Friday, December 10, 2010

Holiday Baking - Part I

I have always enjoy baking for Christmas. I have always been the most festive person in any house I have lived and so the baking and decorating seems to be my responsibility. When I lived with my parents, I was the one baking the huge snowflake sugar cookies with blue glaze and silver dragees and now with Kevin, I am still baking and putting up the tree and insisting on Christmas movies and music and a DVD with a crackling fireplace. We don't have a fireplace in our house so I figured a big screen TV with a video of a fireplace was the next best thing - and it doesn't hurt our energy bill!

This year I hunted around for easy but pretty (and yummy!) cookie recipes. I found several at, of course; you can always rely on Martha to provide some nice recipes. I also decided to make my 'traditional' Peppermint Bark which is so easy but always seems a popular favorite among recipients. Here are a few recipes and photos from my baking endeavors so far this December. More to come, I'm sure. =) There has been some recipe swapping among friends so I think I will experiment with some new goodies this year.

Crispy Molasses Snaps (this is from Martha but I renamed them)

2 c all-purpose flour
1-1/2 t baking soda
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
1/2 t salt
1-1/2 c sugar
1-1/2 sticks (3/4 c) butter, softened
1 egg
1/4 c molasses

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Whisk together flour, soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. In a separate small bowl, pour 1/2 c sugar. Set both aside.

In another bowl with electric mixer, beat butter and remaining 1 c sugar til fluffy. Beat in egg and then molasses til combined. Reduce mixer to low and gradually add dry ingredients just until a dough forms.

Pinch off and roll dough into balls, about 1 T each. Roll in reserved sugar then place on baking sheet (does not need to be sprayed or lined) about 2 inches apart. Bake about 10-15 minutes til edges are just firm. Cool on sheet for a minute then transfer to cooling rack.

NOTE: It's better to bake these for the least amount of time possible; just keep an eye on them. Baking them JUST too much makes them too crispy and the centers are no longer chewy as they should be. Edges: crispy; center: chewy - perfect with a glass of milk, still warm from the oven! Enjoy!

Angelettis (another Martha recipe)

4 c all-purpose flour
2 T baking powder
1/2 t salt
1 c (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 c granulated sugar
6 eggs
1 t vanilla

For glaze:
16 oz confectioner's sugar
1/4 c lemon juice
1-2 T water
sanding (or other colorful) sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

In medium bowl, sift together flour, powder and salt; set aside.

With electric mixer, cream butter and sugar til fluffy. With mixer on medium, add eggs one at a time; blend thoroughly before adding the next. Add the vanilla. Gradually add the dry ingredients and beat until dough comes together.

Scoop dough into tablespoon-size balls onto sprayed baking sheet (or lined with parchment or Silpat). These cookies don't really 'spread' when baked so an inch or so apart is fine. Bake for about 15 minutes til the edges turn a little golden. Cool on wire racks.

NOTE: This dough is about the worst dough I have EVER had to handle. The cookies are lovely and came out delicious and flaky and perfectly accented by the mildly-tart lemon glaze. However, the dough was very difficult to handle. I think you probably need a scoop like this one to work more easily with this dough. Alas, I do not have a scoop. The alternative is to flour your fingers generously before scooping up the dough; this worked well for me, but my cookies are slightly more 'free form' than I think they are supposed to be. Didn't affect the flavor at all, but it's a good-to-know 'fun fact' before starting this recipe.

For the glaze:

Combine the powdered sugar with the 1/4 c lemon juice and about 1-2 T water; whisk together til combined. Dip the tops of your cooled cookies into the glaze and set back on the cooling racks (place a cookie sheet or a strip of wax paper or paper towels under the rack to catch the excess glaze). Let set for a short time (about the time it takes to dip an entire cooling rack of cookies) then sprinkle with sugar of your choice. I had some green and red sugar sprinkles and some golden turbinado sugar.

Once the glaze is set you can store them in plastic storage containers or zip bags. The flavor is very moderately sweet for a cookie and is a great compliment to coffee or tea.

Dipped Pretzels:
So easy but a yummy, slightly-lighter treat.

I have a bag of pretzel rings but really any pretzel shape will work (pretzel rods would look nice with the peppermint sprinkles)

Peppermint Pretzels: Melt semi-sweet chocolate chips in a double boiler (I add about 1 T of water for every cup of chocolate, as well as about 1/2 T of butter). Once chocolate is melted, dip pretzels in the chocolate and then sprinkle with crushed peppermint (I use candy canes and whir them in my mini prep for a few seconds). Lay pretzels out on wax paper to set. yum yum

Peanut Butter Pretzels: Soften some peanut butter (about 1/2 a cup) on the stove - just to warm it through. Using the same melted chocolate, dip the pretzels in peanut butter then in the chocolate and set out on wax paper to dry. (NOTE: Scoop some chocolate into a separate bowl since the peanut butter likes to drip into the chocolate; this way it doesn't affect the entire bowl of chocolate, just the portion you are using for the peanut butter pretzels).

White Chocolate Peppermint Bark:

I'm not a really big fan of white chocolate but for this application it's perfect. You mostly taste peppermint anyway; the white chocolate is just a really nice canvas for the pepperminty goodness.

1 bag of white chocolate chips or morsels
12-16 candy canes, chopped fine (you can either do this in a plastic bag - pound the candy canes with a rolling pin or heavy pot - or in a food processor)

Melt the white chocolate chips using the same method as for the pretzels: melt over a double boiler, medium-high heat with about 1 T water for every cup of chocolate; this does not have to be precise but it IS important to have enough water so the chocolate can melt successfully - otherwise is seizes up and turns into a dry clumpy wad. Gross, even for chocolate. You can add more water as the melting progresses if you think it's necessary, just mix thoroughly. The chocolate should not be too thick, but should run smoothly off the spoon or spatula, almost like syrup.

Once the chocolate is melted, remove the bowl (this double boiler method works well with tempered glass mixing bowls over a medium pot) to an oven mitt or trivet. Make sure the mixture is smooth then add the crushed peppermint, reserving a little bit for later. Mix this in thoroughly then pour onto a baking sheet lined with wax or parchment paper. Spread it out relatively thin, then sprinkle the top with the remaining peppermint. Let this set then chip pieces off with your hands. Store in an airtight container.

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