Thursday, December 30, 2010

Confetti Cookie Bars.

 Confetti brownies. We'll get back to these.
Santa came! I hope everyone had a very merry Christmas... I can't believe it's almost New Year's already! I'm so excited for 2011 and I can't wait to see all the exciting stuff I hope this year brings my way. I don't usually make resolutions (at least publicly & written on the internet), but one of my biggest goals for this year is to keep writing in this blog and baking. I love it (and everyone who's in the kitchen when I'm trying out new recipes seems to love it too), but now that Christmas is over, I feel less compelled to bake.

Not that I have a choice... nearly everything Santa my family and friends gave me this Christmas had to do with baking (or vampires... don't judge me. I have an unhealthy addiction to The Vampire Diaries & True Blood.)

For example, this. It's adorable. Do you know what it is?
Measuring cups. I wouldn't lie to you. I'm in love.
Decorating tips! I can't wait to play with frosting.
Even my stocking stuffers had to do with baking!
Mini martini glasses. For when baking gets stressful?
I also got a new brownie pan and immediately used it to make these cookie bars for New Year's Eve... 
Confetti cookie bars! The mini M&Ms in them make really festive, like confetti, and I love the crushed pretzels in them. 
Happy New Year!

Confetti  Bars (Chocolate Chip M&M Cookie Pretzel Bars)

Printable Recipe

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon, optional
1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup mini M&Ms
1 cup pretzels, crushed

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 9x13-inch pan with cooking spray.

In a bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Using a mixer, beat butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about one minute. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. On low speed, beat in flour mixture until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chip, mini M&Ms, and crushed pretzels.

Spread the batter evenly in the pan, pressing down with a spatula. Sprinkle a few M&Ms on top, if desired. Bake for 30 minutes, until golden brown. The middle might be a little gooey, but it's okay; the bars will set up. Transfer the pan to a rack and allow to cool completely. 

Source: Adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod. 

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Last Minute Christmas Morning Recipe.

December 24th... and all I want to do is bake something. I'm resisting.

For now. 
I love Christmas Eve. I think I may love it even more than Christmas. The excitement, the family, the way time crawls so slowly, the twinkling lights, singing carols by candlelight, watching Love Actually, and holding out the slightest hope that Santa really does exist (I'm a bit like Brittany from Glee, I won't lie to you)... the entire day is magic
If you need a last minute recipe for Christmas morning (or Christmas Eve dinner... or now), this is my absolute favorite. We make it every Christmas and occasionally for birthdays and it's the most delicious thing I've ever eaten in my life.

And since it's Christmas Eve and who wants to run to the store again, I can promise you that you probably have all of the ingredients already. 

These soft, cinnamon-nutmeg-y baked doughnuts take almost no time at all to make and are rolled in melted butter and sugar immediately after they're pulled out of the oven. If you have kids, I can promise you from personal experience (I'm making lots of promises today, aren't I?) that they'll have a ton of fun helping you make these... I've been helping my mom since she had to stand me on a chair to reach the counter.

I don't have any photos of my own because it's not Christmas morning yet, but I couldn't wait to post the recipe. And if we're being honest, they wouldn't last long enough to photograph anyway. Here's the link to Betty Crocker's recipe if the words rolled in melted butter and sugar haven't convinced you yet and the photo from their site: 
Oh addiction.

Buttons & Bows

2 cups Bisquick mix
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup milk
1 egg
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 400°F.

In a medium bowl, stir Bisquick mix, 2 tablespoons sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, milk, and egg until soft dough forms.

Place dough on surface sprinkled with Bisquick mix. Roll dough into a ball; knead about 5 times. Press or roll dough until 1/2-inch thick.

Cut dough with doughnut cutter dipped in Bisquick mix. To make bow shapes, hold opposite sides of each ring of dough, then twist to make a figure 8. On ungreased cookie sheet, place bows and buttons (the dough from the center of each ring).

Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until light golden brown. Immediately dip each bow and button into melted butter, then in 1/2 cup of sugar. Serve warm.

Source: Betty Crocker.
Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Chocolate Chip Peanut Meltaways.

It's almost Christmas. Can you feel the magic yet? 
My mom always says that if anything magical could ever possibly happen, it would happen on Christmas Eve. This is probably why at 23 I still find myself listening for reindeer hooves on our roof. 

If you need an extra cookie just in time for Christmas Eve, these are one of Santa's my dad's favorites. They're similar to the Mexican wedding cakes I made last week, except that these have chopped up roasted peanuts and bits of chocolate in them and are rolled in a mixture of powdered sugar and cocoa powder. 

And they make a lot. And they're delicious. 

Chocolate Chip Peanut Meltaways

1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/3 cup powdered sugar + 1 1/2 cups for rolling cookies in
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup salted roasted peanuts, chopped
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate, minced
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa

Preheat oven to 300°F.

Blend together butter, vanilla, almond extract, 1/3 cup powdered sugar, and all-purpose flour until dough holds together. 

Stir in chopped salted roasted peanuts and minced semisweet chocolate.

Shape dough into 3/4-inch balls and place about 1 inch apart on a baking sheet.

Bake until cookies are pale golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes; if using more than 1 pan in 1 oven, switch pan positions halfway through baking. Cool on pans for 5 minutes.

Place 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar in a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons cocoa and mix with a fork. A few at a time, gently turn warm cookies in sugar, then cool on racks. When cool, coast cookies again with sugar.

Makes about 120.

Source: Sunset, 1998.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Chocolate Almond Cracker Candy.

Mmmm. Christmas. The only time of year where it's perfectly acceptable to eat this with your coffee for breakfast.  

I have a secret... please don't judge me. 

I think they taste better straight out of the freezer. I love frozen peanut butter cups (or frozen chocolate, frozen cookie dough, frozen cake, frozen chocolate chip cookies...). Maybe it's just me. I'm okay with that.

Except this will be me come January...
Also okay with that.

I've just made my third (yes, third. Don't look at me that way. No judging, remember?) batch of almond chocolate cracker candy. Of all the recipes I've made this Christmas, this is simply the best. 
Two things happen when I make this candy.

1. When someone hears for the first time that I'm baking with saltine crackers, I get concerned, sideways glances, usually involving either wrinkled noses or fleeing from the kitchen, and statements like, "Oh... *disappointment* That's... nice.". I don't judge them. They'll be back. Because...

2. The minute the smell of toasted almonds or melted butter and brown sugar baking over a layer of crackers permeates the house, I start having to swat hands away. I have to guard the freezer with a spatula long enough to let the candy cool, otherwise half of it will disappear into impatient mouths.

It never fails. Please trust me on this... you havehavehave to make a batch of this this Christmas. Addictive. Delicious. Do it.

Chocolate Almond Cracker Candy

Printable Recipe

1 sleeve Saltine crackers
1 cup butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 cups chocolate chips
1 cup chopped almonds, toasted

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Spray a jelly roll pan with non-stick cooking spray and line the crackers close together.

Melt the butter and brown sugar in a medium pan over medium-high heat, stirring often. Heat the mixture for about three to five minutes, until it turns a nice caramel-looking color. 

Pour over the crackers evenly and bake for 15 minutes. 

Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle the chocolate chips over the crackers. The chocolate should start to melt. Spread evenly over the crackers and then sprinkle with toasted almonds. 

Allow to cool completely (on the counter or in the freezer or refrigerator if you want to speed things up) before breaking into pieces. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas S'mores.

I love s'mores.
If I had to pick my favorite thing I've made this entire year, it would have to be the s'mores cookies I made earlier this summer. What is it about the combination of melted chocolate and (preferably burnt) marshmallows between two graham crackers that is so narcotic? I don't know. But when my mom found a recipe for Christmas s'mores, we really had no choice. We had to make them.

So we did.

And then we ate them. 

And they were so good
The recipe calls for a chocolate graham cracker base, and that really would be best if you want a more obvious chocolate flavor, but since we had a box of plain graham crackers handy, we used those, and it tasted just as s'mores-y.  

These were so easy to make, which is probably a dangerous thing if you like s'mores as much as I do. Thankfully you have to wait for them to cool completely before you can eat the entire pan share it with your family and friends. 

I think we just found a new Christmas tradition.
I hope you all are having a very merry Christmas week! 

Christmas S'mores

Printable Recipe

12 chocolate (or regular) graham crackers
3/4 cup butter
3/4 firmly packed brown sugar
3 cups miniature marshmallows
1 cup red and green M&Ms

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 15x10x1-inch jelly-roll pan with aluminum foil leaving a 1-inch overhang on ends; spray foil with no-stick cooking spray. Place graham crackers onto foil so sides touch.

Melt butter and brown sugar in 2-quart saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly, until smooth and mixture just comes to a boil (4 to 6 minutes). Pour evenly over crackers. Bake for 5 to 6 minutes or until bubbly.

Remove pan from oven; sprinkle with marshmallows.

Continue baking until marshmallows begin to soften (2 to 3 minutes). Sprinkle with M&Ms. Cool completely. Lift from pan using foil and cut into bars.

Source: Land O' Lakes Recipe Collection: Holiday Cookies, 2006.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Peanut Butter Reindeer Cookies.

These might very well be the cutest Christmas cookies I've ever seen.
I love the chocolate antlers...
... and the adorable fat little faces.
It doesn't get any more festive or Christmasy than this. They're perfect for taking to a Christmas party if you need something fun, fast, and easy to make (unless, like me, you run out of both red M&Ms and chocolate-covered pretzels, but that's beside the point.). 

I made these using just regular peanut butter cookies because I was having a craving only peanut butter could fix, but they would work just as well with sugar cookies... or even gingerbread!

Reindeer Cookies
3/4 cup peanut butter
1 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup shortening
3 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 egg
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
Chocolate-covered mini pretzels
Mini brown M&Ms
Regular-sized red M&Ms

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Combine brown sugar, peanut butter, shortening, milk, and vanilla in large bowl. Beat at medium speed until well blended. Add egg; beat until just blended.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to creamed mixture at low speed. Mix just until blended.

Form dough into 1-inch balls. To make reindeer-shaped cookies, pinch the bottom of the ball slightly to form a point, then gently flatten with your hand. Space cookies about 2 inches apart on a greased cookie sheet and bake for 7 to 8 minutes, until set or just beginning to brown. 

Remove from oven and immediately (and gently) press two mini pretzels into the tops of the cookies for the reindeer's antlers. Press two mini brown M&Ms in for the eyes and one red M&M for the nose (or any other color... some of mine ended up with green noses. They might be South Pole reindeer.). 

Allow to cool 2 minutes on the baking sheet and then transfer to a wire rack or paper towel to cool completely. 

Makes about 40 reindeer cookies.

Source: Peanut butter cookie recipe from Jif.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Perfect Snickerdoodles.

For the last few years, an ambitious group of people from church have gotten together and baked what feels like a thousand dozens cookies to put together fancy Christmas cookie trays for the elderly people in our church. 

The best way to spread Christmas cheer might be singing loud for all to hear (yes, I just watched Elf)... but a plate of several dozen home-baked-with-love Christmas cookies does just the same. Their faces literally light up. 

Of course, to gather the number of cookies we need, this usually means a week of solid baking. It's like a relay race, but in the kitchen. It's frantic and epic and legendary and we nearly always run out of flour and gain at least three pounds, but in the end... it's worth it. So worth it.
Our dining room table last weekend. Between the three of us we baked about 35 dozen cookies.

35 dozen.

And what you don't see is all the cookies piled on our kitchen counters.

Not to mention the chocolate fudge, frosted sugar cookies, double chocolate sprinkle cookies, Oreo truffles, and Scottish shortbread.

Before I take a much needed nap, there's one recipe I have to share with you. To me, snickerdoodles are just fancy sugar cookies, rolled in cinnamon and sugar. But since making a batch of these in November, they've been requested not once, but three separate times. I've never seen a plate of cookies clear out so fast and honestly, I'm baffled.
The only thing I can figure out is that unlike a lot of snickerdoodle recipes, this recipe calls for both granulated and powdered sugar. They come out plump and crispy and soft- but not too soft- on the inside. In other words... they're kind of perfect. Enjoy!

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup salad oil
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup powdered sugar
2 large eggs
4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar & 1 tablespoon cinnamon for rolling cookies in 

Preheat oven to 375°F. 

Beat together butter, salad oil, granulated sugar, powdered sugar, and eggs. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt. Slowly beat flour mixture into the butter mixture.

In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar and cinnamon. Shape dough into 1-inch balls, then roll each in cinnamon-sugar mixture. Place balls 3 to 4 inches apart on baking sheet. With a flat-bottomed glass dipped in cinnamon-sugar, flatten each ball to about 1/4-inch.

Bake 12 to 15 minutes, or until edges are slightly browned. Cool and then serve. 

Source: Sunset, 1998.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Mexican Wedding Cakes.

Besides sugar cookies, these are the one cookies I always remember my mom making us at Christmastime.
Mexican wedding cakes. Also known as bite-size happiness.

I always got to help her roll them in the powdered sugar. And when I was tall enough & responsible enough to work an oven & a whisk without burning the house down, they were the first cookies I ever made.
This is where it all started, guys.

This is one of those recipes that everyone seems to has (and with good reason too, they're super delicious) and everyone seems to have a different name for these sugary bits of deliciousness: Mexican Wedding Cakes, Russian Tea Cakes, Pecan Meltaways, Pecan Butterballs, Snowballs...

On a sidenote, I've always wondered how these traditional cookies could be both "Mexican" and "Russian." It's not as though the two countries are next-door neighbors; their names don't even sound alike so it's not like somebody's grandmother got confused when they were writing down the recipe.

History lesson!

According to a highly scientific source, these cookies were based off of a pastry from the Middle Ages known as jumbles and originated in Russia in the 18th century to be used during tea-sharing ceremonies. By the 20th century, they began serving them here in America at weddings and then in the 1950s, the name changed from "Russian" to "Mexican" because of "strained relations with the Soviet Union."

Personally, I think they should have just reverted to calling them jumbles.  

Jumbles. Jumbles. Jumblesjumblesjumbles.

Okay, I'm done. Here's the recipe... straight out of our 1963 Betty Crocker Cooky Book.

Mexican Wedding Cakes

Printable Recipe

1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup finely chopped nuts (I used pecans, but walnuts work too)
Extra confectioners' sugar for rolling cookies in

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Mix together the butter, sugar, and vanilla. Work in the flour, salt, and nuts until dough holds together. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place on an ungreased baking sheet.

Bake 10 to 12 minutes until set, but not brown. While warm, roll in powdered sugar. Let cool and then roll in powdered sugar again. 

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Source: Betty Crocker's Cooky Book, 1963

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Raspberry Almond Shortbread Thumbprint Cookies.

It's possible that these may be the very best cookies I have ever eaten. 
Don't let the name fool you; these cookies taste more like a buttery sugar cookie than shortbread- perfectly thin and crisp on the outside, light and soft on the inside, and the almond extract in the glaze and cookies makes them absolutely irresistible. 

I can't stop eating them. 

Literally. Even now.
It also doesn't hurt that they have a teaspoon of raspberry jam spooned into their centers. Sigh. So delicious. 
Make these today... and then make them again for your holiday parties... and possibly one more time, just for Christmas Eve or New Year's or lunch or because it's a Tuesday.

Raspberry Almond Shortbread Thumbprint Cookies

Printable Recipe

2/3 cup sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup raspberry jam

1 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 to 3 teaspoons water

In a large mixer bowl, combine sugar, butter, and almond extract. Beat at medium speed until creamy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low; add flour. Beat until well-mixed, about 2 to 3 minutes. Cover and chill dough at least 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on cookie sheets. With thumb, make indentation in the center of each cookie (edges may slightly crack). Fill each indentation with about 1/4 teaspoon raspberry jam.

Bake for 14 to 18 minutes or until edges are slightly browned. Let stand 1 minute; remove from cookie sheet. Cool completely.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together all glaze ingredients until smooth. Drizzle over cookies.

Source: Sunset Magazine, December 1998

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Gingerbread Sandwich Cookies.

Every year I bake gingerbread and I have finally, finally found a recipe that I am in love with.
I love the smell of baking gingerbread. It's like Christmas Eve and tree-trimming and the North Pole and cinnamon-sugar and watching White Christmas in front of a fireplace and magic all at once. Yes, all that. 

I like my cookies soft and plump, as close to the consistency of cookie dough or cake as possible, and most gingerbread recipes I've tried come out crisp and thin. Even my gingersnaps.

These are perfect and delicious. The solution? I'm not sure. Maybe the frosting. 
I love everything about these cookies. The mini M&Ms, the sugary green frosting, the cute Christmas tree shapes... and how pillowy soft they are. Not too soft to make frosting impossible, but no usual gingerbready crunch when you bite into them. Sigh. Perfection.
Gingerbread Sandwich Cookies

Printable Recipe

3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 egg
3/4 cup molasses
4 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
Mini M&Ms
Buttery Decorator Frosting (recipe follows)

In a large bowl, cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and molasses. Combine the flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda, ginger, and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or until easy to handle.

Preheat oven to 325°F.

On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to 1/8-inch thickness.

Cut with a floured 3-inch tree-shaped cookie cutter. Place 2-inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Gently press mini M&Ms into half of the cookies.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are firm. Remove to wire racks to cool completely.

When cool, make frosting and tint green if desired. Spread over the bottoms of plain cookies; top with decorated cookies. Store in the refrigerator.

Makes 24 cookie sandwiches.

Source: Taste of Home: Simple & Delicious, November/December 2009

Buttery Decorator Icing
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1/4 cup shortening
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 cups powdered sugar
2 to 4 tablespoons milk

In a large bowl, beat butter and shortening until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and salt. Beat in powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, scraping down sides of bowl. Add 2 tablespoons milk; beat at high speed until light and fluffy. Add additional milk for desired spreading consistency.

Source: Pillsbury Fall Baking, #93

Friday, December 10, 2010

Peanut Butter Blossoms.

I love Christmas. This is why.
I get my sense of compulsive baking from my dad. Every December our kitchen turns into the front lines of Christmas. We literally have to schedule who is baking (on what night and what cookies), otherwise we end up running out of brown sugar and flour and facing off in front of the oven in a very un-Christmasy sort of way.  

He wins if he's making peanut butter blossoms. I'm not a big peanut butter cookie fan (I'm more Team Sugar Cookie) but we make these every Christmas. They're tradition.

And can I tell you? They're addicting.

(He even sent me a couple dozen when I was away at college.)
Make them. No regrets.

Santa thanks you ahead of time.

Peanut Butter Blossoms

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar 
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Hershey kisses
1/4 cup granulated sugar to roll cookies in 

Preheat oven to 350°F. 

In a bowl with a mixer, beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and peanut butter. Then beat in egg and vanilla.

In another bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to the butter mixture and beat until well blended.

Shape dough into 3/4-inch balls and roll in 1/4 cup granulated sugar. Set ball 1 1/2-inches apart on a greased baking sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until slightly darker brown.

Place 1 chocolate kiss into the center of each cookie; dough may crack. Return to oven and continue to bake until chocolate is shiny and soft, about three more minutes. Cool and then serve.

Source: Sunset Magazine, December 1998