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Christmas Baking: Now with New Year’s!

Christmas Baking: Now with New Year’s!

Many years ago now, I somehow got bamboozled into baking cookies for Christmas. Don’t even ask me the exact details of how it happened. I only know that even back then I was intrigued by baking and had procured a cookbook all about cookies on sale at a local Barnes and Noble. I guess when Christmas rolled around, I figured it’d be the perfect time to prove my baking chops so I came up with a selection of cookie recipes from my book. I do remember enough to advise any aspiring baker that selecting and baking several new recipes at a very busy time of year and when you’re not used to baking is prooooobably not the brightest of ideas. Any old who, everything must have turned out mostly ok because ever since then, I’ve been tasked with the now-traditional baking of Christmas cookies for my family (which in itself is pretty funny considering that cookies are in no way a traditional dessert in Poland, let alone for Christmas. We usually eat cakes and tortes and strudels and such things).

So, naturally, this year was not to be any different, cookie-wise. I was fully expected to deliver on the cookie front, never mind the bouncing, full-of-energy baby boy I now have ruling my house. Luckily for me, I still enjoy baking and super-luckily for me, I thrive when working under pressure.

Pressure, you may ask? What’s so pressurous (um, it’s a word now!) about baking some good ol’ cookies? Well, due to cleaning, present-purchasing and -creating, general baby-ing, and the fact that I couldn’t very well start these cookies two weeks early otherwise you’d probably need a hammer to even break off a piece small enough to eat, I was only able to start baking on Friday afternoon (yes, Friday, the day before Christmas Eve. Now keep in mind that in Polish culture, our biggest celebration is ON Christmas Eve, so everything had to be done and ready to go no later than 5 PM that day.). So what does that mean, friends? I’ll tell you exactly what that means. It means I needed to make six types (not batches, mind you, types) of cookies in 24 hours. Which I did. Because I deliver on my cookie promises. Boo-yeah.

Due to the craziness that occurs around Christmastime in both mine and James’s families, I unfortunately only have one little, teeny, measly picture to share with you. But it’s pretty! Check it out:

Eh, eh? No, I'm not an engineer, and no, I'd never do anything symmetrically. Psshh.

So today’s quick run-down plus accompanying photo of each cookie is brought to you by the magic of zoom.


#1: Raspberry sandwich cookies
– James’s and my mom’s favorite.
– Almond shortbread-y cookies with raspberry jam inside and slivered almonds on top.
– Kind of a pain to make since you have to roll out the dough, cookie-cutter it, bake the cookies, brush them with jam, and assemble. Worth it, though, I think.


#2: Pecan Puffs, a.k.a. Mexican Wedding Cookies
– Just about everyone else’s favorite.
– Delicious little nutty spheres.
– Made them with freshly-ground pecans this year (as opposed to pre-purchased pecanmeal, which is what I usually use), since I’m going for the whole intense-baking-for-the-win thing. Totally made a difference, though, so that change is a keeper.

(I just realized I don’t have a picture of these since they were in a separate pan. Shame on me! I guess I’ll just have to fire my photographer.)
#3: Lemon Bars
– Shortbread base with a tangy lemon topping.
– Because every Christmas needs a little citrus?
– Much easier to make, as most bar cookies tend to be. Just bake the shortbread base a bit, throw on the lemony topping, and bake some more. Sprinkle with powdered sugar when cooled.


#4: Viennese Mocha Almond Cookies
– Coffee-chocolate-flavored, slightly crumbly cookies dipped in chocolate and topped with a whole almond.
– Used to make these back in the day, then stopped – now I remember why. They’re supposed to be piped so they’re all pretty, but it turns out this is humanly IMPOSSIBLE. It’s not just me. I had James in the kitchen helping me pipe and we both turned blue in the face trying to pipe these cookies out but that dough just would not budge. Turns out rolling them into balls and patting them flat (and marking them with a… n almond) is about 74.8 times easier and faster and results in no less a delicious cookie.
– No clue why they’re called Viennese.


#5: Hazelnut Palmiers
– Named after elephant’s ears, these little cookies are very simple roll-ups of ground-up hazelnuts, cinnamon, and sugar inside puff pastry.
– Nope, didn’t make the puff pastry myself. I’m not that intense. Yet.
– I remembered buying cookies like this when I was little and wanted to throw in an easy but festive cookie into the mix.


#6: Chocolate Orange Biscotti
– SO excited about this one. I have wanted to make biscotti since the very first year I had that cookie cookbook and just now finally got around to it.
– This was the only recipe that came out of my new monstrous desserts cookbook and, as usual, it delivered.
– Biscotti means “twice-baked” and that’s literally what you do – make a loaf, bake it, slice it, bake the slices. Boom. Done. Easy, yet impressive dessert.

And there you have it! My Christmas baking in a nutshell. It was an intense time (um, yeah. Mama? The reason we were late for Wigilia? Definitely waiting for the biscotti to get out of the oven.), but it was fun and everything got done so all’s well that ends well.

And, as a bonus, check out the flourless chocolate cake I made for New Year’s Eve:

Again, I wanted to make something that was easy yet impressive and decadent. Does six eggs, a bunch of butter, and a pound of chocolate qualify for decadent? I’m going to go with yes. But we served it with whipped cream and raspberries! That’s gotta count for some of your daily intake of calcium and fruit. So when you think about it, this cake was actually healthy for you. Yes. Yes it was.

So that’s it folks. I should be pretty much caught up now, except for a quick celebratory post I’ll put up tomorrow. Yep, I’m making you wait again. So y’all come back now, y’hear?

(Sorry about that last line. James and I are sitting here exchanging travel-dealfinder-site ditties, such as Expedia and Kayak, and that made me think of yokel-ish talk and other ditties such as the Yahoo! one from back in the day and then I got very yokel-y while ending my post. It’s always a party around here.)

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When life gives you desserts, part dos

Ok, let’s just put it this way. Holidays tend to seriously, seriously mess with my schedule. I can honestly offer no justification for my long absence (one about which I have been reminded by several people now… Sorry!) except that around here, we tend to go absolutely nuts around the holidays. Between the cooking and the cleaning and the BAKING and oh yeah, that baby kid, I just found all my free time being quickly gobbled up. My new pastime of making Maciek’s food from scratch, as well as a project that was supposed to be done by Christmas Day but that’s still in the works (can’t say more here – the wrong eyes might see it!), and the far-away rumblings of a potential job (more on this later!) may, just may, have contributed to my recent absence as well. Unfortunately some of these things may keep me scarcer than usual for a couple more days yet, but hopefully not for long.

Anywho, as a peace offering, please accept my last post which was still in the pipeline (from many, many weeks ago), a promise that Christmas baking shall be thoroughly covered soon, and some cute pictures of Maciek. Because, hello, babies make everything better. Enjoy!

During his photo shoot for his Grandpas' Christmas gifts.

Enjoying his new toy from his Aunt Becky and Uncle Michael.

With his cousin Kacio. Gaaaaah, I'm dying of cuteness!!!

Last time, we talked about repurposing your leftover dessert into yet more dessert. It seems pretty straightforward to take the bits and pieces you’re left with and combine them into something interesting and new, no?

But what if you have two perfectly good, simple, standalone, classic dessert favorites? You could eat them separately I suppose.

Or you could SMASH THEM TOGETHER.

A-like so:

I give you, ladies and gentlemen, Brooksters. No, I’ve never heard of them before, yes, they make a complicated dessert out of two very simple ones, but you know what WHO CARES because they were totally worth it.

I was tipped to the idea of these by my lovely brother who found a specialized Brookster pan at a kitchen store and immediately thought of yours truly (thanks, Matt!). He had good timing, too, because I was sort of stumped as to what I should try out this weekend. Silly me, not thinking to just throw two desserts in a pan together. So I pulled out my trusty desserts cookbook to find some good, simple recipes.

The Brookster starts with some basic brownie batter and some basic chocolate chip cookie batter. Actually I suppose you could use whichever brownie and chocolate chip cookie batter you like, the instructions just say to have some of each. Speaking of which, I’ve made CC cookies from scratch plenty of times before, but I am ashamed to say that for the looooooongest time, I was convinced brownies were one of those things you just HAD to make out of a box. I mean, for me there was just no way you could recreate the ooey, gooey richness of a brownie without trusting the masterminds at Ghirardelli and Betty Crocker. Don’t ask me why. I don’t make any of my desserts out of boxes, but for some reason brownies-out-of-a-box just held their own special magic with me. Come to think of it, this is actually the first time I’ve made brownies from scratch. Huh. Well, bye-bye box! Honestly, these Brooksters ended up being most valuable to me in showing me how delicious a good, homemade brownie can be.

Once you’ve got your recipes lined up, Brooksters are fairly straightforward, just sort of time-consuming. You can pretty much only make one batch at a time, since you spoon brownie batter into the wells of the Brookster pan (which, if you’re interested in making this, looks like a shallower version of a jumbo muffin pan. And trust me, these things would be just as delicious even if they weren’t as huge, so use regular muffin pans, too) and let that chill for an hour, then make chocolate chip cookie dough disks, press them on top, bake the whole thing, and let the Brooksters cool in the pan. So you see, your pan ends up being tied up for quite a while, but it’s a fun dessert for when you only need to make a few of them/you have several Brookster/muffin pans.

So try these next time you want a classic, no-frills dessert that’s still a little different. You’ll be glad you did!

Adieu for now, friends, until next time when we talk about the annual Christmas baking that goes on around here. I’ll leave you with this teaser for now: 6 types of cookies in 24 hours. And I mean baking them, not eating them (although that happened too, shh). Aw yeah. Ciao!

Zut alors!

There comes a point in every baker’s life where you just have to cover up a mistake you made. This has, of course, never happened to me before. Ahem.

I was all kinds of excited about this weekend’s dessert because I felt like I was so clever in choosing it. You see, my beloved husband asked me to buy him a large amount of apples for our recent Halloween get-together so we could bob for apples. So I happily grabbed a five-pound bag and brought it home the day before the party. Where it sat for the next week, unopened.

Sssoooo, I needed to find a use for five pounds of red delicious apples. Lo and behold, my monster of a cookbook did not disappoint, and I found a recipe for Tarte Tatin, which is apparently a fairly common French pastry. I already had all the ingredients on hand, and I was going to get to try some new techniques.

This pastry is unique in that you cook the apples in a simple caramel sauce, first on the stovetop, and then in the same pan, covered with a delicious crust, in the oven. When the tart is finished, the whole thing gets flipped upside down and you have beautiful caramel-y apples atop a gorgeous crust.

That is, if you don’t burn your caramel and apples first.

*Sigh*

Long story short, due to rushing around and trying to do too many things at once, I let my beautiful caramel apples cook just a touch too long on the stovetop. James came into the kitchen and wondered why there was steam coming out of our hot water kettle until he realized it was actually smoke coming from our cast iron skillet on the stove. Some quick thinking and salvaging of unruined apples later, we had a makeshift, semi-Tarte-Tatin baking in a pie dish in the oven, at least covered with that delicious crust.

And you know what? It actually wasn’t too bad. We took the tart to a family gathering where they all commented on its deliciousness. I either have a really awesome family who loves me and wanted to make me feel better or the tart was actually edible. Probably both. I’d say the biggest problem ended up being the tart’s diminished size, so it’s a good thing we’d thought ahead and brought some homemade oatmeal cookies since it was supposed to be a fairly sizable gathering.

All in all, everything turned out well. You might even consider my adventure totally appropriate, considering the origins of the Tarte Tatin.

And now, the incriminating evidence:

Prior to flipping.

Action shot!

All flipped over and ready to go.

Apples ready for their close-up.

Served with fresh cinnamon whipped cream.

The always-dependable oatmeal cookie.

A very similar Tarte Tatin recipe can be found here (just add in some cinnamon to the crust!), and as for the surprisingly amazing whipped cream, just add two tablespoons sugar and a quarter teaspoon cinnamon to a cup of whipping cream before you start beating it. I would imagine it would be a wonderful addition to holiday baking!

And, because we can hardly let a dessert post go by without some painfully adorable pictures of my own sweetums, prepare to be pained:

Mama, I disapprove of your mistakes.

Sometimes your desserts taste funny.

But it's ok because I'm flying!

Until next time!

Good ol’ CCCs

This past week has been, ahem, different at the Goertz household. That subject matter will be saved for a different post, but I’m just trying to come up with an excuse as to why I haven’t written in a while. Did it work?

Anywho, this past weekend’s dessert has to be one of the most well-known and well-loved desserts in this here country. Bring it to a potluck and all of it will disappear. Serve it at parties for both adults and kids and everyone will be happy. Feel free to eat as many as you want yourself, but be sure to keep a big glass of milk nearby (unless you’re my husband, who doesn’t like milk at all. What?!).

But as quintessential as this dessert is, I’m often dissatisfied with the specimens I find. They’re either too hard, too crisp, or too crumbly. Being a soft-cookie person myself, it drives me crazy when I pick up a hard

Chocolate Chip Cookie.

That’s right friends, deliciously soft chocolate chip cookies were the dessert du jour, if you will, this past weekend. Although this blog and its accompanying baking/dessert-making is meant to be a kind of culinary-education endeavor, sometimes you just have to fall back on an old favorite. Besides, this past weekend was my sister-in-law’s birthday, and I wanted to make her a dessert that she would like (I think she’s not always a fan of my fancy fancies!) so I looked to an old standby and made chocolate chip cookies (hope you liked ’em, Olivia!).

The recipe I use yields soft, chewy, delicious chocolate chip cookies. The secret ingredient is – are you ready for it? – a box of instant vanilla pudding! I know, sounds weird. When I first saw it in the ingredients list, I didn’t know if I was going to have to make the pudding before putting it in the batter or whether the cookies would be all powdery and vanilla-y or what, but I decided to go for it. Turns out it makes all the difference!

Here’s pictorial proof of last weekend’s dessert:

Only two and a half?!

Mmm, cookies.

Don't forget the glass of milk!

Droolworthy.

And here, by popular request from last weekend’s post, is the recipe. Just don’t skip the pudding!

2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 (3.4 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

– Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Sift together the flour and baking soda, set aside.
– In a large bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar. Beat in the instant pudding mix until blended. Stir in the eggs and vanilla. Blend in the flour mixture. Finally, stir in the chocolate chips and nuts. Drop cookies by rounded spoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.
– Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in the preheated oven. Edges should be golden brown.
Makes 3 dozen.

Recipe was taken from allrecipes and altered to include the suggestions of the highest-rated review. Also note that my recipe is scaled to half of what is shown on the allrecipes site.

Since I’m including the recipes now, if you end up making any of these desserts, please let me know! I’d love to know how they turned out. 🙂