Christmas Cookies Again

I used to be one of those who would make dozens of different cookie recipes each Christmas Season to give  away.   I would daily bake  a couple of different batches starting the day after Thanksgiving.   I would end up with hundreds of cookies of all sorts and varieties.   On December 15th I would bundle up my hand crafted treasures and give them away.   I would drive all over town to deliver my boxes of homemade goodies.     I would prepare 20 or so boxes and mail them all over the US.        I learned when I lived in Jewish neighborhoods how to make some of their traditional favorites to include in my collections.  No one was left out, friends and family alike were given a holiday treat box.    I wanted people to know I thought of them and they were important to me by giving them a gift of my heart and hands.      I followed that routine for years and enjoyed every minute of it.   Then about four years ago I got a job where the busiest season for them ran from Thanksgiving until the middle of January.   It made making all those cookies a chore and took all the fun out of it.   I finally gave it up.

I have spent lots of time this year re-evaluating things and decided that I enjoyed baking for gifts and am taking it back.  I still have my job, after all it affords me many things including the ability to afford the expenses associated with baking.   But I have decided that I used to like to bake and I am going to try it again.  If I stop baking it will be because it isn’t any fun any more not because my job has over taken my life.   So this weekend I am doing a two day marathon of baking.   I am not sure how many cookies it will yield, but I am going to allow myself two days of baking , and see how it goes.  I will keep you posted.

Pumpkin Pie Update

I did not try to pass my from scratch pumpkin pie off on my friends as the same they always had, but instead asked them what they thought of it.  Different good, different bad,  or heck I can’t tell the difference, so why bother.

To keep this on the level playing field I used my favorite recipe the one on the canned Libby’s pumpkin label.   I really think their use of can milk makes it least likely to curdle.   I used my standard pie crust as well.

Before baking it, I can tell you that my 15 ounces of pumpkin was not as orange as Libby’s.   Mine was like pudding compared to the stuff from the can which holds shape like jellied cranberries.   I was worried, was it too moist?  They both were silky smooth.

Baking was essentially the same.   Same time.   Looked essentially the same.

Taste test was fun because my friends have not problem being brutally honest.   No one wants their chief pie baker to get a swollen head.    Here is what was decided:

  • Libby’s pumpkin pie really only tastes like the spices you put in it, the cinnamon, cloves, and ginger.   The homemade had another pumpkin squash taste.  Not bad, but definitely different.   Most everyone thought it was kind of cool to definitely have a taste of pumpkin in their pie.
  • The homemade was not as sweet as Libby’s.  Whatever secret hybrid that the Libby’s people use it is sweeter than the sweet pie pumpkin variety I got.   If you have a massive sweet tooth this could be a problem.
  • Texture was the biggest difference. Using the canned pumpkin you get something like a pumpkin flan or custard, more gelatinous.    With the homemade pumpkin despite it having been run through the food processor and appearing to be the same as the can it did not cook up the same.   It wasn’t gritting or anything like that with it.   The best way we could come up to explain it was can pumpkin was like skim milk, and the homemade was like whole milk.   There was something more substantial about it in the mouth, but you really can not explain it.

The from scratch pumpkin pie from  was different, but still to the group a pumpkin pie.   It wasn’t lot a lot of work and if I have pumpkins I will definitely do it again.

Apples and Fall

When we lived in Minnesota, this was the time of the year that we would head from the city down to the country of apple orchards near Red Wing and Lake Peppin.   There you could find all sorts of apple varieties and it would be the time of year that we canned, dried and made lots of desserts with apples.   With my bag of apples that I got two weeks ago I have been using some in tried and true receipes and looking for a new one to use as well.

Here is a new one that we are going to save as part of our permanent collection.   I found it on the blog Hungry Rabbit NYC.  Of course I made a few changes to suit what I had in my cupboard and my taste.  I highly recommend it to you.

Caramelized Apple Gingerbread

recipe adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, with additional adaptations by Hungry Rabbit NYC, and now a few by me!
yield: 9 servings
INGREDIENTS

Apple Topping
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup  dark brown sugar
2 apples medium, peeled, halved, cored, and sliced thin

Gingerbread
2-1/4 cups  all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, I use Penzey’s Cinnamon because it has a great mix of four different types of cinnamon.
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon Dutch-process coco powder
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter , melted, cooled to room temperature
4 tablespoons canola oil
3/4 cup unsulphured molasses
3/4 cup (5-1/4 ounces) granulated white sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
2 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely grated ( I use ginger in the tube from Gourmet Garden.   Find it in your grocer’s produce section.)
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cup of Sun-maid Fruit Bits (It contains diced raisins, apricots, apples, and more)
1/2 chopped crystalized ginger (You want this to be moist, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces and tossed in sugar.  I like Penzey’s it is perfect out of the bag)

DIRECTIONS

Apple Topping
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees.  Melt butter in a glass 9 by 9-inch baking pan. Use your fingers and spread melted butter into pan and on sides; add brown sugar, stir with fork to moisten in butter and spread brown sugar evenly over pan bottom. Arrange apple slices, overlapping slightly upon brown sugar mixture. Set aside

Gingerbread
1. Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, and cocoa in medium bowl. Set aside

2. Beat butter, oil, molasses, and sugar in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until combined. Beat in egg and fresh ginger until incorporated. Gradually add buttermilk until combined.

3. Add dry ingredients to liquid; beat on medium speed until batter barely combines with a few white streaks of flour. Using a rubber spatula, add dried fruits and ginger until evenly distributed. Pour batter over apple slices.

4. Bake until top springs back when lightly touched, and edges have pulled away from the pan sides, 45-55 minutes. At 6,000 feet it cooked it for 65 minutes and we used the toothpick test, as the edges never pulled from the sides.  Set pan on wire cake rack and let cool for 15 minutes.  Run a knife around the edges and  invert onto serving plate, and let cool for another 30 minutes. Cut into squares, and serve.  Be decadent add some sweetened whipped cream.

Christmas Cookies

I am not sure why there are cookies that we make only once a year.   I am not sure why we feel compelled to make dozens and dozens of cookies in December and not make a batch a month instead.    Having said that I am one of those who participates in this crazy ritual of Christmas cookies.

Right after Thanksgiving I start hoarding butter that goes on sale in my freezer.  I then pull out my  cookbooks and figure out which ones I want to make and I make a shopping list.  Years ago when I hosted my caroling parties I used to make dozens of varieties.  Each year now it seems like I make fewer and fewer.

One of my favorites to make is a recent find in a 1994 Pillbury Bake-Off book called Fudgy Bonbons.   I highly recommend the  Hershey Hugs or  limited edition candy cane Kisses in these.  I have tried it with cherry cordial Kisses, caramel kisses and many other kinds.   Now that there are so many kinds of Kisses out there it is limitless  what you can do.    I also recommend that you heat them up just a few seconds before you eat them so that the centers are a little soft.  Yummy!

Fudgy Bonbons

1 (12-oz.) pkg. (2 cups) semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup margarine or butter
1 (14-oz.) can sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated)
2 cups all purpose or unbleached flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
60 Kisses or Hugs
2 oz. white chocolate baking bar or vanilla-flavored candy coating (almond bark)
1 teaspoon shortening or oil
DIRECTIONS:
  • Heat oven to 350°F. In medium saucepan, combine chocolate chips and margarine; cook and stir over very low heat until chips are melted and smooth. (Mixture will be stiff.) Add condensed milk; mix well.
  • Lightly spoon flour into measuring cup; level off. In large bowl, combine flour, nuts, chocolate mixture and vanilla; mix well. Shape 1 tablespoon dough (use measuring spoon) around each milk chocolate candy, covering completely. Place 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets.
  • Bake at 350°F. for 6 to 8 minutes. DO NOT OVERBAKE. Cookies will be soft and appear shiny but will become firm as they cool. Remove from cookie sheets. Cool 15 minutes or until completely cooled.
  • Meanwhile, in small saucepan, combine baking bar and shortening; cook and stir over low heat until melted and smooth. Drizzle over cooled cookies. Let stand until set. Store in tightly covered container.
Yield: 60 cookies.
To give proper credit where it is due, here is the link to Pillsbury with this recipe.

Official Pie Baker – Secrets Revealed

The women of my family have a long history of making great pies.  My grandma cooked pies when she worked at the county home, when she volunteered at the shelter and for her family.    One of the things that made her so well-known for her pies was her ability to make great crusts every time.    It is one of those things she gave to me, the ability to make good pies and enjoy doing so.

Now I am the pie baker of choice  for the holidays with my Montana adopted family.  Each year for Thanksgiving I am asked to bring the pies.   There is always the required pumpkin pie, with my secret ingredient Penzy’s cinnamon.  What makes this cinnamon so special is that it is a mix of  different cinnamon’s giving it a depth of flavor not found in your run of the mill store cinnamons.   I struggled with fruit pies at this altitude and have discovered they turn out much better if I par-cook my fruit.  This year I repeated my highly sought after apple filling cooked in cider, brown sugar and butter.  The cider gives it a really great apple flavor and yet not too sweet.    The kids  demand a chocolate pie, and each year I turn up with a version of chocolate.   I am always on the look out for a new one for each year.   This year I settled for an old-fashion chocolate cream pie with a crust of crushed “Famous Chocolate Wafers”.   Three is usually my limit, but this year I had a hankering for pecan pie.  Knowing full well this was not a nut crowd, I made my pecan pie  anyway.   Real maple syrup is my secret  ingredient.  It makes a rich filling that isn’t that gooey sweet, I attribute to the corn syrup I used to use.  Real maple syrup is not overwhelming with maple flavor and most folks don’t even realize it is in my pie.   In this case only two of us ate it.   It won’t likely be a repeat performance for this crowd.

At the end of the night, the only pie left was my pecan pie, though the nut eater took home an extra piece.   I took my leftover pie home and will be eating it the next few days, and then I will be satisfied.   I got my slice of pecan pie and then some.