Thursday, December 28, 2023

Five Cookies and a Cake

All month long, I've been looking at pics of Christmas cookie boxes and holiday cookie assortments being posted on the baking subreddit. Examples: one, two, three. It got me into an intense cookie-baking mood, and in particular, I wanted to try a few new recipes. 

First, I made these sprinkles cookies. They are fun to make and look festive in cookie boxes, but taste quite dry and boring. I don't think I will make this recipe again. 

Next, I made these double chocolate crinkle cookies. They are a classic Christmas cookie, and I love the look- reminds me of snow melting on the woodland floor. We loved these in every way- they were fun to make, looked beautiful, and tasted fantastic. They disappeared so quickly that we made another batch a couple days after making the first one. Of everything I made this year, this is a keeper and I predict making it every year.

The third cookie was biscotti. I already have this excellent almond biscotti (mandelbrot) recipe that I use, but tried a new recipe this time: Cranberry pistachio biscotti. It turned out well, but I think next time I will use my favorite recipe and just add cranberries and pistachio instead of almonds.

The fourth cookie was one I have made before but not in a few years: Jammy thumbprint cookies. V particularly loves this one, and it is nice to have a vegan cookie with oats in the assortment. The dough is very sticky though, and I might try chilling the dough next time. 

Finally, we made the sugar cookie dough again and made some cute little kitties and doggies. My daughter decorated them with an edible marker after baking. 

This abundance of cookies made its way into trays of cookies delivered to a few friends and neighbors around town. And of course I kept a selection at home for us to enjoy with chai and hot cocoa. 

Other cookies I would like to make in the future: Gingerbread crinkle cookies, Pecan tassies, Italian almond cookies, Chocolate-covered cherry cookies, Unfussy rugelach

Finally, in early December, I made a cake recipe that I had been wanting to try for ages: All-in-One Holiday Bundt Cake by Dorie Greenspan: "Name your favorite it-tastes-like-Thanksgiving flavor, and you'll find it here: pumpkin, cranberry, apples, pecans and the fall-winter spices cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger." I was so excited to taste this cake, and while it was fine, it wasn't as special or memorable as I expected. I think the multitude of flavors makes it so that no one flavor shines. 

What have you been baking this month? What are your keeper cookie recipes? 

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Christmas Tree Cupcakes & Brownies

I want to thank everyone for the kind comments and condolences you left on my last post- I read every single one. We are trying to adjust to our Dunkie-less life. I am left with profound gratitude that this sweet, giant dog bounded into our lives and filled our home and our days. He taught me a lot about having an open heart, being kind and tolerant, and taking each day- each minute- as it comes, enjoying whatever life brings. 

Christmas tree cupcakes

We have been doing loads of holiday baking this month. It has been a welcome distraction if I am being honest. The project I am sharing today came about when my daughter was looking for a treat to sell at the school holiday market, where kids get to set up stalls and be market vendors for a couple of hours. 

I consulted Pinterest and dug out a gem- an idea that's truly seasonal, cute, and most importantly, very doable for non-experts: chocolate cupcakes with a vanilla frosting- a crowd-pleasing combo- topped with adorable little decorated Christmas trees. 

The sweet little trees are the star of this cupcake. I saw this idea on several blogs. We gathered:
  • Thin pretzel sticks (supermarket snack aisle)
  • Green candy melts (found these in Michaels)
  • Sprinkles- I bought a couple of boxes of assorted holiday sprinkles and we used them all month for different projects. The ones used here are white/green/red dots and silver stars 
  • Piping bags (no tip needed- we used a disposable bag and snipped the tip)
  1. Lay out pretzel sticks spaced apart on a parchment covered baking sheet.
  2. Microwave (50% power in spurts, stirring in between) candy melts to, well, melt them. We used half the bag. 
  3. Spoon melted candy into a piping bag. 
  4. Pipe pine trees as shown in the pic, freehand style. If you overlap piping lines the trees will be thicker and less fragile. 
  5. Candy hardens quickly, so go ahead and add a star and "ornament" sprinkles as you pipe. It helps to do this project as a team of two- a piper and a sprinkler.
Trees will harden at room temperature. After an hour, lift them off carefully off the parchment and store in a box at room temperature- they will last for several days. It was our first time working with candy melts and it is dead easy. Also, we have no piping experience and that's not a problem for this project- messy trees look organic. By the way, the trees are yummy little treats on their own. 

Cupcakes: The recipe we used is here- Truly the best chocolate cupcakes. I love this recipe because it calls for pantry ingredients, is truly an easy, one-bowl recipe, and makes 24 cupcakes (I think we got 27, actually) which is a nice number for a sale situation. Be aware that the recipe calls for adding hot water into the batter and that makes the batter alarmingly thin. Don't panic! The cupcakes turned out beautifully. 

Frosting: My daughter is particular about frosting and does not like typical American buttercream which tends to be cloyingly sweet and heavy. I made this less sweet vanilla frosting instead. It was gorgeous- fluffy and tasty and daughter-approved. Piled on the chocolate cupcake (we used an offset spatula), it looks like snow on the ground. The best thing about this frosting is that it does not need refrigeration for a day or two, which is of practical importance when you are making 24 of these in a home setting. One batch of frosting was more than enough for 24 cupcakes. 

Stick a tree or two into each cupcake just before serving. Oohs and ahs will commence. 

* * *

Buoyed by the success of the little trees, and with half a bag of green candy melts and quantities of pretzel sticks and sprinkles still on hand, we made these brownie Christmas trees. (I saw the idea here).

My daughter and her friend used a standard box of brownie mix and instead of baking in a 8 or 9 inch pan as the recipe indicates, they baked it in a 9x13 pan for a shorter time, for thinner brownies. Any brownie recipe (mix or from-scratch) and any size pan will do for this project. All you're looking for is brownie triangles. We got about 24 little brownie triangles (plus off-cuts for the bakers to snack on.)

9x13 brownie slab: Cut into thirds horizontally,
then each third into triangles

To make the trees, stick a pretzel stick into the base of the triangle (cutting the harder crust off the brownie edge pieces helps to poke the pretzel stick in), then pipe on green melted candy, and add the requisite ornament sprinkles and star topper. Ta da! 

Brownie trees

Another item my daughter sold at the holiday
market: handmade cards

My son and I made these melted snowman cookies to sell at the market (I have made them in previous years and posted them before on the blog). He would sell a cookie, earn a dollar, and immediately run off to spend it, leaving me to manage the stall. We made minus 7 dollars. He has decided he prefers shopping to selling and I am OK with that! 

Melting snowman cookies

Gingerbread house from
the Trader Joe's kit

Best wishes for a wonderful holiday season! To all who celebrate it, Merry Christmas

Bonus Christmas reading- A Christmas Memory, a short story by Truman Capote. Read it in its entirety here. My son and I also watched a couple of Christmas movies- the classic 2003 Elf (Netflix) and the 2019 animated Klaus (Max), which I found delightful.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Duncan is no more

Duncan passed away peacefully yesterday.

“How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

― A.A. Milne, The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh

Saturday, December 09, 2023

Kale Salad and Wraps

For the last several months, I buy a bunch of kale every time I am at the grocery store. I make one and only one thing with it- kale salad. My daughter eats this salad by the bowlful. She cannot get enough of it. I certainly do not eat it by the bowlful but have loved it as an addition to all sorts of meals. 

This is one salad where you use the best kitchen tools in the world- your own two hands. Thoroughly wash hands and then use them to coax the kale fibers to break down into a tasty salad.  

Washed kale piled 
into the biggest bowl I own

Massaged Kale Salad

  1. Take 1 bunch kale (generally, I use curly kale.) and strip the leaves off the kale stems. The idea is to remove the tough, lower part of the stem. Tender stems are OK to keep.
  2. Wash the kale leaves thoroughly 
  3. Dry the leaves in a salad spinner 
  4. Give them a rough chop
  5. Place kale leaves in a large bowl
  6. Add 1 tsp salt and 1 tbsp. olive oil
  7. Using clean hands, massage the kale leaves, squeezing them by the handful for 5 minutes or so. The kale gets glossy and reduces in volume (see pics). 
  8. Store kale salad in the fridge. 
Kale salad

Kale wraps: I made these wraps as a "car dinner" for my sister and nephew as they rode home from the airport. It was just a combo of whatever I had in the fridge but turned out very tasty. 
  • Spinach tortillas
  • Pesto
  • Kale salad
  • Fresh mozzarella
  • Fresh tomato
  • Pickled pepperoncini

* * * 
December always feels like the busiest month of the year. And we don't even have any of the family obligations around the holidays that most of my friends do! Whatever I do, I choose to do. This time of year, there are opportunities to help out the community in small ways. It is the kind of shopping I love most- picking out a child's wish list and being their Secret Santa by buying lego sets and other goodies. Buying a few sets of new holiday pajamas for kids in need. 

There are many other things on the to-do list: making treats with my kids for their stalls in the holiday market. Putting together a few gifts for coworkers and the kids' teachers. A door decorating contest at work! I'd love to make cookie boxes for a few close friends and neighbors but this year time is just slipping right out of my hands. 

* * *
Bittersweet news about our sweet dog Duncan: He celebrated his 11th birthday on Sunday with a pupcake and a small party with one of his doggy friends. He enjoyed it so much. But he is clearly declining. The hospice vet stopped by again yesterday, we had a serious discussion and scheduled a euthanasia date in a couple of weeks.