Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Cookie #3: Cream Cheese Cookies

These cookies are so beautiful to look at, and so rich that one tiny mouthful is enough to satisfy. As they bake, the dough turns a gorgeous white that contrasts so beautifully with the cherry. They are my favorite cookies of the season.


2 cups butter, softened
1 8 ounce package of cream cheese
1 cup sugar
1 cup splenda
2 tsp. vanilla
2 egg yolks
5 cups flour
1/4 cup finely chopped pecans
1 jar maraschino cherries

Cream butter, cheese, sugar, and splenda. Blend in egg yolks and vanilla. Add flour gradually, followed by nuts. Roll dough into balls about 1 inch in diameter. Cut each cherry in fourths. Press 1/4 cherry into the top of each cookie. Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet at 350 degrees for 12 minutes.


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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christmas Sweets: Sugar & Spice Pecans

This recipe always gets raves from my neighbors. The secret to it is the salt and periodic stirring as the pecans bake. Even when I make a large batch, I run out!


2 lbs of pecans (32 ounces)

2 egg whites

1 cup sugar

1 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

dash of cayenne pepper (optional)

Beat egg whites to a light froth. In a large bowl, mix with pecans and toss to coat. Mix sugar, salt, and spices separately and pour over pecans, tossing again to distribute evenly over the nuts. Place in a single layer on a parchment paper-covered cookie sheet (I divide the mixture between two sheets). Bake at 225 degrees for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Allow to cool completely and store in an airtight container.


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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Christmas Sweets: Homemade Butter Mints

This recipe is one of my favorites because it is so fun to make and the results are strikingly festive (and delicious!) There is no need to bake and no need for a candy thermometer. The only requirement is to set aside some space for the candy to set undisturbed for 24 hours. Homemade Butter Mints travel well, and I include them in all our gift packages of holiday goodies.


9 1/2 cups powdered sugar

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

2/3 cup corn syrup

1 tsp salt

1 1/2 tsp peppermint extract

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

green and red food coloring, (I use paste, but liquid will work.)

In a large bowl, cut together sugar and butter with 2 knives or a pastry blender until butter is in large chunks. Add corn syrup, salt, peppermint, and vanilla. Stir with a wooden spoon until mixture begins to come together, then work into a dough with your hands, kneading constantly until dough is smooth and uniform. Divide dough into two parts. Make a well in the center of each and put a small amount of food coloring in the well. Knead each ball of dough until the color is distributed uniformly.

On large sheets of waxed paper in an area where you will rest your candy, roll dough between your hands into "snakes" a little larger in diameter than a pencil. Once you have all the dough rolled, set a timer for 10 minutes. When the buzzer rings, begin cutting the snakes, starting with the first ones you prepared, into pillows. Allow them to set for 24 hours. Store in an airtight container or a large Ziploc bag. Keep in mind that the mints are semi-soft, so protect them from being crushed.


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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Christmas Cookie #2: Fresh Ginger-Lemon Cookies

I love the taste of these gentle ginger cookies. They are a far cry from the heavily spiced taste of ginger snaps or gingerbread. I love to eat them with a nice, hot cup of Earl Grey. They are a crisp mouthful of buttery ginger-lemon goodness -- a great taste of the holidays.

1 1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 tablespoon white vinegar
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tbs fresh ginger, finely ground in the food processor
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pure lemon extract

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Cream together the sugar and butter, add vinegar and mix thoroughly. Add the remaining ingredients, one at a time, beating after each addition. The dough should be thick, but not stiff or dry. Roll dough in 1-inch balls and place 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Gently press into 1/2 inch rounds with your fingers or the bottom of a glass dipped in sugar. Bake 14-16 minutes, until golden. Cool completely.


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Christmas Cookie #1: Surprise Sugar Cookies

My family is crazy over Christmas cookies. We bake them. We exchange them with friends. We use and re-use old recipes, adapt recipes, and try new recipes. Because Christmas cookies are such a fun and important part of our holiday celebration, I thought I'd spend December posting old stand-bys and new favorites.

The first is Surprise Sugar Cookies -- they are crisp and tasty and they disappear fast! And the surprise is just how easy they are to make! We made a batch today (my three-year-old and I) in about a half hour. With her helping. A lot. (Get the picture?)

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar, divided
1tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. white vinegar
1 3/4 cups flour
1 tsp. vanilla
Red and green colored sugar sprinkles, mixed together

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In large mixing bowl, combine butter and 3/4 cups sugar and beat until light and creamy. Add baking soda and mix until incorporated. Add vinegar. Gradually mix in flour and vanilla. (The dough should be quite thick.) Roll dough into 1 inch balls.

Roll the balls in remaining 1/4 cup sugar, mixed with the colored sugar sprinkles -- this is a great job for the kids. Place cookies 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheet (cookie will spread quite a bit, so leave plenty of room). To make it easier to bring the cookies from the sheet to a cooling rack, I line my cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Bake 12-15 minutes, until light golden brown. Cool 3-5 minutes on the baking sheet before moving to cooling rack.


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