Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Cookie Baking Extravaganzaaaahhhh

Whew! That was fun! I baked all day Saturday and most of the day Sunday. Hopefully the peeps at the office won't get their box and say "This is ALL??" (Update: Actually, one person DID complain that there weren't enough, and another complained that her toffee cookies weren't included this year. Oh well. I guess you can't please everyone!)

Here's how it all went down.

Saturday AM I scrubbed the kitchen down and vacuumed to organize my workspace and minimize the chances of a stray dog hair infiltrating my cookie dough. (In this house, that ain't easy.) Then I had to make a quick run to the grocery for parchment paper (thanks for the offer to borrow, Morgan and Jesse, but I needed a couple of other things anyway) and to Office Max to buy boxes for shipping. So it was noon by the time I got out the flour and butter, put the Christmas music on iTunes piped into the kitchen and got my cookie on. (!!)

Here's the list:

Coffee Crunch Bars

Clove Snaps

Peppermint Sugar Cookies (An old 1994 Bon Appetit Recipe)

Cranberry, White Chocolate Chip and Pecan Cookies

Chocolate-Covered Sandwich Cookies with Dulce de Leche (Alfajores) - these are actually for the party. They would have been a beast to try to ship and would have been a big hot mess when they arrived. And I don't have a picture of them yet.

Bourbon Balls (YEAH, baby!)

Potato-Chip Cookies (Do not go "ew" without you have not tried them. Huh. Look at that. I didn't get a picture of them. Oh well.)

White Chocolate Brownies

Cream Cheese Spritz Cookies Yes, I'm painfully aware that these do not look like Spritz cookies. I had technical difficulties. I'll get to that later.

Before I get started, now that you've already seen the end results, let me put it out there that I am not great with making pastries and stuff look pretty. I do OK plating food and making nice loaves of bread and I CAN make a pretty damned gorgeous cake. But little small fussy things like piping cookie icing and all that just isn't me. I lose patience. I like the big picture construction part - the ingredient selection and tweaking, the mixing, the rolling - that sort of thing. As you can see, my talent does not lie in constructing castles out of buttercream and a toothpick.

So baking we will go! And the end result will still taste good. It just might not be a show stopper.

Peppermint Sugar Cookies

I love these. They're the soft, thin, chewy cookies spiked with that great cool peppermint taste. It's a basic sugar cookie recipe with crushed peppermint candy added. I altered the recipe to add peppermint extract. I mean, seriously, why isn't it on there in the first place? I liked them better with it. More! Mint! This dough had to be refrigerated, so once it was mixed up, in it went.

Alfajores (From Fine Cooking)

This one is kind of involved. You have to make the Dulce du Leche, because I sure couldn't find it in my Harris Teeter. That's easy as falling down in an icy driveway, but a little time-consuming.

To make it, get a can of sweetened condensed milk and pop the top just a tiny bit or poke a couple of holes in the lid, so it's got some ventilation. Then take off the label (or, hey, if you're a rebel, by all means, take the label off first, THEN pop the top. Go nuts!) and put the can in a pot of water about 3/4 of the way up the can. Put it on medium low heat and simmer it- just barely bubbling. I simmered mine for about five hours - all afternoon while I was baking. Then I just put the cans in the fridge overnight. This is what you get the next day when you stir it up. Yes. CARAMEL, people. Oh, how evil. I tasted it to make sure it wasn't poison. Nope. Just thick, rich, caramel deliciousness.

The dough was another one that needed fridge time, so once it was mixed, in it went too.

Clove Snaps
Another refrigerator dough (and another Fine Cooking gem). Mixed up and in they went.

Cranberry, White Chocolate Chip and Pecan Cookies
This one is just your basic chocolate chip cookie recipe, except you add a cup of dried cranberries, a cup of white chocolate chips, and a cup of pecans. Frankly, I thought these were kind of "meh", and I won't bake them again.

Potato-Chip Cookies
These! Rock!! I've made these two years in a row now and corrupted my mother-in-law into making them too. Another Fine Cooking find. (Yes, I do actually cook from places other than Fine Cooking, but they ARE pretty much awesomeness on a cracker.) The cookies are like pecan sandies, sort of, but the pecan flavor is much more subtle. They're salty and crumbly and pretty much all-around perfect. Word of warning from experience - do NOT add more potato chips than the recipe calls for. It makes the cookies just melt and fall apart.  Personal aside: having an open bag of potato chips in this house is much more dangerous to me than having heaps of cookies all over the place.

So I'm knee deep in cookie dough and there was an awful lot of this going on. I could have used a scullery maid.

I switched to something simple next - White Chocolate Brownies. These aren't brownies with chunks of white chocolate. They're melted white chocolate, butter, sugar, etc. They make a rich, chewy, buttery bar and I've been making these for probably 15 years. Maybe longer. Poured a double batch into a pan and shoved it in the oven to bake. The end of those.

Cream Cheese Cookies
These were supposed to be Cream Cheese Spritz Cookies. What. A. Disaster. I have my grandmother's old spritzer - it's one of the hand-crank ones from the 1950s/60s. Holy Moses in a Basket! The dough was fine (fine, not great, which is why I'm not linking). Right texture, etc. But using the spritzer turned out to be too challenging for me. If someone had shown me how, I probably could have figured it out OK. But I couldn't even find anything on the internets that showed photos good enough to be able to figure it out. Add the fact that the retention ring has somehow gotten lost, so there was no way to hold the plates on the spritzer, and you have a mighty big mess on your hands. So I swore at the counter for a while, pulled the dough out, and tossed the spritzer in the sink.

Sorry, Grandmother

So I rolled the dough and cut cookies instead.

And they were just fine.

The next-to-last batch of the day I cooked were the coffee crunch bars. These are another easy one. Mix the batter, smear it on a cookie sheet, and shove it in the oven and do something else. They're also tasty.

Last up for the day were the Bourbon Balls. These are ridiculously easy. Grind up a bunch of Nilla Wafers (which always remind me of Grandmother - she always had those things around), with some pecans, add cocoa and sugar and corn syrup and finally half a cup of Maker's Mark, then roll them into balls. Personally, I don't like them that much, because of the texture. But they smell wonderful, and one of my work peeps requests them every year. I hope he doesn't eat them all by himself, or he probably shouldn't drive home.

Day 2 was roll out and bake day.

peppermint sugar cookies, ready for the oven

Cookie dough for the Chocolate Covered Caramel filled Cookies

Once the cookie dough had cooked and cooled for these, I assembled these. Again, I'm going to remind you this is not my forte'. I smeared the caramel in the middle and put two cookies together, which proceeded to separate and slide and ooze caramel all over the parchment paper. Then they got dipped in melted chocolate. I did manage not to get it in my hair, but that's about it. I'm just going to leave it at "they aren't as pretty as the magazine picture". They're in the freezer now, waiting for the party. At least they aren't oozing anymore.

Clove Snaps

Day 2 bordered on tedious for me, what with all the rolling and cutting little shapes. But eventually everything got cooked. Then photographed. These turned out better than a lot of my pictures, since there was actually some natural light in the kitchen. Hooray for daytime cooking!

Gotta say, after two days of this, I was ready to be done with flour, sugar and butter, and be done with being on my feet. I totally cannot hang with the pros. But it was fun, and hopefully it will make Christmas nicer for the folks I work with. 

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