Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas Baking

The lack of posts has been due to all my time going to Christmas baking. Everything is finally finished, so now I can post about all the goodies that I made this year.

First up, Chocolate Almond Biscotti.

Chocolate Almond Biscotti (Adapted from

4 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa, preferably Dutch-processed
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder (I skipped this)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup almonds (toasted and coarsely chopped)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). To toast almonds: spread on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. and the skins begin to flake. Remove from oven. Cool and then chop coarsely. Set aside while you prepare the dough.

Reduce temperature of oven to 300 degree F (150 degrees C). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine the coarsely chopped chocolate and brown sugar and process until the chocolate is very fine; set aside.

Sift or whisk together the flour, cocoa, espresso powder, baking soda and salt into a bowl; set aside. In the bowl of your electric mixer combine the eggs and vanilla extract and beat to blend, about 30 seconds. On low speed mix in the chocolate/sugar and flour mixtures until a stiff dough forms, adding the almonds about half way through mixing.

On a floured surface divide the dough in half. Form each half into a log 12 inches (30 cm) long. Do this by rolling the dough back and forth into a cylinder shape with floured hands. Transfer the logs to the baking sheet, spacing them well apart (width-wise on the pan), and pat to even the shapes. Bake until almost firm to the touch, about 35 - 40 minutes (logs will spread during baking). Remove from the oven, place on wire rack, and let cool for 10 minutes.

Using a long spatula transfer the logs to a cutting board. Using a serrated knife cut the dough into slices 3/4 inch (2 cm) thick on the diagonal. Arrange the slices cut-side down on the baking sheet. Bake 15 minutes. Turn the slices over and bake until crisp and dry, about 15 minutes longer. Remove from oven and let cool on wire rack.

CONCLUSION: The biscotti turned out well, but I probably should have cooked them a bit longer to get them a bit more dry.

Next up (my personal favorite), Russian Tea Cakes.

Russian Tea Cakes (from my mom!)

1 cup butter (2 sticks)
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cups finely chopped pecans
Powdered sugar

Heat oven to 400 . Mix butter and powdered sugar and vanilla. Mix
flour , salt and nuts into dough until it holds together. Spape
dough into 1 inch balls and place on cookie sheet 1 inch apart. Bake
for 10 to 12 minutes until set and not brown. Roll in powdered sugar
when warm and then roll in powdered sugar again when cold.

CONCLUSION: The key to good Russian Tea cakes is to not overcook them. Do not let them brown or they will be too dry and fall apart. These turned out fabulous this year!

The third cookie I made was Spritz which s a tradition in my family since my mom is German. These have special meaning to me because my grandma (Oma) passed away 2 years ago on Christmas. I made these in her honor.

Spritz (ala Oma)

1/2 lb butter
1 1/2 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
2 eggs
1/4 cup finely chopped almonds. (food processor works great)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
little lemon zest
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon backing powder

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and egg yokes, vanilla and lemon
zest. Sift together flour, baking powder and almonds. Add to
creamed mixure. Roll into a ball on floured board and wrap in
plastic and place in fridge for an hour. Take out and cut chunks off
and put into cookie press and press into desired shapes. Place on
greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on
rack. Check cookies because sometimes they take more time like 20
minutes. This depends on how thick they are.

CONCLUSION: It can be difficult to get them through the cookie press if the dough is not at the right temperature. But on the flip side, you don't want the dough too warm or it wont stick to the sheet when you are pressing. So find a happy compromise.

The fourth cookie I made was Cinnamon Stars. Well.. they aren't star shaped because I realized the star cookie cutter I had wasn't right (long story). You can use any shape though.

Cinnamon Cookies (from my mom)

1/2 lb butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and beat
well. Shift together flour, salt, cinnamon and baking powder. Add
to creamed mixture. Chill about and hour for easy handling.
Roll on floured board to 1/8 inch thick and cut into desired shape.
Place on ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 10 to 12
minutes. Cool on wired rack.

CONCLUSION: The trick to getting really good Cinnamon cookies it to roll the dough out thin. If you do too thick they will taste very blah. I made mine a bit too thick this year.

The fifth and final cookie was the required Sugar Cookie!

Sugar Cookies (

3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon milk
Powdered sugar, for rolling out dough

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. Place butter and sugar in large bowl of electric stand mixer and beat until light in color. Add egg and milk and beat to combine. Put mixer on low speed, gradually add flour, and beat until mixture pulls away from the side of the bowl. Divide the dough in half, wrap in waxed paper, and refrigerate for 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Sprinkle surface where you will roll out dough with powdered sugar. Remove 1 wrapped pack of dough from refrigerator at a time, sprinkle rolling pin with powdered sugar, and roll out dough to 1/4-inch thick. Move the dough around and check underneath frequently to make sure it is not sticking. If dough has warmed during rolling, place cold cookie sheet on top for 10 minutes to chill. Cut into desired shape, place at least 1-inch apart on greased baking sheet, parchment, or silicone baking mat, and bake for 7 to 9 minutes or until cookies are just beginning to turn brown around the edges, rotating cookie sheet halfway through baking time. Let sit on baking sheet for 2 minutes after removal from oven and then move to complete cooling on wire rack. Serve as is or ice as desired. Store in airtight container for up to 1 week.

CONCLUSION: These cookies are very easy to make. I use colored sprinkles instead of icing.

Moving on to the candy making, I attempted two different candies this year. This was actually my first year making candy and I learned a lot.

Two Toned Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge (
1 cup peanut butter chips
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 7 ounce jar marshmallow cream
3/4 cup evaporated milk
1/4 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Line an 8" X 8" pan with foil. In 2 separate heat-safe medium bowls, place 1 cup peanut butter chips in one and chocolate chips in the other In a heavy 3 quart sauce pan, combine sugar, marshmallow creme, evaporated milk and butter. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture boils; boil and stir 5 minutes. Remove from heat and quickly stir in vanilla.

Working safely, but quickly, stir one-half of the hot mixture into peanut butter chips and the other half into the chocolate chips. Stir the peanut butter mixture until fully melted and quickly pour into prepared pan. Stir the chocolate chips mixture until fully melted and carefully spread over top of peanut butter layer.

Let sit at room temperature until completely cool. Cut into small squares.

CONCLUSION: The thing with fudge is you have to boil the mixture until it reaches a certain temperature or it will be too soft and don't go over that temperature or it will be too hard. My jar or marshmallow cream said 234 degrees I think. So I attempted to get it that hot. My second attempt worked well. Be sure to have a good candy thermometer! I need to get one for next year ;)

Lastly, we have Peppermint Bark.

Layered Peppermint Bark (
17 ounces high quality white chocolate, finely chopped
6 ounces peppermint candy canes, crushed
7 ounces high quality bittersweet chocolate
5 1/2 tablespoons whipping cream
3/4 teaspoon peppermint extract

Turn large baking sheet bottom side up. Cover securely with foil. Mark 12 x 9-inch rectangle on foil. Stir white chocolate in metal bowl set over saucepan of barely simmering water (do not allow bottom of bowl to touch
water) until chocolate is melted and smooth and candy thermometer registers 110°F. (chocolate will feel warm to touch). Remove from over water. Pour 2/3 cup melted white chocolate onto rectangle on foil. Using
icing spatula, spread chocolate to fill rectangle. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup crushed peppermints. Chill until set, about 15 minutes.

Stir bittersweet chocolate, cream and peppermint extract in heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat until just melted and smooth. Cool to barely lukewarm, about 5 minutes. Pour bittersweet chocolate mixture in long
lines over white chocolate rectangle. Using icing spatula, spread bittersweet chocolate in even layer. Refrigerate until very cold and firm, about 25 minutes.

Rewarm remaining white chocolate in bowl set over barely simmering water to 110°F. Working quickly, pour white chocolate over firm bittersweet chocolate layer; spread to cover. Immediately sprinkle with remaining
crushed peppermints. Chill just until firm, about 20 minutes. If you let the bark go much longer than this - it will be very hard to cut neatly.

Lift foil with bark onto work surface; trim edges. Cut bark crosswise into 2-inch-wide strips. Using metal spatula, slide bark off foil and onto work surface. Cut each strip crosswise into 3 sections and each section diagonally into 2 triangles. You can also just break into large chunks and enjoy!

CONCLUSION: I actually cheated and melted my chocolate in the micro. You have to be really careful when you do this so that you don't burn the chocolate. Go in 15 sec increments and go slowly. The bark turned out excellent and was very easy to make. Did you know this stuff sells for $35-$40 in the stores???

So that concludes the 2007 Christmas Baking Spree. I hope you enjoyed it as much as me. I am now exhausted!

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