’Tis the season for cookie baking and candy making, so tie on your apron and join me in my holiday kitchen. My family loves their sweets, and the more the merrier. They have a special fondness for peanut butter and chocolate, buttery, crisp cookies frosted heavily with sweet and creamy frosting, sweet candy treats so decadent they make your teeth hurt, and birthday cake.
Our family observes three birthdays within 10 days during December — actually four, as there is a very special birthday we all remember on Dec. 25.
Cookie baking is happening in earnest at our house and even the husband pitches in to mix up dough, roll peanut butter balls and unwrap chocolate kisses to place atop peanut blossom cookies. I couldn’t even begin to decorate the hundreds of cut-out sugar cookies I bake without his talent and expertise with colored sugar and sprinkles. He comes from a long line of expert cookie bakers and eaters.
Before you get to your baking though, I want to share some tips with you for baking with confidence. How to bake cookies like a pro.
Roll your dough out on floured surface. Flour your rolling pin as well.
Roll evenly using light pressure from the center of the dough to edges, lifting the rolling pin at the edges.
Roll chilled dough in parts keeping the remainder in the refrigerator so it doesn’t become too warm or sticky.
Dip cookie cutters in flour or powdered sugar and shake off excess before cutting.
For chocolate dough, dip cutters in cocoa.
Cut cookies very close together to avoid re-rolling as re-rolled dough will be a little tougher.
Always put cookie dough on a completely cooled cookie sheet. The dough will spread if put on hot or warm cookie sheets. Cool cookie sheets quickly by putting them in the freezer, refrigerator or if you are in Alaska, outdoors!
Make all cookies the same size and thickness so they bake evenly. Cookies that are smaller than the others will become too brown or burn, and cookies that are too thick and big will not be done in the center.
Always bake cookies on the middle oven rack. If baking two sheets in the oven at the same time, rotate cookie sheets halfway through baking time to get even baking. Also turn the front of the sheet to the back and vice versa.
Use your convection oven feature when baking more than one sheet of cookies.
Remove cookies from sheets immediately after baking to prevent sticking, unless recipe indicates otherwise. Cool cookies on wire cooling racks so air can flow around the cookies, preventing soggy cookies. Cool cookies completely before frosting them.
Caramel Pecan Tarts
My family loves pecan pie. I bake these pecan tarts as the pie always disappears too fast at Thanksgiving. This recipe has a caramel topping, which adds a little something extra. Makes 2 dozen tarts.
• 1 cup all-purpose flour
• ½ cup butter, softened
• ¼ cup powdered sugar
• ¾ cup packed brown sugar
• ½ cup chopped pecans
•1 tablespoon butter, softened
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 1 egg, slightly beaten
• Caramel Topping, see recipe below
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix flour, ½ cup butter, and the powdered sugar.
Divide dough into 24 equal pieces. Press each piece in bottom and up side of ungreased small muffin or tart pan 1 3/8×1 inch, or line with small foil or paper baking cups.
Mix remaining ingredients except Caramel Topping (see recipe below). Spoon slightly less than 1 tablespoon mixture into each pastry lined cup.
Bake about 20 minutes or until filling is set and crust is light brown. Cool slightly; pry loose from cups with tip of table knife. Remove from pan to wire rack. Cool completely. Drizzle Caramel Topping over tarts.
• 12 caramels, unwrapped
• 1 tablespoon milk
Directions: Heat caramels and milk in 1 quart saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly, until melted and smooth.
Nutty Marshmallow Bars
These bars remind me of a Payday candy bar, a favorite. Makes 2 dozen.
• 1 cup chopped salted peanuts
• 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
•3/4 cup quick-cooking or old fashioned oats
• 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1 egg
• 1/3 cup butter softened
• 1 jar (7 oz.) marshmallow crème
• 2/3 cup caramel topping
• 1 ½ cups cocktail peanuts
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix 1 cup chopped peanuts, the flour, oats, brown sugar, baking soda, salt and egg in large bowl with spoon. Cut in butter, using a fork, until mixture is crumbly. Press into ungreased rectangular pan, 13x9x2 inches. Bake 10 minutes. Remove from oven.
Spoon small amounts of marshmallow crème over hot baked crust; spread evenly. Drizzle caramel topping over marshmallow crème. Sprinkle with 1 ½ cups peanuts.
Bake 20 minutes or until golden brown; cool. For bars, cut into 6 rows by 4 rows, using wet knife.
Chewy Chocolate-Gingerbread Cookies
Spices, ginger and chocolate are combined to make a wonderful cookie.
Makes 2 dozen
Requires at least 3 hours to refrigerate
7 ounces best-quality semi-sweet chocolate
(I have used semi-sweet chocolate chips and they are just fine for this recipe)
1 ½ cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
½ cup dark brown sugar, packed
¼ unsulfured molasses
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ tablespoons boiling water
¼ granulated white sugar (to roll cookies in prior to baking)
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. (Found in the aisle with plastic wrap and tin foil here in our local store.)
Chop chocolate into ¼ inch chunks if using block chocolate. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, sift together flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and cocoa.
In bowl of electric mixer, beat butter and grated ginger until whitened, about 4 minutes. Add brown sugar; beat until combined. Add molasses; beat until combined.
In a small bowl, dissolve baking soda in boiling water.
Beat half of flour mixture into butter mixture. Beat in baking soda mixture, then remaining half of flour mixture. Mix in chocolate; turn out onto a piece of plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours or more.
Heat oven to 325 degrees.
Roll dough into 1 ½ balls; place two inches apart on baking sheets. Refrigerate 20 minutes. Roll balls in granulated sugar.
Bake until surfaces crack slightly, 13-15 minutes; let cool 5 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
It was fun to share holiday recipes with you and we’ll get together again next week to continue adding treats to our Christmas goodie stash. Don’t eat them all before then!
Until next time, enjoy playing in the fresh snow and sharing a cookie with someone you love.