December 2016 in Review, and Christmas Cookie #12
A favorite photo…
A few highlights…
- A December rich in favorite activities and traditions (in contrast to our Senegalese adventure from last year)
- Nathan as Gabriel and Katya as a black sheep in the Christmas pageant
- The annual studio Christmas recital
- Celebrating the season many different times with groups of family and friends
And a cookie recipe to go with it!
This is the gingerbread I have made every year since Than and I were married. If you don't roll it too thin or bake it too long, the cookies stay soft and spicy for weeks. We decorate them with white royal icing, sprinkles, and lots of red hots. An annual tradition, for sure, and one that we have happily shared with many different guests over the years.
Thoroughly stir together the flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, salt, and baking powder in a large bowl; set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the brown sugar, butter, and oil until smooth and fluffy. Beat in the molasses and 2 1/2 Tbsp. water until well blended.
Turn mixer speed to low and blend in as much of the flour mixture as possible. When it gets too strong for your mixer to handle, knead in the remainder by hand until the dough is smooth and shiny. If the dough is too stiff and dry, add up to 3 Tbsp. more water. If it is too soft, stir in more flour until it is manageable.
Cut 6 pieces of waxed paper. Split the dough into 3 pieces and place each piece on a sheet of waxed paper. Cover with the additional 3 pieces of waxed paper. Roll each dough piece out to an even 1/4-1/2 inch thickness (thinner for crispier cookies, thicker for softer cookies). Stack the rolled dough in the refrigerator and allow to chill for at least 1 hour and up to overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray several cookie sheets with cooking spray.
Working with one portion of dough at a time, peel off the top sheet of waxed paper. Use cookie cutters to cut out the dough and place the cookies on prepared baking sheets, spacing about 2 inches apart.
Bake cookies at 350 degrees for 6-12 minutes, or until just darker at the edges and barely firm when pressed in the centers. Baking time varies based on the size of your cookies and on how soft or crispy you want the finished product to be.
Reroll dough scraps between waxed paper sheets. Continue cutting, rolling, and chilling dough until everything has been used.
Allow cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 3-4 minutes in order to firm up slightly before transferring to the counter or to wire racks to cool completely.
Wait until cookies are completely cool before decorating as desired.
This recipe is from The All-American Cookie Book by Nancy Baggett.
One more fall post, and then I promise some pictures from our Thanksgiving travels, followed by lots of Christmas recipes.
These cookies won Nathan’s vote for favorite fall treat. I think he grabbed one every time he walked past the cookie jar! Maybe that’s why he is almost tall enough to look me right in the eye… Love this growing young man so much!!
Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies
These soft cookies are full of satisfactory fall flavor while still meeting my need for chocolate. I got the recipe from a good friend at a cookie exchange many years ago, and it is certainly on our autumn treat rotation. Thanks, Becki!
Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease cookie sheets.
Beat butter and brown sugar in a large mixer bowl until well combined. Add eggs and beat well. Beat in pumpkin.
With mixer on low, add flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg. Mix just until combined.
Stir in oats, chocolate chips, and nuts if desired. Don't overmix.
Drop by rounded spoonful or cookie scoop onto greased cookie sheets. Bake at 350 about 12 minutes or until set and beginning to brown on the bottom. Try not to overbake--Nathan loves them soft!
Katya’s favorite fall treat has now been made 4 times this season! It turns out that these cider caramels are pretty popular, and the more we hand out as gifts the more requests we get. Katya helped me make the first batch, learning a lot about both the waiting and the rushing that goes into home candy making. Katya left the cooking of subsequent batches up to me, but both she and Nathan had a wonderful time handing out these delectable treats to teachers and friends. Yum!
(And no, there are no leaves in the caramels–the photo shows Katya licking off the caramel spoon in one hand while doing a wax-leaf dipping project with the other. Crazy kid!)
Apple Cider Caramels
These delicious homemade caramels have a slight spiced cider flavor that makes them particularly special. The temperature of candy making is always a bit tricky, but even if they turn out harder than desired they can be broken apart with a mallet and enjoyed just the same.
Pour cider into a medium saucepan and boil on high for 15-20 minutes or until cider is reduced to 1/3 cup. Keep an eye on it--it goes from thick to burned pretty fast!
Line an 8 inch square pan with parchment paper. Coat with a bit of cooking spray or rub with the butter wrapper to grease. Set aside.
While the cider is boiling, get out a second saucepan. Pour 1/3 cup whipping cream into a glass measuring cup. Add enough water to make 1/2 cup. Pour that into the empty saucepan. Add sugar and corn syrup. Cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Insert candy thermometer and simmer until the syrup reaches 234 degrees. (At my altitude, it is actually 222 degrees).
While sugar mixture heats, keep pouring the apple cider into a clean glass measuring cup until it is only 1/3 cup. When it has reduced enough, pour it into that measuring cup and let it cool. While it cools, stir in remaining 2/3 cup cream, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. Mix well.
When the sugar mixture has reached temperature, remove it from heat and slowly whisk in the cider cream mixture. Add the cubed butter and stir until everything is melted and mixed.
Return the pan to low heat and re-insert the candy thermometer. Cook, stirring frequently, until the temperature reaches 248 degrees (236 degrees at my altitude). This part can take a really long time--sometimes 20 minutes or more!
Remove the mixture from the heat and pour into the prepared pan. Careful, it is a bit tricky to pour! Let the caramels cool completely at room temperature. It takes several hours, so try just leaving it overnight.
Hopefully the caramels are soft enough that you can use kitchen shears to cut them into long strips, and then cut them into 1/2 inch squares. You can try to individually wrap them in squares of waxed paper, or put them into mini muffin papers which is much easier!
Recipe from Our Best Bites: http://ourbestbites.com/2010/11/apple-cider-caramels/
Sometimes my caramels set up unusually hard, and I have to break them into bite-sized pieces with a kitchen mallet. Sometimes they are a bit soft and when I put them in the mini muffin papers they gradually take on the shape of their container. Either way, they taste good and are totally worth the work!
These bars have a simple ingredient list and come together quickly. They are also fairly economical, making them nice for large group catering. They capture the flavor of a snickerdoodle with the soft richness of a blondie. Than says “YUM.”
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8x8 or 9x9 pan with cooking spray.
In the bowl of a mixer, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in salt, egg, and vanilla until well combined.
Add flour and cream of tartar. Mix until no streaks of dry remain. Dough will be very thick.
Scrape dough into prepared pan and smooth into an even layer. Sprinkle evenly with 1 Tbsp sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon.
Bake for 30 minutes or until bars are set and edges are just very lightly browned. Cool in the pan before slicing.