda in and don't be freaked out by the amount of foaming up that happens.

While that foams up, turn off the heat and roughly chop a stick of butter and add it to the mixture on the stove.  

Stir the butter in until it melts and the mixtures goes from being foamy to sleek and glossy

Next crack an egg into a small bowl and using your spoon with the hot mixture, gently stir the egg. This will help temper the egg so you don't end up with scrambled eggs later when we add it to the warm mixture.

Finally add in the flour and stir to combine

Once the flour is all combined, pour the batter onto a sheet of plastic wrap

Wrap it up and put it in the refrigerator for a few hours (overnight is better)

Once the dough has chilled, it is time to roll.  I always put a sheet of parchment paper on my work surface and then flour that.  It makes clean up a whole lot easier.  

 Roll up your sleeves, and get ready to get a great arm workout because this dough is going to be HARD! But after a little bit, it'll start getting easier.  Roll to about 1/4 inch thick (or 1/2 inch of you like your cookies soft like I do) 

The Moose is for Hubby since he loves Moose around Christmas

I (and Martha) highly suggest lining cookie sheets with more parchment rather than greasing the sheets. I also feel like it helps the cookies cook more evenly and create less spread.  

Anyone wondering how to keep the cookies from losing their cute shapes and spreading into blobs as they cook (Hi Anna!) pay attention here.

Once you have the first cookie sheet loaded, stick it in the freezer

At this point, pre-heat your oven to 325 degrees and continue cutting cookies out.  If you have room in your freezer, you can put subsequent sheets in the freezer.  If like me, you are stocked up for the holidays; there was a sale on Smartones you decided to take advantage of; and/or your mother in law just brought 15lbs of sausage from Chicago for your husband, then you can put other sheets in the refrigerator and then cycle them through the freezer when the batch in the freezer goes into the oven.  

Were you guys able to follow that logic?  

You want the cookies to be in the freezer for 15 - 30 minutes before they hit the oven.  

Another key is oven temperature.  If your oven is not hot enough, the cookies will spread.  Unfortunately, this is something you have to test out on your individual oven.  This recipe calls for the oven at 325.  My sugar cookies call for 350.  But my oven runs a little cool as I discovered when making a recent batch of sugar cookies:

The cookie on the left is baked at 350, cookie on the right at 375.  The difference in spreading is slight but important

Let the cookies bake for 10 minutes at 325 (or 350 if your oven runs cool) and then don't panic when you first take the cookies out of the oven.  They will be a bit puffy.  But I promise, they will deflate a bit. 

After 5 minutes or so, move the cookies onto a cooling rack to continue cooling.

While the cookies cool, it is time to make the royal icing. 

Start with 1lb or 4 cups powdered sugar and 4 teaspoons of meringue powder in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Stir them on low to combine.

Add in a scant 1/2 cup of warm water.

And 1 tablespoon of corn syrup.

Mix on low until combined and then pump it up to medium/high until you form stiff peaks.

Since we're using only white icing today, we can skip the coloring step and move just to splitting the icing to outline and flood.  

To prepare your frosting to outline, dollop a couple of spoonfuls into the center of some plastic wrap.  Wrap it tightly by spinning the ends like the reverse motion of unwrapping a tootsie roll.  Put the roll into a piping bag fitted with a coupler.  Tie off the upper end with a twist tie and then snip the excess outside the coupler.  Finally fit the tip on and you are ready to go. 

I now use this technique for ALL detail frosting work because I think it really reduces the air bubbles and helps keep your lines smooth.  Plus it makes clean up SUPER easy.  Just untie the twist tie, pull out the baggy then separate the tip and coupler.  No gloppy frosting everywhere.  

Next I thinned out the rest of the icing for flooding.  

I started by moving the icing to a small bowl and then using a spray bottle I spritz 5 blasts of water at a time, stirring in between until the consistency is like shampoo and the ribbon melts into the body of the icing in under 10 seconds.  Finally I cover this with a damp paper towel and set it aside for 15-30 minutes while I'm outlining my cookies.  When I'm ready to use the flood icing, I stir it gently to pop all the air bubbles that have come to the top of the bowl and then pour it into a squeeze bottle.  

Halfway through the spraying and stirring process, I decided we're gonna need a bigger boat bowl 

When it comes to gingerbread men, I'm a purist.  I like just the outline, little dots for eyes and buttons and a smile.  

Meanwhile, Hubby likes his gingerbread to be fully frosted.  So for the moose, I outlined and then filled them in for him (I left the antlers unfilled to give them a little definition)

P.S. my piping on these cookies is a testament to the adage that practice makes perfect.  I am not saying my piping was perfect on these little guys.  Not at all.  I still see plenty of imperfections.  But if you could have seen the mess I made last year, you'd be shocked that these were made by the same person.  Last year I had to individually bag each gingerbread man to help hide the squiggly lines and wonky smiles.  

So all this is to say, just keep playing around with icing and soon you will figure out what works for you.  

In the meantime, this little forest of gingerbread mooses and men are delicious no matter what the icing lines look like.

Shopping List for Gingerbread Cookies (adapted from Good Housekeeping) - makes 8 large (moose) and 16 small (men) cookies

  • 1/2 Cup Molasses
  • 1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 1 1/2 Teaspoon Ginger
  • 1 Teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 1 Teaspoon Cloves
  • 1 Teaspoon All Spice
  • 2 Teaspoons Baking Soda
  • 1 Stick Butter (salted)
  • 1 Egg
  • 2 Cups Flour
  • Cookie Cutters
  • Parchment Paper
Shopping List for Royal Icing
  • 1lb (4 Cups) Powdered Sugar
  • 4 Teaspoons Meringue Powder
  • Scant 1/2 Cup of Warm Water
  • 1 Tablespoon Corn Syrup
  • Coupler, Wilton #2 tip, Disposable Piping Bag, Squeeze Bottle, Spray Bottle
I've got a lot more holiday treats to share with you.  I've been stock piling them for the past 2 weeks.  What is your favorite holiday treat? Any tips you've found for cutting/baking/icing cookies?