I know I’ve written about cookies as currency. But this year it is true at our house like no other time. You see we’re doing some construction on our house. So some days I’m baking cookies for the contractors to show my appreciation. And some days I’m baking cookies for the neighbors to apologize for the contractors.
In between I’m making ginger molasses cookies for my friend’s cookie exchange (super fun and great way to get a variety of cookies) and sugar cookie cut-outs for my kids’ play dates. While Baking I’m cranking the Christmas tunes for the spirit of it and to drown out the 12 banging contractors. I thought we’d already been doing some serious baking however my daughter asked this morning “Where are the cookies for Santa?” I said, while gesturing to the boxes of homemade cookies, “Well any of the cookies could be for Santa”. She indignantly replied that Santa’s favorite are the peppermint meringues and we have to give him those. I kind of chuckled and thought well yes, they are one of “Santa’s” favorites.
Ever since I saw this recipe in the Sunset Magazine in 2011 these have been a household favorite. They’re actually called White Christmas Dream Drops and were a first place winner from a reader in Tustin, CA. But that doesn’t describe how chewy and light but packed with chocolate and peppermint flavor they are. I brought some to a family gathering tonight and was asked for the recipe. I couldn’t find the blog I had done when first discovering the Sunset issue so I figured I’d repeat myself. I think I’ll be needing another batch anyways…for Santa of course.
White Christmas Dream Drops or White Chocolate Peppermint Meringues
2 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar $
1 cup white chocolate chips $
1/3 cup plus 1 1/2 tbsp. coarsely crushed peppermint candies
1. Preheat oven to 250°. Beat egg whites and cream of tartar in a deep bowl with a mixer, using whisk attachment if you have one, just until soft peaks form. Add vanilla and salt. With motor running and mixer on high speed, pour in 1 tbsp. sugar and beat 10 to 15 seconds, then repeat until all sugar has been added. Scrape inside of bowl and beat another 15 seconds. At this point, meringue should form straight peaks when beaters are lifted. Fold in chocolate chips and 1/3 cup candies with a flexible spatula.
2. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper, using a bit of meringue at corners as glue. Using a soup spoon, drop meringue in rounded 1-tbsp. portions slightly apart onto sheets, scraping off with another spoon. Sprinkle with remaining 1 1/2 tbsp. candies.
3. Bake until meringues feel dry and set when touched but are still pale, 30 to 35 minutes, switching pan positions halfway through. Turn off oven, open door, and let cookies stand about 10 minutes. Let cool on pans.
In thinking about this year’s Santa plate, my son decided that Santa would like brownies. My daughter said she didn’t want to have dark chocolate (this is always a debate at our house). I settled the score with making both brownies and blondies. Nevermind that I had been baking gingerbread, sugar cookies, candy cane cookies, etc. We needed to make more.
Luckily I also have a stack of cookbooks to review. Two are really fun and I know I’ll be using them a lot throughout the year. The first is Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy, Melt in Your Mouth Cookies by Alice Medrich. The second is Food Fest 365! : The Official Fun Food Holiday Cookbook by Yvan D. Lemoine.
Chewy Gooey is great for those with a sweet tooth who need more ideas and inspiration (pictures are mouth watering). I like that the cookies are divided by mouth feel and texture. Each recipe even has a suggestion to make “upgrades” to create variations and new flavors. There’s also a veriety of diets and allergies in mind with an index of dairy free, wheat free and low fat recipes. I made the blondies from this book. And yes, they were chewy and gooey – my daughter had her first blondie and it’s become a fast favorite. Next time we make them we’ll try one of the updgrades. But which one? Nutmeg, cinnamon or peanut butter blondies? Perhaps a tasting of all three.
Food Fest 365! is a bit different, but very fun. It celebrates all the quirky food days established by politicians over the years. Did you know March 16th is artichoke hearts day? Of course I love the idea of celebrating the everyday. The tough part about this book is the arrangement and order is by the calendar. So if you’re menu planning, you’ll need to consult the index to find what you’re searching for. Of course it’s also just fun to look up dates and see what food day it is. For instance my birthday is Cheese Sacrifice Purchase Day (after the Mayans of course) with a recipe for Sundried Tomato Cheese. I can see someone going through a la the movie Julie and Julia and blogging about making each day’s recipe. You’ll find everything from Hot Toddy Day to Lobster Day to Angel Food Cake Day, with hundreds in between. December 8th is where I found Chocolate Brownie Day. My son was very pleased with the gooey, rich flavor and they were quick and easy, like a brownie should be.
So what did Santa like? Well Santa (I believe) was so tired since one of the children at our house stayed up to try to see him (and made it to 2:30 a.m.), that he broke off an equal piece of each and then left crumbs on the fireplace. (Note. Besides the blondies and brownies and milk for Santa, there were of course carrots for the reindeer. Plus my daughter also made a beaded collar for Rudolph – see photo above)
The only way I could stop myself from baking cookies this year during the holidays was to leave the house. If I was at home I was baking. From Thanksgiving until Christmas if I had a spare 20 – 30 minutes I was thinking “hmm. I have time to make some dough” or “I can bake one more batch”. This also counted starting a batch at 11:30 p.m. (more on that later) You name it I baked it. All our family favorites from “kissed” peanut butter cookies (photo above), molasses sugar cookies, snickerdoodle biscuits, sugar cookies, gingerbread cookies, chocolate sliced cookies – just to name a few. I don’t ever need an excuse to bake cookies. I have cookie cutters (about 100) for every occassion and no special day at all (think octopus, train, lighthouse, football, etc). But this year, I seemed particularly driven. The funny part is that I discovered I was not alone…
This year more than ever when I got together with friends and family they all had similar cookie baking stories. Whether they were making them for the school gingerbread decorating, the family potluck or gifts for the neighbors, everyone was baking. Was this because it was so cold? My aunt (who rarely bakes, and gave us a beautiful container full of homemade sweets) thought so. We really had our share of cold and rainy days in the Bay Area and yes, I prefer baking cookies with my kids in a warm house in the late afternoon, over bundling and braving the weather at the park, again. Another reason could’ve been the economy. People tend to bake and eat comfort foods more than in the past. What is more comforting than homemade cookies with milk? My final reason is because it’s thoughful and a gift of time. There seems to be a return to homemade gifts. All the magazines talked about “green” gifting and things to make from the heart. This year not only did we make cookies to send to relatives, we also make cookie gifts for neighbors, friends and teachers. Here are a few of the packaging ideas that we used or received that are inexpensive and also green and fun to do with kids especially (and can be remembered for any time of year):
flower pot – filled with baked good and tied with a ribbon. Kids can even decorate the pot with paint, stickers, glitter.
glass jars – Ball, cookie, canning, french – in all shapes and sizes. I found them for as little as $3.99 at the Container Store
dish cloths/tea towels – cookies or breads wrapped in pretty fabric that can be reused for dish or hand drying
china plates and bowls – scour flea markets, estate sales and china outlets for single, one-of-a-kind plates for unique presentation
With all the baking, gifting and shipping of cookies, I actually got burned out on cookies mid-way between Hannukah and Christmas. Even my kids were a bit tired of helping mom and asked “why are we making more cookies?” However at this point I had already committed to bring cookies to a few events and a friends’ house for the kids to decorate. Starting a batch of cookies at 11 p.m. after a long day and evening of holiday shopping, wrapping and merriment did not produce my best results. See below. I was impatient and put the butter in the microwave to soften. I knew it had gone too soft, but used it anyways. As you can see the cookies spread and the results were more plump than pretty – although still just as tasty. I already had some gingerbread men as well as other sucessful cookies to bring, so I brought them for the kids to decorate anyways. They didn’t care. It’s amazing what some frosting, sprinkles and raisins can do to transform the “failed” cookie. Here’s a tip when decorating cookies, or really anything with kids – use a muffin tin lined with muffin cups. This works great to hold a variety of small objects, in this case sugars, sprinkles, raisins, currents, marshmallows, coconut, died fruit, and candy cane pieces. It makes it easy for kids to share, there’s less waste and mess than diving into separate bowls and clean up is quick and easy. oops! too
Since I was getting tired of cookies I wondered about others. Think of the teachers, who while appreciative of homemade sweets probably get overwhelmed by sweets at the holidays. I’ve always been meaning to make cookie dough mixes in jars and this year I tried it. I liked the idea of short cutting the recipe and not shaping and baking more cookies. I also liked the idea that the recipient could bake their cookies whenever they had a craving or wanted to share with others. However I learned there is an art to creating the cookie mix and making it look presentable. My first attempt, didn’t look as neat as my third. Those pretty layers were tough to see. I went online and found some tips that really helped. The most important being : flour and white sugar seeps down to other layers of ingredients, so layer those at the bottom and on top or between packed brown sugar. Common sense, but easy to forget, again when you’re working late at night – it’s easy to layer before thinking (and there’s no going back).