The 12 Cookies of Christmas – Part 1.

I’m not sure if I ever shared this before, but my favorite things to bake are cookies. I think it’s because they are small, and the options are endless. You can make a cookie using almost anything. I could experiment with cookies all day, if I only had the time (and a dishwasher).

Every year, I bake a whole slew of cookies for the Holidays. I have a few recipes that I do every year – Chocolate Chip, Cream Cheese, Cottage Cheese  – but this year, I really wanted to add some new players to my lineup, and bring some new life to the team. I also brought some golden oldies out of retirement, and in the end, wound up with a perfect, well-rounded team of 12.

Cookie #1: Cornbread Cookies.

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I had picked up a box of Jiffy Cornbread Mix and planned on making corn muffins for Thanksgiving. Well, that didn’t happen, so I had this great idea to turn the mix into a cookie. So I started doing some research, and found this recipe, which sounded easy and delicious! The only thing I did differently was leave off the icing. The cookies were more like corn muffins that way, and I do love corn muffins.

 

Cookie #2: Pumpkin Spice Drops.

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My mom knows better than anyone how much I love experimenting with new cookies. She had bought me a book that she was going to give me for Christmas, but decided it would be better to give it to me now, in case I wanted to try something from it. Good call, Mom. The book was called “Old -Fashioned Cookies.” It looks like this:

book

In the book, the recipe is called Iced-Pumpkin Drops. I again omitted the icing. The cookies didn’t really need it. They were soft, chewy, pumpkin-y, and yummy, all by themselves.

 

Cookie #3: Breakfast Cookies.

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I actually make these every year, and have for some time. They’re like oatmeal cookies, but with cheddar cheese and cinnamon chips. This year, about half-way through production, I realized I had no oats. I had sworn there was a whole un-opened container, but there wasn’t. I really didn’t feel like running out in the midst of mixing, so I started trying to think of something else that I could use, that I did have already. I found a box of farro. I used it. It worked. I also upgraded the cheese selection from processed shredded cheddar to MontAmore (my new favorite cheese).  They’re more like a champagne brunch cookie now.

 

Cookie #4: R2D2 Ready to Bake Cookies. 

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I had to bake these. Sure, they’re easy. But with all this Star Wars talk, I felt like these needed to be part of the line-up. They came in this box, and they were pretty tasty, not to mention pretty cute. Beep boop boop beep! There was one issue – some Dr. Who enthusiasts seemed to think they looked more like Daleks then R2D2. You know what I say to that? EXTERMINATE!

 

Stayed tuned for the next installment of the 12 Cookies of Christmas, coming soon to a computer screen near you!

 

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Peppermint Bark: A Holiday Treat with Bite.

bark 3

I love peppermint bark.

I look forward to eating it every Christmas. I am not sure why I haven’t ever tried making it myself before now, especially knowing just how much I love it. Maybe I thought it wouldn’t hold up against all the other barks I’ve eaten over the years, and my baking ego would henceforth be crushed. Whatever the reason, I decided it was a dumb one, and I went ahead and made it this year.

A whole pan of peppermint.

A whole pan of peppermint.

I greased an 8×8 pan, and then covered it with wax paper. I melted up some semi-sweet milk chocolate, crushed a bunch of candy canes, and then topped it with melted white chocolate (and more crushed candy canes). Then I let it refrigerate until it set. Next, I broke it up into random-sized pieces, and served.

bark with bite.

bark with bite.

It was as delicious as any bark I’ve had before it. The problem now is that I have so much of it. Resistance is futile.

The Day After.

gingerbread cake

When I was a little kid, I saw this made-for-TV-movie called “The Day After,” and was scarred for life. It was about an atomic bomb going off, and basically everyone was getting zapped instantly into skeletons. It was horrifying. I cried for days and couldn’t sleep for many nights. However, that’s not The Day After I’m referring to here. I’m talking about the day after Christmas.

It’s always such an odd day. Suddenly, everyone shifts into “time to change the sheets and clean the house and lose weight and take charge of my life” mode. And of course, there’s food everywhere you look. Particularly desserts. And nothing pains me more than to see a perfectly good dessert go to waste. It’s a crime, I tell ya. This year, however, I came much closer to my goal of “no dessert left behind,” at least as far as the ones I baked go. I’m down to the last few cookies, there’s only two slices of gingerbread cake left, and a couple of mini cheesecakes. Well played, self.

Anyway, just for the heck of it, here are a few pics of the aforementioned almost-gone Christmas Day desserts. Feast your eyes on these seasonal sweets:

Christmas Cookie Platter.

pretty maids all in a row.

pretty maids all in a row.

from left to right: chocolate chip, oatmeal cinnamon chip, honey whiskey balls, breakfast cookies, cottage cheese cookies, and good old sugar cookies shaped like Christmas trees.

Mini Cheesecakes.

the "original" small indulgence.

the “original” small indulgence.

These were a last-minute addition, but well worth it.

Gingerbread Cake with Cinnamon Sugar Glaze.

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my masterpiece.

One of my specialties – I look forward to making it every year, and like a fine wine, it just keeps getting better.

Put them all together, and you have a lovely Christmas dessert table, sure to put a smile on the face of even the grumpiest Scrooge.

all together now.

all together now.

Hope you all had a wonderful Christmas, and may your lives be filled with sweets, love, and harmony not just on Christmas day, but every day.

Christmas Cookie Recipe: Honey Whiskey Balls.

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I thought I was finished baking all my Christmas cookies, but I started thinking hmmm….I already have one that’s green, but you know what would really complete this line up? A red cookie! So I started looking up recipes for “red cookies.” I found a bunch for different types of red velvet cookies and some sounded delicious, but I wasn’t quite sold. Then I remembered this book that I picked up last year:

best. cookie book. ever.

best. cookie book. ever.

This book is great. It’s filled with classic Christmas cookie recipes, both old and new, and from all over the world. If you want to pick up a copy (and you should), check it out on amazon.com.

Anyway, I started flipping through the pages, looking for something red. I did not find something red, per se, but I did however find something that I could make red – Chocolate Bourbon Balls. So I decided to give these a try. Apparently this cookie has its origins in the 1930’s, and there are many variations out there. So, I decided to throw one more into the mix. So I give you my take on this classic: Honey Whiskey Balls.

strong, but sweet.

strong, but sweet.

Before I share the recipe, I feel the need to mention a few things, mainly that these are somewhat STRONG. Not “get drunk off of one cookie” strong, but you can definitely taste the whiskey. So, if whiskey ain’t your thing, you may want to stick with sugar cookies. The original recipe called for bourbon, but I wanted to try Jack Daniel’s Honey Whiskey, and the feedback was all positive. Also, I used Merckens red colored chocolate to make them red. I love Merckens and highly recommend it for all your chocolate-y needs. And finally, the original recipe also called for pecans – I used walnuts. It worked out great. With that being said, heeeeerrrrrreeee’s the recipe!

Chocolate Honey Whiskey Balls.

What you’ll need:

2 1/2 cups Vanilla Wafers

1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar

1 cup ground walnuts

6 oz Merckens red chocolate wafers

1/2 cup Jack Daniel’s Honey Whiskey

3 tablespoons light corn syrup

granulated sugar

What you’ll do:

In a food processor, combine the Vanilla wafers, confectioner’s sugar and walnuts until finely ground and set aside.  Melt the chocolate according to the manufacturer’s directions (in the microwave or over the stove). Once melted completely, stir in the whiskey and corn syrup. Pour chocolate mixture into the dry ingredients, and mix until well combined. Let sit for about 30 minutes. Roll the mixture into walnut-sized balls, and roll each in granulated sugar until completely covered. It’s best to let these sit for a few days before serving, as they can be…somewhat powerful at first. 🙂

And thus, my Christmas Cookie lineup was complete.

cookies in a box!

cookies in a box!

Sweet and Cheesy.

So for three years now, I’ve hosted an annual Christmas Party, affectionately known as the B.Y.O.Ch. (pronounced “bee-yoch”) which stands for “Bring Your Own Cheese.” Needless to say, there is a lot of cheese there, from mild, to spicy, to downright smelly.

a plethora of cheese.

a plethora of cheese.

The thing is, cheese is not usually all that sweet. So in addition to cheese itself, the door is open to any cheese-related dish. For me, that means desserts, of course. In the past I’ve made cheesecake, but this year I went with an assortment of cheesy cookies.

There were Cottage Cheese Cookies…

chocolate and cheese.

chocolate and cheese.

….Cream Cheese Cookies…

creamy and dreamy.

creamy and dreamy.

…and Breakfast Cookies (made with shredded cheddar cheese).

breakfast for dessert.

breakfast for dessert.

To top it off, I mixed in these little guys, made from marzipan.

marzipan mice army.

marzipan mice army.

As usual, there was so much leftover, that I have more cheese in my fridge right now than one person should in their entire life. Don’t worry though – it definitely won’t go to waste. 😉

Hipster Christmas Cookies (with Moustaches).

To the tune of “Sister Christian”:

Hipster Christmas cookies you’re too cool

Making other cookies look like tools, ironically.

haven't you ever seen a tree with a moustache before?

haven’t you ever seen a tree with a moustache before?

 

My friend asked me last week if I could make some Hipster Christmas cookies. There were no real requirements, other than it had to have a moustache. “Yeah, I think I can do, that!” I responded. I thought for a bit, and then suddenly visions of moustached Christmas trees danced in my head. They were dancing to music you probably haven’t heard of, of course.

wash it down with a PBR.

wash it down with a PBR.

 

I got some Christmas tree-shaped cookie cutters, made some sugar-cookie dough and dyed it green, cut the shapes, and baked. For the ‘stache, I used black fondant. I could not find a moustache cookie cutter in any store and didn’t have time to order anything online, so I had to create my own stencil. It worked great, and now hipsters around the world can celebrate Christmas, ironically.

In other news, I was just looking up the definition of “hipster” and turns out the term was coined in the 1940’s and originally refered to “characters who like hot jazz.” So the hipster is really not so new after all.

 

Recipe Monday Morning: Aunt Cetta’s Famous Cheesecake.

So Christmas is over…and what have you done? Or more importantly, what have you baked? I felt a lot of pressure this year to bake desserts that were fabulous – I mean, everyone in my family knew I just finished pastry school, and assumed that I would be making dessert and that it would be not just good, but great. On top of this, I was hosting Christmas for the first time this year, so the pressure was really on to be fabulous. Now we all know that even a seasoned baker burns cookies every now and then. By some Christmas miracle, all my desserts turned out exactly as I had envisioned (minus the 6 slighty burned cottage cheese cookies, which my friend ate anyway because apparently he likes his cookies burned). My biggest sweet achievement this Christmas however was the flawless execution of my Aunt Cetta’s Cheesecake.

I know I’ve mentioned Aunt Cetta before – my elderly Aunt who was a fantastic baker (better than me) and has been giving me all her old baking tools and pans (see “on the lamb”). Anyway, I really wanted to make her proud and put her tools to some good use, so I asked my mom to give me Aunt Cetta’s Cheesecake recipe, and I’d make it for Christmas, as a surprise.

Well, this may sound hard to believe, but I had never before baked a full-sized cheesecake in my own kitchen. Sure, I’d done it at school, and I’d made the “no-bake” kind at home before I was in school…but I had yet to try a full-size cheesecake. So I was doubly nervous – not only was this my first attempt at a full-sized cheesecake, but it was my aunt the awesome baker’s recipe! There was a precedent set here that I had to meet, or else I’d just tell everyone I didn’t have time to make the cheesecake and secretly throw it in the trash to avoid presenting them with a sub-par attempt at this illustrious dessert and have them leave wondering what I actually did while I was in school.

That did not happen. What did happen was the cheesecake turned out great, and everyone ate it, and I forgot to take any pictures of it until it was almost gone! Thankfully, I was able to capture some in time, and will now share them with you, along with the recipe that has won my family over for decades. 🙂

the amazing vanishing cheesecake!

 Aunt Cetta’s Famous Cheesecake.

Crust:

What you’ll need:

1 package graham crackers (I used the cinnamon variety)

1 stick melted butter

1/2 tsp cinnamon

What you’ll do:

In a food processor, combine the graham crackers, butter and cinnamon until well combined. Press into the bottom of an aluminum pie pan, or springform pan (I opted for the pie pan – 9″).

Cheesecake:

What you’ll need:

3, 8 oz packages of cream cheese (I used the low fat)

1 cup sour cream (I used the low fat here too)

3 eggs

1 cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1/4 tsp salt

What you’ll do:

Preheat the oven to 375. In a large mixing bowl, beat together the cream cheese, sour cream, sugar and salt. Add the eggs and vanilla, and beat until well-blended and smooth. Pour into crust, and bake for 30 to 45 minutes (depending on what type of pan you used – the springform will take longer) until set. Let cool completely, and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

Whip up a batch of whipped cream, and serve!! 🙂

Deck the Halls with Chocolate Covered Cake Balls.

So every year for about the past 3 years, I’ve tried to come up with a baking “theme” gift for my friends. Something that I can make for everyone, make up little plates or boxes of, and give out like a regular Betty Crocker Claus. It’s typically been a Small Indulgence, even before I started this whole Small Indulgences concept legitimately. This year, being a pastry school graduate, I felt I needed to take it to the next level – really show off some of my skills – without getting too crazy, as I have to be able to mass-produce this thing rather quickly and efficiently within the time constraints of the Christmas rush.

After hours of deliberating, I finally came up with the 2011 Small Indulgences treat of the season: Chocolate Covered Cake Balls!

balls in a box.

 I loved this project – it included two of my favorite things – chocolate and cake! I made a bunch of flavors:

Chocolate cake covered in chocolate…

you can never have too much chocolate.

 Vanilla cake covered in white chocolate (colored green)…

green is the new chocolate.

 And there were also chocolate peanut butter, and white chocolate peppermint (not pictured). I packed them into a small candy box, each with a ribbon and personalized Small Indulgences tag.

good things come in small packages.

 

Although these balls couldn’t be hung on a tree, they were a huge hit, and not one, but two people have already approached me about actually ordering them! It just goes to show you that in the end, the love you make, is equal to the cake you bake. 🙂

 

Recipe Sunday: Cream Cheese Cookies.

I’m actually posting this recipe for two reasons: 1. it’s Christmas which means it’s time to bake cookies, and 2. people have actually asked me for this particular recipe.  The recipe came from my mom’s recipe box – it was hand-written by her, who knows how long ago, and therefore I had to hand-copy it with those archaic objects known as pen and paper. I wanted to make these in particular, as every Christmas I host a B.Y.O.Ch. (Bring Your Own Cheese) Party, and I try to keep the desserts in line with the theme. So, my mom mentioned she had this old recipe for Cream Cheese Cookies, and I said, “yes, please!”

The recipe itself is rather easy – good things don’t always have to be complicated. And the results are like little puffs of cakey cream cheese euphoria. So, add this one to your Christmas cookie baking repertoire this year – it’s simply delightful, and came from an old-school hand-written recipe card, which makes it all the more charming. 🙂

cream cheese dream.

Cream Cheese Cookies.

What you’ll need:

1/4 cup butter (room temperature)

1 package (8 oz) cream cheese (room temperature)

1 egg

1/4 tsp vanilla

1 package white cake mix

What you’ll do:

Preheat oven to 375°F. Cream together butter and cream cheese until smooth and well-blended. Add egg and vanilla, and mix well. Add cake mix, 1/3 at a time, mixing completely between each addition. Cover the dough and chill for at least 30 minutes (I like to chill mine overnight). Drop into rounded spoonfuls (a mini ice cream scooper works great) onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until they are slightly brown around the edges.

Told ya it was easy. 🙂

An apple cake a day…

I recently stumbled across this wonderful recipe for jewish apple cake. I had forgotten about the jewish apple cake, and how important it was to my taste buds  until then. I decided to test out the recipe. The batter was amazing (yes, i tasted it, I have a bit of an “addiction” to batters and doughs), with one small problem…actually the problem was the opposite of small…there was so much batter! The cake it made was hands down, the largest cake I’ve ever baked at one time. It was too much! So I decided to take matters into my own hands. Enter the mini bundt pan. 3 mini bundt pans, to be exact. What better way to spread the joy of apple cake than to make many mini cakes and give them out as gifts? The recipe made 9 mini cakes. 9 of them!

the coveted mini apple cake

I only had to make it twice, and it covered everyone on my list this year, saving me time, money, and kitchen resources. Plus, cake makes people happy. And a little cake makes them even happier. It’s like the personal pizza – there’s plenty for one person, without the greasy, oversized remaining slices, tempting you to keep eating when you’re already full.  The moral of story: a little cake goes a long way.

all i want for Christmas is a cake in a box.