Spritz

spritz-iWhen I was a kid, my mom and my grandma Zella both made almond cookies using a cookie press. How easily the dough popped out, shaped like trees and wreaths and pinwheels. Tinted green at Christmas, topped with sprinkles or colored sugar, these cookies were a staple in our holidays.

I have never had such luck with the cookie press.

I tried valiantly this time with a spritz recipe I found at Land O’Lakes, and while I did manage one good batch of trees (pictured here), I admit that my dough softened too much and refused to cooperate for the wreaths and pinwheels. Instead of fighting my dough (or chilling it a second time, which I should have done), I rolled it into balls, flattened them with my hand, and baked them as buttons. Since spritz are so named for the German word “spritzen,” which means “to squirt,” I can’t say the buttons were true spritz cookies…more like absolutely delicious butter cookies. Either way, the results of this recipe are supremely tasty.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2/3 cups sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • Colored sugar, if desired

Preparation

In a mixing bowl fitted with the paddle attachment, combine butter, sugar, egg, and salt. Cream together until fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.

Add flour and beat at low speed until well-combined. Cover dough and chill for about 30-45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line three baking sheets with foil.

Fit a cookie press with your desired shape and fill with dough; press onto cookie sheets about 1 inch apart. Sprinkle with colored sugar, if desired. Alternatively, roll dough into 1-inch balls and flatten with your hand, then sprinkle with sugar.

Bake for 6-9 minutes, until edges are lightly browned. Remove from oven and cool for a few minutes on the cookie sheets, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container for 4-5 days.

Note: the recipe will yield different amounts depending on the shapes you choose; my recipe made about 3 dozen.

Gingerbread

gingerbreadYesterday we put up our Christmas tree, and it seemed appropriate to make gingerbread. Not gingerbread cookies, despite how delicious (and adorable) they are – but actual gingerbread loaves, which I’d never made before.

I found a great gingerbread loaf recipe from Pillsbury and adapted it slightly to include a thicker glaze than the original.  You could leave the loaves plain if you like, but I highly recommend glazing them – although you might not expect it, lemon glaze adds a wonderful dimension of flavor to this rich, spicy bread. It would also be easy to cut this recipe in half to make just one loaf, or to bake the whole recipe in smaller loaf pans to give as gifts (which I’m totally going to do).

Ingredients

For the gingerbread

  • 2 3/4 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 4 teaspoons ginger
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • Generous 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup molasses
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

For the glaze

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two 8 x 4 loaf pans (or spray with baking spray).

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and set; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each until the mixture is smooth.

In a 4-cup glass measuring cup, combine molasses and boiling water, stirring to combine. Add baking soda and stir; mixture will become foamy.

With the mixer running on low, slowly pour the molasses mixture into the butter mixture, beating until combined. Add flour in three batches, beating until just incorporated after each; stir by hand until well-blended.

Divide batter evenly between the pans and bake for 45-60 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean; my loaves only needed about 45 minutes.

Cool in pans for about 15 minutes, then turn out onto wire racks to cool completely.

To make the glaze, place powdered sugar in a medium bowl and add lemon juice 1 tablespoon at a time; you want a thicker glaze texture. Pour over loaves, spreading to the edges. Allow glaze to set before serving.

Red Velvet Cookies

red velvet cookiesDo you think of red velvet as a Christmas treat? I didn’t, until my friend Erika mentioned that she likes red velvet at this time of year. After all, Santa’s suit is kind of red velvety, and there are plenty of red velvet bows to go around.

These cookies are a delicious twist on the classic red velvet cupcake, and they were extremely popular in my office this week. You could add frosting to them, but I’d recommend just dusting them with powdered sugar once they’ve cooled; although this photo doesn’t do them justice, they have a beautiful red velvet color beneath the powdered sugar.

I also advise using a spoon to scoop your dough, instead of a cookie scoop, as my one-inch scoop met its maker with this dough.

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon semisweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled to room temperature
  • 1 egg, at room temperature, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons red food coloring
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar for rolling, plus more for dusting

Preparation

In a medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, salt, and baking soda; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat butter on medium speed for about 1 minute. Add brown sugar and white sugar and beat until light and fluffy.

Add beaten egg and beat until combined.

Add melted chocolate, vanilla, and red food coloring and beat until combined.

Add flour mixture in three batches, beating well between and scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Cover with plastic wrap and chill for about 1 hour, until easier to handle.

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

Place powdered sugar in a small bowl.

Using a spoon, scoop out 1 tablespoon of dough and roll into a ball, then dip in powdered sugar, tossing to coat. Place about 2 inches apart on prepared cookie sheets.

Bake for 10-11 minutes, until tops are cracked and edges are set. Remove from oven and allow to cool on baking sheets for about 5 minutes, then remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Once cookies are cool, dust with more powdered sugar.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Chocolate Peppermint Crinkles

chocolatepeppermintcrinklesNow and then my Aunt Liz sends me recipes in the mail, clipped from magazines or newspapers. This Thanksgiving she came to Pittsburgh bearing a copy of Southern Living magazine with recipes she thought I’d like, and boy, was she right. The issue features page after page of beautiful cakes, desserts, and cookies for the holidays, including these chocolate peppermint crinkles.

Chocolate crinkle cookies are a Christmas staple, and these chocolate peppermint crinkles are a delicious twist on the classic. If you’re not a peppermint fan you can easily substitute the peppermint extract for vanilla extract. This batch makes 18 cookies and could be easily doubled for a larger batch.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 2 eggs
  • About 3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted

Preparation

In a medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, and baking powder; set aside.

Combine baking chocolate, butter, and salt in a small saucepan and melt over very low heat, stirring well to combine.

Pour mixture into a medium bowl and add sugar, stirring well.

Add peppermint extract and eggs; stir very well to combine.

Add flour mixture and stir until completely combined; mixture will thicken.

Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour, until easier to handle.

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

Using a one-inch cookie scoop, scoop generous portions of dough and roll into balls, then dip in powdered sugar and toss to coat very well.

Place cookies about 2 inches apart on baking sheets and bake for 11 minutes; remove from oven and allow to cool on baking sheets for about 4-5 minutes before removing to wire racks to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Tip: if you don’t want a huge mess on your counter tops, place a kitchen towel or paper towels beneath the cooling racks to catch the excess powdered sugar while your cookies cool.

Peppermint Meltaways

peppermintmeltawaysIt’s peppermint season! With just a few weeks to go until Christmas, peppermint-flavored treats are everywhere…including my kitchen.

Peppermint is my favorite plant in the mint family, and not just because it pairs very well with chocolate. Peppermint calms headaches, soothes sore throats, tames upset stomachs, and can lower anxiety associated with depression. A pretty powerful little plant, when you think about it.

These peppermint meltaways are adapted from Taste of Home, one of my favorite recipe sources. They’re lighter than expected, perhaps due to the cornstarch in the dough. Next time, I think I’ll swirl together white and red frosting for a candy cane look. This makes a relatively small batch of 2 dozen, but they’d be a nice addition to your Christmas cookie platter.

Ingredients

For the cookies

  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon peppermint extract

For the frosting

  • 2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • About 2 1/2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • red food coloring, if desired

Preparation

In a small bowl, combine flour and cornstarch; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat butter for about 1 minute, then add powdered sugar and beat until light and fluffy.

Add peppermint extract and beat to combine.

Add flour/cornstarch mixture in three batches, beating well and scraping the sides of the bowl after each. Chill dough for about 20 minutes, until easy to handle.

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

Using a 1-inch cookie scoop, scoop dough and roll into balls. Place on cookie sheets about 2 inches apart.

Bake for 11-12 minutes, until bottoms are golden brown. Be careful when checking – these cookies are very soft and crumbly until they’re cool.

Remove from oven and cool on baking sheets for about 3 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, beat butter for 1 minute, then add 2 tablespoons milk, peppermint extract, and 1/4 cup powdered sugar. Beat on medium speed until combined, then add remaining powdered sugar about 1/4 cup at a time, beating well. Check your consistency; you want a spreadable frosting that isn’t too thick or thin, like the consistency of peanut butter. If necessary, thin your frosting with the remaining milk. Add food coloring, if desired.

Frost cookies and store in a single layer in an airtight container at room temperature.

 

Peppermint Pattie Cake

peppermint pattie cakeDark chocolate and peppermint are great friends. Perhaps the most famous product with this combination is the York Peppermint Pattie, another amazing confection pioneered right here in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the 1940s.

This cake tastes much like a York Peppermint Pattie, even though the candies aren’t used in the recipe. Next time, instead of crushing red and white mints for the cake’s garnish, I’d like to cut Peppermint Patties into halves or quarters and place them along the edge of the cake for the border. One other item to note about this recipe: the original recipe that I found online called for 3/4 cup of boiling water to be stirred in by hand once all of the other ingredients were blended. This seemed like far too much liquid to me, so I used 1/2 cup…which in hindsight was still too much liquid. Although the cake turned out well, the center fell significantly during cooling, so next time I’ll use no more than 1/4 cup.

Ingredients

For the dark chocolate sheet cake:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup Dutch process cocoa
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup boiling water

For the peppermint vanilla buttercream frosting:

  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 2 teaspoons peppermint extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • red and white peppermint candies, crushed (optional)

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9 x 13 pan with baking spray.

Place sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a mixing bowl and stir to combine. Add eggs, milk, vegetable oil, and vanilla and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes, until very well combined.

Gently stir in boiling water by hand; batter will be thin. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely in pan before frosting.

To prepare the frosting, place butter in a mixing bowl and beat on medium speed for 1 minute using a paddle attachment. Add powdered sugar and beat on low speed until the sugar is fully incorporated; this will take several minutes. I cover my mixer with a kitchen towel to prevent a powdered sugar storm.

Scrape the sides of the bowl and add peppermint extract, vanilla extract, and 1 tablespoon heavy cream. Beat until well combined, scraping sides of the bowl frequently; beat in additional tablespoon of heavy cream and continue beating for 1-2 minutes for a smooth, even consistency.

Frost the cake and sprinkle the edges with crushed peppermint candies if desired.

Gingerbread House

IMG_1773Gingerbread houses are charming, aren’t they? I’ve never made one until today, and it didn’t turn out at all as I expected. Perhaps if I have a different recipe for both the gingerbread and the royal icing, I’ll give it another go someday. In fact, this is the first time I won’t post the recipes I used on this blog, because I truly believe there have to be better ones out there.

Like many shoddy construction jobs, I believe the fault in my house lies in my building materials. The gingerbread was far too soft, while the royal icing was far too hard. While I realize that royal icing is hefty stuff, designed to keep one’s gingerbread walls from caving in, mine turned out more like spackle…and it might have been easier to use actual spackle, since no one will be eating this.

Despite the recipe challenges, my end result is a cute and eco-friendly little structure. It’s small, with fairly thick walls, so it would be easy to heat and cool. And yes, those are supposed to be solar panels on the left side of the roof. Perhaps I could have constructed a wind turbine out of some pretzel sticks, but that’ll have to wait until next time.

 

 

Pfeffernüssen

pfeffernussenGermans have been immigrating to America since the colonial days, bringing beer, hamburgers, and all manner of delicious baked goods with them. German Americans represent the largest ancestry group in the U.S., with about 50 million individuals tracing their heritage back to Germany. Mike is about three-quarters German, and I’m one-quarter, thanks to my mom’s mom, Genevieve Feaga (pronounced Fig-ee) O’Donnell.

Many Christmas traditions in the U.S. originated in Germany, from Christmas trees to gingerbread houses. Pfeffernüssen seem to be the über-spicy cousins of gingerbread, packing in cinnamon, allspice, cloves, nutmeg, and even pepper in their dough. The recipe below is slightly adapted from the Martha Stewart Cookie Book recipe; I increased my spices a bit and just used regular nutmeg and pepper, rather than freshly grated or ground, as I only had the regular kind. Also, I spiced these very generously; while I wouldn’t describe the spice measurements below as “heaping,” you definitely don’t need to be stingy when measuring.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 8 tablespoons butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cup powdered sugar, for coating

Preparation

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

Place powdered sugar in a brown paper bag and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and spices; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine butter, brown sugar, and molasses. Beat on medium speed until fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.

Add egg and vanilla and mix until combined.

With the mixer on low, slowly add flour, mixing until just combined.

Using a 2-inch cookie scoop, scoop out dough, roll into balls, and place about 1 1/2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets.

Bake for 15-17 minutes, until tops crack and just begin to brown. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes.

Once cookies have cooled slightly, place 2-3 cookies in the brown paper bag at a time and gently shake to coat. Remove from bag and place on a wire rack to cool completely.

 

Gingerbread Cookies

gingerbread cookies

 

 

 

 

 

Gingerbread has a long history among religious men and women in Europe, but when the Brothers Grimm published Hansel and Gretel, spicy treat catapulted into mainstream German culture and folks began to decorate gingerbread houses like the one in the story. When German immigrants came to America, they brought this tradition, along with many other Christmas standards we now think of as American, right along with them.

This was the first time I’d ever made gingerbread cut-outs, and next year I hope to make a house with this recipe. It is sturdy enough to hold up, I think…but only time and royal icing will tell!

Ingredients

For the cookies

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • 1/3 cup sugar

For the glaze

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1-2 tablespoons hot (just below boiling) water

Preparation

In a medium bowl, combine flour, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, baking soda, salt, and pepper; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat butter, sugar, and molasses until fluffy, about three minutes.

Add flour in two batches, beating until well-combined.

Divide dough in half and flatten into discs (dough will be very sticky); refrigerate about one hour, until easy to handle.

Roll dough to 1/8 inch thickness and cut into desired shapes.

Bake for about 12 minutes; you do not want the gingerbread to burn, so keep an eye on it.

Remove from oven and cool on baking sheets for a few minutes, then cool completely on a wire rack.

If glazing:

Combine 1 cup powdered sugar and one tablespoon very hot water; gradually add more water, 1/4 teaspoon at a time, until icing can be piped through a pastry bag fitted with a plain tip.

Pipe as desired, or thin out icing further and drizzle.

Peanut Butter Blossoms

pb blossoms

 

 

 

 

 

My mom, Genny, made these cookies every Christmas when I was growing up. Her recipe involved a box of yellow cake mix, and I suspect that’s because she was a busy lady with a full-time job, two children, a million things to do at Christmas, and very little time for completely scratch-made treats.

Charlie Brown asked the immortal question “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is really all about?” and the ever-earnest Linus Van Pelt (who I suspect became a minister when he grew up) gave him a thoughtful answer in this clip. I think we’d all do well to remember, in this time of door-busters and inflatable snowmen and pop stars crooning about chestnuts and drummer boys and reindeer, what Christmas is really all about. So enjoy your friends and family. Bake some cookies (these ones, maybe?). Buy creative gifts from local merchants. Hang out in your pajamas. And take some time to reflect on what Christmas is really all about, and what it really means to you.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar, for rolling
  • 36 Hershey’s Kisses

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line several baking sheets with foil or parchment paper.

Unwrap 36 Kisses and set aside in a cool place, away from the heat of the oven so they don’t start to melt.

In a small bowl, measure out 1/4 cup sugar for rolling; set aside.

In another small bowl, measure out 1/2 cup sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat shortening and peanut butter until smooth.

Add sugar mix and beat until combined, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Add egg, milk, and vanilla and beat until combined.

Add flour and beat until well-combined.

Using a one-inch cookie scoop, scoop out dough and roll into balls; roll balls in sugar and place two inches apart on prepared baking sheets.

Bake for 10-11 minutes; remove from oven and immediately press one Kiss in the center of each, then transfer the entire baking sheet to a wire rack away from the oven to cool for about 5 minutes.

Remove cookies and cool completely on a wire rack.