Sunday, December 20, 2009

Baking Extravaganza

Happy Holidays! Today was my holiday baking day. Originally, my sister and I were going to bake together, but she has to work most days before Christmas. Darn retail job! Instead, we decided that we would each bake three cookies or goodies and then swap. She would get half of mine and in return, I would get half of her's. Sounds great right? Only half the baking and you get double the treats!

I decided to make the very traditional Christmas cookies. Well traditional in my house at least. I remember all of these cookies as a child growing up. My mom was a stay-at-home mom while her and dad were still married and she would make these three cookies as well as others over the holidays. Spritz, Peanut Butter Blossoms and Chocolate Crinkles. Peanut Butter Blossoms are those fun cookies with the Hershey Kisses on the top of them. You can find the recipe online pretty much everywhere.

Two out of the three of these require rolling. Meaning, you form the cookies into little balls by rolling them in your palms. The joke with the Chocolate Crinkles is that you get "poopy fingers" while rolling. Sophisticated huh? Hey, I never said we were a classy family.

The Spritz requires a cookie press, so if you don't have one, you are out of luck. I suppose you could try and form them another way, but really, a cookie press is the best.

Here are some of the tools that I used today:

My cookie press. Now, I have seen those Pampered Chef ones and even tried several other kinds. Nothing comes close to this model. It's Italian and it works beautifully. My Spritz were pressed in no time flat.

My "vintage" Betty Crocker Cooky Book. I say "vintage" because it's a reproduction that was reissued a few years ago. My mom actually has an original copy from 1960-something.

My fabulous mixer. A Christmas gift from my husband a couple of years ago. I would still be in the kitchen mixing dough if it wasn't for this bad boy.

My Air Bake cookie sheets. I never thought I would love baking pans so much in my life. Jason got these for me last year and I thought "big whoop, I already have cookie sheets". These are great! The cookies cook evenly, the bottoms don't burn and they make for a consistent cookie. Way way better than the ones I already had. I can't sing the praises of these enough. I swear I am not an employee of Air Bake.

Roasting pan. An essential tool when you are making a quadruple batch of Spicy Chex Mix. I could nearly see the tears in my husband's eyes last night when I announced that he would have Chex Mix by the time he got up today.

Time to bake! I started off by unwrapping all the Hershey Kisses this morning while drinking my coffee and catching up on the interweb. I grabbed some butter from the fridge to come to room temperature while I unwrapped. Butter is obviously easier to mix when it's warmer.

Next I made the Chocolate Crinkle dough. It needs to chill for several hours before you can form the cookies. I can't tell you how accomplished I felt when I had dough made by 9:30!

The dough doesn't really look extraordinary. Just like thick brownie batter. Into the fridge it went!

Moving on to the Chex Mix. Here are all the ingredients it takes.

Thank goodness for Costco. They sell the cereal in a three-pack all ready to go. In our house, we like cheese crackers (Cheez It's are the best) instead of the bagel chips that the recipe calls for. Also, you will notice the addition of Tabasco. That's right. It wouldn't be spicy unless you add some actual spice! The more the better. It's nice when you have an afterburn after eating Chex Mix.

In Jason's house growing up, his mom used primarily margarine for cooking. I find this concept completely foreign, but because I love my husband (aka he will complain unless I use margarine), I buy margarine especially for the occasion. I could probably sneak butter in instead, but trust me, the man would know the difference.

While the Chex Mix was baking, I started on the Spritz dough. I am a traditionalist and use almond extract for my Spritz. This is how my mommy did it and I can't change after all these years. To be festive, I add green or red food coloring to my dough. I used the tree plate on my cookie press, so green food coloring it was.

These really are beautiful cookies when they are done. With a slight almond flavor, they are very light and buttery. Of course, feel free to substitute whatever extract you wish. Peppermint would be fun. So would lemon or even vanilla.

Moving on, the Peanut Butter Blossoms were up. I whipped these up in no time. My only complaint with the Blossoms is that the recipe doesn't make nearly enough. I would have doubled it, but really, do I need five dozen cookies? I don't think so.

Here is what they look like after being rolled in the granulated sugar but before baking and before you smoosh the Kiss on the top.

After baking. I think these are honestly my favorite cookie. I shouldn't resort to making them only one time a year. I love how the cookie stays soft for a few days afterwards. And something happens to the Kiss to keep it slightly soft too. Who can resist a yummy peanut butter and chocolate cookie? Not me!

Close up of the Peanut Butter Blossoms. I am going to need to hide these from Jason. I can always use the excuse that I am pregnant and the baby requires cookies right?

My third and final cookie of the day were Chocolate Crinkles. Like I said, the dough needs to be chilled for several hours, so I didn't start these until around 2:00. The only pain with these is trying to keep the dough chilled enough while you are working. The more chilled, the less "poopy" your hands get. Now, in my family (I am sorry if I keep saying that, but my way is the best. Tee hee), we are rebels and don't follow the directions exactly. The directions state to cover the dough with the powdered sugar BEFORE you roll the balls. However, it makes for a much prettier cookie if you form the balls and then roll them in the sugar. Plus, you get a nice dusting of powdered sugar when you eat them. Yum!

Here are what the Crinkles look like before they are baked. They look like chocolate snowballs.

And after they are baked, the cookies are sufficiently crackled and coated with powdered sugar. You can't argue that they aren't pretty cookies. Plus, they are chocolate. Nothing says goodness like chocolate does.

I am sad to see half of the cookies go, but we can't possibly eat them all. It would be dangerous to keep that many sweets in the house. I know my sister will appreciate them. Here is her batch all packaged up and ready to go. Don't they look yummy?

Now without further ado, here are all the recipes.

Spicy Chex Mix
from: General Mills Cereal

6 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons seasoned salt
3/4 teaspoons garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
2 teaspoons (or more depending on how hot you like your food) Tabasco sauce
3 cups Corn Chex
3 cups Rice Chex
3 cups Wheat Chex
1 cup peanuts
1 cup pretzels
1 cup cheese crackers

Heat oven to 250 degrees. Melt butter or margarine in large roasting pan in oven. Stir in seasonings. Gradually stir in remaining ingredients until evenly coated. Bake 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

from: Betty Crocker Cooky Book

1 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 1/4 cups flour

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Mix butter, sugar, egg, salt, and extract thoroughly. Measure flour and work in.

2. Using 1/4 dough at a time, force dough through cookie press onto ungreased baking sheet.

3. Bake 6 to 9 minutes.

Peanut Butter Blossoms
from: Pillsbury's Best Butter Cookie Cookbook

1 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
Hershey's Kisses

1. Mix together in a small bowl; flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, cream together butter, peanut butter, sugar and brown sugar. Add the egg and blend well. Add vanilla and blend well.

3. Shape the dough into balls (approximately a heaping teaspoon for each). Roll balls in granulated sugar and place on an ungreased cookie sheet.

4. Bake at 375 degrees for about 8 minutes. Remove from oven and top each cookie with a Hershey's Kiss, pressing until edges crack. Bake 2 to 5 minutes longer.

Chocolate Crinkles
from: Betty Crocker Cooky Book

1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 squares unsweetened chocolate (4 oz. total), melted
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup confectioner's sugar

1. Mix oil, chocolate and granulated sugar. Blend in one egg at a time until well mixed. Add vanilla. Stir flour, baking powder and salt into oil mixture. Chill several hours or overnight.

2. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Drop teaspoonsful of dough into confectioner's sugar. Roll in sugar; shape into balls. Note: You can also form the dough into balls first and then roll in the sugar. Place about 2 inches apart on baking sheet. Bake 10 to 12 minutes. Do not overbake.