Paw Print Cookies

Last week I sent my favorite little Maryland girls two stuffed bobcat toys, and what better to accompany them than some paw print cookies? Not having a paw print cookie cutter – and not wanting to send frosted cookies through the mail – I got a bit creative. I’d seen charming polar bear paw cupcakes on Pinterest a while back that used chocolate chips and miniature peppermint patties, so I adapted that concept and just used chocolate candy melts for the main part of the paw print instead.

Cake mix is a great option for these cookies; I might try a scratch-made cookie next time, but these were quick and easy to bake. I went with milk chocolate chips and candy melts, but you could use dark if you prefer, or even white if you went with a chocolate cookie.

Ingredients

  • 1 box white cake mix
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • Milk chocolate chips
  • Milk chocolate candy melts*

*I used Baker’s Dipping Chocolate, which is available at most grocery stores and Target

Preparation

In a large bowl, combine cake mix, vegetable oil, eggs, and almond extract. Mix until completely combined and chill for 2-3 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place chocolate chips in a small bowl and place them, along with the candy melts, in a cool place nearby (not right next to your oven).

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

Bake for 9-11 minutes, until the edges are just golden brown. Remove from oven and immediately press 1 candy melt in the center of each cookie for the center paw pad, then press 4 chocolate chips above it for the toe pads. Move your baking sheet to a cooler place and allow cookies to cool on the sheet for 2-3 minutes, then remove them to a wire rack to cool completely. The chocolate does take some time to set; you can pop the cookies in your fridge for a few minutes to speed the process if you like.

Once chocolate is set, store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

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Easter Chick Cookies

These cookies are really adorable…and I sincerely hope they make it to Maryland for Maureen and Margo’s Easter in one piece. Baked as two balls of dough baked side by side so they form one cookie, they’re at risk of separating, particularly in transit. To explain the potential carnage, I already alerted their mom to the potential that they might lose their cute little heads en route despite my careful packaging. Cross your fingers that I don’t scar my nieces for life, please.

Adapted from a recipe I found at The Gold Lining Girl, these treats feature cake mix as their base. While the original recipe called for lemon cake mix, I used Pillsbury Butter Yellow mix and added some vanilla and yellow food coloring to the batter along with the other ingredients. Full disclosure: I made them way too big, so next time I’ll scale back the portions. I’d also recommending making their beaks and feet a bit darker orange. You’ll have a lot of royal icing left over from the recipe below, so you can use it to decorate other Easter cookies.

Ingredients

  • 1 box Pillsbury Butter Yellow cake mix
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Yellow food coloring
  • Chocolate chips (for eyes)
  • 1 tablespoon meringue powder
  • 1 cup plus 2 heaping tablespoons powdered sugar
  • About 1 1/2 tablespoons warm water
  • Orange food coloring

Preparation

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

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat cake mix, eggs, shortening, and vanilla until combined; add yellow food coloring to your desired shade.

To form each cookie, scoop balls of dough for the head and body, making sure the body is bigger than the head. Place the dough balls next to each other on the baking sheet so they’re just touching, leaving space between each cookie so they have room to spread a bit.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, until edges are set and tops are just barely golden brown. Remove from oven and immediately press chocolate chips into the top ball for eyes; allow to cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes, then carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

To make royal icing for beaks and feet, place meringue powder, powdered sugar, and water in a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on low speed for about 7-10 minutes, until peaks form.

Fit a piping bag with a plain tip and pipe beaks in triangles, then add feet. Allow the icing to set before storing; royal icing will keep at room temperature for up to 2 weeks. Before re-using, beat the icing with a paddle attachment to soften it.

Makes 12 cookies.

Almond Meringues

Last night I had three leftover egg whites, but not the energy to make macarons. So I made meringues instead, and now I wish I’d just gone ahead and made macarons because, truth be told…I’m not that big a fan of meringues.

Yes, yes, I totally need meringue practice. It’s good to work with things that aren’t as familiar, and I admit that the combination of egg whites, salt, cream of tartar, flavoring, and sugar that becomes an ethereal cloud of meringue-ness is something with which I need much more experience. But flavor and texture-wise, they’re not something I’d necessarily choose if there were other treats nearby.

Ingredients

  • 3 egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • dash of salt
  • 2/3 cup superfine sugar

Preparation

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment.

In a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites, almond extract, cream of tartar, and salt on low, then medium speed, until foamy. Slowly add sugar 1 tablespoon at a time, whipping on medium-high speed between each addition. Continue adding the sugar slowly and whipping until meringue is glossy and forms stiff peaks; this can take about 7-10 minutes.

Fit a large piping bag with a star tip and carefully spoon meringue into the bag; you don’t want to knock all the air out of it. Pipe meringue onto parchment in 2-inch blobs, leaving about 1 to 1 1/2 inches between each cookie. They won’t spread, but you want enough room for the heat and air to circulate around them.

Bake meringues for 40-45 minutes, then turn off the oven and leave them inside for another hour. Remove from oven and cool on baking sheets; store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Makes about 30 cookies.

 

Clover Bites

Once again, shortbread comes through as a versatile treat. One of the things I like most about my shortbread recipe, which is based on one from King Arthur Flour, is that it’s delicious on its own but also so easy to dress up. Add extract of nearly any flavor, toss in some citrus extract, tint your dough a fun color, add sprinkles, drizzle it with chocolate; no matter what you do, you really can’t go wrong.

These clover bites – flavored with almond, tinted green, and sprinkled with green sugar – are on their way to Maryland for my favorite little leprechauns as part of their (slightly belated) St. Patrick’s Day package. Shortbread ships very well because it’s fairy sturdy, but I strongly recommend padding your container with some waxed paper, or even bubble wrap, to prevent breakage.

Ingredients

  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, slightly softened
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 5 ounces (1 cup plus 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons) flour
  • Green gel food coloring
  • Green sugar sprinkles

Preparation

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter, sugar, salt, and almond extract. Add flour and beat to combine completely, then add enough food coloring to reach your desired shade of green. The dough will be ready when it pulls away from the sides of your mixing bowl, but you may need to knead it a bit with your hands to make sure the food coloring gets distributed evenly.

Using a 1-inch cookie scoop, scoop dough and roll into balls, placing about 2 inches apart on your baking sheets. Flatten each ball with the palm of your hand and sprinkle with green sugar.

Bake for 25-27 minutes, until edges are set. Remove from oven and cool for about 3 minutes on the baking sheet, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature. Makes about 16 cookies.

Christmas Sugar Cut-Outs

Per usual, I went a bit overboard with Christmas baking. Gingerbread and shortbread for colleagues, pear tart and spice cake for Christmas day dessert, and these sugar cut-outs and some Russian tea cakes for my trip to Deep Creek to see my cousin Barb and her family this past weekend. I’ve eaten an inordinate amount of sugar in the past few weeks, even for me.

These Christmas sugar cut-outs may be a bit over the top, but seriously, how can you resist a cookie that looks like this? I also made some trees and stars, but the houses pictured here were my best creations. I used a gingerbread house cookie cutter and decorated them to look like little village houses, complete with snow-covered rooftops and evergreens.

Ingredients

For the cookies

  • 8 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla

For the frosting

  • 1/4 cup shortening
  • 1-2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 1/4 cups powdered sugar
  • Red, green, yellow, and black food coloring (gel coloring is best)

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. Form dough into a ball, then flatten out into a square; refrigerate until just barely firm, about 20-30 minutes.

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

Roll dough to about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thickness and cut into desired shapes; I made stars, trees, and houses. Place same-shape cookies on each baking sheet to ensure even baking. For example, make all the stars on one sheet and all the houses on another so you don’t burn the stars while the houses are still baking.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, until just golden. Cool on a wire rack.

To make the frosting, in a mixing bowl, combine shortening, vanilla extract, water, and 1 cup powdered sugar. Mix on low speed, then increase to medium-high and beat for 10 minutes, until smooth. Add remaining powdered sugar and additional teaspoon of vanilla extract, beating until smooth.

Reserve a portion of untinted frosting for snow, windows, and doors of houses. Divide remaining frosting into small portions for your other colors; I used yellow for my stars, green, yellow, and red for my trees (which featured stars and garland), and red, white, green, and black for my houses. Fill piping bags and decorate as you like; I used a star tip to make the snow and evergreens on my houses above and plain tips to pipe the windows, doors, and window/door outlines.

Allow frosting to set before storing cookies between sheets of waxed paper in airtight containers at room temperature. Makes about 2 dozen, depending on cutter sizes.

Chocolate Peppermint Shortbread

Chocolate and peppermint make a great flavor pair. These chocolate peppermint shortbread cookies are an elegant-looking treat that’s very easy to make and great for holiday baking.

You can buy peppermint candy bits at most craft stores and dollar stores around the holidays, but if you can’t find them, simply get some of the traditional red and white “star mint” style peppermints and crush them yourself. Give the chocolate just a moment to start to set once you’ve dipped the cookies; this helps the crushed candies adhere better without sliding off once you’ve placed the cookies on your cooling sheet.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ounce (about 1/3 cup) Dutch-process cocoa
  • 7 1/4 ounces (about 1 3/4 cups) flour
  • 8 ounces chocolate candy coating
  • About 3/4 cup crushed peppermint candies

Preparation

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

In a mixing bowl, cream together butter, sugar, salt, and vanilla, then beat in cocoa powder and flour.

Divide dough into two 12-ounce portions and press each portion into the bottom of the cake pans, using the palm of your hand to flatten the dough as evenly as possible.

Bake for 32-35 minutes, until it appears done around the edges. Remove from oven and loosen the sides with a knife, then cool in pans for 5 minutes.

Carefully turn one shortbread round out onto a cutting board and cut into 16 wedges; place wedges on a wire rack to cool. Repeat with the second round.

Once cookies are cool, place crushed peppermints on a plate or in a shallow dish. Melt your chocolate coating in a saucepan over very low heat, stirring until smooth.

Working quickly, dip the wide edge of each wedge into the chocolate and gently shake off the excess; hold over the pan for about 20 seconds just to let the chocolate begin to set, then dip in crushed peppermints.

Place on waxed paper or parchment and allow to set completely before storing.

Makes 32.

Note: shortbread will break if you try to cut it once it’s cool, so you must cut the rounds into wedges while they’re still warm.

Amanda’s Holiday Spice Shortbread

What do you do when you’re a baker and your bestie is allergic to cinnamon? You develop a cinnamon-free spice mix just for her. Behold, Amanda’s Holiday Spice: a blend of ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and cardamom. It’s sort of like gingerbread spice meets apple pie spice, a wonderfully warm blend of some dynamite flavors.

I’m a big fan of making your own spice mixes, so here’s how you make this one: take 1 teaspoon ginger, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/8 teaspoon cloves, and about 1/4 teaspoon cardamom; mix it all together and taste. I added a few dashes more of nutmeg and cardamom for a total of about 2 teaspoons of spice. Store homemade spice mixes in small jars right alongside your regular spices so you can toss them into recipes whenever you like.

P.S. – these treats are on their way to Amanda and her family in California right now as a Thanksgiving gift, because I’m more grateful for her than I can say.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 10 ounces (about 2 1/3 cups) flour
  • 2 teaspoons Amanda’s Holiday Spice Blend
  • Demerara sugar, for sprinkling

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 extract. Add flour and spice mix and beat to combine completely. The dough will be ready when it pulls away from the sides of your mixing bowl.

Divide dough in half and press into the bottom of each cake pan, using the palm of your hand to create an even surface. Sprinkle the top with Demerara sugar, about 1/8 cup on each, then gently press the sugar into the top of the dough.

Bake for 32-35 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 into 16 wedges, then place wedges on a wire rack to cool completely.

Store at room temperature for up to 5 days (or mail to your best friend).