Christmas Cookies - 2015

Almost a week later, but here it is, the last of my Christmas cookie posts, and probably the most anticipated! Every year my sister Lara pulls out the meringue powder and whips up a batch of sugar cookies beautifully decorated with royal icing. This year was no exception. And even though she had to whip these together pretty quickly this year, they still turned out just as gorgeous as ever. Enjoy!

Check out previous year's decorated Christmas cookies for ideas and recipes

2011

2012

2013

Chocolate Peppermint Cookies

I have to quick share these cookies while the sweet memories of Christmas are still not too far from everyone's minds. They were one of the cookies on the Christmas cookie platter this year, and were included in the bags I delivered to the neighbors. I do have to say that they were absolutely fantastic! A great double chocolate cookie is difficult to find. I've shared several on the blog, and while I adore my Death by Chocolate Chip Cookies, they have so much melted chocolate in them that they can be a little more expensive to make, not to mentioned incredibly rich (not that I'm complaining!). Finding a recipe with just cocoa powder has left me disappointed in the past, but these cookies are not included in that disappointment. 

These cookies are thick, soft, and super chocolatey. The addition of peppermint extract around the holidays is a wonderful touch, but they can be made without the mint flavor at any time of year. Throw in some espresso powder instead if you have it, another great combo. Dipping in some white chocolate sprinkled with candy canes was the perfect touch for Christmas, it really ups the festiveness of these already amazing cookies.

The only thing you want to make sure of when making these cookies is that you have at least a couple of hours to let the dough chill in the fridge before you shape into balls and bake. The dough is just too soft when it is first made. As long as you have the extra time these cookies are quick and easy to make. They really are a favorite of mine, a new go-to recipe when all I need is chocolate!

Chocolate Peppermint Cookies
Adapted from Sally's Baking Addiction
Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (100g) packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1 cup (125g) all-purpose flour 
  • 1/2 cup + 2 Tablespoons (53g) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (180g) semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 4 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1-2 large candy canes, crushed

Directions
In a large bowl using a hand-held mixer or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter for 1 minute on medium speed until completely smooth and creamy. Add the granulated sugar and brown sugar and beat on medium high speed until fluffy and light in color. Beat in egg, vanilla and peppermint extracts on high speed. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.

In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt together until combined. On low speed, slowly mix into the wet ingredients until combined. The cookie dough will be quite thick. Switch to high speed and beat in the chocolate chips. The cookie dough will be sticky. Cover dough tightly with aluminum foil or plastic wrap and chill for at least 3 hours and up to 3 days. Chilling is mandatory for this cookie dough.

Remove cookie dough from the refrigerator and allow to sit at room temperature for 20 minutes - if the cookie dough chilled longer than 3 hours, let it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. This makes the cookie dough easier to scoop and roll.

Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.

Scoop dough (I liked about 25 grams of dough each, if you have a scale, I made a few larger one first at 50 grams and I actually liked the look of the smaller cookies better) and roll into balls and place on the baking sheet.

Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes rotating once during bake time. The baked cookies will look extremely soft in the centers when you remove them from the oven. Allow to cool for 5 minutes on the cookie sheet. They will slightly deflate as you let them cool. Transfer to cooling rack to cool completely.

Melt the chopped white chocolate in a microwave: placing the chocolate in a medium heat-proof bowl. Melt in 15 second increments, stirring after each increment until completely melted and smooth. Dip each completely cooled cookie halfway into the white chocolate and place onto a parchment or silicone baking mat-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle crushed candy canes on top of the chocolate. Repeat with the rest of the cooled cookies. Place the baking sheet into the refrigerator to help the chocolate set. Once set, enjoy!

Cardamom Walnut Snowballs

It's Christmas week and I'm on break! I've been taking advantage of my free time by doing one of my favorite things - baking Christmas cookies! Since I have so much to share and only a few more days to do that yet, I'm going to post a couple additional recipes this week. Today I'm sharing these festive cardamom walnut snowballs. They are really quick and easy to make, and they are absolutely delicious, plus, they're just so darn cute! And since there's not even a hint of snow on the ground (it's going to be 60 today!! What??) these cookies are the only way we're going to have a white Christmas this year! 

These little butter cookies are melt-in-your-mouth tender, buttery and nutty, and not overly sweet. It's a perfect combination. I love the mild walnut flavor combined with the somewhat citrusy, herbal character of the cardamom. If you don't have any cardamom you can skip it, but I highly recommend getting some and giving it a try if you haven't tried it before. All-in-all, a wonderful addition to your Christmas cookie platter!

Other than grinding up some walnuts, this is a super basic recipe. Cream some butter and sugar, add in the dry ingredients, mix it up and you're good to go. There's not even any eggs. Once the cookies are cool you just roll them in some powdered sugar and you're done. You can roll them a second time in the sugar to get an extra heavy dusting, or just leave them after the first time. They're cute and delicious either way!

Cardamom Walnut Snowballs
Adapted from American Heritage Cooking
Ingredients

  • 1 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cups finely chopped walnuts, divided
  • 1 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 3/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cups powdered sugar, for coating

Directions
Preheat oven to 325°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. 

In a food processor pulse half of the walnuts until they are finely chopped; remove and set aside. Add the remaining nuts to the food processor and pulse until medium grind (no big chunks remain).

In a medium bowl combine the flour, walnuts, cardamom and salt; whisk to combine. Set aside. 

In a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the vanilla until well combined. Add all the flour mixture and mix on low speed until the dough just comes together.

Use a tablespoon cookie scoop to scoop the dough and then roll into balls.

Bake until the bottoms are golden and the tops are beginning to brown, 15-18 minutes. Be careful not to over-bake them or they will be dry and crumbly.

Cool the cookies 2 minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to wire racks to cool completely. Place powdered sugar in a large plastic bag. Working with two cookies at a time. Toss gently to coat and place back on the wire rack.

Allow the cookies to sit at least an hour, up to overnight, and then repeat the tossing in powdered sugar.

Yields: 24 cookies

Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti

School is out! And that means one thing - it's Christmas cookie time! I love holiday baking and now that I am free for 2 weeks it is time to fire up the oven and get the cookie party started! This year is bittersweet to me because it is my last official "Christmas break". I think I may cry a small tear. I know, most people don't get a Christmas break until they're 28 but when you're in school for forever you have to find small victories once in a while! So I'm going to revel in this last official break and enjoy every minute of it. 

I've made a few batches of cookies this weekend and the first one I want to share is this cranberry pistachio biscotti. If you take a look around my blog you might notice that I have quite a few biscotti recipes, I just love the stuff. It's so easy and delicious, and something a little different from the norm. The instant I saw this festive biscotti pop up I knew it was on the list for 2015. I wasn't disappointed, and I don't think you will be either. So grab you own mixer and start baking!

This was a new recipe for me, which always makes me just a little bit nervous. You never quite know how much biscotti is going to spread. But there was no need to worry here, the cookies baked up beautifully. My only disappointment was not having quite enough pistachios to fold in. I threw in what I had and just made the best of it, but if you can, try to get the entire 3/4 cup mixed in. It just adds even more to the festiveness of this deliciously crunchy cookie. 

Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti
Adapted from Sally's Baking Addiction
Ingredients

  • 2 and 1/4 cups (280g) all-purpose flour 
  • 1 cup (200g) packed brown sugar 
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup (60g) unsalted butter, cold and cubed
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable or olive oil 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup (75g) pistachios
  • 3/4 cup (120g) dried cranberries
  • Egg wash: 1 large egg beaten with 1 Tablespoon milk

Directions
Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.

Whisk the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt together in a large bowl until combined. Add in the cold butter and mix until mixture is crumbly. Set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, oil, and vanilla together. Pour into the flour/butter mixture and mix until everything is just barely moistened. Fold in the pistachios and dried cranberries.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and with floured hands, knead lightly until the dough is soft and slightly sticky, about 8-10 times. If it's uncontrollably sticky, knead 1-2 more Tablespoon(s) of flour into the dough. With floured hands, divide the dough in two and place each half onto a baking sheet. Shape each half into an 8-9 inch long roll, patting down until each is about 1/2 inch thick. 

Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the top and sides of each biscotti slab with egg wash.

Bake in batches (or together) for 25-26 minutes, or until the top and sides of the biscotti slabs are lightly browned. Remove from the oven, but do not turn off the heat. Allow to cool for 10 minutes. 

Once the slabs are cool enough to handle, cut each into 1 inch thick slices. Set slices cut sides upright, ¼ inch apart, on the baking sheets. Return to the oven to continue baking for about 20 minutes, rotating the pan once while baking. The cookies may be slightly soft in the centers with harder edges. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet. Then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. As the biscotti cools, it becomes crunchy. 

Cranberry Dark Chocolate Gingerbread Muffins

It may be January, but I have one last Christmas-y recipe to share. I am a big gingerbread fan (as you could probably already tell from the  Gingerbread Bundt Cake I made for my big family Christmas party) but it seems to be something that is only eaten at Christmas, so I have to try and fit in as many different recipes during December as I can. Since I'm such a huge muffin fan I couldn't resist a gingerbread muffin of course. I decided to fill it with dark chocolate and fresh cranberries, one of my favorite combinations. Along with some molasses, spices and a little butter, this blend of flavors packs the perfect punch of flavor that can be enjoyed all winter long. 

Nothing fancy in this recipe, just a lot of nice add in's and spices that can be customized to your tastes. Don't have any fresh cranberries, how about dried cranberries? Or dried cherries for that matter. Try switching out the dark chocolate with some white chocolate, or skip the chocolate + fruit combination and throw in some cinnamon chips. Whatever you like and have on hand. That's what I love so much about muffins, they are so easy to adapt. So go ahead, have some fun!

Cranberry Dark Chocolate Gingerbread Muffins

Adapted from 

Sweet Phi

Ingredients

  • ½ stick (4 tablespoons) butter, melted (I've also replaced 2 tablespoons of butter with 2 tablespoons Greek yogurt and they still turn out great!)
  • ½ cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1¾ cups flour
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ginger
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon all spice
  • 1 cup fresh cranberries, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup dark chocolate, finely chopped

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin pan with liners. 

In a microwave safe bowl microwave butter for 30 seconds, then remove from microwave and add milk, molasses, egg and vanilla. Whisk until combined, it's ok if there are a few lumps.

In another bowl add all dry ingredients except the cranberries and chocolate. Add wet ingredients to dry and stir a few times, then add the cranberries and chocolate, mixing until everything is just combined, don't over-mix. Spoon batter into muffin liners. Bake for 15-18 minutes, remove from oven and allow to cool.

Yields: I got 10 medium sized muffins

Christmas Morning Breakfast Wreath

Today I'm excited to share one of the most beautiful and delicious recipes I've ever made. Last week I went to one of my favorite bakeries because I had to get a loaf of their stollen before Christmas was over. I'd never actually tried stollen, but I knew I would love this dense, heavy fruitcake filled with boozy dried fruit and almond paste, covered in butter and sugar. I was right, it is one of the most delicious breads I have ever eaten. Inspired by this bread, I decided to make something along the same lines for my Christmas morning breakfast. This recipe that I found from The Kitchn was the reminiscent of a traditional stollen, but with a twist, perfect for a festive breakfast to celebrate Christmas morning.

The ingredient list may look long for this recipe, but it really isn't any more difficult than most yeasted breads. The whole concept is similar to making cinnamon rolls, but with a filling of dried fruit and almonds instead of cinnamon sugar. 

I actually halved the original recipe since there was only two of us to eat this cake and we certainly didn't need the whole recipe. There were no problems halving the recipe, the only thing that changed was that the wreath wasn't as big as the original, there wasn't much of a hole in the middle, but this this didn't affect the finished product in any way other than looks. 

The recipe called for the wreath to be baked for 25 minutes, but when I checked mine at this point it wasn't anywhere near being done. I ended up baking it for about 50 minutes total. I don't know where this discrepancy came from, but I thought my wreath was baked perfectly at 50 minutes, I don't know why it took double the time called for in the original recipe. The only thing I can think of is that since I halved the recipe and my wreath was much more compact, it took longer for it to cook through, but who knows. Regardless, this recipe turned out so absolutely delicious, the perfect way to start off my Christmas morning!

Christmas Morning Breakfast Wreath
Adapted from The Kitchn
Ingredients
For the bread:

  • 1 1/2-1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom powder
  • 1 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated orange peel
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons warm water 
  • 1/4 cup warm milk
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten 

For the fruit-almond filling:

  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries, cherries, and/or raisins soaked in 1/2 cup brandy or other liqueur
  • 2-3 tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour 
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped almonds
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 oz almond paste, crumbled
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lemon peel
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated orange peel
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract

For the sugar glaze:

  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoons water
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon orange juice
  • 1/8 teaspoon cardamom powder

Directions
Prepare the dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, mix together the flour, sugar, salt, cardamom powder, yeast, lemon and orange peel. Add the butter, water, milk and egg and mix until starting to form a shaggy mass. Then turn on the mixer and knead until it forms a smooth and supple dough (add more water if it is too dry and more flour if it is too wet as needed).

Place dough in a lightly oiled mixing bowl large enough to accommodate dough when doubled in size. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.

Prepare the cranberry-almond filling: Drain the dried fruit from the liqueur and reserve the liqueur for another use. In a small bowl, combine the drained fruit with remaining filling ingredients. Cover and refrigerate.

Shape the dough: When dough has doubled in size, punch it down and turn it out onto a lightly floured board, kneading just enough to release any air bubbles. Roll the dough into a long rectangle. Crumble the filling over the dough to within 1 inch of the edges. Starting along a long side, tightly roll up the dough, pinching edge against loaf to seal. With a sharp knife, cut roll in half lengthwise. Carefully turn the halves so the cut sides are facing up, and then loosely twist the halves around each other, keeping cut sides up. (Check out the photos from The Kitchn if you're having a difficult time visualizing this.)

Line a baking sheet with parchment or non-stick baking mat. Carefully transfer the rope to the baking sheet and shape into a wreath, pinching the ends together to seal. Let it rise, uncovered, in a warm place until puffy, about 45 minutes. (Alternatively, place wreath immediately into the fridge and let it rise overnight. In the morning, remove from fridge and allow to come to room temperature, 1/2-1 hour before proceeding with baking.)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake the wreath until lightly browned, 45-50 minutes. While the wreath is baking, stir together the ingredients for the glaze and set aside.

When wreath is done, transfer to a cooling rack by picking up the sides of the parchment and then sliding the parchment out from underneath. Cool for a few minutes then drizzle the glaze over the warm wreath. Serve with extra butter if you're feeling decadent.

Christmas Cookies 2014

Merry Christmas! Once again this year Lara and I had way too much fun in the kitchen baking Christmas cookies and lots of other goodies to share with friends and family members. It has been a blast, and I am sad that it is now over for another year. But that's okay, I can always look back on my photos and remember the good times. I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas, however you celebrate, and a blessed New Year!

The traditional rolled sugar cookies made their yearly appearance, decorated solely by Lara, I can't claim to have had anything to do with those. Gingerbread men are my favorite so they also joined the fun. I also made some mini almond pound cakes for another option this year using a pan my sister-in-law gave me a little while back. I am pleased with how it all turned out.

I brought a tray of cookies to my families Christmas party, and then made bags of cookies for friends, as well as boxes to hand out to the neighbors. Both Lara and I had so much fun with the whole process as we do every year. Now off to celebrate Christmas!

Gramercy Tavern’s Gingerbread

We had our Christmas party for my mom's side of the family yesterday. It was a wonderful time of food, conversation and festivities! I had such a fun time seeing everyone and catching up on what is going on in everyone's lives. Of course I offered to supply a few dishes to the lunch menu along with a few other family members. Everything turned out deliciously from the roasted beef tenderloin provided by my grandma to the salads and desserts brought by everyone else. My contribution to the dessert table this year was a rich and dark gingerbread cake that I had spotted on Smitten Kitchen some time ago. It had intrigued me, but until now I had never had the opportunity to make it. Gingerbread is not really something you can make year round so I was excited to have the opportunity to try it out. 

I ended up loving the cake. It really does pack a punch of flavor thanks to the oatmeal stout, the dark molasses, and the 2 tablespoons of ground ginger. It is an intense cake, definitely not for the faint at heart. A scoop of ice cream or a dollop of freshly whipped cream are the perfect accompaniment. I think a simple lemon glaze or some lemon curd would also be wonderful options. If you're looking for something different from the typical sugar cookies or chocolate cake this Christmas, give this cake a try, it will be difficult to forget. 

Other than needing to go out and buy a few extra ingredients to make this cake (the stout and the dark molasses) there was nothing difficult about this cake. I mixed it all together by hand, didn't even need a mixer thanks to the use of oil. It came together easily and baked up beautifully, perfectly done at 50 minutes, exactly as the recipe said. 

From what I read about this cake, it is very prone to stick to the pan so I heeded all the advice I read and made sure to butter and flour my bundt pan very, very throughly. It seemed to work as I didn't have really any sticking at all. However, my bundt pan is pretty new and releases cakes easily. My old bundt pan was notorious for having cakes stick and come out in two or more pieces, not so pretty. But regardless of how nice your pan is, I'd advise making sure you spend a little extra time greasing and flouring it up before pouring the batter in. It would be so disappointing to have this cake fall apart on it's way out of the pan. 

Gramercy Tavern's Gingerbread

From 

Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients

  • 1 cup oatmeal stout or Guinness Stout
  • 1 cup dark molasses (NOT blackstrap)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • Pinch of ground cardamom
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • Confectioners sugar for dusting

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F. Very, very, generously butter a bundt pan and dust with flour, knocking out excess. This cake will stick badly if pan is not thoroughly greased. 

Bring stout and molasses to a boil in a large saucepan and remove from heat. Whisk in baking soda, then cool to room temperature.

Sift together flour, baking powder, and spices in a large bowl. Whisk together eggs and sugars. Whisk in oil, then molasses mixture. Add to flour mixture and whisk until just combined.

Pour batter into bundt pan and rap pan sharply on counter to eliminate air bubbles. Bake in middle of oven until a tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs adhering, about 50 minutes. Cool cake in pan on a rack 5 minutes. Turn out onto rack and cool completely.

Serve cake, dusted with confectioners sugar, with whipped cream or ice cream.

Do ahead: I'm told this gingerbread is even better if made a day ahead. I made mine 2 days ahead and it was fantastic. I didn't try it freshly baked, but it didn't appear to suffer at all in the 2 day wait.