Snowflake Sugar Cookies


Two years ago during the holidays I tried royal icing for the first time.  It didn’t go well.  I was hoping for cookies like you see above, and instead I got these.  Thanks to the innumerable batches of cookies I’ve made since that first attempt, my royal icing skills and decorating speed have improved, and finally I achieved the pretty snowflakes I dreamed about.


I served these for our holiday party this weekend and everyone kept commenting that they were too pretty to eat.  But eat them they did, and they were enjoyed by all.


I know a lot of cookie decorators use disco dust to add an extra twinkle to their cookies.  It is very pretty, but I don’t feel comfortable consuming or serving anything labeled, “Non-toxic, for decoration only,” so instead I found these sugar pearls and sanding sugars in my pantry and went nuts.  I loved the way these cookies turned out and they made me want to throw a whole winter wonderland-themed party.  Not sure how much the guys would like that, but I’ll keep it in mind for the future 🙂


I also made a plateful of these cute little mitten cookies to coordinate with the snowflakes.  I had left over cake sparkles and used them to make the cuffs of the mittens look fuzzy.

I had such fun making and decorating these cookies, and thought I’d share for anyone needing decoration inspiration.  If you are new to royal icing, check out my tutorial to make your first attempt much more successful than my own.  For the cookies, I used this recipe.  Normally I go with a vanilla bean and lemon zest flavoring, but the almond extract is just better suited for the holidays.  These designs were inspired by two totally gorgeous pink and blue winter party concepts I found on Hostess with the Mostess.

Candy Cane Macarons for a Virtual Holiday Party


One of the most rewarding things about food blogging for me has been the wonderful friends I have made in the process.  There are a lot of really great bloggers out there, and I have become very close with some of them.  Even though we are spread all across the country, we still spend plenty of time emailing about much more than just food.  A few weeks ago as I was working on the guest list for my real life holiday party, I was thinking what a shame it was that I couldn’t invite some of the people I consider very good friends, just because we’re separated by pretty long distances.

And then I thought, who cares?  We could just have a virtual party instead!  So I emailed everyone to see if they would be interested in having a virtual party with me, and they were all game.  The idea is simple – each of us is posting something we would contribute to a holiday party.  Some made cocktails, some appetizers and some desserts.  Looking at everyone’s beautiful photos and tasty creations, it makes me really wish we could have done this in person.  (Ladies, you are always welcome in my home and we can make this a reality!)  I’ll definitely be trying each of these recipes in the future.  Below is the spread we have created together.  Click on the individual photos to be directed to the full recipes.


Tara of Smells Like Home made these beautifully festive cranberry lime bellinis.  I don’t know about you, but I enjoy just about any cocktail with cranberry and lime, so these are right up my alley.  She also shared a virgin version for those who can’t partake in the spirited variety.


Nikki of Pennies on a Platter made baked fontina.  A plate of amazing gooey melted cheese with herbs and seasonings, for eating with crusty bread?  Hello, I’m in love.  This was already on my list of recipes to try but now I think I’ll need to try it stat.


Kelsey of Apple a Day made sparkling pepper berry cocktails.  A beautiful bright red cocktail with a kick!  I’ll admit I’ve alway been a bit wary of things like desserts or cocktails including peppercorn, but if Kelsey recommends it, then I’m sure it is fabulous.


Elly of Elly Says Opa! made dolmades, a Greek dish of stuffed grape leaves.  Her version is vegetarian and includes a filling of rice and herbs.  I’ve never tried anything with grape leaves before but these look so delicious, I know I’ll be trying them soon.


Josie of Pink Parsley Catering made these gorgeous raspberry cream puffs.  Cream puffs are a wonderful dessert all on their own but the idea of filling them with raspberry pastry cream is pure genius.  And, these are definitely ideal party food since you can easily grab one (or three) with no utensils required.


And, I made the candy cane macarons you see above.  I actually did serve these at my real life holiday party which took place over the weekend, and they were a major hit.  I think it was the first time tasting French macarons for a lot of guests, and I think they are glad to have been introduced.  As usual, I was lukewarm about these because of the peppermint, but everyone else loved them and there were none leftover at the end of the night, despite me making a double batch!   The filling I used is a Swiss meringue buttercream, my favorite kind of vanilla frosting.  If you want something a little quicker, a basic vanilla buttercream would do just as well.  Or if you are a real mint lover, add a bit of peppermint extract to the frosting to enhance that flavor even more!

I had a wonderful time with this virtual holiday party and I’m very thankful for my food blogging friends.  You are all amazingly talented women and I feel lucky to know you!

Candy Cane Macarons
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Yield: about 20 macarons
Ingredients:

For the macaron shells*:
200 grams confectioners’ sugar
110 grams almonds (blanched, slivered, or sliced)
90 grams egg whites (aged at room temperature for 1 day or 3-5 days in the fridge)
25 grams granulated sugar

Please note – measuring by weight is essential for macarons, so volume measures will not be provided.

For the filling:
½ cup sugar
2 large egg whites
12 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ tsp. vanilla extract

For garnish:
Crushed candy canes**

* If you haven’t made macarons before, you might want to check out this post about my first time making them.  It discusses some of the basics of this sometimes finicky cookie and has some step-by-step photos that might be helpful.
**It is really important to crush your candy canes well.  All too often I see holiday desserts with large, sharp chunks of candy cane that seem more likely to draw blood than make a dessert festive and appetizing.  Plus, crushing them is so fun!  I put them in a large plastic bag, grab the meat mallet and hammer away to be sure they are evenly ground.

Directions:
To make the macaron shells, combine the confectioners’ sugar and almonds in a food processor.  Pulse until the almonds are finely ground and the mixture is well blended.  In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium speed until foamy.  Increase the speed to medium-high and continue to beat, gradually adding the granulated sugar.  Beat until a stiff, glossy meringue forms (do not over-beat).  Add the ground nut mixture to the bowl with the egg whites.  Fold together with a spatula until all of the dry ingredients are incorporated and the batter is thick and smooth.  (This should not take more than 50 strokes.)

Line baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.  Fit a pastry bag with a plain round tip and pipe small rounds onto the prepared baking sheets, about 1½ inches in diameter.  Let the piped rounds sit at room temperature for 30-60 minutes to harden their shells.

Preheat the oven to 280˚ F.  Bake for 15-20 minutes.  Let cool 15-20 minutes before removing from the baking sheet.  Let cool completely before filling or storing.

To make the frosting, combine the sugar and egg whites in a heatproof bowl set over simmering water.  Heat, whisking frequently, until the mixture is hot to the touch and the sugar is completely dissolved.  Transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Beat on medium speed until a thick and shiny meringue has formed and the bowl is cool to the touch.  Reduce the mixer speed to medium-low.  Add in the butter 1 tablespoon at a time, waiting until each is incorporated before adding more.  Once all the butter is incorporated, increase the speed to medium-high and beat until thick and smooth.  (The mixture may look soupy or curdled but it will come together eventually – just keep beating!)  Blend in the vanilla.

To assemble the macarons, pair up the shells by size.  Add the finished frosting to a pastry bag fitted with a plain round tip.  Pipe a small round of frosting onto the flat side of one shell from each pair.  Sandwich together with the other shell and push gently together so that the frosting reaches the edges of the cookies.  Place the crushed candy canes in a shallow dish.  Gently roll the assembled macarons in the crushed candy canes so they adhere to the frosting.

Source: Tartlette

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Biscotti


In my house, holiday baking has become quite the production.  It requires a huge amount of time, energy, and organization.  I tend to make about five different treats to include in the bags for the sake of variety.  Then there is always the matter of making enough batches of each item so that every goody bag gets a decent amount.  I end up doing a lot of math – not my favorite.  I’m actually thinking of changing my game plan for next year, and spreading it out over the course of a week, working on one item each day.

Biscotti are one treat that I include in the bags every year.  Though the flavor varies, I think it’s ideal for several reasons.  First, they are easy to make.  When you make this many gift bags, the treats need to be on the easier side to keep it manageable.  Second, the biscotti keep very well, making them greatl for giving away and shipping when necessary.  Finally, they are a lovely compliment to the bags of hot cocoa mix included in each bag.  I considered a multitude of flavors of biscotti, and when I consulted Ben, the choice was made instantly – peanut butter chocolate biscotti.  This classic flavor pair is irresistible to a lot of people, and there was nothing else peanut buttery in the bags.  Thank goodness for the corner pieces of biscotti.  We were very happy to get to sample a few of these ourselves.

For those readers who have been asking, the final breakdown of my holiday baking went like this:
Vanilla Bean Caramels – 2 batches
Peppermint Brownies – 4 large pans
Hot Chocolate Mix – 2 batches
French Butter Cookies – 5-6 batches
Peanut Butter Chocolate Biscotti – 3 batches

I hope everyone is having as much fun in their kitchens as I am this month.  It’s tiring, but so fun and so worth it!

Side note – Today is the last holiday giveaway – a super cute apron from Anthropologie!  See the Facebook page to enter – details will be posted before 8 am.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Biscotti
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Yield: about 30 biscotti
Ingredients:
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
6 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 cup mini chocolate chips (or chopped dark chocolate)

Additional chocolate, for drizzling (optional)

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.  In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt.  Whisk to blend.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter, peanut butter and sugar.  Beat on medium-high speed until fluffy and smooth, 1-2 minutes.  Blend in the vanilla.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl as needed between additions.  With the mixer on low speed, blend in the dry ingredients just until incorporated.  Stir in the chocolate chips or chocolate chunks until evenly distributed.

Divide the dough in half.  Shape into logs on the prepared baking sheet, about 11- by 3-inches in size, spacing at least 3 inches apart.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Remove the pan from the oven while maintaining the oven temperature.  Let the logs cool for 10 minutes.  Slice the logs diagonally into slices about ½- to ¾-inch thick.  Lay the slices, cut side down, on the baking sheet.  Bake, turning once, until the slices are slightly crisp, about 20-30 minutes more.   Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely.  If desired, drizzle cooled biscotti with additional melted chocolate.  Let set before serving.

Source: adapted from The Chocolate Peanut Butter Gallery, originally from The Peanut Butter & Co. Cookbook

French Butter Cookies


Does this type of cookie look familiar to you?  You know, those tins you buy at the store around the holidays filled with really yummy, slightly crumbly butter cookies?  Guess what?  You can make them at home.  I’m pretty overjoyed about this myself.  I’m normally not one to buy cookies from the store, but any time one of those tins appears at my dad’s house I’m all over it.  There is something about them that is totally irresistible.  I’ve been wanting to make these since last winter but never got around to it.  So many things to bake, so little time!

Of course I know I can always count on Cook’s Illustrated for a stellar recipe and they certainly delivered in this case.  The dough requires very few ingredients, but in the usual Cook’s Illustrated fashion, they have included a special technique to take the recipe to the next level.  In this case, that step is using a soft-boiled egg yolk in the dough.  It sounds a little weird, I know, and I was very skeptical.  Now I don’t know if it really matters because I haven’t tried these without the soft boiled yolk but I can say that I think these cookies are just perfect.  The buttery flavor and slightly sandy texture are spot on.

The article includes a recipe for a basic sablé dough, as well as numerous variations for a range of other shapes and flavorings.  As you can see, I tried a few of these variations myself: the basic sablé, chocolate swirls, vanilla pretzels and chocolate sandwiches.  And let me tell you, I loved every single one of them.  Like, really loved them and didn’t want to share them.  I try not to be overly effusive so you know when a recipe really stands out for me – this is one of those times.  Another huge plus is that the dough for all of these is formed into logs, chilled in the freezer, then sliced and baked (obviously the pretzels are shaped after chilling).  This means they are really convenient for holiday baking because you can make and freeze the dough ahead of time, and then bake when needed.  I still have more than half of these batches in my freezer waiting to be included in this year’s treat bags.  But I really just want to eat them myself.  I love these cookies!

French Butter Cookies
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Yield: about 40 cookies
Ingredients:
For the dough:
1 large egg
10 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp. (2¾ oz.) sugar
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1½ cups (7½ oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour

To finish:
1 large egg white, lightly beaten with 1 tsp. water
Turbinado sugar, for sprinkling

Directions:
Place the egg in a small saucepan and cover with 1 inch of water.  Bring to a boil.  Once boiling, remove from the heat, cover and let sit 10 minutes.  Meanwhile fill a small bowl with ice water.  Use a slotted spoon to transfer the egg to the ice water and let stand 5 minutes.  Crack the egg and peel away the shell.  Separate the yolk from the white; discard the white.  Press the yolk through a fine mesh sieve into a small bowl.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter, sugar, salt and cooked egg yolk.  Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down the bowl as needed.  Turn the mixer to low, add the vanilla and mix until incorporated.  Add the flour and mix on low speed just until combine, about 30 seconds.  Use a spatula to press the dough into a cohesive mass.

Divide the dough in half and roll each piece into a log about 6 inches long and 1¾ inches in diameter.  Wrap each log in a piece of parchment or wax paper.  Twist the ends to seal and firmly compact the dough into a tight cylinder.  Chill in the freezer until firm, about 1 hour.  (At this point, the dough can be stored in a freezer bag and frozen for up to 2 weeks.)

To bake, preheat the oven to 350 ˚F.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.  Using a chef’s knife, slice the dough into ¼-inch thick rounds, rotating the dough log every few slices so that it does not become misshapen.  Place the cookies 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheets.  Brush lightly with the egg white mixture and sprinkle evenly with turbinado sugar.

Bake until the centers of the cookies are pale golden and the edges are slightly darker, about 15 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway through baking.  Cool on the baking sheets about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Variations:
Vanilla Pretzel Cookies
Follow the recipe for French Butter Cookies, increasing the vanilla extract to 1 tablespoon and reducing the chilling time to 30 minutes.  Slice the dough into rounds as instructed.  Form each round into a ball.  Roll into a 6-inch long rope with tapered ends.  Twist into a pretzel shape.  Brush with the egg white mixture, sprinkle with turbinado sugar and bake as instructed.

Chocolate Sandwich Cookies
Follow the recipe for French Butter Cookies.  Slice the dough into 1/8-inch thick rounds.  Omit the egg wash and sprinkling sugar.  Bake the cookies as directed, reducing the baking time to 10-13 minutes.  When all the cookies are completely cool, melt dark or semisweet chocolate, spread a thin layer onto one cookie and sandwich with another cookie.  Let sit until the chocolate has set completely.

Black and White Spiral Cookies
Make one batch of French Butter Cookie dough.  Make a batch of chocolate dough by following the recipe for French Butter Cookies, reducing the flour to 1 1/3 cups and adding ¼ cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder with the flour.


To form the spiral cookies, halve each batch of dough.


Roll out each portion on lightly floured parchment or wax paper into a 6- by 8-inch rectangle, ¼-inch thick.  If the dough is at all soft, chill until firm enough to handle.


Place one rectangle of the chocolate dough on top of one rectangle of the plain dough.


Roll out the stacked dough into a 6- by 9-inch rectangle.  Starting at the long end, roll each stack into a tight log.  Twist the ends of the parchment and chill for 1 hour.  Omit the egg wash and sprinkling sugar.  Slice and bake as directed.

Source: Cook’s Illustrated Entertaining, Holiday 2010

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies

This is the time of year for cookies.  Holiday cookies run the gamut from very simple to complicated.  I don’t have a real preference, though I do enjoy the challenge of the more involved cookies.  What can I say?  I just love to play in the kitchen.  There is certainly a time and place for the fancy schmancy treats, and there is also a time and place for plain and simple.  For example, when you are taking call from home and worried the pager may go off at any moment but you really, really want to bake something.  That’s what these cookies were for me.  I had all the ingredients on hand and the dough was ready in minutes.

Even better, in my personal ranking of favorite cookies, oatmeal white chocolate cranberry cookies ranked second only to the best chocolate chip cookies ever.  And now, this is the version that earns second place because it has all those other things and it contains pumpkin.  The pumpkin puree contributes a pretty orange hue, a light chewy texture and a subtle pumpkin flavor.  Lots of my favorite ingredients all in one cookie – tough to resist, if you ask me.


Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies
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Yield: about 3 dozen cookies
Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
¾ tsp. ground ginger
¼ tsp. ground cloves
¼ tsp. grated nutmeg
Dash of allspice
½ tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup pumpkin puree
1½ cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup dried cranberries

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Line baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, spices and salt.  Whisk to blend.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugars on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Blend in the egg and vanilla.  Beat in the pumpkin puree until well incorporated.  With the mixer on low speed, mix in the dry ingredients just until incorporated.  Beat in the oats until combined.  With a rubber spatula, fold in the white chocolate chips and dried cranberries until evenly mixed.

Drop in small scoops (about 1½-2 tablespoons) onto prepared baking sheets, spaced 2-3 inches apart.  Bake 12-14 minutes, or until the cookies are lightly browned, rotating the sheets halfway through baking.  Allow to cool on the sheets about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Store in an airtight container.

Source: slightly adapted from My Baking Addiction

Spiced Brown Sugar Cut-Out Cookies


Sugar cookies one of the things I make so often, I know the recipe by heart.  I love my favorite sugar cookie recipe so much that I find it difficult to even try new variations.  This weekend since I was working on Thanksgiving favors, I decided to try a fall-inspired variety that includes brown sugar and fall spices.  I am pleased to say, these taste absolutely wonderful.  They are a really nice seasonal change and this recipe is a keeper.


I was feeling pretty skeptical when mixing and rolling out the dough, as it was slightly drier than my usual recipe.  Thankfully, these cookies have a lovely texture when all is said and done and are definitely not dry.  Even though there is no maple flavoring included, my first taste of these conjured up the flavor of a maple glazed doughnut.


These cookie designs were inspired by the Operation: Give Thanks printables I found over at Hostess With the Mostess.  (I wanted to use the printables for my Thanksgiving but they are not cooperating for me, so I am just improvising.)  If you have never worked with royal icing before but would like to give it a try, see my royal icing tutorial for tips and tricks.

Spiced Brown Sugar Cut-Out Cookies
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Ingredients:
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. grated nutmeg
1/8 tsp. allspice
½ cup sugar
½ cup light brown sugar, packed
16 tbsp. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions:
Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and spices in a medium bowl; whisk to blend.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the sugar, brown sugar and butter.  Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes.  Blend in the egg and vanilla.  With the mixer on low speed, mix in the dry ingredients just until incorporated.  Form the dough into a ball or disk and wrap tightly in plastic wrap.  Chill until firm, at least 30-60 minutes.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.  On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to about ¼-inch thickness.  Use cookie cutters to form desired shapes and transfer to the prepared baking sheets.  Bake 10-12 minutes.  Let cool on the baking sheet a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Decorate as desired.

Source: barely adapted from Bake at 350

Halloween Sugar Cookies


I simply can’t let a holiday pass by without making decorated sugar cookies, especially in the case of Halloween!  There are just too many possibilities and fun designs.  I really loved the cookies I made last year but I also had lots of new ideas.  I ended up making a couple old favorites as well as some new designs.


The mummies are definitely my favorite of this year.  They were so easy to do and I loved the end result.  (I used a Wilton #45 tip to make the bandages.)


Of course, the spiderwebs were the popular favorite last year so I had to make them again.  Ben still thinks they look like something I bought at the store and stuck on the cookie, so this year I made him watch me so he could see that it is, in fact, made of royal icing.  See this step-by-step photo guide on making your own spiderwebs.


I couldn’t resist doing a black cat cookie since my wonderful cat Zoe is a black cat.  (I already have more black cat ideas for next Halloween.  I really do have a problem.)


The tombstones are a good example of being resourceful with your cookie cutters.  I didn’t want to purchase new cutters for this Halloween(and also didn’t have time), so I went through my collection to see what I could use.  I found one that is supposed to be a gift tag with a pretty scalloped edge and used that as a starting point.  Then I just cut off the edge to get the mound at the top of the tombstone.  I did most of these with cracks in the stone but I also did one with a cobweb.  I like them both ways.


The pumpkins were easy and added a pop of color to the overall cookie display.  Plus Andrew had a ton of fun watching me sprinkle the orange sugar on, and then “coloring” with the leftover icing bags on a paper towel 🙂

Hopefully these provide some fun cookie inspiration if you are searching for ideas.  My go-to sugar cookie recipe is here, and my step-by-step royal icing tutorial gives the basics on decorating cookies.  Enjoy!