Strawberry Lemon Muffins

I know I haven’t published in a while. It just seems when Summer arrives I find so many things to do outside of the kitchen that I become a little lax in my posting goals. But even though I haven’t posted for some time I think this recipe is well worth the wait.

If you’ve never baked with strawberries before, you’re in for quite a treat. Strawberries have a wonderful light tartness to them when they’re baked that beautifully offsets the sugar in a recipe. Combine that with a hint of lemon zest and juice and you have an incredible balance of flavors.

These muffins require very little effort to make and are decadently delicious. You must try them. So let’s talk about strawberry lemon muffins…

Lesson Learned 1 – Don’t cut the strawberries in too large of chunks: Strawberries give off a lot of moisture when they’re baked so you don’t want large chunks of strawberries in your muffins. That will make the muffins soggy. I cut the strawberries in half and then in half again. After that I cut the remaining pieces in thirds. The picture below gives you somewhat of a perspective on size. Just to the right of center and near the bottom is a strawberry cut in half from top to bottom. You can see the other pieces are smaller by comparison. You want to cut the strawberries into these smaller sized pieces.

It is also very important to make sure the strawberries are evenly distributed in the batter at the very end. Otherwise you might have soggy pockets in your muffins. Take the time to fold them into the batter completely before filling your muffin cups.

Lesson Learned 2 – The batter will be thicker than you think: I was surprised at how thick the batter was in this recipe. But the combination of a thick batter and strawberries creates the perfect balance for a moist and flavorful muffin. All the magic happens in the oven, so don’t worry about how thick the batter is.

Lesson Learned 3 – Fill the muffin cups almost to the top: Many times, especially when making cupcakes, recipes will say to fill the cups about 3/4 full. With these muffins fill the cups almost to the top. The muffins will rise in the oven but not dramatically so don’t worry about spillover.

Lesson Learned 4 – Tips for glazing and storing the muffins: Make sure the muffins are completely cooled before glazing them. I used a “home-made” pastry piping bag to glaze my muffins. I simply put the glaze in a sealable sandwich bag, twist the bag to get all the glaze in one corner and snip the corner squeezing the glaze over the muffins. The result is very professional looking and the process could not be any easier. Below are pictures of my “home-made” pastry bag and the muffins after they’ve been glazed.

These muffins can be stored in an air tight container for up to 5 days. They also freeze nicely. Try them and let me know what you think!

Strawberry Lemon Muffins

  • Servings: 12-15 Muffins
  • Time: 35 Minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

2 cups flour

3/4 cups sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1 large egg, room temperature

2 tsp. vanilla

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 cup plain Greek yogurt

Zest and juice of one lemon

1 1/4 cup fresh strawberries, diced

GLAZE:

1 cup powdered sugar

Zest and juice of 1 medium sized lemon (2-3 Tbs. of juice)

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin pan with muffin cups and set aside.

Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, soda and salt. Set aside.

Whisk together the egg, vanilla, vegetable oil, yogurt, lemon juice and zest. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Gently fold in the strawberries.

Fill the muffin cups almost to the top. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for about 5 minutes then transfer the muffins to a cooling rack. Cool completely.

Mix the glaze ingredients together and drizzle over the cooled muffins. Store muffins in an airtight container or freeze them.

 

Sour Cream Apple Bites…

I had a few apples lying around and I wanted to use them. This recipe is a great way to use “older” apples.  The bites come out so moist and tender you’ll be hard pressed to eat just one. You make this recipe in a 9 x 13  pan and that is way too much for me and my husband so I brought them to work the next day. I couldn’t believe how many compliments I got on them although my husband maintains you can put cardboard in a break room where you work and people will devour it. Part of me knows that’s true, but when people go out of their way to say how delicious it was you know you have something special.

Yes, something special, that’s how I would categorize this. And a great way to use apples that are not all that fresh anymore but still very good. So let’s talk sour cream apple bites…

Lesson Learned 1 – This is a pretty straightforward crumble-type recipe: The crust you make for the  base is the same crumble you put on top. This recipe gives you an ample amount for a nice crust and a substantive crumble. Use half of the mixture as the crust and the other half as the topping. Make sure you use all of it, don’t waste a bit.

Lesson Learned 2 – The food processor is your friend on this one: Make sure you use the food processor to shred the apples. If you’ve never used a food processor it’s worth your while to spend a little time familiarizing yourself with one and learning how to use it. It can be a great time saver. There are a plethora of videos on YouTube that can show you all you need to know about a food processor. Here is a handy little video about how to shred food using a food processor:

Remember when you shred the apples for this recipe, all you need do is cut out the core and seeds. You don’t need to peel them. I used gala apples for this recipe and you can see the little red fleck in the  shredded apples in the pictures below. You won’t even notice the peel when eating the bites and the red from the apples gives a nice little pop of color to the sour cream filling.

What I like about this recipe is not only is it insanely delicious but it also is simple to make. I guarantee you that when you make these bites they will disappear quickly. Enjoy this one!

Sour Cream Apple Bites...

  • Servings: Approximately 30 Bites
  • Time: 1 Hour 15 Minutes Including Prep
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

Crust and Topping:

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup brown sugar, packed

2 cups quick cooking oats

1 cup flour

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 tsp. baking soda

1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. allspice

Filling:

1 cup sour cream

3/4 cup sugar

2 Tbs. flour

1 large egg

2 medium apples shredded

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make the crust/topping first. Mix together butter and sugar until light and creamy. Add all of the remaining ingredients and mix well. Take half of the mixture and press it into the bottom of an ungreased 9 x 13 inch baking pan. Bake for 10 minutes or until the crust is a light golden brown.

While the crust is baking shred the apples in a food processor by removing the core and seeds but leaving on the skin. Combine all of the filling mixture ingredients together except the shredded apples until well blended. Fold in the shredded apples.

Pour the filling mixture over the crust (the crust can be still hot). Crumble the remaining crust/topping mixture over the filling and pat down lightly.

Bake for 40 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the center is set. Cool completely before cutting into bites. Store refrigerated.

Sour Cream and Apple Mixture

Ready To Go Into The Oven

Out Of The Oven

Sour Cream Apple Bites

 

Raspberry Shortbread Thumbprint Cookies…

If you have been following me for a while you know every holiday season I bake cookies, and I mean lots of cookies. I can do anywhere from 6-9 different kinds. My one promise to myself is that every year I will try a new cookie recipe. Well here’s this year’s pick. Now I know I’ve made thumbprint cookies in the past, but I couldn’t remember why I stopped making them. Well, I remember now. The thumbprint cookie is an excellent subject for this type of blog since there is one big lesson learned that they just don’t seem to tell you in recipes. So, if you want to be successful making thumbprint cookies, this is the blog for you.

So let’s not waste any time – let’s talk thumbprint cookies…

Lesson Learned 1 – NEVER FILL THE THUMB IMPRINT ALL THE WAY WITH JAM!!! – I had completely forgotten about this and had a rude awakening when I put my first batch of cookies in the oven. Although you may be really tempted, never completely fill the thumbprint indentation with jam. During the baking process the jam will bubble up and if you fill the imprint completely you will wind up with jam spilling all over the sides of the cookies and onto the baking sheet. I’m not sure why they don’t make a point of telling you this in recipes, but they don’t.

Fill the imprint halfway or slightly less. Then when the cookies come out of the oven fill in the imprint to make the cookie look full and lush. That way you will have great looking cookies and not have to worry about cleaning baked-on jam off the cookie sheet. If you do get some baked-on jam, clean the cookie sheet right away. The longer you wait the harder it will get until you feel like you are trying to remove rocks.

Roll dough into 1 inch balls

Lesson Learned 2 – I’m not sure why they call them thumbprints when you really should use your index finger: I found if I use my thumb to make the imprint in the cookie one side becomes lower than the other. But if I take my index finger and stick it into the middle of the cookie I get a nice even indentation. You can also use the butt end of a wooden spoon to achieve the same results. Just another trick that will help with potential “jam spill over” and will make the cookies look uniform.

Index finger indentations

Lesson Learned 3 – Let the cookies cool before you drizzle on the glaze: As with any type of glaze, if you want it to be noticeable on your cookie and not melt in, you need to make sure the cookies have cooled before drizzling it on top. Also the thicker the glaze the more visible it will be. My glaze was somewhat thinner and it was not quite as noticeable but still did the trick.

These are very tasty cookies and they were a great addition to my cadre of traditional holiday cookies. Try them and see what you think. But make sure you heed my lessons learned…

RASPBERRY THUMBPRINT SHORTBREAD COOKIES...

  • Servings: 3 1/2 Dozen
  • Time: 90 Minutes Including Prep
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS

1 cup butter, room temperatureRaspberry Shortbread Cookie

2/3 cup sugar

1/2 tsp. almond extract

2 cups flour

Seedless Raspberry Jam

Glaze:

1/2 tsp. orange zest

2 -3 Tbs. orange juice

1 cup powdered sugar

(You can also use the type of glaze listed below – I like the mixture of the orange and the raspberry)

1 cup powdered sugar

2-3 Tbs. of water

1/2 tsp. almond extract

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350. In a large mixing bowl cream together butter and sugar. Beat in the almond extract. Gradually add the flour and mix well until the dough forms a ball. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Roll dough into 1 inch balls and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Using your index finger make an indentation in the center of the ball. Fill the indentation only part way with jam (filling in half the hole or slightly less).

Bake for 14 – 18 minutes or until the edges of the cookies are slightly browned. Remove to wire racks to cool. Add additional jam into cookies if needed or desired. Let the cookies cool.

FOR THE GLAZE: Mix all the ingredients together. Drizzle the glaze over the cooled cookies. Refrigerate or freeze cookies that will not be consumed right away.

Right out of the oven

Cooling on the rack

Raspberry Shortbread Cookie

Raspberry Thumbprint Shortbread Cookies

White Chocolate Strawberry Cookies

This time I wanted to do something a little different with my leftover strawberries. Normally I make some sort of loaf but I was intrigued by the thought of making strawberry cookies, something I’d never done before. I have to say it was a learning experience, and a very good one I might add.

I’ve always found strawberries to be tricky in the baking process. They add additional moisture when baking and that can play havoc on your end result especially if you live in high altitude like I do. But I’ve had enough disasters along the way that I say with great confidence that I think I’ve finally got baking with strawberries down pat. So lets talk white chocolate strawberry cookies…

cut strawberriesLesson Learned 1 – Follow these basic tips for baking with strawberries: Strawberries give off moisture when they bake and that can make the consistency of the batter too runny and result in a baking disaster. I’ve learned a few simple tips along the way that will help you be successful when baking with strawberries. First, prep the strawberries the very first thing. Cut them into smaller rather than larger pieces. Sprinkle the strawberries with a tiny, tiny bit of lemon juice, place them in a colander over a bowl and allow them to shed some excess moisture. Normally you add strawberries at the end of a recipe. Prepping them at the beginning gives them plenty of time to shed some of that excess moisture.

Before you add them to a batter sprinkle them with a little flour and make sure all of the berries are lightly coated. That way the flour will continue to absorb moisture and the berries will not all clump together in the baking process. If you are making a strawberry bread, sprinkling them with a little flour before adding them to the batter will prevent all the strawberries from sinking to the bottom of the bread. Try these few tips and you should be successful baking with strawberries.

Lesson Learned 2 – This is a very moist batter: The consistency of this batter is very moist. Once you make it I recommend you put it in the refrigerator for 15-30 minutes. That way it will be a little easier to work with. Even after you refrigerate it the batter will still be moist as is evidenced by the picture below. Don’t worry, the cookies will not run. They will hold shape and turn out to be a delightful cookie!

Cookie dough before baking

Lesson Learned 3 – The consistency of this cookie is more like a cake than a cookie: Initially I wasn’t sure how these cookies would turn out based on the moistness of the batter. To my surprise and delight they were like small heavenly bites of cake. The cookies are soft and delightful, very different from the consistency of say a chocolate chip cookie. And the white chocolate chips divinely compliment the flavor of the cookie. I brought these to work and they disappeared within one hour.

White Chocolate Strawberry CookiesLesson Learned 4 – For extra decadence try drizzling some melted white chocolate over the top of the cookies: This time when I made these cookies I didn’t think to do this. The amount of white chocolate you use making this recipe does not use up the entire bag. Why not melt the remainder of the chocolate and drizzle it over the cookies after they cool? Next time I most certainly will do this. I can’t believe I didn’t think about doing this when I first made them. Oh well, live and learn…

This recipe is a delightful change to traditional cookies that are often hard and crunchy. The combination of strawberries and white chocolate is to die for. I also like the fact that this recipe only makes about two dozen cookies so it is a manageable amount for family and friends. And as always I recommend you try this recipe and tell me what you think…

WHITE CHOCOLATE STRAWBERRY COOKIES...

  • Servings: 2 Dozen
  • Time: 45-50
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

White Chocolate Strawberry Cookies1 1/4 cups flour, sifted

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/8 tsp. table salt

1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

4 oz. cream cheese, room temperature

3/4 cup sugar

1 large egg, room temperature

1 tsp. vanilla

3/4 chopped strawberries, drained

2 tsp. lemon juice (1/2 – 1 small lemon juiced)

1 – 2 Tbs. flour, for dusting the strawberries

5 oz. white chocolate chips, chopped (I recommend using a mini food processor to chop them)

White chocolate chips, melted –  to drizzle over the cooled cookies (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line your baking sheet(s) with parchment paper.  Chop the strawberries, place them in a colander and sprinkle them with the lemon juice. Set them aside and allow them to drain.

Whisk together the dry ingredients – the flour, salt and baking powder. Set aside.

Beat the butter and sugar until creamy. Add the cream cheese and beat until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla. Mix well. Gradually add the flour mixture and stir until combined. Do not over mix.

Stir in the chopped chocolate. Sprinkle the strawberries with flour and toss them so they all are coated with a thin layer of the flour. Carefully fold the strawberries into the batter.

Place the batter in the refrigerator for about 15-30 minutes.

Once slightly chilled, make the cookies by dropping a heaping tablespoon of the batter on the baking sheet leaving approximately an inch between each cookie. (I recommend no more than a dozen cookies per baking sheet). Bake for 15 minutes or until the edges become golden brown.

Let the cookies cool for a couple of minutes on the baking sheet before transferring them to a wire rack to cool. Once the cookies are cooled, put the remaining white chocolate chips in a microwaveable dish and microwave  on high for about 10 – 15 seconds. Stir the chips until melted. (Microwave at 5 second intervals after this if the chips need to be heated through a little more. Be careful not to overheat the chocolate). Place the chocolate in a gallon size bag. Cut the end of the bag (make sure the cut is small) and use it as a pastry bag to drizzle the melted chocolate over the cookies.

White Chocolate Strawberry Cookies

White chocolate Strawberry Cookies

 

 

Apple Cinnamon Chip Blondies…

After being unsuccessful in locating cinnamon chips for the iced cinnamon chip cookies I usually make over the holidays, I wound up ordering a bunch of them online. Needless to say it is late March and because I ordered way too many of them I still have a couple of packages left. So my conundrum was what to do with the remaining cinnamon chips. And then I thought about this recipe.

I haven’t made blondies in a long time. As a matter of fact, I never really thought about what blondies actually are until just recently.  In my mind, they are the equivalent to a lighter color of brownies. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but I like to think of them that way.

So why make blondies now? Well, March weather here in Colorado can be turbulent  – not with rain but with snow. March and April are the snowiest months of the year here, so you can go from a feeling of Spring to a feeling of dead Winter in a heartbeat. And winter time is baking time in my mind. There’s nothing like the smell of something baking in the oven on a cold Winter’s day. It warms the heart. And the smell of apples and cinnamon baking, well that’s heaven! So the decision to make these on a snowy day was a no brainer.

So let’s talk apple cinnamon chip blondies…

Parchment Paper TipLesson Learned 1 – Make sure you use parchment paper and spray it with cooking spray before you put the batter into the pan: This batter is very dense and sticky. If you don’t line your baking pan with parchment paper and spray it with cooking spray you will never be able to remove the blondies from the pan in one piece. You only need to spray the paper LIGHTLY as there is a lot of butter in the recipe and you don’t want the blondies to turn out too greasy.

Parchment Paper Lined PanBAKING TIP:  Line the pan with the parchment paper at the very beginning before doing anything else. Once you tear off a large enough piece press the paper down in the pan and place some cans of anything on top of it to hold it down (as shown in the picture above). When it comes time to put the batter in the pan simply remove the cans and then spray the paper lightly with cooking spray. At that point, as you can see in the picture, the parchment paper will be much more cooperative when you’re putting the batter in the pan.

Lesson Learned 2 – The blondies are much easier to cut when they’re cool: Using the parchment paper as handles I lifted the blondies out of the pan after they had been on the cooling rack for 15 minutes. I left them to cool for a couple of hours and refrigerated them overnight. The next day they were much easier to cut. They smell so good you may be tempted to try to cut them sooner but it definitely is much easier once they have sufficiently cooled.

Lesson Learned 3 – You could also add some nuts to this recipe: If I were to add nuts, I would add chopped pecans, about 1/4 cup should do the trick. The next time I make these I’m going to try adding nuts.

What can I say other than these are very easy to make and super delicious (like eating an apple pie brownie). Try this and I know it will become one of your favorites!

APPLE CINNAMON CHIP BLONDIES…

  • Servings: 16-24
  • Time: 1 Hour Including Prep
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

Apple Cinnamon Chip Blondies1/2 cup butter (1 stick) + 2 Tbs.

1 cup light brown sugar + 2 Tbs.

1 large egg, room temperature and lightly beaten

1 Tbs. vanilla extract

1 cup flour

1/4 tsp. salt

1 medium apple peeled and cubed into 1/4 inch pieces

1/4 cup chopped pecans, optional

1/2 cup cinnamon chips

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350. Line an 8 inch square pan with parchment paper (see baking tip above) and set aside.

In a small skillet melt 2 Tbs. of butter and 2 Tbs. of brown sugar together. Add the apple pieces and cook until the pieces start to soften, approximately 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Melt the stick of butter in the microwave (approximately 30 seconds). In a large bowl whisk together the butter and remaining brown sugar. Add the egg and vanilla and whisk to combine. In a separate bowl sift together the flour and salt. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and stir to combine. Do not over mix. Fold in the cinnamon chips and apples (and nuts if desired) until just combined.

Lightly spray the parchment paper with cooking spray. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Smooth the batter making sure it is evenly distributed throughout the pan.

Bake for 35-40 minutes (mine took 40 minutes). The blondies are done when the edges start to pull away from the side of the pan. Let cool for at least 2 hours before slicing (preferably after cooling for 2 hours cool in the refrigerator overnight before slicing). Slice and enjoy!

Blondie Batter

Blondie Batter

Batter In Parchment Paper Lined Pan

Batter In Parchment Paper Lined Pan

Apple Cinnamon Chip Blondies

Apple Cinnamon Chip Blondies

Apple Cinnamon Chip Blondies

Iced Cranberry Orange Walnut Cookies…

It’s cranberry season, my favorite time of year. I love cooking and baking with cranberries. Their tartness adds zip to both sweet and savory recipes. I especially like them in cookies. I think they balance out the sweetness in cookie recipes and add a festive flavor.

Now need I mention that it is also getting very close to holiday baking season, and every year I try out at least one new cookie recipe. I saw a version of this recipe in an Allrecipes magazine and tweaked it not only from an ingredient perspective but also to adapt it to high altitude baking.

High altitude baking can be tricky and unless you purchase a cookbook specifically written for high altitude baking you are most likely using ingredient amounts designed for sea level. The higher the altitude the lower the air pressure which makes it difficult for the baker. Baking depends on specific interactions of various ingredients such as flour, leavening, fats and liquid. Those interactions change with a change in air pressure. And to make matters worse, baking at 3,500 feet is different from baking at 5,000 feet and as you continue to rise in elevation the trickier it gets. I live at a 5,000 feet and have done a lot of research into how to adapt recipes for that elevation and still have some baking failures. But the more you do it, the better you get at it. The additions to this recipe are specifically designed for baking these cookies at 5,000 feet. I played around with the ingredients and I nailed it! But since many of you are probably at sea level I will use sea level amounts as the base and note what needs to be changed for high altitude.

IMG_8408Lesson Learned 1 – Use the juice from fresh oranges: Fresh ingredients are always the best. This recipe requires both orange zest and juice. Don’t take the easy way out and use bottled orange juice. Plus take a look at the amount of sugar in your orange juice. It’s crazy the amount of sugar there is a most juices. It can be anywhere from 10 to 30 grams. That’s a lot of sugar. Use fresh juice. Any small way that you can control the amount of sugar in anything you make is a good thing.

Cookie batter and scoopLesson Learned 2 – Use a cookie scoop to ensure even amounts of cookie dough: When I was growing up most cookie recipes would say drop the dough in rounded teaspoons or tablespoons onto the cookie sheet. That wasn’t very precise and you want to make sure you can, to the best of your ability, make each cookie the same size. That way every cookie will bake evenly versus having some baked and others raw or burnt.

These days you can purchase what looks like a small ice cream scoop to make the cookie dough virtually the same size on your baking sheet. Working with them can be a little tricky so here is a helpful hint: spray the inside of the scoop with baking spray before scooping any dough. That way the dough will release more easily. I found that even with using baking spray the scoop gets pretty gummed up after scooping out a dozen or so cookies. Once you’ve filled your baking sheet, put your dirty scoop into a glass of warm water. When you’re ready to scoop out more dough, take a paper towel, wipe the inside clean and spray it again. This may sound like a lot of work but the results are evenly sized, evenly baked cookies.

Cooking dough on the baking sheet

Lesson Learned 3 – How to glaze cookies: I’m not a professional baker nor do I have some of the tools that professional bakers have namely pastry bags and decorator nozzles. When I glaze cookies I put the glaze in a plastic bag, work it into one of the bottom corners, twist close the top of the bag and snip the corner where the glaze settled. Voila, a home made pastry bag! Here are a couple of helpful hints for glazing cookies and working with a homemade pastry bag:

  1. Open the plastic bag and put it in a tall drinking glass, spreading the bag open as widely as you can inside the glass. Now you have an easy way of pouring the glaze into the bag and both of your hands are free to do this.
  2. Snip only a very small portion off of one of the corners of the bottom of the bag. That way you’ll have a manageable stream of glaze when decorating your cookies.
  3. Put a sheet of wax paper under a cooling rack and put your cookies on the cooling rack before glazing. That way clean up will be a breeze.
  4. Just free flow the glaze over your cookies. You can do each cookie individually or do one long strip back and forth over a row of cookies. Have fun with it.
  5. Let the glaze set before storing them. Touch the glaze and if feels firm then you’re ready to store them.

These are fabulous cookies and perfect for a holiday get-together. You really should try these and let me know what you think. Enjoy!

Iced Cranberry Orange Walnut Cookies

  • Servings: 4 dozen cookies
  • Time: 90 Minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

Cookie Dough:Iced Cranberry Orange Walnut Cookies

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar (minus 1 Tbs. for high altitude)

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar (minus 3/4 Tbs. for high altitude)

1 egg, room temperature

1 tsp. orange zest (1 large orange will give you the zest and juice you need)

2 Tbs. orange juice (plus 2 Tbs. for high altitude)

2 1/2 cups flour (plus 2 Tbs. for high altitude)

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 1/2 cups chopped fresh cranberries

3/4 cup chopped walnuts

Glaze:

1/2 tsp. orange zest

3-4 Tbs. orange juice

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375. Cream together butter and sugars. Beat in egg until thoroughly combined. Add zest and juice and combine.

In a separate bowl sift together flour, baking soda and salt. Add in batches to the butter/sugar mixture and mix until combined. Stir in the cranberries and walnuts by hand.

Drop dough in rounded tablespoons (the cookie scoop will do this perfectly for you) two inches apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 12 – 14 minutes (mine baked in 13 minutes – sea level baking on average takes less time). Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool.

For the glaze: combine all ingredients together. Drizzle glaze onto the cookies. Let the cookies stand until the glaze has set and then store.

Iced Cranberry Orange Walnut Cookies

IMG_8456

Iced Cranberry Orange Walnut Cookies

Oatmeal Cream Cheese Butterscotch Bars…

I have a goal every holiday season of making at least one new cookie recipe. This year I was adventurous and I made two new varieties. One new cookie was peppermint twist kisses and the other, which quickly has become my husband’s favorite, was oatmeal cream cheese butterscotch bars. The past few years I’ve ventured away from some of the more traditional holiday faire and tried more unique types of cookies. Last year, my iced cinnamon chip cookies became a big hit replacing the more traditional chocolate chip cookie in look and flavor. This year my peppermint twist kisses not only gave the look of the holiday but also provided the flavor combination of peppermint and chocolate. Yum!

This recipe is a great melding of oatmeal, cream cheese and butterscotch. It’s not all that difficult to make and it tastes divine. I found I had to buy two bags of butterscotch chips as my husband attacked the first bag when it was in the refrigerator leaving me barely enough to make the bars. Beware those elves that steal the chips before the cookies are made!

For about a year I have been chronicling recipes I’ve made and giving them my rating and lessons learned. As I look back on these recipes there’s hardly a one that has a rating below an A minus. So I’ve decided not to do recipe ratings anymore as I promise to bring you only A and A plus recipes. I will definitely continue my lessons learned, as I know how appreciative I am to learn tips and tricks ahead of time that will make me more successful in the kitchen, especially when trying a recipe for the first time.

Line the pan with foil and let it overlap the sides to create handles...

Line the pan with foil and let it overlap the sides to create handles…

Lesson Learned 1 – Preparation is key to this recipe: Prepping the pan appropriately is key to the success of this recipe. You need to line a 9 x 13 inch pan with a couple of pieces of foil. Make sure the foil overlaps on the long sides of the pan to serve as handles when you lift out the bars. Grease the foil lightly, and wait until the pan is completely cool before lifting the bars out and cutting them (more on that below). If you do that, you will have absolutely no problem removing them from the pan.

Lesson Learned 2 – You don’t need a stand mixer to make these cookies: For those of you that don’t have a stand mixer, never fear – you don’t need one to make this recipe. The bottom of the bars and the crumb topping are one in the same mixture and are made in a food processor. IMG_2403The filling can be made with a hand mixer. Personally I preferred making the crumb mixture in the food processor. I think the pulsing action of the food processor blends the butter with the sugars more completely creating a perfect crumble. The texture should resemble what you see in the picture to the right. I would not recommend trying to make the crumble by hand. I also have to admit it felt weird not using my stand mixer to make the bars, but it was a delightful departure from the usual way of making cookies.

Lesson Learned 3 – Let the pan cool and chill the bars before attempting to cut them: This is critical. The ingredients need to completely set before cutting and the only way to do that is to let them cool. Once the pan was slightly cool I covered it loosely with foil and put it out in the garage. The winter temperatures here in Colorado make it easy to use the garage as a cooling station. I don’t recommend this for warmer climates. If you live in one, let the pan cool on a cooling rack in the kitchen and then put it in the refrigerator once the pan is cool to the touch. Leave the pan in the refrigerator until the bars have completely cooled.

Although this recipe may look difficult it is really quite easy, and definitely worth it. This recipe has become my husband’s new holiday favorite. I think you will enjoy it too!

Oatmeal Cream Cheese Butterscotch Bars…

  • Servings: 36
  • Time: 55 Minutes Prep & Bake
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

2 sticks room temperature butter cut into small pieces

2 cups flour

1 1/2 cups quick cooking oats

3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 bag butterscotch chips (11 ounces)

I package cream cheese, softened (8 ounces)

1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 ounces)

1 lemon zested and juiced

1 tsp. vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 x 13 pan with foil making sure the foil overlaps the side of the pan to create handles for easy removal. Grease the foil lightly.

Combine flour, oats, and brown sugar in a food processor. Pulse to combine. Add the butter, cinnamon and butterscotch chips. Pulse until the mixture clumps when pressed between your fingers. Press half of the mixture in an even layer into the bottom of the prepared pan.  Bake until slightly golden and set approximately 12 – 15 minutes.

With a hand mixer beat until smooth the cream cheese, condensed milk, lemon juice and zest and vanilla. Spread the mixture evenly over the cooled oatmeal mixture. Sprinkle the remaining oatmeal mixture on the top. Bake until top is golden, approximately 40 minutes.

Cool and chill before cutting. Use the foil handles to remove the bars from the pan and place on a cutting board. Cut into squares.

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Peppermint Twist Kisses…

For many, many years the holidays have meant cookie baking time for me. And over the years I’ve made a wide range of cookies. About five years ago I established a goal of making at least one new cookie recipe each holiday season. The result has been a definite shift in the tried and true cookies I make each year. And it’s nice to see an evolution in my cookie baking.

This blog is dedicated to one of the two new cookie recipes I made this year. Being that I work part time at Crate and Barrel I’ve been really challenged in making my goal of one new post a week during the holiday season. The other recipe (a recipe for oatmeal butterscotch cream cheese bars – also an excellent one) I will try to get posted within the next few days, especially for my readers who may not have started their baking yet.

This blog will also serve as a one stop shop for some of my other favorite cooke recipes. I’ll provide a picture, name and the link to each below since I’ve blogged about them already. Look through them and see what might work for you. I guarantee you, they are all delicious.

I made the peppermint twist cookies this year because I decided not to make spritz cookies and I wanted something on my cookie plates that had the colors of the holiday season. This is a delightful cookie and the combination of peppermint and chocolate truly is indicative of the holidays. It’s easy to make, colorful and delicious. Need I say more.

Recipe Rating – A: This is a flavorful, colorful cookie that will brighten up your holiday cookie platter. Just make sure your family doesn’t raid the bag of kisses before you bake the cookies like my husband did. They are a necessary part of making this cookie special.

Lesson Learned 1 – Rolling out the cookies: This is definitely the most intricate part of making the cookies. Keep in mind that you will be combining to logs of dough into one so make sure the logs are thin enough. Once you have divided the dough and colored half of it with red food coloring, you need to chill the dough for at least an hour. Then divide each half of the dough into 4 equal parts and roll one of each color into a log 9 inch log. I have a silicone baking mat that was great to use in this process as it had measurements in inches on the top of the mat that helped guide me through rolling out the logs into the appropriate length.

Roll each color of dough into 9 inch logs...

Roll each color of dough into 9 inch logs…

Once you do that, you need to loosely braid them together and roll them into a single log. This will elongate the log about an inch or two. Remember you want the circumference of the combined log to be as thick as each individual log.

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Once you’ve rolled both pieces into a single log cut them into pieces approximately 1 1/8 inches thick. (Once I cut the first piece I used it as a guide for cutting the others)

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Take each individual piece and roll it into a ball and place on a cookie sheet.

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You will need to flatten each ball slightly with the bottom of a glass before putting them into the oven. That is definitely the hardest part of making these cookies.

Lesson Learned 2- Make sure you unwrap the chocolate kisses ahead of time. You only have a short window of opportunity to place the kisses on the cookies once they come out of the oven. Make sure you have them unwrapped so that you can get them on quickly. Then DON’T TOUCH THEM. The warm cookie will cause the kisses to get very soft and they need to reset to retain their shape.  Once the cookies have cooled slightly I put them on a baking sheet and stick them in the freezer for a few minutes to get the chocolate to set a little quicker.

These cookies are fun to make, colorful, flavorful and will brighten up any holiday cookie tray. Enjoy!

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Peppermint Twist Kisses…

  • Servings: 3 Dozen Cookies
  • Time: 10-12 Minutes Baking
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature

2/3 cup sugar

2 egg yolks

1 tsp. peppermint extract

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups flour

1/2 tsp. salt

Red food coloring

36 chocolate kisses (1 bag will give you more than enough)

DIRECTIONS:

In a large mixing bowl cream butter and sugar. Add the egg yolks one at a time and blend. Add the extracts and mix well. Combine the flour and salt. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Mix well but do not over mix. Divide the dough in half. Tint one half of the dough with the red food coloring. Wrap both halves individually in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Divide each half of each dough into four equal portions. Shape each portion into a 9 inch log. Place one red log next to one white log and gently twist them together to create on swirled log. (see picture above). Gently roll both together to create one log. Cut each log into pieces approx. 1 1/8 inches thick. Roll each segment into a ball and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten each ball slightly with the bottom of a glass.

Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned. Press chocolate kisses into the center of each warm cookie. Remove to a wire rack and let cool. (once slightly cooled you can put the cookie on a flat sheet into the freezer for a few minutes to help the kisses set faster).

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QUICK GUIDE TO OTHER HOLIDAY COOKIES: (just click on the title underneath the picture)

 

 

 

Salted Caramel Brownies…

Doesn’t salted caramel seem to be all the rage right now? Maybe it’s just me but I’m seeing this flavor trend just about everywhere these days – salted caramel pretzels, salted caramel ice cream, salted caramel peanuts – it just seems to be “the thing.” So as I looked for my next new weekly recipe, it didn’t surprise me that I found one for salted caramel brownies.

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Unsweetened chocolate and butter mixture…

I found a version of this recipe on a website called mybakingaddiction.com. I thought this would be great to make for my husband especially because he’s been in the doldrums since Haagen Dazs discontinued their test market salted caramel truffle ice cream. I thought this might make a good substitute for him, and I have to admit the recipe intrigued me.

I normally don’t do this but I made this particular recipe twice before blogging about it. I will explain why in my lessons learned.

Recipe Rating: B+ There are many reasons why I like this recipe and one very important reason why I think it still may need something. It’s easy to make, not overly sweet (which I like a lot) but the salted caramel taste was not as pronounced as I thought it should be. I’m not quite sure what can be done to enhance the salted caramel flavor.  That being said, it’s still a great brownie and you should try it and see if you agree with me.

LESSON LEARNED 1 – Use the ingredients called for in the recipe: I know you’re probably saying, c’mon Jan everybody knows that! And that’s true. But when I first made the recipe I thought to myself, “I’ve got a bunch of walnuts in the freezer – I’ll just use those instead of the Planter’s Salted Caramel Peanuts called for in the recipe”. Then as I’m eating the brownies I’m wondering why I’m not getting more of a salted caramel flavor. Well, last time I checked walnuts did not have a natural salted caramel flavor all on their own. So you see, I told you I can be challenged in the kitchen. I even had to laugh at myself over this one.

Chocolate squares and peanuts layered in the center of the batter

Chocolate squares and peanuts layered in the center of the batter

And that’s why I made the recipe twice. I had to see how different the flavor of the brownies would be with the salted caramel peanuts. Lo and behold, to my surprise they really didn’t make a huge difference. But I knew I had to make it with the ingredients called for in the recipe before I could talk about the flavor of the brownies. I expected there to be a much stronger caramel flavor using both the Ghirardelli Chocolate and Sea Salt Caramel Squares and the salted caramel peanuts. Using the Planter’s Peanuts changed the flavor somewhat, but not to the degree that I expected. So if you don’t have them or can’t find them you can use any kind of nuts you have on hand. It won’t make that much difference. Personally I had a very difficult time finding them in our local grocery stores but I eventually prevailed. The peanuts had a very strong salted caramel flavor right out of the can. That flavor seemed to get lost a little in the chocolate during the baking process but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

LESSON LEARNED 2 – Unsweetened chocolate is really unsweetened: The recipe calls for melting in the microwave 4 ounces of unsweetened chocolate with 3/4 cup of unsalted butter. I’ve done this process before when making my triple chocolate brownie cookies but for some reason the chocolate looks so rich and good (as you can see by the picture near the beginning of the blog) that I’m always tempted to dip my finger in the chocolate and lick it. DON’T. Although it looks divine it does not taste good at all – so resist the temptation. You’ll be glad you did.

LESSON LEARNED 3 – Room temperature eggs: The reason cooks tell you to use room temperature eggs is they blend more thoroughly into a batter than cold eggs. The challenge is to remember to set them out so that they can become room temperature. Never fear – I have a neat little trick for you. Take whatever number of eggs called for in your recipe and put them in a container of warm water and let them sit for 5 minutes. Voila! you have room temperature eggs. No need to make the water overly hot, just warm feeling to the back of your hand will do. This is a great trick for people like me who never remember to take the eggs out ahead of time.

Brownie batter

Brownie batter

LESSON LEARNED 4 – Cooking with eggs: Eggs can be tricky. They can be bad without you knowing it until you crack them open. That’s why I always crack my eggs individually in a small dish before adding them to a batter. That way if I have a bad egg I’m not ruining a perfectly good batter. It’s only one additional dish and can save you a lot of time if you happen to have a bad egg.

Also, I break my eggs up with a fork before adding them to a batter, especially if it is a batter that you mix by hand (which this recipe is). That way I’m not counting on a silicone whisk to break up the eggs. The job has already been done.

Lesson Learned 5 – Do not over mix: This is easier said than done but it is very important for achieving a cake or cookie that is not tough. With this recipe it’s relatively simple. The last thing you do is mix in the flour until just combined. Not seeing the white of the flour is very easy to eyeball in this recipe. Just make sure you stop as soon as the flour has been completely incorporated.

Lesson Learned 6 – Working with Ghirardelli filled chocolate squares: Be careful when handling the chocolate squares. If you break them the caramel will ooze out. The caramel center is not solid like the chocolate. You want the caramel to ooze out in the baking process and not all over your hands. If you break them you will wind up with a sticky mess.

Lesson Learned 7 – Adding coffee to the batter: I can’t take credit for this trick. I learned it from watching Ina Garten on the Food Network. If you want to enhance the flavor of chocolate in any recipe, just add some fresh brewed coffee. You don’t have to add a lot. For this recipe I added 2 teaspoons of coffee. If you try the same chocolate recipe both with and without the coffee you will be amazed at the difference. The original recipe did not call for adding coffee, but my version of the recipe does.

Lesson Learned 8 – Storing the brownies in the refrigerator: My husband came up with this trick. He wanted to give our garbage men a little treat during their route so he cut a couple of brownies and put them in the refrigerator until he saw the garbage truck. There was only one man in the truck this week so he had an extra cold brownie. He decided to eat it himself and he told me he liked how it tasted cold. I tried it and had to agree. The brownie had almost an ice-cream like consistency when it was cold. But room temperature or cold, either way this is a good brownie recipe. If you want to be even more decadent, you can frost the brownies and sprinkle the top with some additional nuts. That would definitely be a killer brownie!

I recommend that you try this recipe and tell me what you think. It is a very good basic brownie recipe and more and more as I become less willing to make things from a box, I look to these types of recipes to give me the ability to make baked goods with fresh ingredients. I’d be very interested to hear your impressions on this one. Enjoy!

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Salted Caramel Brownies…

  • Servings: 12
  • Time: 50 Minutes Including Prep
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate coarsely chopped

3/4 cup unsalted butter cubed

1 cup sugar

3 large room temperature eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 teaspoons brewed coffee

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

9 Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt Caramel Squares (1 package)

1/2 cup Planters Salted Caramel Peanuts, chopped

1 TBS. powdered sugar

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8×8 baking dish with foil and spray lightly with nonstick spray. Microwave unsweetened chocolate and butter for 2-3 minutes or until butter is melted at 50% power (I stopped at each minute interval and stirred the mixture). Stir until chocolate is fully melted. Whisk in eggs, vanilla, coffee and salt. Gradually add flour until just combined.

Spread half the batter into the prepared pan. Add a layer of the chocolate squares and sprinkle peanuts over the entire layer. Cover with the remaining batter.

Bake for 30-35 minutes – do not over bake. (It took me 35 minutes)

Cool for 15 minutes then remove brownies in the foil and set on a cooling rack. Let cool completely, remove the foil and dust with powdered sugar. Cut into squares and serve. (You could also serve these brownies with a dollop of caramel flavored whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice-cream).

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Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies…

Cranberry oatmeal cookies have been a staple in our family for the last five years. I was looking for something completely different from what I traditionally made for the holidays and found this recipe in the 2008 Taste of Home Best Loved Cookies and Bars holiday magazine. At the time the magazine cost me $9.99 and I thought that was pretty pricey. But I can now without hesitation say that it was the best money I ever spent. That magazine is my go to place for holiday cookie ideas and it has a wealth of cookie recipes, many that have become our holiday favorites and many still needing to be tried. The magazine is a compilation of recipes from different people around the country and the editors did an excellent job of choosing fabulous recipes.

Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies

Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies

Initially I made these cookies just because I liked the way the picture looked in the magazine. I was not prepared for how delicious they would be. A co-worker recently described their flavor as being close to a Starbuck’s cranberry orange scone with a bonus of white chocolate chips. I think she hit it on the head. Not only are they easy to make but they look colorful on a dessert tray. Here is my rating and lessons learned making these cookies.

Rating: A+++++ – once again this cookie is one of our all time holiday favorites. How could I rate it any less?

Lesson Learned 1: Use golden raisins in this recipe. The recipe does not specify what type of raisins to use but I found the dark raisins create a less colorful and vibrant looking cookie, and after all you eat first with your eyes, remember? Make sure the raisins are fresh. Don’t use the box that’s been sitting in your pantry for six months. As with any ingredient, the fresher the better but especially with raisins.

Lesson Learned 2: Put in a healthy tablespoonful of grated orange peel. I used the grated peel of two large oranges. Don’t skimp on this. The flavor of the orange peel so compliments the tartness of the cranberry and the sweetness of the white chocolate. Use more than less.

Lesson Learned 3: These cookies keep well both in the refrigerator and the freezer so these are great make ahead cookies.

I guarantee that you will love these cookies. They are easy to make, easy to store and add a nice colorful holiday flair to your cookie assortment.

Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies

  • Servings: 4 dozen
  • Time: 10-12 minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup unsalted butter softened

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

2 cups flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. baking soda

2 cups quick cooking oats

1 cup raisins

1 cup coarsely chopped cranberries (you can you frozen ones but I prefer fresh)

1 TBS. grated orange peel

1 package (12 ounces) white chocolate chips

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 375.

In a mixing bowl cream butter and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time beating until well combined. Beat in the vanilla. Combine flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda; add to the creamed mixture. Stir in the oats, raisins, cranberries and orange peel. Add the white chocolate chips.

Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls (I use a cookie scoop) 2 inches apart onto an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned. Remove to wire racks to cool. Enjoy!

Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies

Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies

Iced Cinnamon Chip Cookies

If you have been following my recent holiday cookie recipe posts you know by now that every year I try at least one new cookie recipe. This year I tried two, Salted Caramel Butter Bars and the one I am going to share in this post the Iced Cinnamon Chip Cookies. The Caramel Bars were a huge hit with my husband but my favorite was the cinnamon chip cookies.

First of all, did you even know that cinnamon chips existed? I didn’t until I saw the recipe and decided to do some hunting at the grocery store. Lo and behold, right next the semi-sweet chocolate morsels were the cinnamon chips. I had never seen them before but I guess I just wasn’t looking for them. They were there in plain sight.

Cinnamon Chip Cookies

Cinnamon Chip Cookies

At first I was a little hesitant about making this cookie – the recipe was very similar to a chocolate chip cookie recipe but I wanted to make an iced cookie this year and thought a hearty cookie like this would stand up well to icing. I found the recipe in my trusty 2008 Taste of Home Best Loved Cookies and Bars magazine (the magazine that has supplied quite a few a my holiday cookie recipes over the years). The one thing that I did not like about the recipe was the frosting ingredients (they seemed bland to me, just the usual milk and confectioners sugar combination) so I went online to research a cinnamon cream cheese frosting recipe. I found one that was part of a soft pumpkin cookie recipe and decided to try it. I’m so glad I did. I’m sure it complimented the cookie much better than the original frosting recipe. So now my recipe rating and lessons learned.

Rating: A++++++  I absolutely LOVE this cookie recipe. The cinnamon chips provide a delightful unique flavor and the frosting highly compliments the cookie and makes it an absolutely tasty delight. If you try any cookie this year, I would recommend this one. It is easy to make and soooooo good!

Lesson Learned 1: I am providing you the recipe as it is in the magazine. I had to adjust it for high altitude. If you want the adjustments just let me know, I will be happy to provide them.

Lesson Learned 2: Storing an iced cookie can be a challenge. I recommend making the icing, refrigerating it and putting it on the cookie before serving or giving away. That way the cookies are easier to store.

Lesson Learned 3: These cookies are so easy to make that there are no more words of wisdom I can depart regarding making them or storing them. Just make them and enjoy them.

Iced Cinnamon Chip Cookies

  • Servings: 4 dozen
  • Time: 10-12 minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

Cookies:

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

3/4 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

3 cups flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

1 package (10 ounces) cinnamon baking chips

Frosting:

8 oz. cream cheese, softened

4 TBS softened butter

2 1/4 cups powdered sugar

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. vanilla

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350.

In a large mixing bowl cream butter and sugars. Beat in eggs and add vanilla. Combine flour, baking soda and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well. Fold in the cinnamon chips.

Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls (I use a cookie scoop) 2 inches apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Remove to wire rack to cool.

Frosting: In a mixing bowl cream butter and cream cheese. Add powdered sugar and mix until combined. Add cinnamon and vanilla. Store in refrigerator until ready to use.

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Iced Cinnamon Chip Cookies

Salted Caramel Butter Bars…

Holiday Cookie Platter

Holiday Cookie Platter

Today I am going to a neighbor’s house for a holiday party and am bringing a platter of my holiday cookies. This year I made eight different kinds and along the way have posted updates of my baking endeavors on Facebook and Pinterest. The cookie recipe that I am going to share with you today stole the show in terms of favorable comments and requests for the recipe.

As part of my holiday baking tradition I always try at least one new recipe. This year I tried two, salted caramel butter bars and iced cinnamon chip cookies. Both turned out fabulously and will probably become future holiday staples. At some point I will have to pick and choose since eight different types are about all I can handle in one holiday season.

The salted caramel butter bars were a big hit when I posted a picture of the finished product on FB. What I like about them, besides the fabulous flavor, is that they are relatively easy to make. My husband gave them two thumbs up which is a real vote of confidence for a new holiday cookie and although the iced cinnamon chip cookies topped my list of the new recipes (that recipe to be posted in the near future) these certainly will wind up a keeper. So here is my rating and lessons learned making this recipe.

Rating: A – hard to top a cookie that not only looks bone chilling delicious but is easy to make and tastes as good as it looks!

Lesson Learned 1: The recipe calls for one bag of caramel candies or 50 individual pieces. The bag I bought was 11 ounces and had 40 pieces in it. I bought two bags. In my estimation you need the 50 pieces to have enough caramel filling to spread so buy either a 14 ounce bag or two 11 ounce bags.

Lesson Learned 2: The most labor intensive part of this recipe is unwrapping the individually wrapped pieces of caramel. It took me about 7 minutes just to do that. If you can buy a slab of caramel that would definitely be easier, just make sure you have a sufficient amount to spread over a 9×13 pan.

Lesson Learned 3: The ingredients to make the crust call for a whole pound of butter. Although I used that, I am wondering if that couldn’t be cut down just a little bit. When I cut the bars the bottoms appeared to be a little greasy. Next time I make these I may experiment with using a little less butter. But beware, you have to be careful when experimenting with cookie recipes as the amounts need to be more exact than they do when you are just cooking something.

Lesson Learned 4: This recipe makes a lot of dough. The instructions call for using 1/3 of the dough for the base. I used more than that and still had a lot of dough to dot the top with a lot left over. Next time I make this I may reduce the portions by twenty-five percent. That still should provide plenty of dough for the crust and the top.

Lesson Learned 5: I had to make these a little earlier in the month and put refrigerate them to keep them fresh. If you do that, pull them out of the refrigerator and let them get to room temperature before serving. They are very hard when taken immediately from the fridge and you don’t want anyone cracking a tooth on them.

Lesson Learned 6: I made this recipe without the sea salt but next time I am going to try it with the salt. Either way the bars were still delicious.

I cannot take credit for this recipe. I found it posted on Facebook and discovered it comes from the website http://www.cleverhousewife.com. I will still post the recipe here so you don’t have to link to the site but I want to give credit where credit is due. Enjoy this recipe. I am sure it will become a holiday staple for you as well!

Salted Caramel Butter Bars

Salted Caramel Butter Bars

Salted Caramel Butter Bars

  • Servings: 2 dozen
  • Time: 35 minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

Crust:

1 lb. salted butter at room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

2 TBS. vanilla

4 cups flour

Filling:

1 bag caramel candies (you will need a 14 ounce bag) or about 50 pieces

1/4 cup milk or cream

1/2 tsp. vanilla

1 TBS. sea salt (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 325 and grease a 9×13 pan (or use cooking spray).

In a large bowl combine the butter and sugars and beat until creamy. Add the vanilla and beat until combined. Add the flour and mix until a smooth dough forms.

Press one third of the dough evenly into the pan. Wrap the remaining dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate. Bake the crust approximately 20 minutes or until firm and the edges are lightly browned. Transfer the dish to a wire rack and cool for 15 minutes.

While the crust is baking make the caramel filling. Place the unwrapped caramels and cream in a microwave safe bowl and cook on high for 1 minutes. Stir and continue to cook for 30 second intervals until the mixture is combined and smooth. Once the caramel is melted add the vanilla and stir until combined. Pour and smooth the caramel filling over the somewhat cooled crust. If you are going to use sea salt, now is the time to add it on top of the caramel. Take the remaining chilled dough and crumble it over the entire top.

Return the pan to the oven and bake until the filling is bubbly and the crumbled topping is firm and lightly golden, about 25 – 30 minutes.  Let cool before cutting into squares.

Triple Chocolate Brownie Cookies…

The second favorite cookie in my recent posts on Facebook was the Triple Chocolate Brownie Cookie. I’ve been making this cookie for the past six years and it has risen to the list of the big three must-bake every year holiday cookies (the other two being chocolate chip cookies and the chocolate dipped sugar cookies, soon to be featured in future blogs). I like this particular cookie for several reasons: one it is easy to make, two it has three kinds of chocolate in it and three it has a great consistency that leaves you asking the question am I eating a cookie or a brownie.

Triple Chocolate Brownie Cookies

Triple Chocolate Brownie Cookies

The recipe comes from a magazine I purchased in 2008 called “Taste of Home Best Loved Cookies & Bars.” This magazine was definitely worth the money because it also provided the recipe for another one of my holiday staples, the cranberry oatmeal cookie (also to be featured in a later blog). I like this recipe because not only does the finished product look and taste so darn good but it keeps well in the freezer so it is a great make-ahead cookie. That being said, let’s move on to my rating and lessons learned.

RATING: A++++++++++++ This cookie is one of my big three holiday must-bake recipes so I will give you a clue and tell you that all three will have the same rating. Easy to make, great visual appeal and leaves you wondering whether you’ve just had a cookie or a brownie. Top that off with three different types of chocolate used in the recipe and tell me, how can you go wrong?

Lesson Learned 1: Make sure you cool the melted butter and unsweetened chocolate before beating it with the sugar and eggs. If you don’t you will wind up with scrambled eggs.

Lesson Learned 2: Use a cookie scoop (a small ice-cream scoop) to portion out the cookie dough. That way you have the same amount and don’t have to worry about having some cookies baking faster than others. Spray the inside of the scoop with some non-stick spray when you first start out and then wash it out after every completed baking sheet. That way you won’t struggle as much with getting the batter out of the scoop. It will stick somewhat, but having even amounts of batter on the cookie sheet is worth it.

Lesson Learned 3: Don’t over-bake the cookies. The cookies will be robust in the center and they are supposed to be that way. The cookies are done when the edges are set and the tops are slightly cracked. They are designed to have a doughy consistency.

Lesson Learned 4: You don’t need any special utensil to drizzle the chocolate over the cookies. Use an ordinary quart-sized plastic bag, insert it into a tall drinking glass, pour the melted chocolate and shortening mixture into the bag and squeeze it down to one of the tips of the bag. Twist the top portion of the bag and snip a very, very small portion of the tip. Then just drizzle what comes out free-armed over the cookies. As you can see from the pictures, the back and forth pattern really gives a professional finishing touch to the cookies.

Just like the Raspberry Walnut Bars from my previous blog, this recipe is so easy to make and produces a professional looking end product. I like this recipe because of the consistency of the finished product that often has people asking if they are eating a cookie or a brownie. Plus it really appeals to the chocolate lovers out there and tell me, how many non-chocolate lovers do you know? Try making these cookies during this holiday season and see if it doesn’t quickly becoming one of your holiday must-bake traditions.

Triple Chocolate Brownie Cookies

  • Servings: 3 dozen
  • Time: 7-9minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

INGREDIENTS:

3/4 cup butter cubed

4 squares (1 ounce each) unsweetened chocolate

2 cups sugar

4 eggs

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup baking cocoa

2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips, divided

2 teaspoons shortening

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat your oven to 350. In a small saucepan over low heat melt the butter and unsweetened chocolate; cool. Transfer to a large mixing bowl; add sugar and eggs. Beat until smooth. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt; gradually add to the chocolate mixture. Stir in 1 1/2 cups of chocolate chips. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or until the dough is easy to handle.

Drop by tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto greased baking sheets (or you can line your baking sheets with parchment paper). Bake for 7-9 minutes or until the edges are set and tops are slightly cracked. Cool for 2 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to cool completely.

In a microwave-safe bowl, heat shortening and remaining chocolate chips on high for 1 minute or until chips are melted; stir until smooth. Drizzle over cookies. Let stand for 30 minutes (or pop them in the freezer for about 5 minutes) until the chocolate is set. Store in an airtight container. These cookies freeze well so they are a great make-ahead cookie.

Triple Chocolate Brownie Cookies

Triple Chocolate Brownie Cookies

Raspberry Walnut Bars…

I made three holiday cookies recipes yesterday and posted pictures of the final results on Facebook. Without a doubt two of the three were big hits with my friends. (The third, chocolate chip cookies, are such a traditional favorite that they did not get much attention). The biggest hit as determined by the number of recipe requests I received were the Raspberry Walnut Bars followed by the Triple Chocolate Brownie Cookies. The latter will be the subject of an ensuing blog, but today we’re focusing on the media favorite.

Raspberry Walnut Bars

Raspberry Walnut Bars

There’s a lot of reasons for this recipe being so popular. First, and probably foremost, it looks so darn delicious. Second, and not known by those requesting the recipe, it is sinfully easy to make. And third, the recipe turns out perfect first time, every time. I can’t take credit for the recipe, it was one I found a few years ago, I simply can’t remember where I found it. So up front I apologize to whomever I am not giving credit to for the actual recipe. And, as with all the recipes I make these days, I will give it may rating and share my lessons learned making it.

Recipe Rating: A++++++++++ (get the message)? I just can’t say enough about this recipe. I remember the first time I saw a picture of it. It looked so good but I thought it would be hard to make. Was I ever wrong. This recipe couldn’t be simpler and it has turned out perfectly every time I’ve made it, including the first time. And it’s not all that often that a recipe turns out picture perfect the first time you make it. So you definitely have to try this one. You will love it.

Lesson Learned 1: Perhaps the hardest thing about this recipe is preparing the pan. The recipe calls for lining a 8 inch square pan with parchment paper allowing some overhang on both sides. Trying to keep parchment paper from popping back out of the pan when you allow for overhang can be tricky. I found the easiest way to make the parchment paper behave is to take two heavy cans of anything and weigh down the paper in the pan while making the dough. That way when it’s time to spread the dough out on the bottom the paper has been somewhat trained and doesn’t jump around as much.

Lesson Learned 2: It is important to follow the directions of using the parchment paper, having the overhang and spraying the parchment paper with cooking spray. I can’t image what you would wind up with if you didn’t. But if you take the time to do it, it comes out of the pan easily and absolutely nothing sticks to the parchment paper.

Lesson Learned 3: This recipe gives you plenty of dough so don’t worry about using it to fill up the bottom. It says to use two thirds of the dough for the crust and one third to dot the top. I found that gave me way too much dough for the top. You need a lot less dough to dot the top then you think, so don’t be afraid to use more than two thirds of the dough for the crust.

Lesson Learned 4: Avoid the temptation to use too much raspberry jam. A nice even thin coat is all you need. Stick to the amount called for in the recipe.

Lesson Learned 5: Depending on how many bars you want to give out, you may have to make this recipe a couple of times. You can make the bars big or small, but the most you’ll probably get out of this recipe is 24 small bars.

I guarantee these bars will be a hit with your family and friends. You simply must try them!

Raspberry Walnut Bars

  • Servings: 2 dozen
  • Time: 45 minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

Non stick baking spray

1 3/4 cups flour

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/8 tsp. nutmeg

3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

2 large egg yolks

1 tsp. vanilla

2/3 cup raspberry jam

1 cup chopped walnuts

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350. Line an 8 inch square baking pan with parchment paper leaving an overhang on both sides. Spray the parchment paper with cooking spray. (I do this right before I am ready to put the dough into the pan).

In a medium bowl whisk the flour, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Set aside. Beat the butter and sugar until fluffy. (This does take a little time, most people do not do this thoroughly enough so make sure to take the time to make the mixture fluffy). Beat in the egg yolks and vanilla. Gradually add the flour mixture until combined. Do not over mix. Transfer two thirds of the dough into the prepared pan and press down evenly. Spread the jam on top. Crumble the remaining dough and dot it over the jam. Sprinkle the top with the walnuts. Bake until golden 35-45 minutes. Cool completely in the pan. (this is very important).

Holding both sides of the parchment paper, lift out of the pan, transfer to a cutting board and cut into rectangles. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Raspberry Walnut Bars

Raspberry Walnut Bars