Fit for Santa’s team: Rudolph loves cookies

Rudolph Cookies

With Christmas only days away, we’re squeezing in every last ounce of holiday fun, food and crafty goodness that we can before Santa hits the slopes and heads to town (presuming that his sled does a bit of skiing action before taking to the air). And what better way to welcome him to our humble abode than with yummy cookies that are the spitting image of his trusty team?

Beany loves looking at their happy little faces, and I think the kiddos who are a bit older would get a kick out of making the reindeer themselves by pressing the pretzels and M&Ms into the warm cookies. Sometimes those little hands can be a big help. 

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Reindeer Cookies1

Reindeer Cookies

• cookie dough (I used our favorite ginger spice cookie recipe, but any cookie will do.)
• chocolate-covered pretzels
• chocolate chips
• red M&Ms

Form dough into rounded tablespoons, and place on a baking sheet. Press the dough gently to flatten it slightly, and pinch the bottom end of each ball of dough so it comes to a slight point. Bake cookies according to recipe’s instructions.

Remove cookies from the oven. While they’re still warm (and before they’ve completely set), gently press two chocolate chips into the dough for the eyes, one red M&M for the nose and two chocolate-covered pretzels for the antlers.

Place cookies on a wire rack to cool completely.

Reindeer Cookies2

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How’s your holiday break shaping up? Are you baking up a storm? Decking the halls? Wishing for snow? Do tell!

XO,
Katrina

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It’s time to meet the blondies

Blondies

The season of sugar is upon us, and though I fully intend to stay waist deep in an assortment of tried and true cookie recipes from now until the New Year (I promise I will share!), I’m always game for a bit of newness as far as flour and sugar and butter are concerned. You’d think that eventually there’d be an end to reinvention in the kitchen, that someday we’ll have tried all the combos and be forced to a forever after of repeats. But no, baking is like entertainment that way. Sure, we’ve seen 10 bazillion remakes of A Christmas Carol and Groundhog Day, but did you say you have a new spin on it tonight, Hallmark Channel? Well, I’ll be there. Again. And it will be awesome.

I realize that blondies are no new thing in the dessert world, but I managed to go 26 years without ever tasting one. Apparently they’re a big hit on the Midwest carry-in church dinner circuit, so when I asked Jared if he’d ever had one before, he laughed at me like I’d asked him if he’d ever seen a dog. Clearly my lack of exposure to this buttery amalgamation of flour and sweets meant I had missed an integral part of the growing up experience. But alas, we are never too old to learn new tricks (er, new foods). And thank goodness for that.

Blondies3

Blondies seem to be the result of a love-filled marriage between the brownie and the chocolate chip cookie. They’re chewy, almost fudgy like brownies and buttery, almost caramely like chocolate chip cookies. The sliced almonds (or pecans, which most blondies recipes seem to call for) add good texture and are actually a welcome break from all that sugar. Speaking of all that sugar, I highly advise topping your blondies with a healthy (by way of size) scoop of vanilla ice cream. ‘Tis how it’s done, I gather.

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Blondies4

Blondies
Adapted very slightly from the Foster’s Market Cookbook (Sara Foster, p. 252)

• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• ¾ cup unsalted butter, softened
• 2 cups packed light brown sugar
• 2 eggs
• 2 teaspoons vanilla
• 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
• 1 cup sliced almonds
* vanilla ice cream for serving

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees, and butter a 9-by-13-inch pan.

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt, and set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar until it’s light and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time, and blend after each addition. Add the vanilla, and blend until the mixture is fluffy.

Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture just until combined (don’t overmix!). Fold in the chocolate chips and almonds, and then transfer the batter to the prepared pan.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow the bars to cool for about 30 minutes before cutting. Serve with a big happy scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Blondies2

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Are there any foods you never tried growing up that seem to be super popular among the masses? What’s your all-time favorite sweet treat? And has anyone started their holiday baking yet? Do tell!

XO,
Katrina

Christmas is less than four weeks away (woo hoo!), and do you know what that means? It’s that time of year for the second annual Wrapping Week! Check back next week for a new holiday gift wrapping idea every day. And if you can’t wait that long to get started, check out last year’s tips and tricks here, here, here, here and here.

Who are you, peanut butter cookie? Who are you?

I’ve been giving this a lot of thought lately, and I’ve come to the conclusion that you can tell a lot about people by their favorite kind of cookie. There are the chocolate chip-lovers, straight-forward and classic; the snickerdoodle fans, pure and sweet; and the lemon bar enthusiasts, fresh and zingy. I actually ran through quite a lengthy cookie list the other day, pairing sweets with various human characteristics for an engaging personality study of baked goods (needless to say, my definition of productivity slips a bit during the holidays), but somewhere along the way I came across a cookie that I couldn’t quite peg down. The peanut butter cookie, in all its crunchy, chewy wonder, is something of a man (or woman) of mystery. It’s classic, yes, but not so classic that it makes the menu at every coffee shop in town. It’s also sweet, but a good kick of salt makes it much less sugary than its cousins in the cookie aisle. It’s simple in ingredients but complex in flavor, which just adds to the confusion. Who are you, peanut butter cookie? Who are you?

In all my years of cookie baking, I had never, until recently, made a peanut butter cookie. It’s a baked good that runs under the radar, I think. The gingersnaps, shortbreads and fancy pants cookies tend to steal the show in my kitchen, particularly around the holidays, but a jar of Peter Pan beckoned me from the cabinet last week and begged to be made into something special. I found a great recipe on Food52 and adjusted it ever so slightly to suit my family’s tastes. Now I can’t imagine how I went so long without adding peanut butter to the cookie repertoire. These guys were a knockout. Not too sweet. Not too salty. Not too chewy. Not too crunchy. So good but so not definable. And thus, I return to my quandary.

In truth, I could hyper-analyze the poor peanut butter cookie and its eaters for days, but I suppose none of that matters. The fact is, despite its ambiguous nature and not-quite-classic status, little peanut butter is one delicious guy (and thus my metaphor stops before there’s trouble. Yikes!). The salty, sweet flavor and chewy, crunchy combo make it pretty irresistible.

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Peanut Butter Cookies
Adjusted slightly from Merrill, Food52.com

• 1/2 cup unsalted butter
• 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
• 1/2 cup sugar
• 1/2 cup brown sugar
• 1 egg
• 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
• ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and peanut butter. Beat in sugars until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla, and beat until blended thoroughly. Add the salt, baking soda and flour, and beat until just combined.

Chill the dough for about an hour, then roll it into tablespoon-sized balls. Place balls of dough on a parchment-lined cookie sheet about 2 inches apart, and use the back of a fork dipped in flour to make a cross-hatched pattern atop each cookie.

Bake in a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes, until cookies are lightly golden and edges just start to firm up. Let them cool on the cookie sheet for a minute or two, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

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What kind of cookie are you?

XO,
Katrina

Dessert that’s fit for a king. Or queen. Or anyone who’s keen on crowns.

Christmas countdown week has arrived! Yahoo! Around our house, the week before Christmas is pretty much an ode to flour, sugar and butter galore. Hello, cookies! Yep, it’s a baking extravaganza right up until the man in red arrives. Then that baking extravaganza turns into a gifting, eating and all-around holidaying extravaganza. It really is the most wonderful time of the year.

My family definitely has some sweet holiday staples that make the spread year after year, but it’s always fun to add something new to the mix, especially when it’s unexpected. Earlier in the fall, I wrote a short review of The Cookery Book, the second edition of a cookbook put out by the Friends of the National Churchill Museum at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo., for Jefferson City Magazine, and was asked to whip up one of the recipes as part of the story. After some perusing, I picked the Gâteau Churchill, the pretty stackable number pictured above. It was described in the book as “One of Lady Churchill’s favorites at No. 10 Downing St., London, England.” High praise, I’d say.

The cookbook itself doesn’t include any photos of its recipes, so I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect when I got rolling, but the final dessert came together looking like a stacked, majestic wonder. A dessert fit for royalty! The shortbread base is incredibly buttery and rich, so it’s definitely a your-tummy-will-thank-you-if-you-stick-to-small-portions kind of sweet. But it’s beautiful and charming and tastes super special. And with the pretty spread of raspberry jam between each layer and a snowy sprinkling of confectioners’ sugar on top, the dessert is downright festive.

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Gâteau Churchill
Adapted slightly from The Cookery Book, Page 193. One of Lady Churchill’s favorites at No. 10 Downing St., London, England

• 14 tablespoons butter
• 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
• ¼ cup dark brown sugar
• raspberry jam
• confectioners’ sugar
• heavy cream, whipped

Place butter, flour, salt and sugar in the large bowl of a food processor and pulse until dough comes together. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. Form into ball and chill until firm. Cut dough into six equal parts. Keep each refrigerated until ready to roll. Roll out each piece on a heavily floured board just enough (about ¼ inch thick) to cut into a 6-inch round, the size of a small tea plate.

Place on greased baking sheets and bake at 350 degrees F for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Once cool, stack the six rounds in layers and spread raspberry jam between each layer. Sift confectioners’ sugar on the top layer. Serve with heated raspberry jam and whipped cream.

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Is your holiday baking in full swing? How are you prepping for the big day? What sugary goodness is going on at your house?

XO,
Katrina

And the baking returns! Cranberry orange scones

We’ve all heard the old adage: A baby changes everything. Three weeks into this parenting thing, and I can indeed confirm that our tiny bundle has made a mountain-sized impact on life as we knew it. Although the Bean’s birth hasn’t literally changed everything — there’s still work to do, school to attend, holidays to plan for — she’s certainly changed our approach to everything. Suddenly a happy baby seems so much more important than a spotless house, oven full of baked goods or even a good night’s sleep. While Jared perfects his swaddling skills (he’s the only one who’s consistently successful at containing our ninja baby’s flailing arms), I’m learning to revisit my to-do list in one-hour increments of time. Of course, I’d still much rather watch the Bean make silly sleeping faces than do anything truly productive. Life is good.

During one of the baby naps yesterday, I did manage to squeeze in a batch of cranberry orange scones, my newfound favorite that I seem to love more every time I bake them. Packed full of cranberries and zinging with fresh orange zest, these buttery bites are perfect for breakfast or dessert and can be made ahead of time and frozen, which is right handy dandy when you’re too busy chasing sugarplums to find time for anything else.

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Cranberry Orange Scones
Adapted from mrslarkin’s blueberry scones on Food52.com (food52.com/recipes/11455_royal_wedding_scones/1)

• 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
• ¼ cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling on tops of scones
• 1 tablespoon baking powder
• ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
• 1 tablespoon grated orange zest
• 6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
• 1 cup dried cranberries
• 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed orange juice
• 1 scant cup heavy cream, plus more for brushing on tops of scones
• 1 large egg
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In the large bowl of a food processor (fitted with the chopping blade), place the dry ingredients and orange zest, and pulse to combine. Add the butter, and pulse 10 or so times to combine (you should retain some small pieces of butter). Transfer flour mixture to a large mixing bowl. Fold cranberries into mixture.

In a large measuring cup, place heavy cream, egg, orange juice and vanilla. Mix well, then pour into flour mixture. Using a fork, fold the wet mixture into the dry mixture while gradually turning the bowl (you’re aiming for a folding motion, not stirring). When dough begins to come together, gently kneed dough into a ball shape.

Transfer dough ball to floured board, and gently pat it into a 6- or 7-inch circle. Use a pastry scraper or large chef’s knife to cut it into 8 triangles.

Place the scones on a wax-paper-lined sheet pan, and freeze until solid.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place frozen scones on a parchment-lined baking sheet, about 1 inch apart. Brush tops with cream, and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, turning pan halfway through. Scones are done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

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What’s your favorite seasonal baked good? Did anyone discover a new favorite recipe over the holiday weekend? How did the festivities go? And in baby news, how do other parents of little ones manage to find time for all the holiday to-dos?

Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving! It’s officially the Christmas season! Woo hoo!

XO,
Katrina

The food blogging conundrum: Saving room for favorites

Writing a food-filled blog for the past year has turned out to be a pretty fun gig. Not only have I had a chance to sharpen my kitchen skills and experiment with recipes, but Jared and I have also enjoyed our share of yumminess from the ever-changing post subjects. I’ve tried things I never thought I’d try before (prepping that whole chicken for roasting just about did me in) and discovered new flavors that I love. Overall, it’s been nothing but fun, and I look forward to continuing my culinary antics as long as my little kitchen holds out on me.

There is one rather troublesome dilemma that I’ve found, though, when it comes to writing and photographing food on a regular basis. With so many cookbooks to explore and recipes to try (and the need to offer readers a glimpse of something new and exciting somewhat consistently), it’s tricky finding time to revisit dishes from the past. The truth is, when it comes to preparing food, it isn’t a parent-approved, you’re-all-my-darlings-and-I-love-you-all-the-same kind of situation. With recipes, there are, in fact, favorites.

So that in itself is the great food blogging conundrum: allowing oneself the time and effort to make those favorites, even if it means no new post or photos will result. Maybe it’s the fall feel in the air or the nearly finished bun in the oven that can take credit for my intensely nostalgic feelings as of late, but during the past few weeks, I’ve led myself down a long and winding road of cooking reverie, on which I’ve revisited lots of my all-time favorites (many of which I’ve included on the blog already) with no purpose other than to prepare, share and enjoy. Through this process, I’ve also rediscovered that sense of calm and happiness that inevitably accompanies those favorite, satisfying recipes. Actually, it’s probably a great way to reclaim the love of baking that inspired me to start blogging in the first place. It’s certainly fun to experiment and explore, but it’s important to remember where we came from.

In light of my walk down food memory lane, below is the recipe for the one and only cookie to win the title “Jared and Katrina’s Favorite.” I first wrote about it a year ago, but I’d say the three separate batches of this spice-filled treat that I’ve whipped up in the past two weeks alone are reason enough to let it shine again. In all the cookies in all the world, this is the one that makes our hearts and tummies sing from the mountaintops. New is great. But sometimes old is better.

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Ginger Spice Cookies

• ¾ cup unsalted butter
• 1 cup sugar
• 1 egg
• ¼ cup molasses (plus a smidge extra so it overflows for a few seconds)
• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 2 teaspoons baking soda
• 3 heaping teaspoons cinnamon
• 2 heaping teaspoons ginger
• ½ heaping teaspoon cloves
• ½ teaspoon salt

Cream butter and sugar in an electric mixer, then add egg and molasses and mix together. Sift flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and salt in a separate bowl, then add slowly to butter/sugar mixture. Mix until just combined.

Roll dough into tablespoon-sized balls, roll in sugar, and place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet (about 1 ½ inches apart). Bake for 10 to 12 minutes at 350 degrees, until firm on the outside but still soft on the inside (they actually should still look a little underdone when you take them out, which makes for that perfect crunch on the outside and soft chewiness on the inside).

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Does anyone else suffer from the food blogging conundrum? What is your absolute favorite recipe, the one that melts your heart as it melts on your tongue? Any loves that you’d long forgotten, only to rediscover recently and fall in love with all over again? Do tell!

XO,
Katrina

Challah, you’re the flavor I was missing

From the time I was in first grade through third grade, my family lived in Germany, and during that first year overseas, we lived in Egelsbach, a little German town near the Air Force base where my dad was stationed. I have a lot of great memories from our time there — spaghetti ice from the ice-cream truck, loud squeals from peacocks who lived down the street — but my all-time favorite memories from that year of off-base living were the weekend walks with my dad to a nearby bakery in town.

On Sunday mornings, my dad and I would head out on the short jaunt from our house, down the narrow street and past the barking German Shepherds who scampered up to the gates between what felt like each and every alleyway we walked by. After about 15 minutes of walking, during which time we talked about incredibly important things like who did what in the first grade and what toys I’d been eyeing in the JCPenney Christmas catalog, we’d reach our destination: a small, delicious-smelling local business with a case of fresh-baked treats sure to satisfy all the early-morning callers. I honestly can’t remember what my dad bought for himself, my mom and my older brother each week (though my best guess is a bag full of brötchen — we were crazy for that stuff). What I do remember, however, was the bunny-shaped bread that he always picked out for me. That bunny-shaped bread with raisin eyes was a Sunday specialty at the bakery, and it was the only treat I ever requested.

I take you on this trip down memory lane not to make you yearn for a Sunday-morning bakery run (though that does sound like a nice way to start the morning, doesn’t it?), but because I recently recaptured that distinctively light, sweet, bready flavor that my poor deprived taste buds hadn’t experienced in the 18-plus years since my last raisin-eyed bunny. While clicking through my Google Reader on Monday morning, I came across a new post on Sassy Radish with a recipe for homemade challah, a sweet bread often made for Jewish holidays, like today’s Rosh Hashanah. Not much of a bread maker, I decided to give it a go. Boy oh boy, I had no idea what I was missing all these years. Not only does this bread look absolutely gorgeous when you take it out of the oven, but the taste is also amazing. It’s sweet, it’s light, and every bite feels special. And to top it all off, the flavor is a dead ringer for the beloved bakery bunny from my childhood. So it’s unbelievable flavor wrapped in nostalgia. And there’s nothing in the world quite like it.

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Challah
From Sassy Radish

• 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
• 1/2 cup orange juice
• 1/4 cup water
• 1/3 cup canola oil (The Sassy Radish recipes calls for olive oil instead, which would be great, but I was looking for a less noticeable flavor.)
• 2 large eggs, room temperature
• 2 large egg yolks, room temperature
• 1/3 cup honey
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt
• 3 1/4 to 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading dough
• 1/3 cup raisins

In a large bowl, sprinkle yeast in lukewarm orange juice and lukewarm water. Let stand for 5 minutes, until the yeast is frothy. Stir with a fork.

Whisk oil into yeast mixture, then whisk in 1 egg, followed by the yolks, one at a time. Whisk in the honey and salt, then stir until everything is well incorporated.

Gradually add the flour, 1 cup at a time. Check the consistency after 3 cups. When the dough holds together, turn it onto a floured surface, and knead it until smooth. You’re aiming for a moist, slightly sticky dough. It should be elastic, soft and a bit sticky but not so sticky that it’s impossible to work with.

Oil a large bowl, and lightly oil the dough. Place the dough inside the bowl, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and let rise for 1 hour, until the dough has doubled inside. Punch down the dough, cover and allow to rise for another half hour.

Knead the raisins into the challah, and divide the dough into three equal parts. Roll out each part into a 12-inch-long rope (make sure to keep them uniform in circumference). Pinch the top of the ropes together, and braid them until you reach the end. For a round challah, bring the ends together to form a round loaf.

Beat the remaining egg with 1 tablespoon of water to make an egg glaze. Brush the egg glaze all over the loaf, and allow it to rise another 45 minutes, uncovered. While the challah is rising for the third time, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F with the rack positioned in the middle.

Gently brush a second coat of the egg wash over the loaf. Bake the challah for 35 to 45 minutes, until it’s a rich golden brown. Cool completely on a wire rack before serving. (We’ve been eating ours by the slice with a drizzle of honey. Mmm..)

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Do you have any favorite tastes from childhood that you’ve tried recreating recently? Any forgotten flavors that you stumbled upon unintentionally? And for all the bread makers out there, what are your favorite types to bake for special occasions? I’d love to hear about it!

XO,
Katrina

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