Two tiny words that can induce chills down my back at the BEST of times let alone Christmastime. You see, I live in a city where there is no shortage of locally crafted artisanal products yet, at some point or another, I always find myself at the mall.
'This year, things are going to be different', I told myself. 'This year I'm not buying one single mass produced piece of crap for anyone.' My family agreed - 'We've had enough too - let's keep it simple and do a little baking or something like that instead!!' I thought 'Great!! Everybody's on board. I'll find some recipes, test 'em out and pack 'em up as gifts. Easy peasy right?' Yup. Easy peasy. Except for the fact that it took me two weeks of trial runs to get everything right.
Just because I love to bake doesn't mean I am a great baker. Instead, I consider myself a 'baker-in-training'. I love doing it but it doesn't always turn out...
I chose Sugar Cookies as a starting point because, never having made a rolled cut-out cookie in my life, I thought they would give me the most trouble - I was right. It took me FOUR attempts to get the hang of these suckers. I began with The Best Rolled Sugar Cookie recipe from AllRecipes. I love AllRecipes because you can choose a recipe based on user ratings and reviews. Most reviewers suggested increasing the amounts of both sugar and vanilla and so I did. The cookies were absolutely delicious but what were perfectly cut-out Christmas trees going into the oven were puffy misshapen blobs coming out of the oven. I tried the recipe a second time, halving the amount of baking powder and using one egg instead of two in an attempt to reduce the puffiness. The second batch was still not quite right and so I turned to the Queen of Baking herself - Ms. Martha Stewart. Now love her or not, her Perfect Sugar Cookie recipe is AWESOME!!
Martha suggests adding 2 Tbsp of Cognac to the cookie batter for an extra oomph of flavour. I didn't have any Cognac but I ALWAYS have Baileys on hand. Well, let me tell you, I think I could LIVE on Baileys Sugar Cookies - I mean, I would eventually suffer from some sort of nutritional deficiency but it would be totally worth it!!
For the fourth and final gift-giving batch, in consideration of the kids in my life, I substituted milk for Baileys. Once baked and cool, I brushed the cookies with warm clear corn syrup and sprinkled them liberally with red and green sugar. After about an hour, the corn syrup dried shiny and hard, perfect for packing into tins.
I'll never forget the first time I ate a Snickerdoodle. I was 30 when a neighbour knocked on the door at Christmastime and handed me a tin full of holiday cookies. Nestled within the creases of wax paper was the heavenly Snickerdoodle. What I also refer to as a 'Cinnamon Toast Cookie', a great Snickerdoodle is a puffy, chewy, cinnamon-sugar delight. For me, a shortcoming of the traditional Snickerdoodle recipe is Cream of Tartar. Some people enjoy the weird acrid aspartame-like tang of Cream of Tartar. I am not one of those people. I used this recipe and substituted 2 tsp of baking powder for the 2 tsp of Cream of Tartar - my cookies turned out wonderfully.
Fudge, fudge oh glorious fudge!!! Has there ever been another confection so capable of bringing my mother to the brink of insanity? I think not!! I have a vivid mental picture of my mother standing over the stove, stirring furiously, glasses steamed up, sweating, cursing like a sailor - all for the sake of fudge that, for one reason or another, never quite turned out. It's this mental image that has stopped me dead in my tracks, time and time again, whenever the thought of making fudge has entered my brain. That is, until I found this. Now, it's KIND of a cheater's recipe because you only boil the fudge for 5 minutes but hey, you still boil it right? And so, technically, it's real cooked fudge, right? Hmmm... my mum may not agree, but who cares because it's so friggin' good!!
GINGER SPICE COOKIES
Ginger Spice Cookies - stacked in a Mason jar covered with burlap, tied with Christmas ribbon
These are what I call 'Grown Up Cookies'. They are chewy and spicy, loaded with ginger - not for the faint of heart. The kids might hate 'em but the grown-ups will swoon!! I found this recipe the night before Christmas Eve on the amazing Epicurious. With tens of recipes to choose from it can be daunting to decide on just one. That's why I always check out ratings and reviews. Out of all the ginger cookie recipes on Epi, this one received consistent '4 fork' ratings and rave reviews across the board. With no trial run, these cookies were simple to make and a huge hit with the adults in my family.
NUTELLA HAZELNUT BALLS
Who doesn't love a Ferrero Rocher? (If you raise your hand, we probably can't be friends) Knowing that Nutella is produced by the Ferrero Company, I did a little research and came across ALmsot Bourdain's recipe for Ferrero Rochers. I modified slightly and made this incredible homemade version:
4 hazelnut wafer cookies (available at the Italian Market on Young St.)
1 cup whole hazelnuts
2 or 3 large dollops of Nutella
chocolate for melting (I used Hershey's Chocolate Bars)
1. preheat to 350 - spread hazelnuts on baking sheet - bake until you can smell the nuts (about 10 minutes) - cool
2. put hazelnut wafers in a small Ziploc baggie and smash/roll them with a rolling pin - take out of baggie and crumble with fingers into a large bowl
3. in another bowl, lightly roll the cooled hazelnuts between your fingertips to remove skins (some people will recommend you gather the hazelnuts in a tea towel to rub the skins off but I found this to be very messy) once most of skins are off, smash, bash, chop or process hazelnuts into chunky bits - add to crumbled wafers
4. add two or three good dollops of Nutella to nuts and wafers - take your rings (jewellery) off - mix with hands - lick hands - put mixture in fridge to firm
5. once firm, roll into small balls - dip balls in melted chocolate - cool
I hope you've enjoyed reading this post about the treats I gave to my family and friends for Christmas and that you as well spent Christmas surrounded by delicious food and people you love.