Friday, December 19, 2014

No Chill, Easy as Pie (easier) Sugar Cookies...And they're delicious, too!

Tis the season for cookies. It just is.  I can't imagine the Christmas season without inhaling several dozen varieties of this sweet delight.  Cookies are just about the perfect treat, too.  They're little, but they have such a huge variety that you can never get bored with a cookie.  One of my favorites is one of the simplest, sugar cookies.  Soft and pillow-y, sweet but not too sweet (until you add the frosting) and comforting as can be.  Plus they're dang fun because you get to cut them out using fun cookie cutters and decorate the heck out of them.  They're a good time.

no chill sugar cookie
There are several reasons my sugar cookies are the best.
* You don't have to chill the dough before baking.  This means when the need for sugar cookies arise, you can have some made in less than 30 minutes.
* They are so yummy!
* They're fun to decorate...I guess this is the case with any sugar cookie, but trust me, mine are the best.
* They always turn out perfectly.
* You don't have to get your giant mixer dirty.  They're so easy, you make them by hand and don't even break a sweat.  You do need your mixer for the frosting though....

easy sugar cookie
Making sugar cookies is a no-brainer for me, I just happen to almost always have the necessary ingredients in my pantry and my family just, really loves them.

no-chill sugar cookie
The size of cookie cutter I used for an entire batch and got 3 dozen cookies, cut at about 1/4" thick.
EASY NO CHILL SUGAR COOKIES
Makes approximately 3 dozen cookies, depending on thickness of dough and size of cookie cutters **see above picture**

Preheat oven to 400 F.
Line cookie sheets with parchment paper

5 C. Flour (have more on hand for flouring your surface, and I always need more to get my dough stiff enough)
2 C. Sugar
3 tsp. Baking Powder
1/2 tsp. Salt

Combine the above ingredients in a large bowl.

1 C. Shortening

Cut this into the above flour mix by hand. I just mush the shortening around in the dry ingredients with my fingers until there are no large chunks left. Make a well in the middle of your dough mixture

3 Eggs, beaten
1 C. Milk
1 tsp. Vanilla

Combine the above ingredients together and then pour into the well in the dry ingredients

Gradually blend the flour mixture to the wet ingredients until all flour is incorporated. The dough is likely to be very sticky now.  I place the dough onto your very clean and liberally floured counter top and knead flour into it until it is no longer sticky and won't adhere to your surface when rolled out and cut. 

Grab your rolling pin. Roll your dough to 1/8" - 1/4" thick.  Test if it is sticking at this point. If it is excessively sticky, grab up all the dough and knead in some more flour. If it's just a bit tacky, pick up each corner of your dough and toss some more flour under it. If your dough sticks at all to your counter top, the shapes you've cut will not come off cleanly and will not be as beautiful...oh, they'll be tasty, but we're after looks too with these cookies.

Cut dough using your favorite cookie cutters.  Re-use the scraps!!  This dough is very forgiving and doesn't get tough.  I have rolled and re-rolled my scraps many times and the results are delicious every single batch.

Place on parchment-lined cookie sheets. Don't get them too close to each other, but don't worry either, these cookies don't really spread much. So you can get away with an inch between.

Bake for 8-10 minutes. They should not be brown at all, but remain lily white on top and lightly golden underneath, but not gooey in the center.

Allow to cool on paper towels completely.

Decorate with Frosting. YUM!


VANILLA BUTTERCREAM FROSTING
3 C. Powder Sugar
3/4 C. Salted Butter, softened

Combine the above ingredients in the mixer until well mixed

1 1/2 tsp Vanilla
1-2 Tbl. Milk

Add to creamed mixture and beat until smooth and fluffy and spreadable. Add food coloring and mix well. Pipe or spread this on your cooled sugar cookies.

It's fun to personalize these cookies with names or just by tossing on as much frosting as you think acceptable in fun designs.  This frosting is so good, please don't buy store-bought frosting any longer.  This one is easy and delicious, but I would say use regular, salted butter as it lends a bit of complexity to what could be overly sweet if there was no salt in it. 

Make these, everyone will thank you.

Thanks for reading!

Heather


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Chocolate, Chocolate everywhere!

There's something special, I think anyway, about giving (and let's be honest, receiving) hand-made surprises at Christmas-time.  My mom has handmade chocolates for about as long as I can remember.  The real deal.  I'm talking, tempering the finest dipping chocolate, meticulously rolling cherry chocolates (or cordials) in fondant and then hand dipping each little creation, one by one in the (cross fingers) melted chocolate that is the correct temperature. And believe me, you can taste the difference between what comes out of our kitchen vs. the bargain mart. I won't even eat the cherry cordials you can buy at the store; I've become a cherry chocolate snob and only homemade perfection will do vs. cloyingly sweet, sub-par candy.  Meh, it happens.

I've joined in the process the last few years so that I can glean all the wisdom I can from my mama, as nothing tastes better than some really good chocolate candies.

We took several boxes of the good stuff down to our annual family party (drove five hours packed to the gills with my kids and my sister and her kids and all our gear).  My Uncle told my mom that he savored each bite of the cherry chocolates, trying to make, what is really a one bite treat, into as many as he possibly could.  They are that good.

Here's what the process looks like...

I bought this stabby jabber to break the chocolate into chunks.  Previously we used a chef's knife, plunging it again and again into the giant bar of chocolate...I am pretty grateful nobody lost a vital digit during this process.  Stabby jabber...much better.

 All the pretty cherries fully covered in fondant.

Because we're fancy, we tried to pre-make bases this year for the cherry chocolates to keep the gooey stuff from leaking out the bottoms...It kind of worked.  We'll try again next year and do a better job.

These are my dipped chocolates.  Look, don't judge.  It's much harder than you think it is, and the puddles at the bottom are the look I was going for, anyway.

 My mother's.  Whatever.

We're tempering the chocolate.  That's a big chunk of un-melted chocolate in the bowl of the melted.  It's all about crystals and temperature when you melt chocolate.  Our dark chocolate turned out really pretty...the milk...we may have been in too much of a hurry and didn't lovingly keep it at the proper temperature at which point you get what is called bloom.  It's where some of the milk solids come to the surface and instead of having glossy gorgeousness, you get a kind of cloudy sheen.  Still good, just not as pretty as it could be.

See, our thermometer and seed chocolate (that's the big chunk that helps with the crystalization of the melted chocolate). 

We also made Peanut Butter Truffles with crispies and flaked sea salt as a garnish as well as the yummiest coconut candies EVER!

And this is the final result.  Everything lovingly packaged in boxes and tied up with bows to be sent on their merry way.

Get home-making this Christmas!

Heather

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Homemade Christmas

I thrill at an after Christmas sale as much as the next person.  The opportunity to buy a holiday gem at half price and get to add it to my holiday decor the following year.

What I love even more than sweet savings, though, is to create my own Christmas crafts during the holiday season....as long as they're simple and I won't tear my hair out trying to figure out something complicated.  The Christmas season is not the place for complicated.  I want to be able to enjoy the process and make it start to finish in an evening or less.

Here are my favorites.  Most use simple felt, thread, embroidery floss, ric rac and the occasional button embellishment.  Oh, and a pile of beads and wire, and some serious help from the bead lady.

homemade felt stockings
Santa has special stockings that he puts goodies in for my crew.  They are ones that Mama personalizes and sets aside Christmas Eve for him to fill

Construction is simple enough.

Cut out two pieces of felt in the shape of a stocking.  This took me a few times to get the size just right, so they were big enough to fill with presents...or coal.   So, draw out a stocking template bigger than you think it will need to be. You can always cut it down if too big.  I would also say practice filling it to make sure you have enough space. 

Decorate the front of the stockings with whatever adorable felt pictures your imagination can come up with....or in the case of Daddy's stocking (and you are tired and just want to get it done), a Christmas tree and dots.  Embroider a name at the top, embellish with sequins, buttons, ric rac etc...whip stitch the front and back sides together and call them done.

homemade felt ornaments
Back in the days before I had any money to buy Christmas decor at half price, I made my own ornaments, again with felt. The Mister and I have been married a significant amount of time, but I still enjoy putting our first Christmas ornaments up on the tree each year.

The mittens are just two pieces of felt, blanket stitched together, with a piece of faux fur glued to the top.  You really could just use a single piece of felt and sew the blanket stitch around the edge for aesthetic reasons.

The stocking ornaments have ric rac sewn decoratively down the front.  Easy and cute. I sewed the front and back pieces together using the sewing machine.  If you don't want to stitch the ric rac on, a hot glue gun is your best friend.

Beaded Christmas Spiders
Eventually you graduate from felt and move on to beads.  These are our Christmas spiders.  There's a lovely story behind them: They say an impoverished family had nothing to decorate their tree with one Christmas, and so a family of spiders spent the entire night, Christmas Eve, weaving and spinning their webs all over it to make it beautiful.  Santa came in and knew how hard the spiders had worked, but that the people might not see the beauty of a tree covered in spiders web, so he touched the web and it turned into tinsel.

Everyone, please have a Merry Christmas this year and if you don't celebrate Christmas, please have a wonderful holiday season.  And get out the glue gun and your pile of felt and see what you can come up with.

Happy Crafting!


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