Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Seasons Greetings!

Hello everyone! I think this might have been my longest absence from this blog since I started writing it. School was CRAZY busy the last couple weeks of the semester, and as much as I wanted to blog, I had to force myself to study and do final projects instead. And, really, I didn't have much to blog about. My kitchen was sorely neglected the month or two, between working evenings, having a night class, and just being too darn busy. I've been eating too much junk from my freezer and dining out more than I'd like, and I can't wait to get back to planning meals like before!

Next semester I'm only taking one class, and I've quit one of my part time jobs. I hope to start substitute teaching this spring, to help my job prospects for next year. My schedule will still be sporadic, but at least I know I'll be home (and less stressed) more often than this semester. And what better time to get back to cooking and blogging than this time of year? I LOVE CHRISTMAS! I think it's my favorite holiday because of the fact it is spread out over a month, and everyone seems to get more friendly and easy going as they run around more crazily than usual. I know, it's not quite that perfect, but don't you find yourself with an extra spring in your step come December? Great example- I went to lunch with a friend at the huge Macys on State Street today, and even thought it was a total zoo, I just smiled and enjoyed the whole experience. Typically, I can get totally bitchy in these crowded store/slow tourist situations, but somehow at Christmas I just deal with it a lot better. Anyone else feel this way?

I also love the traditions that surround Christmas. Every family has them, and it is so fun to compare notes with friends. In the last three years of marriage, Joe and I have worked some of our old family traditions into the holidays, and have also started trying to incorporate some of our own. One non-negotiable tradition I've taken from my mother is baking and sharing TONS of Christmas cookies. Last year I told you about the three recipes I have that my mom has baked for as long as I can remember. They showed up in my kitchen again this year, but I also decided to mix things up and add a couple recipes of my own.

The first recipe I made was Chocolate Hazelnut Crinkles, which I found on epicurious.com. They had kind of mixed reviews, but I found the recipe to be a total success. They were chewy and had a rich chocolate flavor, and the hazelnuts really added a special holiday flavor. I loved the way they looked, too, with the powered sugar and cracked appearance. Most likely I will make these again next year, and I might not reserve them just for Christmas!

I also made sugar cookies, which is nothing new, but I challenged myself by decorating them with royal icing. What a fun project it was! I used a box of sugar cookie mix, because someone had given me a cookie making gift, but next time I will try Annie's recipe. I used the Royal Icing recipe from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes book, which I borrowed from a friend. I think royal icing is pretty standard, though, so I'll probably just try Annie's recipe for that next time, too! No matter what recipes you use, check out her tutorial before you decorate, because it's amazingly helpful. Thanks Annie for all your great ideas! I put off royal icing for a long time, but now I'm brainstorming all the reasons I might have to make decorated cookies in the future. So much fun (and yes, Joe thought I was a little crazy... but cute, too!).

Gel food coloring is important, so you don't thin out your icing.

First we outlined the cookies, with thicker icing.

Then, we thinned out the icing, and filled in the shapes.

The finished product! Not bad for a first attempt, right?

Happy Holidays everyone! I hope you have a wonderful holiday season, and that 2010 is a year to remember!

Chocolate Hazelnut Crinkle Cookies
from epicurious.com

* 2/3 cup hazelnuts
* 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
* 6 oz fine-quality bittersweet
* chocolate (no more than 60% cacao if marked), finely chopped
* 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
* 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
* 2 teaspoons baking powder
* 3/4 teaspoon salt
* 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
* 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
* 2 large eggs
* 1/4 cup whole milk
* 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
* 3/4 cup confectioners sugar

* Special equipment: parchment paper


Make dough:
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.

Toast hazelnuts in a shallow baking pan in oven until skins split and nuts are pale golden, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven (turn oven off), then wrap hazelnuts in a kitchen towel and rub to remove any loose skins. Cool nuts completely. Pulse nuts with granulated sugar in a food processor until finely chopped.

Melt chocolate in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water or in top of a double boiler, stirring until smooth. Remove bowl from heat and set aside.

Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.

Beat together butter and brown sugar in another bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until creamy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in melted chocolate until combined. Add milk and vanilla, beating to incorporate. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture, mixing until just combined. Stir in nut mixture. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill dough until firm, 2 to 3 hours.

Form and bake cookies:
Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Sift confectioners sugar into a bowl. Halve dough and chill 1 half, wrapped in plastic wrap. Roll remaining half into 1-inch balls, placing them on a sheet of wax paper as rolled. Roll balls, 3 or 4 at a time, in confectioners sugar to coat generously and arrange 2 inches apart on lined baking sheets.

Bake, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until cookies are puffed and cracked and edges feel dry (but centers are still slightly soft), 12 to 18 minutes total. Transfer cookies (still on parchment) to racks to cool completely.

While first batch is baking, roll remaining dough into balls. Line cooled cookie sheets with fresh parchment, then coat balls with confectioners sugar and bake in same manner.


Savithri said...

Your cookies look awesome:)

TKW said...

Your sugar cookies turned out so impressive! Ours were mangled, over-frosted disasters!

Merry Christmas!