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  • In order to succeed in life you need three things - a wish bone, a back bone and a funny bone. Reba Mcentire

Thursday, December 15, 2016

CHRISTMAS COOKIES


I normally make 2 different dough types for cookies at Christmas.
And then I use both to make several different things.

The cookies pictured here are all from one or the other.

Ooops! I almost forgot this one was for a picture! 

First: Molasses Crinkles - always.


Besides Molasses Crinkles, which are seasonally one of my favorite cookies, this is the dough I use for Gingerbread men, reindeer, and sometimes sheep, among other possible hand shaped or cut out cookies.

Molasses Crinkles frosting sandwiches are satisfying.
And Molasses Crinkle sheep add variety

If you intend to roll all of it out be sure to add a bit more flour (at least ¼ to ½ cup more). My daughter gave me the recipe. She got it from one of her husband's relatives.

A whole herd of reindeer flew out the door on plates and trays.

Lybbert’s Molasses Crinkles

       Ingredients
* Gray numbers in brackets (#) are for a large batch.
    I don't eat many myself. 
Half my daughter's large batch is more than enough. 
EXCEPT when I am sharing. Then I double!

First Step -Mix:
(1 ½)   ¾  cup shortening (I often use butter). 
(2)       1   cup packed brown sugar
(½)    ¼   cup molasses
(2)       1  egg


      Reserve of Granulated sugar (for dipping cookie)

Second Step - Mix:
(4 ½)   2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
(4)       2     teaspoons baking soda
(½)      ¼    teaspoon salt
(2)       1     teaspoon ground cinnamon
(2)       1    teaspoon ground ginger
(1)      ½    teaspoon ground cloves

Directions:  
1 Mix the 2 mixtures.  Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours. 
   (I sometimes ignore this chill step).
2 Heat oven to 350°F. Grease cookie sheet.


3 Shape dough into 1¼ -inch balls. (I prefer about 1" balls)
   Roll in granulated sugar. 
   Place balls on cookie sheet.

4 Sprinkle each with 2 or 3 drops of water. (Mist lightly).
5 Bake 10 to 12 minutes or just until set but not hard.

Sometimes I flatten the balls slightly by dipping the bottom of a damp drinking glass in sugar, and pressing down evenly. If the glass has a design on the bottom it transfers to the cookie. 


  (Sometimes I roll these out (be sure to chill the dough, and dust table or counter heavily with flour when rolling. The white flour will look like it needs to be brushed off but in a minute it simply absorbs and disappears.

Tiny Gingerbread were urgently needed for a project.
They were first on the agenda
I lay the cut-out, raw cookie on sugar to coat the front.


TIPS: I use a table knife or thin spatula to flip or move these soft, rolled-out cookies.

See the single ball? I couldn't wait for a Molasses Crinkle!

TIP: As they bake they will puff up, and the top will set and lose it's 'shine.' Then they will deflate slightly. That is when I take them out of the oven. I like them soft not crisp. In my convection oven the tiny cookies on a dark sheet bake in 5 minutes. On a lighter shiny cookie sheet they bake in 6 minutes. And some days they take longer and some days less time - it depends on the humidity and how much extra flour you roll them with.


6  Leave on pan a minute to cool slightly.
  
  Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack.
  Cool, and decorate.
Chewy, and tiny - only 1 1/2 inches tall - perfect to toss 
into a candy popcorn mix or decorate for bite-sized fun

 Sometimes I roll these out, and lay the cut out cookie on sugar to coat it by pressing VERY lightly. Is the sugar essential - you decide. Try it both ways, to see which you prefer. 

Second: Shortbread for the press. Almost always.
               (Also called spritz.)

This is the same dough I use for snowmen. Unknown recipe source. 
I have made these cookies for more than 40 years.
These always taste good, and are fast and easy. 
Of course they taste good - they are simply butter and sugar!

Yes, only real butter! And, YES, they take a whole pound!

SHORTBREAD (for a press)
3 cups flour
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup corn starch
2 cups butter
drop of 'real vanilla

Cream butter with mixer. Add all dry ingredients gradually, then add vanilla. Bake at 325 degrees F on an UNGREASED pan for about 15 minutes (only 7 minutes in my convection oven) or when light brown on bottom (can be seen on very edge when done). Be careful about how much flour you put in. I start out with 2 cups and add enough more to make sure the dough handles well - but not too stiff. The cookies can be very tender. Leave them on a flat surface while frosting to avoid too much breakage.

Use star sprinkles placed with tweezers for top of trees, and
 Wilton decorating tip 15 or 16 for greens, 101 or 101S for ribbons.

TIP: Buy only the best ingredients. If the flour, butter and sugar 'taste' good your cookies will taste good. Cheaper ingredients often do not have as nice a flavor as better quality ingredients. Particularly beware of generic powdered sugar (especially be wary of WalMart brand, as it often gives food a more starchy [cardboard] flavor.

Tip: For the press you don't want them to 'melt.' If kitchen gets too warm, the dough may need additional chilling (or flour - but then they taste more like flour). I keep my kitchen fairly cool. Too little flour and the cookies just melt out of shape or 'ooze' out of the press. Too much flour and the press is hard to turn or else the cookies 'break' and 'crack' as they press out.

This batch (left) needed a bit more flour (but were fine when decorated).
Mini cupcakes on left were for tiny snowmen seen in middle (post).
Usually one cookie takes about a turn and a half on my press. As it squeezes, I watch for an edge to barely be seen under the press, and then tip the press sharply and lift it in one motion. If the cookie does not break free, the dough may be to stiff OR too soft. Some design inserts break sooner, and some later.

Again, be willing to experiment as each press, the dough, and every person will be unique so - relax and enjoy the process. Once you get the hang of the press these are the fastest, prettiest, and easiest cookies to present or share. One batch can make 10 - 12 dozen cookies, and be completed in 4 hours or less if you are in a hurry. Seriously! I once made 10 dozen cookies, from the very beginning to decorated and on plates in 3 hours.


Experiment until you figure out what works for you. That is why I start with only 2 cups of flour of the 3 called for in the recipe - it is easiest to add more. Generally I use about 2 1/2 for the press but that will depend on the brand of butter used (some contain more or less buttermilk), as well as the brand of flour, and the humidity in the atmosphere. Altitude also affects the dough's consistency. Add more or less flour to get the cookies to work, but start with less. 


CREATIVITY: These cookies can also be shaped into logs, layered and cut, or balls. The balls can be flattened by hand, with an implement leaving a design (see glass used for molasses crinkles), or indented for a 'thumbprint. The indentation may be filled with jam or other fillings before or after baking. The balls can be rolled in chopped nuts, coconut, or cinnamon sugar before baking. After baking the logs can be dipped in powdered sugar (while hot so it will stick), melted toffee or chocolate, or frosting - with or without nuts or sprinkles, and any combination there of. Be creative - there are endless options.




Saturday, December 10, 2016

READY FOR CHRISTMAS

While talking with my mother this morning (age 86, and living in a full care facility), I asked if she was ready for Christmas.

She said we only really are ever ready in our heart and mind.

She said she has her memories.

And shared a few.

Trees were decorated with paper chains, and strands of popcorn and tinsel. The thin metal strands of tinsel glinted and swayed in the light. They were made of an actual metal (perhaps similar to tin foil), and carefully rolled up after use each year and saved for the following year.

From Wikipedia we learn that tinsel was originally made of extruded strands of silver and invented in Nuremberg around 1610. But "silver tarnishes quickly, [so] other shiny metals were substituted. … It was added to Christmas trees to enhance the flickering of the candles on the tree. Tinsel was used to represent the starry sky over a Nativity scene."

We also learn that one of the primary other metals used was lead. "Lead foil was a popular material for tinsel manufacture for several decades of the 20th century. Unlike silver, lead tinsel did not tarnish, so it retained its shine."  And I agree with Wiki that the new plastic forms of tinsel that replaced the metal types "do not hang as well as tinsel made from heavy metals such as silver and lead." Sheesh - lead!! It is a wonder we all survived and aren't mentally deficient.

When Mom was growing up in HillSpring, Alberta, Canada there was seldom a lot of fruit. Near Christmas each year Red Delicious Apples would become available in stores. She explained, with great longing in her voice at the memory, how they looked forward every Christmas morning to that single apple in the toe of their stockings. They wanted that apple more than any candy!

There were also a few peanuts in the stockings, always peanuts she says, and sometimes maybe one walnut. That would be an exciting thing!

I'm ready for Christmas, just like mother. I have past Christmas' shining in my memory: tinsel twirling, popcorn threading as Dad builds the tree stand of 2x4s a few days before Christmas, and family - so many special times with my family.

When Mom raised her children, our family always traded beef for apples. In the fall, usually in late September or October, Dad and a few other local men would take a truck (or trucks) to Creston, British Columbia, Canada and get a load of apples - usually several kinds - but the Red Delicious Apples were always saved until Christmas to eat. What anticpation, though apples in our family were never rare in the winter.


On  the tree or in the box new apples look almost dusty. That is a natural wax that is part of growth. We would rub the apples with a wool stocking and they would shine until you could almost see yourself in the smooth skin. Sometimes we would hang them as Christmas tree decorations by tying them on with a string knotted on their stems. 

Oranges were more rare.

Mandrin, "zipper skins," were a treat available only at Christmas. We loved how easy they were to peel.


They came in a box, and were individually wrapped in green tissue paper. I could have eaten a whole box by myself!

They were however, guarded and doled out as the rarity they were.

Are you ready?