Category: Holiday - The Baker and The Chef
 
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I love the beautiful sugar cookies you see in magazines at holiday time.  I've never actually made them because they are a lot of work and I've never found a sugar cookie dough that was good enough to make all that work worthwhile.  I guess I'm not a huge fan of sugar cookies.

Then, a friend asked me if I would make her some undecorated sugar cookies for her son to take to school to decorate with his classmates for a school project.  Sure, no problem!  I can roll and cut out dough all day long... easy breezy!  But then... she asked would I make some more for her own holiday parties.  Uh-oh.  I knew I would have to find a better recipe and then I would have to actually *GULP* decorate them!  The thing I've been avoiding all these years!

I was a little stumped what to do about the recipe.  I mean, I've been searching for years for a good one and I've never found one.  Why did I think I would suddenly find it now?  Oh, man, did I finally bite off more than I could chew with this little project?  The problem with sugar cookies, well any recipe, is if you ask people if they have a recipe they always tell you the one they use is "the best", but I've always found sugar cookies to be dull and bland.

A few days later I was trolling the internet looking for new food blogs to read when I stumbled across a site with sugar cookies.  Hmm...  I loved her description and the fact that the recipe was her grandmother's.  These might be a possibility.  I decided to try the recipe out.  Wow!  Were they delicious!  And, I'm talking about the raw dough.  Seriously delicious!  I couldn't wait to taste the baked cookie.  Needless to say, the baked cookie was also delicious.  Holy cow-after all these years of searching I had actually found a delicious sugar cookie recipe!  I couldn't believe it.  (Go check out the site, which is filled with all sorts of wonderful recipes and stories: www.wiseanticsoflife.blogspot.com and tell her The Baker sent you!)

The recipe Kristen gave also included a frosting, but I knew that I wanted the finished cookies to be very high-end and not homemade looking, so I wanted to use a royal icing.  But, again, I was in the same boat... I've never found a royal icing that I really liked.

Again, fate intervened and brought me to www.joyofbaking.com for a fantastic royal icing recipe.  The key difference between their recipe and all the other royal icings I've made is that they beat the icing for a solid ten minutes, which really thickens it and makes it the consistency of lightly whipped cream.  I've always just stirred together some egg whites and powdered sugar, and wound up with some super sweet sludge... yuck!

The other difference was that the recipe called for a small amount of lemon juice.  I was afraid I was going to end up with lemon cookies, which are good, but definitely not what I was going for.  But, the lemon juice was like the magic ingredient!  When first mixed up, you can taste the lemony flavor, but as the icing sits and ripens it mellows out and the lemon juice just adds a bright fresh flavor but the actual taste of lemon disappears.  It's absolutely delicious!  Honestly the best royal icing I've even eaten.

The process of baking and decorating the cookies took many, many days and I was very lucky that my sister was in town for a visit and came to help me.  We had a great time and ate quite a few cookies in the process.  Hey, somebody has to do quality control around here, right?

The decorating process is the same no matter what the holiday is, so while it's too late to make these for this holiday season, you can certainly make these for Easter or Valentine's Day.  It's definitely something that the more you do the better you'll get at it, so find lots of reasons to make them!

-The Baker

Grandma's Sugar Cookies (taken from: www.wiseanticsoflife.blogspot.com)

Christmas Cutout Cookies:

  • 3 C All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 t Baking Powder
  • 1/2 t Salt
  • 8 oz Butter
  • 3/4 C Sugar
  • 1 Egg
  • 2 T Milk
  • 1 1/2 t Vanilla Extract
  1. cream butter and sugar; add egg, milk and vanilla, beating until smooth
  2. sift dry ingredients and gradually add; chill 1 hour
  3. roll 1/2 inch thick and cut into shapes
  4. bake on an ungreased cookie sheet 400 F for 5-8 minutes; don't let them get brown
  5. frost when cool
Note:  these cookies freeze well (unfrosted) and you can double or triple the recipe with great results

Royal Icing
(www.joyofbaking.com)

  • 2 Egg whites (large)
  • 2 t Lemon juice
  • 3 C (330 g) Powdered sugar, sifted
  1. in the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the egg whites with the lemon juice, until light and frothy
  2. add the sifted powdered sugar and beat on low speed until combined and smooth; then turn the mixer up to medium-high and beat it for at least ten minutes; it will be thick and very creamy; thin it down with a few drops of water at a time until it is the consistency of whipped cream
  3. the icing needs to be used immediately or transferred to an airtight container as royal icing hardens when exposed to air; cover with plastic wrap when not in use
Decorating the cookies:

  1. outline - after the cookies have cooled, outline the edge of the cookie using the royal icing; if you're planning on filling in the body of the cookie with a color other than white you'll want to color the icing that color; if you don't you'll have a white outline; use a disposable plastic piping bag fitted with a #2 or #3 tip, that way you can easily refill and keep going; you want the icing to be just stiff enough to hold it's shape but fluid enough that it easily flows out of the tip; to get the best outlines you want to hold the tip about 1/2" above the cookie; it takes a bit of practice to get used to not working right on top of the cookie
  2. flooding - let the outline dry until it's sturdy enough to be handled and dry enough to act as a dam for thinner icing; thin down icing to fill in the dam; tint the icing to the color you want (colors will darken the longer they sit); you can thin the icing by adding drops of water; you can use a pastry bag to flood the cookies, but I found it much easier to use squeeze bottles, which can be found at any craft store in the cake decorating section; you don't need to fill the entire area, you can fill in any holes with a paint brush sized pastry brush or a toothpick
  3. let the flooded icing dry overnight unless you're dipping the cookies in sanding sugar; if you're dipping in sanding sugar you want to let the icing dry until it's tacky and then dip the cookie in sugar that you've got spilled into a wide shallow dish; keep in mind that some of the sugar will spill off once the icing is completely dry so dip a little heavy; if you want to do multiple colors of sanding sugar (like stripes) then you will need to flood the different sections separately and dip them in the sugar, let them dry completely and then flood the next section and dip, etc
  4. once the icing is completely dry you can pipe decorations over it, you can paint on gold or silver dust or you can use markers that are made from edible ink to draw on decorations
  5. the biggest key to successfully decorating the cookies without pulling out your hair or giving up is to have a plan and stick with it... choose the shapes you're making ahead of time, plan how you want to decorate each design, decide on the colors you'll use and if you'll be using sanding sugar; make a list of everything you need and get it all ready before you start to decorate; trust me-it will simplify the process and keep it enjoyable!
  6. keep in mind that this can be a long process, so give yourself enough time to do the different steps and your cookies will turn out beautiful
 
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I'm sure a lot of you read Smitten Kitchen's blog.  If not, you need to go there right now and start reading.  I'll wait here... okay, are you back?  She is a huge inspiration and one of the many reasons I started writing this blog.

A few years ago I found her blog accidentally when I wanted to make some homemade oreos and started googling.  She has the most fantastic oreo recipe and I've made it several times.  It's always been in the back of my mind that the dough would be great for cut out cookies.  So, this year when I was narrowing down my choices for the cookies I was going to make for various cookie exchanges I decided to try out my idea.

I decided to use a stocking cookie cutter and make the filling mint, in keeping with the holiday theme.  The dough really held together well, and I think you could easily use it to cut out pretty much any shape.  The filling itself is so neutral that you could easily flavor it with any extract to really customize your cookies.  Of course, you could just leave the recipe as is to make traditional oreos!

I found the dough was easier to roll out when it wasn't super cold right out of the refrigerator.  It's pretty easy to roll even when it's warm, but I noticed that the cookies that I baked from the room temperature dough poofed up a lot more while they baked.  They still looked like stockings, but the cookies cut from the cooler dough retained their shape better.  Depending on what you're doing with them you may not care.  Just be sure to liberally flour your work surface so the dough doesn't stick; or if you don't want to add more flour you can always roll the dough out between two pieces of plastic, use powdered sugar or you could use cocoa.

As I said, I got this recipe from Smitten Kitchen's blog, and I don't think I made any changes, except for cutting them out, and making the filling mint.  So go make some oreos and enjoy!

-The Baker

Homemade Oreos (from www.smittenkitchen.com)

Yield: 41 cookies (this will vary depending on how big the cookies you make are)

Prep: Preheat oven 375 F



CHOCOLATE WAFER COOKIE:

  • 1 ¼ C AP Flour
  • ½ C Dutched cocoa (unsweetened)
  • 1 t Baking Soda
  • ¼ t Baking Powder
  • ¼ t Salt
  • 1 C Sugar
  • ½ C + 2 T (1 ¼ sticks) Butter
  • 1 Egg
  1. sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, salt and sugar into mixing bowl
  2. on low speed add butter until it looks “sandy”
  3. add egg; mix until dough comes together
  4. scoop (using #70 scoop; will make 41 balls)
  5. divide balls in ½ and roll into a disk (can fit 24-4X6-on a ½ sheet)
  6. bake for 8 minutes
  7. *To use this wafer cookie for making ice cream sandwiches increase the sugar to 1 ½ C*
CREAM FILLING:

  • ¼ C (½ stick) (57 g) Butter
  • ¼ C (57 g) Vegetable Shortening
  • 2 C (358 g) 10X (sifted)
  • 2 t Vanilla Extract
  1. in mixing bowl add all ingredients
  2. in low, mix until filling comes together; be sure it's not too dry because the cookies won't stick together; if dry add a bit more vanilla
  3. then turn mixer on high and beat for 2 minutes until filling is light and creamy
To assemble:
  1. half of the baked cookies will be tops and the other half will be bottoms
  2. scoop filling (using #70 scoop) and put on the bottoms
  3. place the tops on the filling and gently squeeze to spread the cream to the edges

 
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It's that time of year to do holiday cooking.  I love this time of year!  When it comes to holiday dinners I'm very traditional.  There are certain things that must be on the table for me to feel like the holiday was a success.  I love turkey, and even on Christmas when it's traditional to serve ham, I still prefer turkey.  I also have to have "pink stuff" and "green stuff".  Pink and green stuff is a concoction that my mother came up with years ago and it's become a staple at every holiday meal.

Another holiday staple is egg nog.  My extended family has a "take it or leave it" attitude when it comes to egg nog and so it's hit or miss if it will make it to the dinner table.  My immediate family loves it, especially M1, who can drink an entire quart in a matter of minutes.

In keeping with my tendency to re-work classic dishes, I thought I'd give making homemade egg nog a shot this year.  I'm so glad I did!  Compared to the commercial egg nog the homemade nog is so much lighter and more refreshing.  You can drink it with the rum or without.  We went without because it was mainly for the kids and me to drink, although I forced everyone to at least try it!

I also chose to cook the eggs to not run the risk of anyone getting sick.  That would really ruin the holiday!  The key is to gently cook everything so as not to end up with scrambled eggs.  Just like when making the pastry cream, it's critical to keep everything clean and get into the refrigerator very quickly.

I definitely recommend trying to make your own egg nog this year.  Especially for those people who claim not to like it, this will change your mind.  It's delicious and such a decadent treat!

HOMEMADE EGG NOG:

    yield: 80 oz

  • 4 c Milk
  • 1 1/2 t Pumpkin Pie Spice
  • 1/2 t Vanilla
  • 12 Egg Yolks
  • 1 1/2 C Sugar
  • 2 C Rum (optional)
  1. combine milk, pumpkin pie spice, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, in a saucepan, and heat over lowest setting for 5 minutes; slowly bring milk mixture to a boil
  2. in mixing bowl, combine egg yolks and sugar; whisk until fluffy
  3. temper the hot milk mixture slowly into the eggs; pour mixture back into the saucepan; cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until slightly thickened; do not allow mixture to boil; let cool for about an hour
  4. stir in rum (if using) and cream; refrigerate overnight before serving; shake well before serving
  5. top with a dash of cinnamon