Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas Cookie Bouquets

I have to apologize for not posting for the last few days. This is the kids' last week of school before Christmas break and I've been crazy busy in my kitchen baking treats, dipping pretzels and candy canes and putting together gifts for all the wonderful people who teach, drive and care for my children while they're at school.

I feel compelled to take a moment to acknowledge those individuals who are in my children's lives-I won't mention you by name-but you know who you all are. I send my precious kids to you everyday with complete confidence that they are safe, secure and loved. You are not only teaching them the skills they need to pass a standardized test, you're helping us to nurture respectful, kind, courteous, thoughtful and caring young men and women. Marty and I are so thankful for each of you and feel very blessed that you have been a part of our children's lives. Merry Christmas to all of you!

My largest project for the week has been baking and creating cookie bouquets. I have always admired the creativity behind many fun bouquets I've seen and decided to try my skills at creating Christmas themed bouquets to give as gifts. I started with the Tuesday's with Dorie sugar cookie recipe that was featured a couple of weeks ago. I had such great success with her recipe and loved the addition of lemon zest that gave the cookie a little extra "kick", I knew it was the perfect choice for my bouquets. The glazed icing recipe I found through a link from one of my favorite blogs; The Life and Loves of Grumpy's Honeybunch. Shelby created absolutely beautiful snowflake cookies on our TWD post and shared the link to Sara's blog. I haven't quite figured out how to link you from my post, but Shelby's blog site is listed under the "Blogs I Follow" feature to the right of my recipe posts. Enjoy her amazing blog!
My two youngest with their teachers' cookie bouquets!
It was Colts' Day at school-hence the blue jerseys instead of holiday wear.

I began by preparing three separate batches of dough not knowing how many cookies I would get out of each. I knew that the cookies would have to be extra thick for them to remain solidly in place on the stick. I certainly didn't want my little ones taking "fragile" cookies onto the morning bus. Can't you just see it little ones walking carefully across the street through slippery snow, taking those huge steps up into the big, yellow bus (by the way-why are those silly steps so darn big and difficult for little legs to climb? Didn't the designer know that there would be small children riding those buses? Ok, sorry-back to my story) and then trying to squeeze their book-bag, winter coat and fragile cookies into the narrow opening of their assigned, dark green bench. Not to mention the other precious riders on the bus, will they leave their hands off the packaged cookies or be so curious they have to touch just one to satisfy their urge? That's a disaster in the making...the poor teachers would have probably ended up with a package of crushed up sugar cookies complete with tears of "I'm Sorry". Not exactly a great "Merry Christmas" gift! I knew those cookies had to be "tough", so, to ensure stability, I ended up rolling the dough to 5/8" which was a perfect thickness to surround the stick and insure that our little cookies wouldn't go anywhere when finished. Because the cookies had to be so thick, each batch of dough yielded one dozen cookies.

Santa's Boot

Christmas Trees

I cut out six different designs for each bouqet, the Santa boot and Christmas tree pictured above as well as an ornament, snowman, gingerbread man, and a present. I wanted the cookies to be a decent size, especially since the base they would be placed in was a medium sized tin, so I chose to use 3 inch cookie cutters. They turned out to be absolutely perfect in size.

Glazing the cookies was fun and fairly simple albeit very time consuming. I really wanted these to be nearly perfect since they were gifts to some very special people. I used thicker icing to pipe around each cookie to make a "well" that would be filled in with the colored icing. I found that this is the best way to insure no run-off drips. After the piped icing dried a little, I went back and "painted" the cookies. Ever since I was a small girl I have loved to sit and color, well, this beats all...I not only got enjoy coloring cookies, but I got to eat the "crayons". Fun stuff!

I thoroughly enjoyed the entire process of my project and can't wait for the next opportunity to create another cookie bouquet. My hope is that all who received this gift enjoys eating these yummy cookies as much as I enjoyed baking and creating them.

Grandma's All-Occasion Sugar Cookies
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temp.
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
lemon zest (optional)-for the most flavor, rub the zest into the sugar before adding it to the butter
Whisk the flour, salt and baking powder together.
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter at medium speed for a minute or so, until smooth. Beat in the sugar and continue to beat for about 2 minutes, until the mixture is light and pale. Add the egg and yolk and beat for another minute or two; beat in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and steadily add the flour mixture, mixing only until it has been incorporated-because this dough is best when worked least, you might want to stop the mixer before all the flour is thoroughly blended into the dough and finish the job with a rubber spatula. When mixed, the dough will be soft, creamy and malleable.
Turn the dough out onto a counter and divide it in half. Shape each half into a disk and wrap in plastic. The dough must be chilled for at least 2 hours. (Well wrapped, the dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.)
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Roll out dough between sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper to a thickness of 1/4" (5/8" to make cookie bouquet), lifting the plastic or paper and turning the dough over often so that it rolls evenly. Lift off the top sheet of plastic or paper and cut out the cookies. Pull away the excess dough, saving the scraps for rerolling, and carefully lift the cookies onto the baking sheet with a spatula, leaving about 1 1/2 inches between the cookies.
Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 9 to 11 minutes, rotating the sheet at the midpoint. The cookies should feel firm, but they should not color much, if at all. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool completely before glazing.
Source: Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan
Glace' Icing
1 lb powdered sugar (about 3 3/4 cups)
1/4 C + 2T Whole milk (low-fat actually works, but use whole if you can)
1/4 C +2T light Corn Syrup
1 t extract (I used almond)
With a whisk, combine sugar and milk until smooth (no lumps!). Then stir in corn syrup and extract.
You will use this same recipe for both glazing and piping. The way it is right now is the consistency you want for glazing. For piping just thicken with more powdered sugar.
Source: Our Best Bites

Monday, December 15, 2008

Candy Cane Cookies

One of my favorite memories of holiday baking is standing on a stool beside my Granny rolling this adorable cookie into the shape of a candy cane. I loved watching the red and white dough blend together in my small hands and never could resist the temptation to nibble dough off my fingers. (Of course, I had to wash my hands every time I licked the dough...Granny was a stickler for cleanliness while cooking.)

Last weekend my girls were begging to bake some holiday cookies and these immediately came to mind. I knew they would both love rolling and forming the cookies as much as I had as a little girl. We shared some great laughs while working side by side in the kitchen and I love to watch my girls as they discover the wonder and enjoyment of baking. These are certainly moments I will treasure.

These cookies are very simple to prepare and so much fun to form into cute little candy canes. The cookies are sprinkled with a mixture of crushed candy cane and sugar when they are hot out of the oven. Yummy! My eldest daughter suggested that next time we make these we should add a little crushed candy cane to the dough, she thought the cookie needed something "more". Oh, my future baker...gotta love it. Enjoy!

Candy Cane Cookies
1 cup margarine
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon red food coloring
1/2 cup crushed peppermint candy canes
1/2 cup white sugar for decoration
In a large bowl, cream together sugar and white sugar and confectioner's sugar. Beat in the egg, vanilla and peppermint extracts. Combine the flour and salt; stir into the creamed mixture until well blended. Cover or wrap dough and chill for at least one hour.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease or line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Divide dough into halves. Color one half red by mixing in the food color. Roll a small amount of each dough into 4 inch strips. Roll them together in a twisted rope and curve the end like a cane. Place onto prepared cookie sheets.
Bake for 8-10 minutes. In a small bowl, mix together the crushed candy cane and remaining white sugar. Roll hot cookies in the sugar mixture.
Source: All Recipes

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

TWD - Grandma's All Occasion Sugar Cookies

This week for TWD, Ullrike of Kuchenlatein chose Grandma's All Occasion Sugar Cookie. What a perfect recipe for this time of year! The kids and I love to bake sugar cookies with all kinds of holiday shapes from the Halloween season on through Christmas. It's sort of become our tradition to make the cookies and then enjoy a carpet picnic in front of a crackling fire and devour our yummy, fresh baked goodies while watching a holiday video...usually Charlie Brown. You just can't top Charlie Brown and all the gang! Makes me feel like a kid again! Ok, now on to the cookie of the day.
I know I've said this before, but it bears repeating, I love Dorie's cookbook! She explains everything in great detail and offers many tips and options to creating your own version of any recipe. Fantastic, fun and so many flavorful adaptations.
For these cookies, Dorie offers a variation of either adding lemon or orange zest. I decided to think outside my box and add the lemon zest, and oh, I'm so glad I did. Yummy! I'm already thinking of enjoying an afternoon break with a cup of hot coffee and a cookie...or two...or three. Shhh, don't tell anyone-it'll be our little secret. :)
This time of year a sugar cookie just has to have icing on it in colorful, festive designs, that's half the fun! I had a great time (and alot of comments from my peanut gallery) decorating my cookies. They didn't turn out quite as well as I had hoped, but they're still cute. Enjoy!
Source: Baking From My Home to Yours-Dorie Greenspan

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Peppermint Bonbon Cookies

Tis the season to be baking, Fa la la la la la la! I positively, obnoxiously, love the Christmas season! I love the reason behind the season most of all; the celebration of Christ's birth. WOW-that's certainly the best gift any of us can ever receive, our Savior! I also enjoy all the other festivities that transpire over the season; the decorating, music, parties, shopping, and wrapping but most of all I LOVE the baking! There's never another time in the entire year that is so focused on baking. :)

I baked my first "holiday" cookies this past week and shared these with my friend Sarah who has been in the hospital with pre-term labor. I wanted something festive and chocolaty and this recipe was perfect! If you like peppermint, you'll fall in love with these cookies! There is crushed peppermint and chocolate chips in the bonbons. When the cookies come out of the oven, you sprinkle with more peppermint and then I chose to drizzle white chocolate over the cooled cookies. D-E-L-I-S-H! Sarah said Mike ate almost half of the cookies I sent before he arrived at the hospital, so I guess they were a definite hit with him! :)

Add these festive little guys to your holiday baking list and see if they're not a huge hit for your loved ones too! Enjoy!
Peppermint Bonbon Cookies
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup finely crushed hard peppermint candies
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate morsels
Additional coarsely crushed hard peppermint candies, divided
Combine first 3 ingredients in a large saucepan; cook over low heat until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, and stir in 1/2 cup crushed peppermint and 6 Tbsp. sugar. Let cool 30 minutes.
Add eggs to melted chocolate, 1 at a time, stirring well. Stir in extracts.
Combine flour, baking powder, and salt; add to chocolate mixture, stirring until combined. Stir in chocolate morsels. Cover and chill dough 2 hours or until firm enough to shape.
Shape dough into 1 1/2" balls; place on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Bake at 325 degrees for 12 to 13 minutes or until cookies are puffed and cracked on top. Sprinkle coarsely crushed peppermints onto cookies; press candy lightly into cookies. Let cookies cool 5 minutes on baking sheets. Transfer to wire rack to cool completely.
Drizzle with melted white chocolate.
Source: My Recipes

Friday, December 5, 2008

Devil's Food White-Out Cake

This post is a couple of week's past due, but with the Thanksgiving holiday and the busy-ness of our schedule, I haven't had a moment to download pictures and compose this post. But, better late than never. :)

Our boys celebrated their birthdays the weekend prior to Thanksgiving. Ironically enough, they were both born the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, four years apart....and yes, these handsome boys of mine forced me to eat a holiday dinner in the hospital TWICE. To think I sacrificed all those delicious, high caloric dishes and desserts for two beautiful, warm bundles of bouncing baby boys....Oh, who am I kidding? I'd do it again in a New York minute to have these two amazing blessings in my life!

I have always allowed the kids to pick the flavor, color and style of their birthday cakes. I am certainly no cake decorator, but the kids enjoy watching their cakes being decorated and helping me by licking spoons and spatulas during the entire process. A couple of months ago, I purchased Dorie Greenspan's cookbook, "Baking-From My Home to Yours" and the moment the boys saw the cover of the book, they knew what kind of birthday cake they would be requesting. I can't count how many times they reminded me which cake to prepare for their celebrations.

The preparation of the cake was really pretty simple, just follow Dorie's detailed instructions. It was a little more time consuming than I had anticipated, but I'm known for not planning enough in advance for these sorts of details. Marty calls it "procrastinating", I call it LIFE with four kids and babysitting three of which is 12 weeks old. Anyway, I digress.

Once we cut into the cake and tasted it, I was sold on this recipe!! The cake was so stinking moist and the mini chocolate chips give you a little crunchy surprise with almost every bite. I don't think I can purchase another boxed mix again! Dorie's cake called for a marshmallow type icing and I attempted three times to prepare it, but after burning the 3rd batch, I threw in the towel and resorted to my fail safe buttercream icing recipe. So, all in all, I'm calling this a great success. My boys loved their birthday cake, I expanded my culinary resume and we all enjoyed an evening of celebrating our pride and joys.....our sons.

Here are the birthday boys with their cake, Nathan (left) celebrating his 9th birthday and Matthew (right) celebrating his 13th birthday. Aren't they handsome? Happy Birthday boys!

Not the best of pictures, but shows the three layers of the cake. YUMMY!!
Devil's Food White-Out Cake
For the Cake
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temp.
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
3 large eggs, at room temp.
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
1/2 cup buttermilk or whole milk, at room temp.
1/2 cup boiling water
4 ounces semisweet or milk chocolate, finely chopped, or 2/3 cup store-bought mini chocolate chips
Getting ready: Center rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 8X2 inch round cake pans, dust the insides with flour, tap out the excess and line the bottoms with parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.
To Make The Cake: Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment or with a hand mixer in a large bow, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add the sugars and continue to beat for another 3 minutes. Add the eggs one by one, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in the vanilla; don't be concerned if the mixture looks curdled. Reduce the mixer speed to low and mix in the melted chocolate. When it is fully incorporated, add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk, adding the dry ingredients in 3 additions and the milk in 2 (begin and end with the dry ingredients); scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed and mix only until the ingredients disappear into the batter. At this point, the batter will be thick, like frosting. Still working on low speed, mix in the boiling water, which will thin the batter considerably. Switch to a rubber spatula, scrape down the bowl and stir in the chopped chocolate. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and smooth the tops with the rubber spatula.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, rotating the pans at the midway point. When fully baked, the cakes will be springy to the touch and a thin knife inserted into the centers will come out clean. Don't worry if the tops have a few small cracks. Transfer the cake pans to a rack and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unmold them and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up. (The cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to 2 months.)
When you are ready to fill and frost the cake, inspect the layers. If the cakes have crowned, use a long serrated knife and a gently sawing motion to even them. With the same knife, slice each layer horizontally in half. Set 3 layers aside and crumble the fourth layer; set the crumbs aside.
To Assembly the Cake: Put a bottom layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or on a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. Using a long metal icing spatula, cover the layer generously with frosting. Top with a second layer, cut side up and frost it. Finish with the third layer, cut side down, and frost the sides and top of the cake. Don't worry about smoothing the frosting-it should be swirly. Now, cover the entire cake with the chocolate cake crumbs, gently pressing the crumbs into the filling with your fingers.
Refrigerate the cake for about 1 hour before serving.
Source: Baking-From My Home to Yours

Monday, December 1, 2008

Wild Rice and Chicken Soup

Winter has arrived in central Indiana. Sunday morning we woke to the beauty of snow dusted tree limbs and meandering deer grazing for food across a pristine white field. I love the crispness of freshly fallen snow and the peace it brings to our surroundings. Of course, by the afternoon, the temperatures were rising and all that was left of the beautiful picture was wet, nasty roads and muddy driveways...but we enjoyed it while it lasted.

One of our favorite soups that we enjoy throughout the long winter months is this hearty, thick chicken and rice soup. The creamy base has a delicious, rich flavor while the celery that is added toward the end of the recipe adds a crispness that blends so well with the other textures of the rice and chicken in the soup. This is marvelous when served with fresh, hot bread and a crisp, green salad. This is great warmed up for lunch the next day. (I've been known to eat it for several days as my lunch and never tire of it.)

Wild Rice and Chicken Soup

1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups chicken broth
2 cups half and half
2 cups cooked wild rice
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups cubed, cooked chicken
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced carrots, cooked (I cheat and use canned carrots)
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cups sliced mushrooms (I omit)
1/2 cup parsley

1. Saute' onion in butter. Add flour to make a thick roux.
2. Slowly add broth and half and half using a whisk. Cook over medium heat stirring constantly until slightly thickened.
3. Add rice, salt, chicken, vegetables and parsley. Simmer 5 to 10 minutes. If soup is too thick, thin with extra broth.

Source: Necessities and Temptations