Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas!


I want to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas! May you enjoy the season's best with your loved ones this holiday. 

Cheers, 
David

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Snoopy Christmas Cookies

Christmas time is here, happiness and cheer!  The moment that Christmas is near, I begin to want to listen to the Vince Guaraldi soundtrack of 'A Charlie Brown Christmas'.  Snoopy has always been close to my heart, because as a child, I could not get enough of this darling cartoon character.  I can clearly remember asking mom and dad for Snoopy plushes, clothing and toys while growing up.  It wasn't quite Christmas until my brothers and I would sit and watch 'A Charlie Brown Christmas'.

As much as I would like to go back to that wonderful time in my life, I can still recreate some of that magic from yesteryear for my niece and nephews, with some sugar cookies.  



Long ago I fell in love with a certain sugar cookie of Snoopy lying atop his doghouse, decorated for Christmas.  I kept that image on my computer and on my phone for quite some time.  It wasn't until I found a vintage cookie cutter online, that I set about planning some Snoopy Christmas cookies of my own.


The large Hallmark cookie cutter that you see here was made back in the 1970s (I was a 70s baby!).  It is big enough to make sugar cookies which can be decorated with a good amount of icing.  The only problem with the cutter itself is that it's rather shallow.  Because I like to roll out cookie dough to at least 1/4" in thickness, I ended up stamping the cookie dough with the cutter, and cutting the entire shape with a sharp paring knife.     


After baking and cooling the cookies, I outlined the stamped areas (Snoopy and the doghouse) with black royal icing.   


You can see just how large these cookies are.  Sitting next to those snowflakes and stockings, the 8"-9" Snoopy cookies are perfect for large cellophane bags.


Snoopy was flooded in white royal icing, including the ear, and the doghouse was flooded in red royal icing.  

With the same black royal icing and a #2 piping tip, I outlined once again, the doghouse, as well Snoopy.  In addition, Snoopy was given a plump black nose and black ears.  The entire cookie was left to dry completely.


Using some green royal icing, I attached two holly leaf candies and a holly berry to Snoopy's dog collar.  It made him look very festive!  A swag of black royal icing was piped on the roof and on the wall of the dog house to delineate a string of lights.  Dots of black royal icing were piped here an there on the "string of lights", and M&M candies were carefully placed on them.   

 Done!

This is me when I was five years old.  That green Snoopy t-shirt was a favorite of mine!  Some things just don't change. 


  
Needless to say, these cookies were a lot of fun to make.  A part of me was nostalgic for those great childhood memories, but another part of me was extremely happy that I could share the joy of one of America's most beloved cartoon characters, with my niece and nephews.

I think the little ones are going to love these Snoopy Christmas cookies.

Merry Christmas and Happy Baking!  

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Snowflake Sugar Cookie Ornaments

It's a very charming and special thing to have homemade ornaments strung throughout one's Christmas tree.  Whether they're crafted by the kids at school or are made by a very creative member of the family, handmade Christmas ornaments become keepsakes that eventually turn into family heirlooms.  A lot of us have such mementos in our homes.


Homemade Christmas ornaments, however, can be of the edible variety. These types of ornaments are really meant to be enjoyed for a present-day Christmas season.  They're great if one is hosting a holiday party, as each guest can pluck whatever he or she wants.  A set of homemade candies, chocolates, and cookies, can make any Christmas tree extra special for the season.  It's a nice way to have something that's both sweet and decorative for a holiday party.

For weeks I had been thinking about the types of royal icing cookies that I would make for a small, tabletop feather tree of mine.  I knew the shapes would be snowflakes, but I wasn't set on the color palette until I remembered having some highlighters that hadn't been used.

The cookies, needless to say, turned out exactly how I conceptualized them, and I couldn't be happier.

Take a look!  


The first order of business was to bake the sugar cookies.  Using my tried-and-true sugar cookie recipe, I cut out and baked dozens of snowflakes using an Ateco cookie cutter.  I made sure to cut out a hole at the top of each snowflake before I baked them, and again, after I took them out of the oven.  This was done with a bamboo skewer.  Two larger snowflakes were cut, baked and iced for my tree topper.  Not knowing how I would secure the tree topper, I also cut a hole at the center just in case.

Each cookie was outlined and flooded in white royal icing.  After allowing the icing to dry completely, I set about "painting" each cookie with a pearl shade dust and a highlighter dust.

The green pearl shade dust was thinned out with unflavored vodka, and was applied with a small paint brush.  As much as I liked the color, I didn't like the end results of the finish.  I found this dust to clump and not dissolve evenly upon drying.  There really wasn't much I could do after the fact, so I left them as is.


Using a 24 karat gold 'highlighter' from Sunflower Sugar Art, I used the same technique of applying it with unflavored vodka and a paint brush.


A small amount of the highlighter was placed in a dish, and unflavored vodka was added to it, drop by drop.  I immediately noticed how smoothly it dissolved upon contact with the alcohol.


Using the small paint brush, I evenly distributed the highlighter to mix it well.  It was literally liquid gold!


Using long, even strokes, each cookie was quickly painted with the gold highlighter.  I found that I had to work fast because the gold dried quickly upon contact.  After one coat of the highlighter, I checked for any uneven spots and gave them a second coating.

Beautiful!

As soon as every snowflake cookie was completely dry, I used stiff royal icing (in white), and with a #2 plain piping tip, I added the spokes of each snowflake as shown.  Dots were applied throughout the cookie as I saw fit.


Because I wanted to avoid any mishaps, I baked two tree toppers.  Although I had cut out a hole on each topper, so that I could string some twine though it, I changed my mind at the last minute.  After thinking about how I was going to set the tree topper on the pinnacle of the tree, I remembered my pastry couplers!  They were the perfect shape for anchoring the cookie(s).

Stiff royal icing was applied to the backs, and I carefully wedged a coupler in the center.


Now I was ready for some decorating!


I chose a very sturdy earthenware crock to hold my ostrich feather tree.  These crocks were originally made here in Pennsylvania in the nineteenth century to store sauerkraut.  I thought it would be the perfect vessel for my tree.


Every cookie was securely tied with this waxed linen thread from Ireland.  The green just happened to match the green snowflakes.  


It took a while for me to fiddle with the branches and the ornaments, but I was able to piece together a Christmas tree that was both festive and harmonious.  





It doesn't take much to create a small cookie tree this holiday.  With a little bit of creativity, a few supplies and tools, your very own Christmas tree can be the center of a delicious holiday dessert table.  Remember to make your cookie ornaments extra special and undoubtedly tasty.

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Christmas Fruitcake

'Tis the season to partake of fruitcake.  Fruitcakes have been around for millennia, and they have developed throughout the centuries based on what was available and what was allowed by religion.  Countries around the world are known for their own distinct versions of this holiday sweet.  Panforte in Italy, Birnebrot in Switzerland, Stollen in Germany, Le Cake in France, Bollo de Higo in Spain, Christmas Cake in Canada, Black Cakes from the Caribbean, and our very own American Fruitcake which is rich in nuts, candied fruits, brandy or other liqueurs.


My very first memories of fruitcake were from the time I was around five years old.  My father's cousin, Rachel, and her son would bring us homemade fruitcake several weeks before Christmas, and although us kids never ate any, mom and dad loved having it.  I can still see my cousin Peter walking up our driveway holding that small loaf of baked-from-scratch fruitcake.  The thing that seemed odd to me, though, was how our cousin would only give us half of a large loaf.  I suppose cousin Rachel thought it was more economical and best to hand out cake halves to the family.  Who knows?


During winter I crave a slice of fruitcake, but as much as I vow to make my own every Christmas, I never seem to make the time for it.  It's my fault, really.  

To get the craving out of my system this year, I decided to try a fruitcake that several of my friends recommended.  The fruitcake from Wendy Kromer Confections is really good!  Made with butter,  sugar, eggs and flour, each cake is packed with scrumptious raisins, walnuts, pecans, cranberries, glace├ęd cherries, figs, molasses, allspice and bourbon.  I have to say that the addition of dried figs seem to make these extra tasty.

In my opinion, rich fruitcakes don't require any embellishments.  They are best served as is and in small slices.  A cup of tea is always nice though with a helping of fruitcake, but so is coffee.  

Wendy Kromer's Fruitcakes

If you're ambitious enough to bake your own fruitcakes every winter and perhaps would like to try a new recipe handed down through the generations, I highly recommend that you bake my friend Andrew's.  His recipe for Christmas Cake has been in the family for almost one hundred years.  It gets baked every single winter by the Ritchies, who have made it a tradition to involve the entire family when mixing the batter.  Each family member adds an ingredient to the bowl, giving it a good stir, and then makes a special Christmas wish before the cakes are baked in the oven.  It's a time honored practice for the family.


Here is the original, handwritten copy of that delicious recipe.  As you can see, it has been used quite a bit by members of Andrew's family.


This dark, rich cake is studded with fruits and nuts.  Click here to get the recipe.




I hope that many of you have a bit of fruitcake this Christmas season.  As much as one can joke about these desserts, they really are delicious if made with great care and quality ingredients.  You may end up making your own fruitcakes this year or being the recipient of one, so remember to give them a special place on your holiday dessert table.  Enjoy!