Soft Sugar Cookies

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My mom has a Christmas scrapbook that she has been updating for the past 25+ Christmases. Every year she puts it out on my parents’ coffee table and I love to peruse through it. There are lots of pictures of my siblings and me, bleary-eyed and full of excitement at the anticipation of Santa’s arrival. When I see those snapshots frozen in time, I can still remember how we felt at those very moments. The holidays bring about such strong memories and the old soul in me loves to recount the stories.

When my sister and I got married, my mom gave us a similar scrapbook for each of us to fill out as we start our traditions with our own families. We only have a few pages filled out, and I am looking forward to seeing what will fill future pages of our scrapbook. I have a feeling these soft sugar cookies may be a recurring guest.

These cookies are a new to me, even though the recipe has been circulating around food blogs for several months. They are the type of cookie that becomes a family favorite and, in my opinion, the ideal treat to leave out for Santa. The cookies are perfectly soft without being too delicate and the vanilla flavor really shines through. I’ve made these cookies several times now and I know I will be making them in Christmas future.

Merry Christmas! May all your days be merry and bright.

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Soft Sugar Cookies

Yield: About 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients

Ingredients:
For the cookies

  • 4½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 4½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 5 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the frosting

  • 5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1/3 cup (5 1/3 tablespoon) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 7-8 tablespoon milk
  • Food coloring (optional)
  • Sprinkles (optional)

Directions

1. Make the dough ahead of time: beat the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add in the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add in the vanilla and mix until combined.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Slowly add the flour to the butter mixture, just until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure the dough is evenly mixed. Chill the dough for a hour.

3. When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Use a 2 inch ice cream scoop, roll into a ball, and flatten the ball slightly and place on the baking sheets. Space the cookies at least 2 inches apart. Bake about 10-12 minutes or just until set. Be careful not to overbake – they should barely browned on the bottom. Let cool on the baking sheet for several minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

4. To make the icing, place the sifted confectioner’s sugar in a medium-sized bowl. Whisk in the melted butter, vanilla, and milk and mix until smooth. Add more milk as needed. Use desired food coloring to make the icing extra festive. Frost cooled cookies and decorate with sprinkles.

Source: Annie’s Eats, originally from Hostess with the Mostess

Gingerbread Graham Crackers & Gingerbread Houses

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I made a few adjustments to my favorite graham cracker recipe to make it more festive for the Christmas goodies I sent out this year. Instead of honey, I used molasses and I added in grounder ginger and cloves for a little extra spice. The result was a crispy and a little bit crunchy cookie that I will be definitely be making again.

These gingerbread graham crackers are great with coffee or they would be even more wonderful as the base for holiday-inspired s’mores- perhaps with peppermint marshmallows or Andes mints or a peppermint patty? Oh man… already brainstorming for next year! Another bonus- they’re sturdy enough to be sent in the mail and they also freeze well.

Now- onto the next topic…

Two of my favorite girlfriends and I got together to decorate gingerbread houses a few weekends ago; because, as you can see, we are wild and crazy twenty-somethings living life in the fast lane.  Jess invited Chelsea and me over to live it up and we had a fabulous afternoon listening to Christmas music and overdosing on sugary candy while we created our masterpieces.

Jess so graciously made the gingerbread framework for us. She’s an expert gingerbread builder… and a hard-core icing piper (if that’s a word?).

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The key to a good gingerbread house, and a good sugar coma, is a wide variety of candy.

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Chelsea and her home. Chelsea is supermodel beautiful, intelligent, thoughtful, my favorite carpool buddy/navigator and she recently acquired the ability to fix a kitchen sink. This girl’s a jack of all trades. I’m so lucky to have her in my life.

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Jessica: she’s outgoing,  gorgeous, fun-loving, adventurous, a hardworking go-getter, and my Broadway musical mentor. As you can see, she’s also a fabulous hostess and baker/chef. A wonderful friend, indeed.

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How sweet it is to be friends with these women. They truly enrich my life and I am so very thankful for them.

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Gingerbread Graham Crackers

Printable version

 

Yield: About 2 dozen graham crackers

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/3 cups whole wheat graham flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 3 tablespoons molasses
  • cinnamon sugar (1 teaspoon cinnamon/3 tablespoons sugar), for sprinkling (if desired)

Directions

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy- about 2 minutes. Slowly add in the molasses and mix until combined.

2. Whisk together the flours, soda, salt, ginger, cloves, and cinnamon in a medium-sized bowl. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and stir until just combined. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and gently knead together into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours, or up to 5 days.

3. When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside. Make the cinnamon sugar in a small bowl.

4. Unwrap the dough and roll it out on a lightly-floured until about 1/8 inch thick. Use your prefered cookie cutter shape to cut out the cookies. Place them on the baking sheets, about 1 inch apart, and poke with a fork. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the pan and bake another 5-6 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool on a cooling rack. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days or freeze for 3 months.

Source: Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker, originally from Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones

Chocolate Chunk Espresso Cookies

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You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why: Christmas cookie baking is in full swing. Woohoo! I spent a good amount of this last weekend in a kitchen whirlwind and these chocolate chunk espresso cookies were one of the first items that popped out of the oven.

While they aren’t a traditional Christmas cookie, they are definitely something to celebrate. The flavor of chocolate (as the Barefoot Contessa will tell us) is amplified with two flavors: vanilla and coffee; and these cookies have both. The coffee flavor comes from espresso powder, which can usually be found in the coffee section of most grocery stores (I used Megdalia D’oro).

These bad boys are rich, dense, and go fabulously with a chilled glass of milk. Leave them under the tree on Christmas eve and Santa will surely lick the plate clean.

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Chocolate Chunk Espresso Cookies

Yield: 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
  • 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, plus one large egg yolk
  • 7 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 4 ounces white chocolate chips

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

2. In a small bowl mix together the espresso powder and vanilla. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugars on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add in the egg and egg yolk, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Mix in the vanilla/espresso mix and beat until well-combined.

4. Whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt) in a medium-sized bowl. With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture until just combined. Gradually fold in the chocolate pieces.

5. Drop the dough in even spoonfuls (I used a 1.5 inch ice cream scoop) onto the cookie sheets and flatten slightly with your hand. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the cookies are just set. Remove from oven and place on cooling rack before transferring to parchment paper to cool completely.

6. Store in an airtight container for 1 week or freeze for 3 months.

Source: Adapted from Martha Stewart

Lemon Curd Cupcakes

This recipe isn’t a new one for me. I’ve made it as my sister’s birthday cake here and here. This time, though, there needed to be a cupcake version. One of my favorite co-workers recently celebrated a birthday and I needed a more portable version to take out.  She, like my sister, is also a serious lemon lover and I knew these would be perfect for her. Indeed, she loved them.

I’ve discovered the key to a tasty lemon dessert is, not at all surprisingly, the use of fresh lemon juice and lemon zest. There is no substitute. Bottled lemon juice just doesn’t deliver the same bold punch.

If you’re looking to turn your favorite cake batter into cupcakes, it usually works. You just need to adjust the baking time to 20-22 minutes, or until a toothpick in the center of the cupcake comes out clean.

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And to pack an even bigger lemon explosion, I filled the cupcakes with homemade lemon curd

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Cut out a cone in the top of the cupcakes with a paring knife

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Place a spoonful of lemon curd in the hollowed out portion of the cupcake

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Top with the reserved cone-shaped piece of cake and frost as desired

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