Gingerbread Snowflakes

gingerbreadsnowflakeWinter gets such a bad rap. People lament the dark, the cold, the snow. But I love this season; there’s something magical about winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, and how we get just a bit more light each day that follows. We get to see the bones of the trees, and appreciate them all the more when they turn green in the springtime. As far as seasons go, I truly do enjoy them all. But if I had my choice of winter over summer, I’d take winter every single time.

In celebration of the season (both winter and holiday) I decided to bake these gingerbread snowflakes, and they turned out really well. I incorporated the zest from half a lemon into the dough, but I don’t think it really comes through, as they’d say on the Great British Baking Show. Next time, I’ll try more zest to see if it enhances the flavor, as ginger and lemon are good flavor friends.

Ingredients

For the cookies

  • 10 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup molasses
  • 1 egg, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 cups flour, spooned and leveled
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon ginger
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • Zest from half a lemon

For the icing

  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 2-3 teaspoons lemon juice or water

Preparation

To make the dough, in a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves; set aside.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter, dark brown sugar, and molasses on medium speed until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and beat on high speed for 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl a few times. With the mixer running on low, slowly beat in the flour mixture. Dough will be very thick and sticky. Divide into two portions and flatten into discs; wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees; line several baking sheets with parchment paper. Unwrap one disc of dough and place it on a floured surface; this dough is very sticky, so you need plenty of flour for your work surface, rolling pin, and hands. Roll dough to 1/4 inch thickness and cut using a snowflake cutter.

Place cookies on baking sheets and bake for 10 minutes, until edges are set. Remove from oven and allow to cool on the baking sheets for about 5 minutes, then place on a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing, combine powdered sugar, milk, and corn syrup, then add enough lemon juice or water to make a fairly thick but still pipeable consistency. Fit a piping bag with a small plain tip and pipe on snowflake details.

Allow icing to harden before storing between layers of waxed paper in an airtight container; store cookies at room temperature for about 3-4 days. Makes 36; my cutter is about 4 inches wide, and the quantity will vary depending on the size of the cutter.

Whoville Cookies

grinch cookiesI once saw a meme that read “Even the Grinch had a dog, so if you don’t like dogs, that says a lot about you.” Wisdom from the internet, indeed. I just love How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, because I adore the Grinch. There he is, alone in his cave in the mountains with his dog. Swap out a cave for a cabin, and you’ve pretty much got my dream life. I mean sure, I enjoy spending time with others, but if I had my way, I’d live in a cute little mountain house outside Whoville (distanced enough from the village to still have my space) without batting an eye.

Anyway, these cookies are inspired by the alpine nature of Whoville, and also the Grinch’s “too small” heart, which grows once he realizes that the townsfolk of Whoville will celebrate Christmas even without presents and decorations. The recipe is my Grandma Zella’s almond cookie recipe, which can be baked spritz-style using a cookie press or just rolled into balls. Whatever you choose, this is an easy and fun way to celebrate the season.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups shortening
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 1/4 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons almond flavor (the imitation kind actually works best, if you can believe it)
  • Green food coloring
  • Powdered sugar
  • Water
  • Red food coloring

Preparation

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a mixing bowl, cream together sugar and shortening. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Add half the flour, along with the almond flavoring, and beat to combine. Add the remaining flour and beat until well combined.

For spritz-style cookies, fit a cookie press with your desired shape; I used the tree shape. Press onto an unlined, ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for about 6 minutes, until just golden brown on the bottom. Remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes on the cookie sheets, then place on a wire rack to cool completely.

For Grinch heart cookies, use a 1-inch cookie scoop and roll the dough into balls. Place on foil-lined cookie sheets and bake for about 13-15 minutes, until bottoms are just golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes on the cookie sheets, then place on a wire rack to cool completely.

For heart icing, mix a few tablespoons powdered sugar with just enough water to make a thick but pipeable consistency and tint red. Fit a small piping bag with a small plain tip and pipe hearts onto each cookie.

Store cookies at room temperature in an airtight container for several days – they also freeze well if you haven’t iced them. Makes several dozen, depending on your shapes; my batch made about 5 dozen.

Molasses Oat Drops

molassesoatdropsIf I had to choose a flavor profile for any treat, molasses and spices would make my top five for sure. Called black treacle in Britain, molasses results from the sugarcane or sugar beet refining process. The good folks at Southern Living have a great explanation of the molasses-making process, as well as the different types of this dark syrup, in this article.

This recipe came from Ambitious Kitchen and was originally made as a sandwich cookie called gingerbread oatmeal cream pies. But once I baked them, I realized that they would be perfectly delicious without a filling of any kind. While I certainly plan to make a sandwich version at some point, these treats stand perfectly on their own; a delicious blend of spices and rich flavor from the blackstrap molasses along with a soft, chewy texture.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup old fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2  teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar (I used light, but you can also use dark)
  • 1/4 cup blackstrap molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preparation

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, oats, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and salt; set aside.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and brown sugar. Add molasses, egg, and vanilla extract and beat until smooth – the mixture may look slightly curdled, but that’s fine. With the mixer running on low, slowly add flour mixture and beat until dough is just combined. Cover and chill for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment. Remove dough from the fridge and scoop using a 2-inch cookie scoop, placing about 2 inches apart on the baking sheets. Bake for 9-11 minutes, until edges are set and tops are puffy. remove from the oven and allow to cool for several minutes on the baking sheets, then place on a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature; makes about 30 cookies.

Pumpkin Patch Sugar Cut-Outs

IMG_9069To some people, frosting dozens of cut-out cookies might be stressful. But for me, it’s Zen time; this endeavor allows me to be completely focused on one task. And that task, when complete, will bring joy to others. It’s a win-win for my mental health, I’d say.

Yesterday I baked a batch of pumpkin-shaped cut-outs for Halloween and decided to frost them with various shades of orange, along with green and white. They turned out really well, and Mike will take them to work tomorrow for his colleagues to enjoy. Granted, I’m keeping a few back for us – I think the green ones are my favorites.

For the cookies

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1-2 teaspoons water

For the frosting

  • 3 egg whites*
  • 9 tablespoons shortening
  • Dash of salt
  • 6 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
  • Orange, yellow, red, moss green, and brown gel food coloring

Preparation

Stir together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside. Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs and beat well. Add vanilla and about half the flour mixture, beating until combined; beat in remaining flour. If necessary, add 1-2 teaspoons of water for a less crumbly dough; you’ll need a more pliable dough to roll and cut later.

Divide dough in half and knead each just slightly until dough sticks together.  Form each half into a disc and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate until just barely firm, about 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper. 

Roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness and cut into desired shapes; I used large, medium, and small pumpkin-shaped cutters. Be sure to bake like-sized shapes on one sheet – otherwise you’ll have an uneven bake. 

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until just golden. Remove from oven and allow to cool on cookie sheets for 2-3 minutes before carefully transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

For the frosting, combine egg whites, shortening, salt, and 2 cups powdered sugar in a mixing bowl.  Beat on low speed until combined, then increase speed to medium, then high, and beat for one minute.

Add additional cup powdered sugar and beat on low speed until combined, then on high speed for one minute. Add vanilla and almond extracts.  Beat on high speed for one or two minutes, until very well combined.

Check the frosting’s texture; it should be like very, very soft peanut butter and very easily spreadable.  If necessary, you can add one to two teaspoons of water to thin the frosting and beat well to combine.

Tint to your desired shades; I used a very light orange with just one drop of orange coloring, then darker shades that blended yellow, red, and brown into the already-orange frosting. For the stem colors, use brown for some and moss green for others; the green pumpkins are tinted with a generous amount of moss green coloring. 

Frost to look like pumpkins, using your knife to make the ridges. Allow icing to set before storing cookies between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container. Makes about 5 dozen, depending on the size of your cutters. 

Joe Frogger Cookies

froggersJoe Frogger cookies have a long history, dating all the way back to 1700s  Massachusetts. According to various sources, Joseph and Lucretia Brown owned Black Joe’s Tavern, and Lucretia originally baked these treats in a skillet, so they were pancake-sized. Some say these cookies were called froggers because they were as large as the lily pads in the nearby pond, while others believed the batter looked like a frog when it hit the skillet. Whatever the reason, I wonder why they’re not called Lucretia Froggers, since she’s the one who invented them. The patriarchy, man. It’ll get you every time.

Regardless of why they’re called what they’re called, they are absolutely delicious. They’re quite large – I baked no more than five or six on one baking sheet at a time – and made with molasses, rum, and warm spices. Really, how can you go wrong with such amazing ingredients? The recipe below comes from my trusty King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion, though the size in the original recipe is “somewhere in size between a table tennis ball and golf ball.” I just used my 2-inch scoop, and it worked really well.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 8 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup molasses
  • 3 tablespoons dark rum

Preparation

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, salt, and baking soda; set aside. In a medium saucepan set over low heat, melt butter, brown sugar, molasses, and rum, stirring until smooth. Pour into flour mixture and stir to completely combine; the batter will be very thin, like cake batter, but will firm up once chilled. Chill the batter for about 1 hour, until firm enough to scoop – it will still be quite sticky.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line three baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, scoop dough into prepared sheets, leaving at least 2 inches between them. Lightly spray your fingers with baking or cookie spray and press to flatten slightly; the cookie dough is very sticky, so it helps to grease your fingers.

Bake for 10-11 minutes, until edges are set but centers still look a bit puffy. Remove from oven and allow to cool on wire racks for several minutes; the cookies are very fragile when they’re first out of the oven. Once cookies are firm enough, remove them to a wire rack to cool completely. My recipe made 17 cookies, but the original was supposed to yield 16.

French Toast Cookies

french toast cookiesOur kitchen remodel is three weeks away, and I’m trying to use up as many of my baking ingredients as possible so there will be less to pack away and store during construction. This week’s effort included maple sugar, so I scoured the internet for recipes and came up with a maple snickerdoodle, which tastes uncannily like French toast. Hence, French toast cookies.

This recipe comes from a place where they really know maple: the State of Vermont. While I chose to just bake my cookies without flattening them with the bottom of a glass as the original recipe stated, I can definitely see why you should – I felt like my cookies looked a bit like tiny potatoes. In any case, these were a big hit in Mike’s office today.

Ingredients

For the dough:

  • 2 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature 
  • 1 1/2 cups maple sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the coating: 

  • 1/3 cup maple sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon

Preparation

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, salt, and baking powder; set aside.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and 1 1/2 cups maple sugar until smooth. Add eggs and vanilla and beat; add flour mixture and beat to form a smooth dough. Chill for about 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line three baking sheets with parchment paper. Stir together 1/3 cup maple sugar and cinnamon for coating.

Using a 1-inch cookie scoop, scoop generous portions of dough and roll into balls, then roll in coating. Place on cookie sheets about 2 inches apart and bake for 8-10 minutes, until edges are light golden brown. Remove from oven and cool on baking sheets for 1-2 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2-3 days. 

Makes about 2 1/2 to 3 dozen, depending on how generous you are with your scoops of dough. 

 

Under the Sea Cookies

under the sea cookiesAquarium-inspired baking continues with these under the sea treats. Mike’s coworkers actually asked if there would be treats this week, and indeed, there will. A variety of whales, octopuses, crabs, sand dollars, starfish, and sea life motifs that feature kelp, anemones, and jellyfish will join Mike in the office tomorrow.

These cookies took me forever to ice, but it was nice Zen time, which I greatly needed. Although my whales look a bit crusty (I suppose whales actually are a bit crusty?) and my sand dollars (not pictured here) left a bit to be desired, I’m quite pleased with how they turned out. I hope Mike’s coworkers enjoy them.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 cups flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla
  • Triple batch Zella’s icing
  • Royal blue, pale blue, teal, copper, brown, and moss green food coloring
  • Miniature chocolate chips (for eyes)

Preparation

Stir together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.

Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add egg and beat well. Add vanilla and about half the flour mixture, beating until combined; beat in remaining flour.

Note: if your dough is too crumbly, you can add just a bit of water or another ¼ teaspoon of vanilla.

Divide dough in half and knead each just slightly until dough sticks together.  Form each half into a disc and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate until just barely firm, about 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees; line several baking sheets with parchment paper.

Roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness and cut into desired shapes; I used a crab, whale, star, octopus, and two round cutters (small to make sand dollars, large to make the sea life motifs). Place on baking sheets about 2 inches apart; for the starfish, gently bend the tips of the star to make them more like a starfish.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until just golden brown at the edges. Remove from oven and cool on the baking sheets for a few minutes, then cool completely on a wire rack before icing.

To ice, divide the icing into six portions: royal blue, pale blue, copper, green, and brown. You’ll need two small plain tips for the white and brown icings, a small open star tip for the green, and a small closed star tip and plain tip for the copper.

For the crabs, use royal blue icing and add miniature chocolate chips for eyes. For the whales, use a base coating of pale blue, then add royal blue and swirl – don’t wait to long to add your coating of royal blue or your whales will turn out crusty like mine! Add a circle of white and a miniature chocolate chip for the whale’s eye. Combine the blue icing portions and add some teal for the octopuses, then pipe on suction cups with white and use miniature chocolate chips for the eyes. For the starfish, use copper and pipe on white details. For sand dollars, use white, then pipe on pale brown details (mine didn’t turn out as well, so I didn’t include a photo of them). For the large round cookies, frost the base with the remaining blue/teal icing, then pipe on kelp using a small star tip and the green frosting, add anemones using a closed star tip and the copper frosting, and add jellyfish or other sea life with a plain tip with the copper frosting. I realize now that I should have made my jellyfish white, but that’s okay. I can always make these again.

Allow icing to set before storing in between sheets of waxed paper. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Sparkling Sea Life Cookies

sparking sea lifeMike and I visited the National Aquarium in Baltimore last weekend after a family party. I love an aquarium – the serene sharks and stingrays gliding through enormous tanks, the colorful tropical fish, the varieties of coral. I don’t scuba dive, but aquariums make me want to. Actually, I always just want to hop into the big tank and swim with the sharks, but I realize such behavior is both a) frowned upon and b) likely dangerous.

This weekend’s baking is inspired by our aquarium visit in these travel-friendly sparking sea creatures, which are basic sugar cookies in aquatic shapes covered in sparkling colored sugar. Easy to make and ship, these treats are on their way to Maryland for Maureen and Margo along with some books. Although the pink ones were supposed to be starfish, they didn’t quite turn out the way I’d hoped – but fortunately, they could be any kind of interesting aquatic plant.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla
  • Pink and blue colored sugar

Preparation

Stir together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.

Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add egg and beat well. Add vanilla and about half the flour mixture, beating until combined; beat in remaining flour.

Note: if your dough is too crumbly, you can add just a bit of water or another ¼ teaspoon of vanilla.

Knead just slightly until dough sticks together, then flatten into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate until just barely firm, about 20-30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness and cut into desired shapes – I used crabs and what were supposed to be starfish, as I bent the tips of the stars a bit, but actually look more like some kind of aquatic plants. Place colored sugar on a plate and carefully dip each cookie into the sugar, pressing so the sugar sticks (this provides better coverage than sprinkling the sugar on top, but you could do that too if you prefer). Carefully place cookies on parchment-lined baking sheets and bake for 8-10 minutes, until edges are just golden brown.

Remove from oven and cool on baking sheets for about 4-5 minutes, then place on a wire rack to cool completely.

Quantity varies based on the size of your cutter; this batch yielded about 20 cookies because the crab cutters are pretty large.

Unicorn Shortbread

unicorn shortbreadMaureen and Margo, our goddaughters, love unicorns. I don’t remember unicorns being such a big deal when I was a girl, but then again, I was a girl in the 1980s. Back then we had icons like the Care Bears, Strawberry Shortcake, and Rainbow Brite. Now that I think about it, Rainbow Brite seems like the kind of gal who would have hung out with unicorns. Maybe she did? I honestly can’t remember.

To create this unicorn-inspired treat, I simply took some colored sugar and sprinkled it on top of the dough before baking. You can use whatever colors you like, and I went with pink, purple, blue, and yellow for my mixture. Before I baked, I wondered if I’d gone overboard with the sugar, but once it was done I was really pleased with the result.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/3 cups flour
  • Pink, purple, blue, and yellow colored sugar

Preparation

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Lightly grease two 8-inch round cake pans.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter, sugar, salt, and vanilla. Add flour and beat to combine completely.

Divide dough in half and press into the bottoms of the cake pans, using the palm of your hand to create an even surface. Prick all over with a fork, then sprinkle with colored sugar.

Bake for 30-32 minutes, until the edges are golden brown. Remove from oven and gently loosen the sides, then allow to cool in the pans for 5 minutes. Gently flip onto a cutting board and slice each round into 12 wedges, then place wedges on a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to about 5 days; if shipping, pack between layers of waxed paper.

Makes 24 wedges.

Old-Fashioned Chocolate Sugar Cookies

Choosing a favorite cookie is next to impossible…at least for me. But these old-fashioned chocolate sugar cookies, a recipe I found at Mel’s Kitchen Cafe, could be serious contenders for one of my favorite cookies ever. They’re soft, with a crunchy edge and soft, chewy middle. Flavor-wise, they remind me just a bit of a brownie, but not exactly. I decided to call mine “old-fashioned,” since I made them slightly smaller than the original and pressed them with a fork like you would a peanut butter cookie. They look very homey, like something your favorite aunt would have made.

The original author stressed the importance of using dark brown sugar in the recipe, and I completely agree with her. I don’t think the light brown version would yield the same kind of flavor or texture you get with dark brown sugar, but you can certainly substitute it and let me know what happens.

Ingredients

  •  1/3 cup sugar
  •  1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons  flour
  •  3/4 cup  unsweetened cocoa powder
  •  1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  •  1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  •  14 tablespoons butter
  •  1 3/4 cups packed dark brown sugar
  •  1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  •  1/2 teaspoon salt
  •  1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Place granulated sugar in a small bowl; set aside. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and baking powder and set aside.

Melt 10 tablespoons butter in a microwave-safe bowl, checking frequently – you want your butter to be just melted and not too hot. Stir in the remaining 4 tablespoons butter; this will bring the temperature down slightly. Let the butter sit until its about 90 degrees in temperature, then pour into a large bowl and whisk in dark brown sugar, vanilla, and salt until completely smooth. Whisk in egg and yolk, then stir in flour mixture until just combined.

Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, scoop out dough and roll into balls, then dip in granulated sugar to coat. Place on the baking sheet, leaving space between for spreading. Gently press the tops with a fork to make the crisscross pattern.

Bake for about 10-12 minutes, until edges are set but tops are still puffy – be careful not to overbake these, or they’ll be too hard. Cool on baking sheet for about 3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes about 24 cookies.