Thursday, 22 December 2011

Christmas Cakes

My first MAJOR project of the year began in November and I was super excited (and nervous) about it for lots of reasons.  We were lucky enough to get an amazing Kitchen Aid stand mixer as a wedding present for one and I decided that Christmas Cakes would be my first adventure with it! ... Two, we are well and truly settled in to our first home together - so my own kitchen, to make my own mess in and have all to myself!  And three, Mum has graced me with her Christmas Cake recipe to try out for myself this year.  Very excited to start!

So, with almost the whole day off work (just 2 piano lessons on a Monday evening in November) I got to work!

I don't start things simply.  That sometimes backfires on me - I get mad when it goes wrong but I also am determined to do the best I can with everything so... 4 cakes.  That was where I would start with my first experiment of Christmas Cakes.  (That would be a whole lot of wasted ingredients if I failed, eek!)

Here's some of that fun Monday in November baking baking baking day in photos:
Our kitchen (looking oddly tidy!) ready to go
Making a start using the fruit that
had been soaking for a few days.

Yey glass bowl!
Ingredients all out before I started.

First batch of mixture in! 1 large, 1 small. 
2 batches later 4 cakes were born!

For the weeks afterwards my cakes were stored in a combination of tins and cake boxes getting the occasional feeding of sherry!

Christmas was happening in Canada this year... for the first-time ever away from home for Christmas :'-( but it did mean I had lots of pre-Christmas time to get everything ready without worrying about packing to leave.

So December pre-Christmas was here and it was marzipan and icing time.

Then of course I needed some ideas for the decoration.  My favourite part!  The worst thing  is trying to think of them... I need to KNOW what I'll be doing but the more I force it the longer it takes to think.  So just taking a second to pause meant that the ideas flowed and I was ready to begin.  I had found COOL 3-D cookie cutters at St. Lawrence Market in downtown Toronto and thought they might be just the thing.  As well as some bonus fondant icing for some chubby little snowmen!

Snowmen and 3-D cookies decorated
with writing icing and silver balls!
I love snowmen!

Decorations ready so it was time to put it all together!

Christmas can begin!  Happy Christmas everyone!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Christmas Cookies

CHRISTMAS IS COMING!  My most favourite time of the year.  The best time to be stressed out crazy busy but to have fun while we do it!

Saturday morning was spent at work - 3 music classes jumping and bouncing around with lots of little ones.  Saturday afternoon we went curling with one of Jonathan's high school friends for her birthday celebration.  What a cool day.  Super fun but harder work sweeping those rocks than I ever thought it would be.  And then, if it could get any busier my evening was spent baking ALL THE COOKIES.

I wanted to make cookies for all of my piano students to make little treat bags for everybody, with maybe some leftovers for our own Christmas treats!

After some recipe research I decided I would make 4 different kinds of cookies - Thank you Taste of Home for your 'Best Loved Cookies and Candies 2010' issue.

1. Swirled Mint Cookies

Yummy mint and very soft cookies with the added bonus of the cool colours all mixed in.  Easier to do than I first thought!

Taken from my magazine here's the recipe that makes 4 dozen:

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup reduced-fat butter, softened (I used light margerine for this - perfect option as well as healthier!)
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon peppermin extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
10-20 drops red food colouring and 10-20 drops green food colouring

1.  Cream butters and 3/4 sugar in large bowl until light and fluffy.  Beat in egg and extracts.  Combine the flour, baking powder and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well.
2.  Divide dough into thirds.  Stir red food colouring into one portion, green into another and leave remaining dough plain.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour (during that time I began work on another cookie dough - bowls, dough and baking trays were continually being rotated that evening!)
3.  Divide each portion of dough into four equal pieces.  Roll each piece into a 12-inch rope.  Place a red, green and plain rope next to each other.  Cut through all three rope at 1-inch interval 0 forming sets of three differently coloured doughs.  Repeat.
4.  Roll each set of doughs into a ball, place 3-inches apart on ungreased baking sheet.  Flatten to 1/8-inch thickness with a glass dipped in remaining sugar.
5.  Bake at 375° for 8-10 minutes or until bottoms are lightly browned.  Remove to wire racks to cool.

2.  Crisp Sugar Cookies

Making these for kids I thought one of my cookies would be a simple sugar cookie recipe that I could roll out and cut out in a variety of shapes - not only Christmas shapes but generic Winter shapes as well.  I also tried out some coloured sugar and sprinkles too to see how that would work out when they were cooked.

Here's the magazine recipe I used that also made 4 dozen:

3/4 shortening
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Coloured sugar

1.  Cream shortening and sugar until light and fluffy in a large bowl.  Beat in eggs and extract.  Combine the flour, baking powder and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or until easy to handle.
2.  On a floured surface, roll dough to 1/8-inch thickness.  Cut with 2 1/2-inch cookie cutters.  Place on greased baking sheets.  Sprinkle with coloured sugar (I also used Christmas coloured sprinkles).
3.  Bake at 400° for 7-9 minutes or until lightly browned.  Remove to wire racks.

I made snowflakes, Christmas trees, stars and a few reindeers as you can see in the pictures :-)

3.  Crinkle-Top Chocolate Cookies

Mmmm my favourite ones.  Chocolatey, gooey inside and a perfect consistency.  I love these!  

This recipe makes 3 1/2 cookies.

2 cups semisweet chocolate chips, divided
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup sugar
2 egg whites (hey look, no yolk - healthy cookies yey!)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup icing sugar

1.  Melt 1 cup chocolate chips in microwave.  Stir until smooth, set aside.  Beat butter and sugar until crumbly in small bowl, until crumbly.  Add egg whites and vanilla; beat well and then stir in melted chocolate.
2.  Combine the flour, baking powder and salt; gradually add to butter mixture alternately with water.  Stir in remaining chocolate chips.  Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours (it's a sticky one) or until easy to handle.
3.  Shape dough into 1-inch balls.  Roll in icing sugar.  Place 2-inches apart on baking sheets coated with cooking spray.
4.  Bake a 350° for 10-12 minutes or until set.  Remove to wire racks to cool.

4.  Stained Glass Cutouts

A fun batch to try - crumbled up hard sweets make the cool stained glass effect.  Too crunchy for me but they look cool and my master taster Jonathan liked them!!

The recipe makes about 3 dozen.

3/4 butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extra
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 baking powder
Assorted colours of clear hard candy 

1.  Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy in a large bowl.  Beat in the egg, milk and vanilla.  Combine the flour, baking powder and salt; gradually add to the creamed mixture and mix well.  Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or until easy to handle.
2.  Meanwhile, coarsely crush each colour of hard candy separately; set aside.  (Thank you Jonathan for your help here - our balcony and some ziplocs made this fun and easy!!)  On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to 1/8-inch thickness.  Cut with 4-inch cookie cutters dipped in flour (I used mainly a round empire cookie with the scalloped edge and some snowflakes).  Cut out centres with 1-inch cookie cutters (I used a small heart and small round empire cookie).  Plce cookies 1-inch apart on lightly greased foil-lined baking sheets.  Fill centres with crushed candy.
3.  Bake at 375° for 8-10 minutes or until the candy is melted and edges begin to brown.  Cool completely on baking sheets.  Carefully peel cookies off the foil.

Just a note here, with the small cookie cut-outs from the centres of the stained glass cookies I also sprinkled with some sugar, peppermint candy crunch or sprinkles and ended up with lots and lots of really mini cookies in hearts or circles!

So... in conclusion:

About 6 hours later I had nearly 200 cookies ready to be bagged up that week.  VERY achy legs from a first time curling and 6 hours standing baking.  It was BEDTIME!