Saturday, November 19, 2011

Ah Christmas Baking!!!

When I was growing up, it was about this time of year my mom pulled out her favourite recipes and decided what she was baking for Christmas.  She had hand written recipes that were tried and true favourites, and some Good Housekeeping and Family Circle magazines from the 60's that had special holiday baking recipes...including the gingerbread cookies my brothers adored.  We made about 12 different cookies or squares for Christmas (one for each of the 12 days of Christmas), to serve to friends and family during the holiday season.  Most of the baking was done over the course of a week and one weekend, and the finished results were placed carefully into tupperware containers and frozen.  Every other year, in addition to cookies, slices or treats she baked her Christmas Carrot Cake, which was MUCH better than regular fruitcake to us kids.  

I was about 3 or 4 when I started helping my mom bake by stirring in the flour mixture into cake batters or chocolate chips or nuts into cookie dough.  By the time I was 6 or 7, I was making cookie dough and cake batters for Mom's more simple recipes.   Mom was always there to supervise and put things in the oven and we made a good mother daughter team in the kitchen.  But occasionally something could go wrong - in fact, one time I ended up in Emergency as the result of a baking adventure!!!  We had a kidney shaped footstool that was about 8 inches in height.  I often stood on it so that I was tall enough to reach the counter.  Mom had made a cake and I was on the stool and I wanted to lick the bowl and beaters.  So there I was on the stool with her Pyrex bowl and the spatula, licking the yummy chocolate cake batter.  Mom was trying to wipe down the counters and tidy up and I was taking my sweet time licking the bowl clean.  So she gave the stool a gentle nudge to push it out of the way so she could get closer to the counter, and I lost my balance, falling off the stool and smashing the bowl.  I ended up with a large chunk of glass embedded in my thigh and a deep slash in my right hand.  Stitches fixed it all up, and to this day I see those scars and remember my baking wounds of honour.

I carried on the tradition of  baking for Christmas when I was an adult and on my own.   When my nieces were young girls I decided to have them over and ice gingerbread cookies that they could then take to kindergarten or school as a treat for their classmates.  The first year I had the baked gingerbread cookies, several colours of icing pre-made and all the trimmings ready to go on my oak dining room table.  I learned the hard way that coloured sugar, dragees, sprinkles, coconut and trimmings get all over the place and I spent a lot of time sweeping the floor, wiping down my table and then washing the floor after we were all done.    The next year I had wisely spread a queen sized sheet on the floor under my table to catch all the droppings.  Although I again had the gingerbread baked, and the icing and trimmings ready to go at my table, when the girls came through my door I was mixing up a batch of Cinnamon Diamonds to get into the oven. My sister in law was not a baker and when she wanted cookies, she often did the slice and bake ones from Pillsbury.  My youngest niece looked curiously at my Kitchen Aid mixer creaming the butter mixture together and at me mixing the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl.  I added the flour mixture and let the Kitchen Aid mix it into dough. My niece was watching intently and then asked what it was that I was doing.  I explained I was making cookies, and my niece very earnestly told me that I was doing something wrong, because when you make cookies, you go to the store and they come in a blue tube.  You then cut them out of the tube and bake them!!!!  I hear that on the way home after our decorating party, she very excitedly told her mom I made cookies WAY WAY WAY different than they did!!!    Here's some recipes that mean Christmas to me - no calorie counts for any of them....just accept that they are fattening and keep the munching down to a minimum (which is easier said than done I know!!!).

Thimble Cookies

1/2  cup butter
1/2 cup margarine
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 egg yolks (reserve the whites)
2 cups flour

2 egg whites, lightly beaten (have them in a shallow bowl)
1 to 2 cups of sweetened coconut, flaked or medium thread style (in a shallow bowl or pan)
12 red and 12 green glace cherries, cut into  halves

Cream butter, margarine, sugar, egg yolks and vanilla together until light and fluffy.  Add flour and mix gently until well combined.

Slightly beat egg whites.  Roll small spoonfuls of dough into balls, roll in the egg whites to coat thoroughly and  then roll in coconut.  Place on ungreased cookie sheets about one inch apart. Gently push a half glace cherry (round side up) into the top.  Bake at 350 for about 12 minutes, or until lightly golden. Remove from pan and cool on wire racks.  This makes about 4 dozen cookies.  

Whipped Shortbread

1/2 lb margarine*  - room temperature
1/2 lb butter*  - room temperature
1 cup icing sugar
1/2 cup cornstarch
3 cups flour

Place all ingredients in the bowl of your mixer and whip together like cream.  Drop spoonful of dough onto ungreased cookie sheet.  You can top with sliver of red or green glace cherry or even sprinkle of red or green sugar for a festive look.  Mom sometimes just put a small silver dragee on top.  Bake at 300 degrees for 15 minutes.  Let sit on pan for about 2 mintues before removing to wire rack to cool completely. These just melt in your mouth and I remember my brother being able to cram 3 or in his mouth at a time when he was a kid!!!  You can get a good 6 dozen or better small cookies from this recipe.

* you can buy a 50-50 butter margarine blend in a 1 lb foil wrapped block, just like butter. 

Ted's TV Roll

1 egg beaten
1 cup icing sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup graham wafer crumbs
2 squares chocolate
2 Tbsp butter
25 coloured marshmallows, quarter  (or 4 cups mini marshmallows)
1 cup coconut, angel flake is best for this 

Combine egg, sugar, walnuts, and graham wafer crumbs.  Melt chocolate with butter and then combine with the first mixture.  Add the marshmallows.  Shape into 3 logs and roll in coconut.  Roll logs in waxed paper and then in aluminum foil.  The logs can be frozen at that point.  Let log thaw for about 30 minutes and then cut into slices.  My dad's name is Ted and I think this was his favourite, because they are recorded forever in my mom's handwriting saying "Ted's TV Roll" - as a kid I thought he was famous because he had this incredible thing named after him!!!

NB.  This recipe is from a time before we were concerned about raw egg in something.  If you are concerned about the potential of salmonella, then please do not make this recipe...or use an egg substitute (1 Tbsp of ground flax with 3 Tbs of water mixed together and allowed to rest until it's gelled will work as a binding agent and shouldn't much affect the taste of this)

Lebkuchen Squares

1 cup honey                                     
3/4 cup brown sugar                          
1 egg                                              
1 tsp grated lemon rind                     
3 Tbsp lemon juice                           
2 cups flour 
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup chopped blanched almonds
1 Tbsp pumpkin pie spice
1 cup icing sugar
18 each red & green glace cherries, halved.

Heat honey to boiling in small saucepan; pour into large bowl and cool completely.  Stir in brown sugar, egg, lemon rind and 1 Tbsp of the lemon juice (save the remaining 2 Tbsp of lemon juice for later).  Sift dry ingredients into medium sized bowl, stir in raisins and almonds.  Gradually stir in honey mixture, blending well.  Chill overnight to blend flavours.
Divide dough evenly between two 9x9 greased baking pans.  Spread mixture evenly - it will be stiff.  Bake in moderate oven (350 degrees) for 30 minutes or until firm.  While squares are baking, stir the 2 Tbsps of lemon juice into the icing sugar until smooth.  When pans come out of the oven, press 36 cherry halves, cut side down, in 6 even rows on top of each pan.  Drizzle frosting/glaze over.  Let cool completely and then cut each pan into 36 squares.  These spicy lemony squares with a cherry on top were my mom's favourites although her German friends sniffed that they really were not true Lebkuchen.  But that never stopped anyone from enjoying them!!!

Cinnamon Diamonds

1 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg yolk 
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 cups all purpose flour*
1 tsp ground cinnamon *
1 slightly beat egg white
1/2 cup chopped blanched almonds (or slivered or flaked almonds)

Cream butter and brown sugar, beat in egg yolk and vanilla.  Stir together flour and cinnamon, add to creamed mixture.  Pat into ungreased 15 1/2 x 10 inch x 1 inch baking pan.  Brush with egg white and sprinkle nuts over top.  Lightly press the nuts into the top of the cookie mixture.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes.  Cut into diamonds while warm.  Makes 48.

*  If you want a stronger cinnamon presence, remove 1 tsp of flour and replace it with another tsp of cinnamon.

These can be made with raw sugar pressed into the tops of the cookies in place of nuts.  I use almonds, or raw sugar, but you could use walnuts or hazelnuts, chopped.    

Dios Kifli/Makos Kifli 

Nut filling:

2 cups ground walnuts
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp lemon rind
1 tsp vanilla

Poppy seed filling:

3 cups ground poppy seed
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 Tbsp lemon rind
1 tsp vanilla

For both fillings, mix thoroughly with enough water to make a paste.


1 cup butter
2 Tbsp sugar
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup sour cream

Combine flour, sugar and salt in large bowl.  Cut butter into dry ingredients until crumbly.  Add sour cream and mix to form dough.  Turn onto a floured board and knead until smooth.  Roll dough to 1/16 inch thickness and cut into 4 inch squares.  Spread 2 Tbsp of filling on squares.  Roll and shape into crescents.  Place on greased sheet, overlapped edge down.  Brush with beaten egg yolk and sprinkle lightly with fine sugar.  Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 2o minutes until golden brown. 

These are Hungarian walnut (dios) and poppyseed (makos) crescents (kifli).  I remember my Grandma making these.  I found a bag of them frozen in her freezer and took them outside with me...I hid in the car eating them until they were all gone.  There were about 3 dozen...I was 10 or 11 and I got the spanking of my life for that!!!  But they were well worth it!

Gingerbread Cookies

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
pinch black pepper (optional)
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1/4 cup water or cold coffee
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, salt, baking soda and spices (including black pepper if you are using it).

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth.  Beat in the molasses, water or coffee and vanilla.  Gradually add in flour mixture until a smooth dough forms.  Cover dough with plastic wrap and chill overnight, or until firm.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.   ON a lightly floured surface, roll dough to about 1/8 of an inch thickness.  Use cookie cutters of your choice to make men, stars, Christmas trees, bell or other holiday shapes.  Place on parchment paper lined sheets.  Bake for 9 to 12 minutes.  Cookies will be slightly firm to touch at the edges and lightly browned.  Let them rest on sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.  Depending on the size of your cookies, you should be able to get a good 5 dozen bells, stars, small Christmas trees from this recipe.  This recipe makes crisp cookies.  

For icing, use your favourite royal icing or a very soft runny type of butter icing.  My mom used to add an egg white to her butter icing and it gave it a nice sheen...Again, for those concerned with raw egg, please use the icing recipe you feel best suited to decorating gingerbread.  

Christmas Carrot Cake

1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 1/3 cups water
1 cup raisins or mixed dried fruit or chopped red/green glace cherries or chopped dates****
1 Tbsp butter
2 large finely grated carrots
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp nutmeg

Simmer these ingredients together for 5 minutes, then cover and allow to rest for 12 hours.  Then add:

1 cup chopped walnuts (or pecans, hazelnuts, brazil nuts or almonds)
2 1/2 cups sifted all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder

Bake it in two oiled loaf pans or one tube pan at 275 degrees for 2 hours.  Cool then wrap in foil.  Can be frozen.  

*** Mom used to use 1/4 cup raisins, 1/4 cup cherries, 1/4 cup mixed peel and 1/4 cup chopped dates.

This makes a very moist spicy fruitcake.  I don't know if many people make their own fruitcake any more because the dried fruits are expensive.  But this year I am making it at the request of the Beau, who happens to love fruitcake and remembers having this one on a visit to my home when we were both teenagers.  


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