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The holiday season is hectic enough without fretting over what to buy for whom and how much to spend on gifts for coworkers, friends, neighbors and teachers.
Homemade cookies can make a lasting impression.
According to a recent survey, 40 percent of consumers plan to spend less this year on holiday gifts. Holiday baking is a great way to tighten your budget without shrinking your gift list.
Here are a few tricks and techniques to ensure sweet success this baking season.
– Be perfectly sweet – Too much sugar makes baked goods spread too much and too dark. Not enough means pale results and cookies that won’t spread enough. To measure granulated sugar, dip the cup into the sugar container and level the top. For brown sugar, pack the sugar and level. For powdered sugar, spoon into the measuring cup and level.
– Check your temperatures – Ovens should preheat at least 15 minutes before baking for best results. Room temperature eggs, when beaten, give baked goods the best volume. Let eggs stand at room temperature for 15-30 minutes or soak in warm water while preparing other ingredients.
– Don’t take shortcuts – When it comes to holiday baking, don’t cut too many corners. High-quality ingredients mean high quality cookies. Use large-sized eggs. If a recipe calls for unsalted butter, don’t substitute with margarine.
– Be considerate – The holidays are tough for diabetics or those with other health issues since most cookies are high-sugar and high-calorie. Look for recipes suited to their particular dietary needs.
– Chill cookie dough if using cookie cutters. It will ensure better detail on the cuts.
– Line baking sheets with parchment paper so cookies don’t stick and cleanup will be simple. This works especially well when making multiple batches if you only have a couple of baking sheets.
– Cookies bake best in the lower third of the oven, so reposition oven racks when needed. Baking cookies longer produces crispier cookies. Taking them out sooner means chewier cookies.
– Leave 2 inches between cookies to allow for spreading while baking.
– Brownies and bar cookies should be beaten just enough to blend the ingredients well. Too much mixing will cause the cookies to rise quickly and then fall and crack when cooling.
– Butter should be softened but slightly firm when added to cookie batter. Butter that’s too hard or too runny affects cookie texture.
Here are three cookie recipes you may want to add to your Christmas cookie repertoire.
Diabetic-friendly Chocolate Almond Meringues satisfy the need for something sweet and chocolate without a lot of calories and carbs.
Sweet and sparkly Eggnog Snowflakes can be a cool holiday treat. Sandwiching a creamy peppermint candy between warm brownie cookies creates an irresistible holiday taste.
Chocolate Almond Meringues
1/2 cup sugar, divided
1/4 cup ground almonds
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 egg whites
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (or 1/4 teaspoon almond extract)
– Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Spray a foil-lined baking sheet with non-stick spray. In a small bowl, mix 2 tablespoon of sugar with almonds, cocoa and cornstarch. In a stainless or glass bowl, beat egg whites with an electric mixer until frothy. Add cream of tartar and beat on high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add flavoring and remaining sugar. Beat until stiff and shiny. Gently fold cocoa mixture into meringue.
– Drop cookie mixture from a teaspoon onto the baking sheet to form small mounds. Leave about two inches between each mound (the batter can also be piped through a large pastry bag fitted with a large star tube).
– Bake for 40 minutes. Cookies should be dry and slightly browned. Cool completely. Store in a tightly covered container.
– Recipe from Diabetic Gourmet Magazine
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons whipping cream or milk
1 teaspoon rum extract
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons butter, softened
2 teaspoons light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon rum extract
3 to 5 tablespoons water
Decorate with sugars, dragées or frosting
– Combine 1 cup butter and sugar in large bowl; beat at medium speed until creamy. Add egg, whipping cream, 1 teaspoon rum extract and vanilla; continue beating until well mixed. Reduce speed to low; add all remaining cookie ingredients. Beat until well mixed.
– Divide dough in half. Shape each half into a ball; flatten slightly. Wrap each in plastic food wrap; refrigerate until firm (2 to 3 hours).
– Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll out dough on lightly floured surface, one-half at a time (keeping remaining dough refrigerated), to quarter-inch thickness. Cut shapes with 2 1/4-inch snowflake cookie cutters. Place 1 inch apart onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Remove to wire cooling rack. Cool completely.
– Combine powdered sugar, 2 teaspoons butter, corn syrup and 1/4 teaspoon rum extract in small bowl. Beat at medium speed, adding enough water for desired glazing consistency.
– Place wire cooling rack with cookies over waxed paper. Brush glaze over cookies; decorate as desired. Let stand until set. Makes 6 dozen cookies.
– Recipe from Land O’Lakes, Inc.
Peppermint Fudge Cookie Sandwiches
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 candy canes or 8 to 10 peppermint hard candies, crushed
1/4 cup white or semi-sweet chocolate morsels
10-12 mini foil-wrapped peppermint patty candies, unwrapped
– Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with a 10-inch sheet of parchment paper.
– Combine chocolate morsels and butter in a bowl. Microwave on high (40 to 60 seconds) or until mostly melted, stirring after each 20-second interval using a scraper. Add sugar and egg to batter bowl; mix until well blended. Add flour; mix just until flour is incorporated. Using a scooper, drop 20 level scoops of batter, 1 inch apart, onto baking sheet. Bake 9 to 11 minutes or until edges are set (do not overbake).
– Meanwhile, place candy canes into resealable plastic bag; crush using flat side of a meat tenderizer and set aside. Place white chocolate morsels into a microwave safe bowl, and cook uncovered, on high (30 to 60 seconds) or until melted, stirring once. Set aside.
– Remove sheet pan from oven to a cooling rack. Immediately turn over half of the cookies using a spatula; top with peppermint patties and remaining cookies to form 10 sandwiches. Drizzle chocolate over cookies and immediately sprinkle with crushed candies. Transfer to serving platter.
– Line pan with another sheet of parchment paper and scoop remaining batter onto parchment. Bake 9 to 10 minutes or until edges are set. Assemble sandwiches as directed above.
– Recipe from The Pampered Chef