December 23, 2010

Holiday Cookie Platter

I'm all about the cookie platter when the holidays roll around.   Because I'm a baker I don't go for the store bought kind.  For me it's homemade treats or nothing.  What better way to show how much you care than with cookies from your own kitchen?

The key to a delectable platter is variety, it is the spice of life after all.  It's nice to offer people different tastes and textures.  And let's face it, wouldn't you rather see an assortment?

Linzer Cookies
Spiral Sables

December 22, 2010

Walnut Snowballs and Coconut Pyramids

If there were ever two cookies that heralded the holiday season it's these two, walnut snowballs and coconut pyramids.   I only make them in December - any other time and it wouldn't seem right.

Walnut snowballs go by many different names: Mexican wedding cookies, Russian tea cakes, noel nut balls, etc.  Whatever their name they taste delicious and are my absolute favorite holiday cookie.  They're super simple to make and despite the generous coating of powdered sugar they aren't too sweet.

The coconut pyramids are just shaped macaroons.  For the first time in a year I'm making a macaroon that isn't of the French variety and this version is a lot more forgiving!  Like the snowballs, these macaroons are lightly sweetened.  To shape the cookies in to pyramids I used a silicone mold but you can easily do it by hand or with a bench scraper.

December 21, 2010

Macaron Gifts and Deep Thoughts

I decided to go the minimalist route when I was packaging the macaron gifts.  This way they were the stars of the show, just as they should be.  Aren't they so pretty?  I love how they look like little jewels in a box.  The flavors I made were lemon, passion fruit, raspberry, pistachio and chocolate.

Some of you know that it was the mysterious macaron that inspired me to start this blog.  That was back in August of 2009.  Sixteen months and countless failures later, as well as a few triumphs, I would say my skill in macaron-making is a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10.  Maybe 7 1/2 if I'm feeling generous. 

Why not rate myself higher?  Because no matter how often I think I've "got it"  the macaron gods laugh, sending me right back to the drawing board.   I have two Achilles heels: thin shells and pesky air pockets inside the macaron.  Despite my efforts to course correct they always seem to plague my cookies.  I'm not sure if it's me, my technique or the ingredients.   If only I had a better understanding of the chemistry of it all.   My journey continues.  But then again, isn't the imperfect process what  keeps me coming back for more?  Food for thought...

December 20, 2010

Linzer Cookies

I'm in the zone, a baking zone that is.  I just survived a marathon of non-stop baking this past weekend and came out victorious.

Nine pounds of cashew toffee (the last batches!), seven pounds of candied nuts, six kinds of cookies (including five different flavors of macarons!), two dozen chocolate cupcakes and one dozen mini fruit tarts.  Not too shabby...I even surprised myself!  Thank goodness the gas oven didn't die on me. 

The fruits of my labor will be gifted to family and friends to enjoy over the holidays.

These linzer cookies are in honor of my mom who's a big fan of any kind of cookie with nuts in it.   As a kid whenever I would bake my mom's first comment after tasting the finished cookie would always be, "can you put more nuts in it?"  Didn't matter if the recipe called for it or not, the woman wanted more nuts!

Traditional linzer cookies are made with hazelnuts but I had leftover pecans in my pantry so I used them instead.  They turned out just as delicious I think.  I love how sophisticated the cookies look with their blanket of powdered sugar and tiny jewel of raspberry jam peeking out.  

December 18, 2010

Spiced Candied Nuts

Be forewarned: these nuts are seriously addictive.  And it doesn't help that the recipe is so easy to make.   These nuts are fabulous with drinks, for snacking or topping on your favorite salad.   We're talking instant gratification!

Candied nuts make a great homemade Christmas gift and I'm surprised it's taken me this long to make them.  But most recipes I found weren't to my liking.  Any sign of curry powder and cumin and I ran for the hills.

I finally found a great recipe from the Smitten Kitchen that only used cinnamon and cayenne pepper as the spices.  That's what I'm talking about!  Save yourself some money and buy your nuts at Costco.  I bought a 2-lb bag of pecans for less than $9.  Think I'll be making more batches.

For a party you could serve the nuts in festive cones made out of wrapping paper.  For gifting I'll be packaging them in clear cellophane bags with a nice ribbon.

More holiday treats to come...

December 14, 2010

Snow Globe, Moose and Snowflake Sugar Cookies

I'm loving how this year's batch of holiday sugar cookies turned out.  I think they're too cute to eat.   What do you think?

The snow globe I totally copied  from the Martha Stewart Show.  The episode aired last December and ever since then I've wanted to make them.

You can find the moose cookie cutter as part of a set sold by IKEA, available only during the holidays.  My friends Anne-Marie and Henning gave the set to me and I adore all baking-related gifts.  When I was in Norway last month I saw the coolest thing at the supermarket.   Flavored powdered sugar in chocolate and strawberry!  To frost the moose I made royal icing using the chocolate version.  What's so great is that I didn't need to tint the icing brown.  On top of that it had a really nice chocolate taste.

And the snowflake?  I  haven't made them in a long while so I thought it was about time to make them again.  Especially when they're finished off with silver dragĂ©es.

Stay tuned for more holiday cookies.....

December 11, 2010

Cashew Toffee Packaging

Here's the packaging I went with for this year's cashew toffee.  Even though brown and sage green aren't your typical holiday colors I thought they complimented the toffee beautifully.   

The brown candy boxes are from this place and the sage ribbon I found at my favorite new shop, The Ribbonerie, in San Francisco. They have every type of ribbon you could ever imagine..and lots more!  The finishing touch was a sweet gift tag designed by NM Designs.

So far I've made just a little over fifty pounds of toffee and it's not even for me!  These boxes were ordered by  family and friends.    I haven't even started making the candy I need for gift giving.  I'll probably need about 15 more pounds before the season is over.   Good thing I only do this once a year.

December 5, 2010

Miracle Frosting

Can't believe that Christmas is less than three weeks away.  I'm one of those overzealous people who likes to extract as much holiday spirit out of the season as possible.  Where was I the morning of Black Friday?  Not in line at the mall, that's for sure.  I got up super early and headed to Home Depot to get my Christmas tree of course!

Christmas is also the busiest time of year for me and my kitchen.  So far I've made about 25 pounds of cashew toffee and that's only half of what I need.  My poor fridge is busting at the seams with it.  Thank goodness I stopped eating the stuff a long time ago. 

I needed a break from candy making and wanted to bring a treat in to the office for my boss's birthday.  He likes anything chocolate so I went with cupcakes since they're easy to serve.  Instead of frosting them with my usual swiss meringue buttercream I ended up trying something new.

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