Christmas Cookie #4 – Cashew Brittle (Not A Cookie, But We Can Pretend)

This brittle has always been a Christmas staple in my household.  I can remember my mom making this brittle as a very young child.  It’s funny about old memories.  My memory of my mom making brittle is as clear as it was when I was actually watching her.  I can remember what the pan looked like that she used, I can remember the exact spoon and even what the candy thermometer looked like.  I can also remember eating pounds of it, including it at breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Over time, I have taken her recipe and made some modifications.  The biggest one is that I replaced peanuts with whole cashews.  The cashews give the brittle a little more crunch and a little bit more creaminess.  I also try to eat only a few pieces now versus half the container like I used to do when I was a kid.  One thing I haven’t changed from my mom’s recipe is that I try to stretch the brittle as thin as possible.  It is a lot more delicious when your pieces are thin versus thick.  Here’s how we made the cashew brittle this year:

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, plus more for pan
  • 2 1/2 cups salted, roasted cashews
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda

Directions:

Butter a large baking pan; set aside.  Combine cashews, sugar and corn syrup in a medium saucepan.  Set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.

Insert a candy thermometer.  Continue boiling, without stirring, until temperature registers 295 degrees, about 6 minutes.  When sugar begins to brown, stir nuts gently to ensure even cooking.  Remove saucepan from heat, and stir in the butter and baking soda; the mixture will begin to foam up, so mix quickly.  Pour onto the prepared baking pan.

As soon as the brittle is cool enough to handle, use your fingers to stretch the brittle as thinly as possible over the baking pan.

Allow the brittle to cool completely, about 45 minutes, then break into bite-size pieces.

This cashew brittle is salty-sweet perfection.  Be careful though, it can become addictive.  You won’t be able to stop eating it once you start.  I like this brittle as well for all the memories it has brought me through the years.  It’s nice to include something in your Christmas cookie collection that reminds you of Christmas past.  So there you have it.  Our Christmas cookie and treat selection for 2011.  I love how the flavors are all unique and stand up well on their own, but also how they complement each other when you make a tin up for a friend.  Coconut pyramids that look like little modern pieces of art, the long biscotti with its red cranberries and green pistachios in the mix, the pretty cookie press cookies that are too cute to eat and the salty-sweet cashew brittle.  The four of these really make a nice little treat for Santa, but better than that, for you and your family to enjoy over the Christmas holiday.  Thanks for baking with us!  Do you and your family eat all of your Christmas baked goods or do you share them with other family and friends too?

Christmas Cookie #3 – Cookie Press Cookies (Depressed With My Press)

This cookie press recipe was a true test of my baking and decorating patience.  As most of you know, a cookie press is nothing more than a hollow tube fitted with a decorative nozzle at one end and a plunger at the other.  You insert your cookie dough into the hollow tube and then you press a trigger that makes the plunger press out the dough.  The dough is pressed out through the decorative nozzle and a pressed cookie is formed.  The nozzle holds discs that turn the dough into various shapes-hearts, wreaths, Christmas trees, flowers-the list is long and covers most of the major holidays.  Here is the cookie press I used at the start of my baking.  Little did I know that two more would follow.

I’ve discovered that my right arm has gotten incredibly strong.  That’s because my squeezing of the cookie press trigger achieved pressing out five dozen cookies, but, on the bad side, it broke three cookie presses.  Yes, three presses that broke-two triggers broke off and one shaft that holds the dough cracked into two pieces!  Is this bad luck or what?  I got my cookies done, but had to order a new press at the end as a result.  This time I paid a little bit more and got a “heavy-duty” press.  I’m hoping this solves the problem.

These cookies are very tasty, with a rich butter and vanilla taste.  The recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of vanilla, which seems like a lot, but really works well with the dough.  After the cookies had cooled, we decorated each one with a glaze made out of confectioner’s sugar and a variety of cookie decorating supplies-colored sanding sugars, melted chocolate, tinted glazes, chocolate sprinkles, etc.  Most of it was purchased at the supermarket so just have fun and get whatever supplies catch your eye.  With cookie decorating, there really is no bad way to do it.  Here’s the steps:

For the cookies:

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 3 3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 6 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted, for decorating
  • Confectioners’ Sugar Glaze (see recipe below)
  • Food coloring, preferably gel-paste, for decorating
  • Sanding sugar, for decorating
  • Other favorite items, to use for decorating

Directions:

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Add egg yolks, flour, salt, and vanilla.  Mix until well combined.

Fit cookie press with desired disk and fill with dough.  Press out shapes onto prepared baking sheets.  Transfer to refrigerator until chilled, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Bake until cookies are lightly browned, 7 to 10 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

To decorate, tint confectioners’ sugar glaze as desired (dividing it among a few bowls to make different colors, if desired). Dip cookies in glaze and decorate with sanding sugar, nonpareils, or dragees.  Let set until the glaze dries, at least 1 hour before serving or storing. Cookies can be stored, between layers of parchment, up to 1 week at room temperature in airtight containers.

For the glaze:

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 2 tablespoons water

Directions:

Mix confectioners’ sugar and the water to achieve an easy-to-pour consistency, adding more water as necessary. Use immediately.

These are a great cookie.  They taste great and look great.  Impress your family and friends with a cute little decorated cookie.  They will be impressed.  At our house right now, none of us want to eat my cookie press cookies.  Not because they don’t taste good, but because they are so pretty.  Knowing how we like to eat, this mood will change soon and we will devour them.  It’s the holidays right?  Overeating is expected!  Do you make any decorated cookies during the holidays?

Friday Dance Party – Getting Into The Spirit Of Christmas

This is another edition of Friday Dance Party on Acorns On Glen.  It’s the time where we give thanks for making it through another week and for being alive and present here on Earth.  How do we celebrate another week of living?  We dance.  So, are you alive this Friday?  Are you and your family safe and sound?  Take a few seconds now to be in the moment and realize what a great life you truly have.  Did you give thanks for that?

Good, now let’s dance.

It’s official…we are most definitely in the holiday season.  Besides coconut pyramids and cranberry-pistachio biscotti, Christmas carols are always needed to get me into peak Christmas spirit.  So given we are a little over a week away from Christmas, I thought it was only appropriate to pull out one of my favorites.  There is none better to me than Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” from the 1944 movie “Meet Me In St. Louis”.  I love this song on so many different levels.  First off, Judy Garland can sing this song with a voice so clear and sweet how can you help not loving it.  The way it was shot is also fantastic.  Every time I watch this clip, I feel like I am sitting there in that cold room with them looking out over the snow in the yard.  The lyrics about friends and family are great.  Isn’t that really what the holidays are all about?  I also love the back story on the movie.  Judy Garland was 21 when she was filming the movie and it was the movie that successfully transitioned her from child star to an adult superstar.  The movie was also directed by Vincente Minnelli, who fell in love with Judy Garland during the filming and eventually became her husband.  From there, I’m sure you all know that this union produced a daughter, Liza Minnelli.  Margaret O’Brien, who is the little girl in this clip, won an Oscar for her work in this great movie.  The song is also special to me even more than it has been in years past.  It’s because this year I won’t be with my parents and brother for Christmas day, so the lyrics really hit home because I think this is only the second time in my life I have not been with them.

Someday soon, we all will be together,

If the fates allow,

Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow,

So have yourself a merry little Christmas now

So join me in getting into the spirit of Christmas and listen to this little carol.  Turn your speakers up and I assure you that when the song is over you will be a little more in the mood for this holiday.  I hope you like it as much as I do.  What is your favorite Christmas carol of all time?

Christmas Cookie #2 – Cranberry-Pistachio Biscotti (Or Hey You, Give Me Something To Dip Into My Coffee)

This is a batch of biscotti, which is technically not a cookie at all, but rather a biscuit.  However, it has always been part of my Christmas cookie baking timeline whenever the mood hits me to bake Christmas cookies.  Did you know that biscotti is the plural form of biscotto?   The word biscotto originates from the medieval Latin word biscoctus, meaning twice-cooked/baked.  So there you have the secret of making a batch of biscotti.  You make two long loaves of dough, bake them, let them cool a little and then slice them and bake them again.  The second bake actually hardens them up a little so that they last a little while longer than a normal cookie does.  Their hardness also makes it a favorite for dipping into coffee or tea.

That’s another reason I make them.  The holidays at our house see a lot of coffee that is drank on a daily basis.  I find it amazing that the people who are older and have the weaker kidneys are usually the ones that ask for the most coffee to drink and a little something to nibble on while drinking.  I have not done a scientific test on this factoid as of yet, but I know it would fall out as a solid statement if I did.  For each cup poured, many times there is the question “What do you have to dip into this coffee?”   Many times they ask this by calling my name and, more than a few times, my name is forgotten and a simple “Hey you!” starts out the request.

The biscotti recipe I always make is filled with cranberries and pistachios.  When you look down at the sides of the biscotti, there are little flecks of red (the cranberries) and green (the pistachio nuts).  What screams holiday more than bursts of red and green?  Here’s how we make the biscotti in our house:

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 3 large eggs, plus 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.  Place cranberries in a small bowl; add boiling water.  Let stand until plump, about 15 minutes.  Drain, and set aside.  Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add 3 eggs, one at a time, beating to incorporate after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl as needed.  Beat in vanilla.  Add flour mixture, and mix on low-speed until combined.  Mix in cranberries and pistachios.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface; divide in half.  Shape each piece into a 16-by-2-inch log, and transfer to prepared baking sheet, about 3 inches apart.  With the palm of your hand, flatten logs slightly.  Brush beaten egg over surface of the dough logs, and sprinkle generously with sugar.

Bake, rotating sheet halfway through, until logs are slightly firm to touch, about 25 minutes.  Transfer logs on parchment paper to a wire rack to cool slightly, about 20 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees.

Place logs on a cutting board.  Using a serrated knife, cut logs crosswise on the diagonal into 1/2-inch-thick slices.  Place a wire rack on a large rimmed baking sheet.  Arrange slices, cut sides down, on rack.  Bake until firm to touch, about 30 minutes.  Remove pan from oven; let biscotti cool completely on rack.  Biscotti should be kept in an airtight container.

You know you have turned out a great batch when all you hear during “coffee breaks” is the crunch, crunch, crunch of a group of folks gnawing on your cranberry-pistachio biscotti.  Thanks for reading about our second cookie made for the season.  There will be other posts about our Christmas baking through the big day on December 25.  We hope you will come back and “bake” with us.  We like the company!!  What is your favorite kind of Christmas cookie?

Christmas Cookie #1 – Coconut Pyramids (No Trip To Egypt Needed)

This is always the first cookie I make if and when I get into the Christmas cookie baking mode.  Coconut pyramids start the season off right.  Front up, I will tell you, it’s not every season I get into the mood to make Christmas cookies.  When I do, these coconut pyramid macaroons are first up at bat.  Why coconut macaroons you may be asking versus something more traditional for the holidays?  I’m not sure I know that answer other than to say they are quick to make and bake.  It’s probably a mental thing…you start off with something easy that always turns out right and then you get into a state where you start taking more challenges with more complicated recipes.  Know that the hardest part of this recipe is finding unsweetened coconut.  The only place I have found it is at my local health food store.  I’ve used the sweetened kind of coconut from the supermarket, but it just does not work.

I first baked these macaroons in 2001 when I ran across the recipe in a cookbook I had purchased.  I remember thinking that they would look like little snow drifts among the other cookies that I had baked that year.  Since everyone I gave cookies to that year was really in the mood for coconut (I guess), these pyramids received a lot of compliments and I’ve been making them ever since.  Coconut macaroons are light and chewy.  The little tip of chocolate at the end of the cookie is a nice little touch as well.  It’s the pyramid shape that I find the best part of the cookie.  It looks like it takes a long time to shape them, but it is pretty quick and painless.  You don’t have to make them your first Christmas cookie of the season, but do give them a shot this year.  It’s always nice to start a new tradition.  Why not do it with a coconut pyramid?

Ingredients:

  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 5 1/4 cups unsweetened shredded coconut (I find mine at a local health food store)
  • 7 large egg whites
  • 1 pinch salt
  •  2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 4 ounces semisweet chocolate
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vegetable shortening

Directions:

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment.  In a large bowl, mix together sugar, coconut, egg whites and salt.  Add butter and extracts and combine well.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Moisten palms of hands with cold water.  Roll 1 tablespoon of the coconut mixture in palms, squeezing tightly together 2 or 3 times to form a compact ball.  Place ball on a clean surface and, using a spatula, flatten one side at a time to form a pyramid shape.

Place pyramids on the prepared baking sheet about 1 inch apart and bake until edges are golden brown, about 15 minutes.  Leave on baking sheet on a wire rack to cool completely.

Place chocolate and shortening in a small heat-proof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water; stir occasionally until melted.  Dip top 1/2 inch of each pyramid in the melted chocolate.  Set each dipped macaroon on cooled baking sheet to allow chocolate to harden.

For some reason, my friends, family and I find it hard to eat just one of these cookies at any given sitting.  They go pretty fast, so be prepared.  I’ll be posting a few more Christmas cookie favorites over the next couple of weeks.  I’m in the mood to bake them this year, so why not share the recipes with the masses.  Enjoy!!  What is your favorite cookie that you make for the holidays?

Changing A Thanksgiving Cactus Into A Christmas Cactus – A Chilling Tale

This is my ten-year old Christmas cactus.  I really should say Thanksgiving cactus because for most of its years with me it has bloomed on Thanksgiving and never on Christmas.  This is my own fault and one I am trying to rectify this year.  It’s all in the chilling.  More on that in a second.

My Christmas cactus is from the genus Schlumbergera.  Schlumbergera  is a genus of cactus from the coastal mountains of south-eastern Brazil.  Plants grow on trees or rocks in habitats which are generally shady with high humidity.  Most species of Schlumbergera have stems which resemble leaf-like pads joined one to the other and flowers which appear from areoles at the joints and tips of the stems.  This genus contains the popular house plants known by a variety of names including Christmas Cactus, Thanksgiving Cactus, Crab Cactus and Holiday Cactus.

Over the last several years, I have put my Christmas Cactus in a shady area in my back yard usually in the beginning of June time frame.  Frequent watering and feeding is about all I do to the plant.  In ten years, I have re-potted it into a bigger planter only once.  For me, I like the Christmas Cactus because it needs little care for the most part.  Here is the plant at its regular summer home in my back yard.

In the first weeks of November, when the weather gets much cooler and frost is possible, I have brought the Christmas Cactus indoors and placed it on my kitchen table.  This transition from cool to warmer temperatures has always triggered the plant to begin to grow flowers that then bloom around the Thanksgiving holiday.  I always think, why if this plant blooms at Thanksgiving do we call it a Christmas Cactus?  That’s when I made a chilling decision.

The decision was to keep my Christmas Cactus outside until the beginning of December–one month later than usual.  I’m thinking that the plant’s transition from cool to warmer temperatures is the blooming trigger, so if I delay that transition for one month then I can truly have a “Christmas” Cactus.  So that’s what I did and my plant came indoors on Saturday.  As a precaution, I did cover the plant up on extremely cold nights or nights when a heavy frost was predicted.  Here is my plant when under the covers.

While the plant looks healthy and nothing appears to have perished due to the extra month of cold weather conditions, I think that the next few days of the plant being in the house will determine its fate.  It will either make it and begin to bloom in the next few weeks or it could also shrivel up and leave us because of the additional cold it has endured over the last month.  Keep your fingers crossed with me–let’s hope it transitions without a hitch.

I’ll post pictures when the Christmas Cactus blooms (or an RIP notification if things don’t work out).  There is nothing as pretty as a bloomed Christmas Cactus with its fuchsia pink flowers bursting from all sides of the plant.  If it blooms, I can then officially and proudly call my Cactus a Christmas Cactus and all will be right in the world.  Do you have a Christmas Cactus in your home?

Gobbling Up Our Turkey Shaped Cornbread

This is what happens when Martha Stewart inspires you way too much.  I try not to watch her show much anymore because I am the type of person that sees her do something and then I become obsessed with the idea and have to try it.  The problem is that I only complete about 50% of the things that I see her do.  Sure, I made this Thanksgiving cornbread in the special turkey pan she used, but still lingering are projects that I haven’t done, like making wax initials with a letterpress, wax sticks and a glue gun, glittering some pine cones for a crystal bowl I have on my dining room table and embossing my velvet Christmas stockings with a faux bois finish.  I’m serious, I actually have everything you need to do these projects.  They are in my hall closet.  However, the only thing I don’t have is time.  Oddly enough, when I do have the time, I just don’t have the energy.  I see Martha wincing now.

I turned on Martha’s show only once leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday.  It was the show where she made these cornbread turkeys.  I was obsessed and knew that it was happening again….the urge to make something beautiful that she made.  I ran to my computer and frantically searched for the right turkey mold pan.  I found it on Amazon.com.  I had it sent via overnight FedEx, which cost me about as much as the pan.  I received the pan late Wednesday evening and knew that it was perfect for the recipe to be made on Thanksgiving morning.  I was right on schedule.

The cornbread recipe to fill the mold was very simple to make.  The cornbread is actually a little more dense than the cornbread recipe I usually make, but still very delicious.  The addition of the jalapeno peppers and the cheddar cheese was a nice addition to the cornbread recipe.  They both gave the bread a little punch.  Here’s how I did it:

Ingredients:

  • Vegetable oil cooking spray
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 2 cups fresh (from about 3 ears) or thawed frozen corn kernels
  • 3 jalapeno chiles, minced (ribs and seeds removed for less heat, if desired)
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/4 cups yellow cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 1/4 cups buttermilk, well shaken
  • 1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat two 5-cup turkey-shaped pans with cooking spray.  Melt 1/2 cup butter and let cool.

Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium-high.  Cook corn, jalapeno, and shallots, stirring occasionally, until soft, 4 to 6 minutes.

Whisk together flour, cornmeal, salt, pepper, sugar, baking powder and baking soda in a large bowl.  Make a well in the center of the mixture and add eggs; whisk eggs into flour mixture.

Whisk together melted butter and buttermilk; stir into flour mixture, along with corn mixture and cheddar.  Mix until well combined.

Divide the batter evenly between prepared pans; smooth tops.  Transfer to oven and bake, rotating pans halfway through, until a cake tester inserted into the centers comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes.  Let cool slightly before inverting onto a wire rack.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Christmas is right around the corner.  I know Martha will do something that I will see or hear about and the free-for-all will begin all over again.  What will it be?  Hand felted Santa suits, carve your own reindeer antlers, a simple dinner for 100?  If you find out, please don’t let me know.  Well, maybe just a hint is fine.  Do you stalk have a favorite famous personality that you like and follow?