Christmas Cookies 2016

Every Christmas I embark on a epic cookie baking session. This year is no exception. Actually, because I am closer to family the cookie tins have increased this year. In spite of working with a new oven with less counter space nothing seems to keep me from the joy of holiday baking.

So what’s on the list for this year?

White Chocolate Peppermint :

This year I am going to try a new method for making these minty favorites. In the past I have struggled with the cookies flattening. My current theory is that they are weighed down by the andes peppermint chunks in them. To try to prevent this, I am going to melt the peppermint with the white chocolate and only sprinkle a few morsels on top afterward. We will see if that makes a difference.

White chocolate dipped Ginger:

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These are my new favorites. I made them for the first time last year and they went over so well I’m making a larger batch this time. They are a bit more time consuming as they require cooling before dipping or decorating but they are so yummy and they catch everyone’s eye. For more see:

https://agreenesadventures.org/2015/12/23/christmas-cookies-2015/

Chocolate Bakers:

A basic for chocolate lovers. I have done several variations on this over the years including adding chili to make them more like Mexican Coco and of course also peppermint. But classics are still great. I’ll try to get a recipe out for those to you soon.

Holiday M and M:

Speaking of classics. This is a basic as it gets, well at least for me. The secret I find to these salty and sweet upscale chocolate chips is the use of a little bit of oat flour and vanilla pudding mix to keep them moist on the inside and crunchy on the outside.

Holiday Red Velvet :

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In the past I’ve made these with holiday velvet cake mixes, cookies come in both red and green. The green ones don’t seem to go over as well even though they taste the same. So instead of making it extra colorful we are skipping the grinch coloring this year.

For a recipe see:

https://agreenesadventures.org/2015/12/22/holiday-velvet-cookies/

Organic Gluten Free No White Sugar Oatmeal Cookies

This is my new experiment this year. I took a basic oatmeal cookie recipe and did some work substituting ingredients. I was able to come up with an alternative to meet the needs of a few family members with food allergies, something I completely understand.  (for more on this put the words “tree nuts” and “barley” into my search box on this blog). If this goes well and I get thumbs up from those who will enjoy them then a recipe may be down the road for this as well.

In addition to these wonderful cookies I am making a few candies and snacks including peanut brittle, butterscotch haystacks, and spicy cajun peanuts to name a few.

Are any of these your favorites? If not what is your favorite holiday treat?

Bread of the Month: Italian Triple Chocolate

You read that right triple chocolate!!! I figured this is the month of and for chocolate lovers right? (see February is synonymous with chocolate). This moist bread is a cross-breed between a dark/molasses bread and a dessert bread. Most dessert bread ingredients form a sweet cake batter rather than a dough and use baking powder and/or soda to help them rise . This bread instead uses yeast, has two rises, and forms a very silk and springy dough.

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The base recipe I got once again from The Bread Bible but I did make some key variations. After proofing the yeast I added the dry ingredients of: flour, salt, cocoa powder (the first of the three chocolates), expresso, and sugar together. Then the wet ingredients of: warm milk, melted butter, egg, yeast, and warm water were added to create the dough.

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Once the dough was formed the ever so important chocolate was added. The original recipe called for some finer/fancier chocolates. I decided to used good-old fashion Hershey unsweetened cocoa powder (instead of a fancy dutch processed variety), 3 ounces of a nicer Lindt milk chocolate bar, and 5 ounces of a  semi-sweet baking bar that was suggested in the original recipe: Scharffen Berger. Once the chocolate was chopped it was added with a spoon to the dough. Here also I added vanilla and a little more white sugar making the dough sweeter than the recipe called for.

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Then the rest of the flour was added 1/2 C at a time to the mixer. After switching over to a dough hook for awhile, I turned it over by hand  to check it’s consistency. I used butter to grease the pan the dough would rise in instead of the olive oil base I would normally use for a non-dessert bread.

The dough sat and rose for an hour and half. During this time I decided to create a glaze, also not in the original recipe.  I used a tablespoon of my coffee creamer (see Coffee Creamer Simplified ), 1/8 tsp of expresso, a tablespoon of melted bittersweet chocolate, and one egg whisked together.

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Once the dough finished it’s first rising I kneaded it to let out air and formed it into loafs. The original  design is to make the dough into two round loafs. Instead I formed the dough to fit two regular bread loafs pans, greased again with butter, for it’s second rising; about another half hour. After the second rising I glazed the tops of the loafs and stuck the bread in the oven at 375 F.

Let me tell you combine the smell of brownies and fresh bread baking and you’ve got close to what our house smelled like while this bread cooked. It went in the oven for about 45-50 minutes . I chose to take it out around 30 minutes to re-glaze the top; then did that again after 45 minutes and turned the oven down to 200 until the glaze was absorbed. At 50 minutes I had three layers of sweet glaze on top of the bread and the center was done. The end result? Not necessarily the prettiest bread I have ever made but one of the most delicious.

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With a crunchy sweet top layer and a moist yet dense semi-sweet chocolate flavor it is wonderful. Once the loafs cooled I placed them covered in the fridge. The next morning Luke andI had a slice without butter with homemade vanilla lattes for breakfast. Talk about a piece of heaven!! I think it honestly tastes better the next day!

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So there you have it!  A very February tribute to bread. If you are thinking of finding this recipe or something similar there are definitely ways to add variety to the recipe. If you want the bread sweeter I would suggest adding more white sugar to the dough along with more milk chocolate and/or add chocolate chips.

You can also of course add a sweeter glaze and or icing to the top. The more the glaze the quicker the top will brown so you have to be cautious. You can always cover the top with foil while the rest bakes if necessary. For an icing I would suggest melting semi-sweet chocolate and combining it with a little milk/cream and powdered sugar to put on once the loafs have cooled.

Happy chocolate month everyone!!

A “Cheesy” New Years Tradition

While Luke and I were dating we went to two fondue places and love it both times. But fondue can be expensive and our closest fondue place is in Rochester, an hour and forty-five minutes away. So last year for New Years Eve we decided to start a new tradition: making fondue at home.

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We bought a basic bottle of white and red wine then went to Wegmans to get nicer cheeses and chocolate to melt. Because we had the day to ourselves, we took our time prepping goodies to dip . For our creamy  white wine cheesy fondue we cut up  tart apples, grapes, mushrooms, broccoli, pita bread, pumpernickel bread, and celery.

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This year’s fondue cheeses

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2014’s fondue dipped goods

After making the fondue last year we decided the breads were too crumby for the hot cheese and that I am not a fan of raw broccoli but everything else tasted great. So this year we used heartier crackers, cut cubes from our own homemade bread, and exchanged green peppers for broccoli.

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Last year for our  rich red wine chocolate fondue we used marshmallows, strawberries, bananas, shortbread cookie pieces, and cheesecake bites.

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After making the chocolate fondue last year we decided the shortbread cookies was too soft and melted and that Luke is not a fan of marshmallows. Last year I had made cheesecake for Christmas /New Years day dessert so I  cut up the leftovers from the freezer.

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This year I made cheesecake balls coated in graham cracker crumbs. I dipped some in white chocolate for the New Years Eve party then froze the rest for fondue.  We didn’t use bananas this year but we did keep the  marshmallows for me, which just meant more cheesecake for Luke.

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We do not own a fondue set but we have a double boiler. Last year we put hot water in the bottom pan of the double boiler and melted our cheese/chocolate in the top pan. This worked pretty well except for one issue: if we removed the cheese fondue from the stove heat then it would begin to harden almost immediately. So we ended up eating our fondue on stools huddled around the stove top of the oven.

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This year Luke dipped into his camping gear to find a burner we could put on the table to use with our double boiler. It’s another temporary solution but it’s better than last year. And let’s just say we already have a item on our Christmas list for 2014: a nice fondue set.

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And what else did we do for our holiday other than eat food? Play Luke’s favorite Christmas present Firefly: the board game yes . . . it’s complicated and nerdy and. . . it’s a lot of fun.

Hope you all had a fun New Year’s Day!!

Christmas Candies

As I made clear earlier this week, I am a baker but some great holiday goodies such as Christmas Candies don’t require the time, ingredients, or effort of baked goods. So this post is for all of you procrastinators who still want/need to put together dessert plates, goody bags, or fill up stockings with easy to make  and clean up homemade treats.

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1. Peanut Brittle: As I mentioned in my November post The Great Pumpkin I had found a great wanna-be See’s candy peanut brittle recipe I wanted to try out this winter. I made some for my cookies and cocoa night (see post-parade cookies and cocoa) gave some for Luke to take to work, and have kept the rest in a christmas tin for people to snack on through the season.

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Each place I took this crunchy brittle to the container came back empty-I’ll take that as a good sign. The recipe calls for the perfect balance of butter, salt, and caramelized sugar. Even though the recipe provides specifics about temperatures of candy thermometers I had no problems following along without one. For the original recipes click on eatsybitsydaisy.com.

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2. Chocolate Covered Candy Cane Joe Joe’s: I got in the habit of making chocolate dipping Oreos and to give away as cheap Christmas gifts back in Junior High and have been making them ever since.  This year I went to Rochester and bought Trader Joe Candy Cane Joe Joe’s to chocolate dip.

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I have no specific recipe but I can walk you through what I do: After lining baking sheets with wax paper and clearing room in either the fridge or freezer for the sheets I slowly melt a bag of chocolate morsels with 1 tablespoon of shortening in a medium pot, stirring with a spatula. Once the mixture melts I quickly take it off the stove, drop the cookies in the chocolate one at a time, then scoop them up with a fork.  I let the excess chocolate drip off back into the pot then let them slide onto the wax paper. With white chocolate I have to use double the shortening,  longer/slower melting time, as well as I double dip them because the mixture is thinner. In the end they are stackable and easy treats to store in a bin in the freezer.

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3. Haystacks: I grew up making these with my grandmother who always had a Christmas tin available of these crispy butterscotch treats at our holiday get-togethers. Last Christmas I found out that haystacks are Luke’s favorite Christmas treat. He also grew up with a grandmother who would make them for him at Christmas as well. Last year I made the haystacks and hid the tin until Christmas morning. This year Luke  expected them. For these goodies I use a whole bag of butterscotch chips melted with a 1/2 C peanut butter and stir in peanuts and crispy chow mein doodles. I then stick spoonfuls on baking sheets covered in wax paper to let them cool. If you want a more formal recipe you can find it on the back of most nestle butterscotch chip bags.

Do you have a favorite Christmas goody or candy?

Christmas Cookies

I love to bake. If I haven’t said that on this blog yet I’ll say it again: I love to bake. I grew up looking forward to the holiday season as a chance to make cakes, cookies, and candy for friends and family. I loved sharing the kitchen with my mom helping her prep all the dessert for family get-togethers and baking them in her antique oven.

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So last year I was super excited to have my own kitchen and beautiful blue kitchen-aid mixer to bake my own holiday goodies with .But as I mentioned last week (see Tis the Season) I had very few events/people to bake for. This year I feel like I am making up for that. The cooking baking started extra early for our post-Christmas parade event (see Post-Parade Cookies and Cocoa).

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I bought dollar store tins and filled them up with cookies for friends and family. I have also brought cookies to our small group, to Luke’s work, and for a cookie competition at Luke’s work. To add to the list I have supplied several christmas parties and get togethers with an assortment of baked treats, and bagged up goodies for our neighbors, mailperson, and waste disposal workers.

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Let me share with you my top  Christmas cookies from the  baking list this year.

Easy Favorites: The Drop Cookies

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1. Christmas themed funfetti cheesecake cookies: I first made these cookies for Luke’s work to for the 4th of July and they were a big hit. (see 4th of July Funfetti cookies). These colorful, soft, and chewy cookies taste like birthday cake batter meets cheesecake with a cookie twist.

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They are easy to make using  a holiday themed cake mix, white chocolate chips, cheesecake pudding mix and decorations like sprinkles and/or food dye.  For Christmas I split the batter into two:half dyed red and the other green.  If you want to make them extra festive you can add some praline sprinkles on top before they bake.

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2. Baker’s Chocolate Sugar Cookies: I have been making these basic chocolate cookies since I found the recipe in college. They are simple to make, not too sweet, and are perfect for those chocolate lovers in the group. To me they are like a good thick brownie, meets a sugar cookie. They require some extra fridge time to get a good consistency but using baker’s chocolate, butter (not margarine), and sugar as your base they make a perfect twist on a sugar cookie.

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3. M and M pudding cookies: This is my Christmas version of the basic chocolate chip cookie. They are not the fanciest goodies I’ve made but I’ve probably eaten the most of this kind so far . This is because they have perfect soft centers, those red and green M and M’s you grew up eating, and a little extra salt  (that’s what makes them so addicting.) Plus I add in vanilla pudding mix. It is a wonderful “secret” weapon for any cookie recipe making my cookies so wonderful chewy and soft in the center .

New Experiments: 

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1. Eggnog Chai Cookies: I got this recipe from my mom from I believe Betty Crocker.  My husband is a huge eggnog fan and my newest sister-in-law is a lover of chai so I thought I’d give these a try. Eggnog Chai cookies require a little more TLC but the batter is easy using a base sugar cookie mix/recipe. The recipe included vanilla pudding mix, eggnog, and half the contents of a chai tea bag (yup you put the spices/leaves directly into the batter!)

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The cookies are flattened with cinnamon-sugar coated glass before baking. (If you leave the cookies like this they would be a great holiday twist on a snickerdoodle.) I did change the icing recipe slightly using a cream cheese based (which makes them easier to stack if they stay cold). Although I’m not a huge eggnog fan these cookies tasted like a creamy mild spice cake with just enough Christmas flavor.

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2. White Chocolate Peppermint Sugar Cookies: So I actually don’t prefer using a box mix for making cake, cookies etc, the only reason I do around the holidays is that it tends to save on time. This cookie was a completely new experiment, not from a book, not from pintrest, nowhere. I made them from scratch not really sure how they would turn out. Using my base recipe for the baker’s chocolate sugar cookies I melted 4 oz. of baker’s white chocolate with butter and white sugar. I then added the dry ingredients and Andes peppermint crunch pieces.

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White chocolate can be extremely finicky so I had to be cautious in melting the chocolate and not over cooking the cookies. But they are worth it. These cookies have a perfect creamy texture, with the right hint of peppermint. So I have submitted them to Luke’s work cookie competition and we shall see what feedback I’ll have for another year.

What are your favorite holiday sweets and treats?

 

Mocha Oreo Cupcake Brownies

Luke sends me text or emails anytime there is an event at work in which I have the opportunity to provide some wonderful baked goodies. It is a great chance for me to try a new recipe but get rid of more than half of it before we are tempted to eat them all. A few weeks ago Luke’s department was having a retirement party. So I made up these delicious mocha Oreo cupcake brownies.

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Based on the very popular pintrest pin, where some ingenious person placed two double stuffed Oreos, stuck together with peanut butter in a cupcake tin, covered it in brownie batter, then baked it. But as you know, I like to put my own twist on things: and a healthier one at that if I have the chance. Using greek yogurt and only one Oreo (no peanut butter) one of these handheld chocolaty treats is only 160 calories.

Here’s what you need:

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Ingredients

-one box of dark chocolate brownie mix

-one package of oreos (your favorite kind)

– ¾ C-nonfat plain greek yogurt

-1 to 2 tsp vanilla extract

-2 tsp instant coffee

-¼ C water

Instructions

-Preheat oven to 325 F.

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-Pour brownie mix, yogurt, instant coffee, water and vanilla into large bowl and mix together.

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-Spray muffin tins with cooking spray.

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-Place small amount of brownie mix on bottom of tin about one spoonful; just enough to cover it.

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-Place whole oreo in bottom of each tin pressing it into the center of the cup. You can always do double stuffed oreos or more than one oreo for more crunch but it does add calories.

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– Fill each muffin tin the rest of the way (about 3/4 ths full); which should be another 2 spoonfuls each cup

-Bake for 15-20 minutes.

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Note: They will be very moist so if the tops are not shiny/liquidy they are probably done. You can always check with a toothpick and as long as it does not come back with runny batter. Remember no eggs means no problem with under cooking 🙂

One cake mix makes a batch of about 30 (not all pictured below).

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They are gooey chocolaty delicious with a hint of coffee and a great cookie crunch. The best thing is you can change it up.  There are so many different flavors of Oreos these days peanut butter, strawberry smoothie, mint, to birthday cake. Take out the coffee or change up the brownie mix flavor. The options are endless.

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Key Lime Chocolate Cupcakes

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You read the title right. A few months ago I made key lime chocolate cupcakes. Sounds like an odd combination right? That’s what I thought before I made them. Let me give you some background so you know how I ended up making such a interesting dessert.

As you probably know by now I love to bake, but without a rationale excuse (such as a function or group who will eat more than 3/4s of it so Luke and I don’t) I find it hard to make anything. Luke kept telling me anything I could baked would always be well received at his work. But I told him I didn’t have any fun new challenging recipes or a good enough excuse. Then one day Luke came home and told me, that’s right he didn’t asked he told me, I would be making key lime chocolate cupcake for his co-workers (no pressure).

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Here’s how his story went: Luke and some of his co-workers were watching some cooking or baking show on TV in the break room which highlighted odd combination desserts/foods that actually tasted great. One of which, as you can guess, was key lime chocolate cupcakes. Then apparently everyone was craving these odd combo cupcakes curious if they were any good. Luke, remembering hearing I’d love the excuse to bake something and knowing I loved new challenging baking experiences, decided to guarantee his co-workers that I could and would make these for them.

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After I heard this story, I began looking up elements for the cupcakes. In the end I decided on a base of  devil’s food cake mix. Yes, I prefer do all baking from scratch, but with so many experimental elements I wanted something to go predictably smooth. To make the cake mix I chose for the first time to use greek yogurt instead of eggs and oil. I had done this for years with brownies (see February is synonymous for chocolate right?) but following the trend on pinterest I decided to see how well it worked.

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While the cupcakes baked, I made my own key lime cream cheese icing using a combination of cream cheese, powdered sugar, lime juice, and key lime zest.

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After many adjustments and several taste test from Luke, I finally was satisfied.  I then colored the icing a light but bright green using the neon set of food dies.

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The chocolate cupcakes had a moist velvety texture (which I definitely give the greek yogurt credit for). This light soft texture balanced perfectly with the heavier cream cheese with a nice citrus kick of key lime. Since I had no sprinkles to decorate with I chose to dust the top of the cupcakes with a little lime zest.

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When Luke took the cupcakes to work people were a little skeptical. Since lime zest is not common, they were unsure thinking Luke was trying to feed them healthy bran/veggies muffin-like cupcakes. Once the confusion was cleared up and people felt safe to eat them, they went over very well.

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As the TV show indicated, this odd combination tasted amazing and the chocolate and lime worked together perfectly.