Tuesday, December 17, 2013

2 sisters, 10 hours, and $200 later...

This year I thought I would try my hand at baking Christmas gifts (again) and I decided to get my sister, Leah, to help me (as last time I sucked it up and she is a great baker).
I started by scouring the Internet for easy and highly reviewed recipes (provided with additional tips below). After selecting a mere 6 and deciding to double each batch (I mean I was just sending cookies to several people, so I should send a lot!), I made a shopping list and headed out to buy it all. I had nothing on hand (did I mention I don't do much baking/cooking?), so I had to buy even the most basic materials. Still, I had budgeted for around $100 (I mean the whole point was that cookies were a great, easy, yummy, ship-able, inexpensive gift). I was obviously Looney Tunes when I came up with that budget, as I spent $200 and ended up using everything I bought.
I am a firm believer that when you do something at home, you should do it as comfortably as possible. So a full day of baking definitely screamed 'Nick & Nora' footie pajamas, no make-up, and hair back. I was VERY excited that Leah consented to wearing one of my onesies as well! Not sure why this was so fabulous to me, but it was.
We decided to start with the Molasses Ginger cookies as the dough needed fridge time.
  • 3/4 cup margarine, softened
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
In a large bowl, cream together the margarine and 1 cup sugar until light and fluffy.
Stir in the molasses.
Mix in the water and baking soda and stir.
Sift together the flour, salt, and dry spices; add gradually to the sugar-margarine mixture.
Gradually stir the sifted ingredients, along with the ginger and raisins, into the molasses mixture.
(The dough may be too soft to handle at this point- I suggest either adding a bit of flour, or refrigerating for 20 minutes [or even overnight])
Shape dough into walnut sized balls, and roll them in the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar.
Place the cookies 2 inches apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet, and flatten slightly.
Bake at 350°F for 10-12 minutes.

These were my favorite cookies from that day. I loved how they turned out...even though I forgot to buy fresh ginger (so I added more ground ginger, obviously!). The dough looked questionable, but it sure tasted great!
Next we started on the Peanut Butter Toffee Bars. These are insanely delicious and really pretty easy to make! The hardest part was finding toffee...which I didn't. So I used crushed up Heath bars instead!
  • 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup quick oats
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups dark or semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup toffee baking pieces

Heat the oven to 350°. Line a 9- by 13-inch baking pan with foil so that the ends extend over the edges of the pan by at least 2 inches In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter, peanut butter, sugar, and egg yolk on medium-high speed until the mixture is smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl if necessary Add the flour, oats, and salt and beat the mixture on low until the ingredients are just blended, about 30 seconds

Press the mixture evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake the crust until it is golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes (be careful not to over bake)

Remove the pan from the oven and scatter the chocolate chips evenly over the crust. Return the pan to the oven for 1 minute. Remove the pan again and, using a small offset spatula, spread the chocolate evenly over the crust

Sprinkle the toffee pieces over the chocolate, gently pressing them into place
Set the pan on a wire rack to cool until the chocolate has set, about 2 hours
Using the edges of the foil, lift the dessert from the pan, then cut it into rectangles
For maximum freshness, store the bars in the refrigerator.

Leah made 'sandcastles in the sky' baking art during this batch:
You really need to be careful with these, as they are extremely addictive.
Next we decided to make the Snicker-doodles, as they also required fridge time.
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 3/4 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 teaspoons cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Mix butter, 1 1/2 cups sugar and eggs thoroughly in a large bowl.
Combine flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl.
Blend dry ingredients into butter mixture.
Chill dough and an ungreased cookie sheet for about 10-15 minutes in the fridge
Mix 3 tablespoons sugar, and 3 teaspoons cinnamon in a small bowl
Scoop 1 inch globs of dough into the sugar/ cinnamon mixture
Coat by gently rolling balls of dough in the sugar mixture
Place on chilled ungreased cookie sheet, and bake 10 minutes
Remove from pan immediately (if you aren't prepared to seriously remove IMMEDIATELY, I would grease the pan or use parchment paper)

Here is the thing about this recipe, this dough is EXTREMELY sticky. Not joking around here.
I really wish we had greased our pans or used parchment paper. I also don't really understand the whole refrigerating the cookie sheets thing, but we did it anyway. However, as you can see, these suckers RISE and STICK!
They did taste good in the end (the ones that survived).
Leah and I made the mistake of trying to multi-task to the extreme (as we were like 6 hours in and getting tired, with several recipes to go. WE WERE COMMITTED!), which led to the discovery that chocolate chips do not re-melt. We started the Peppermint Bark before we had the peppermint crushed (which I had to use discs instead of canes....as I couldn't find any 'peppermint' candy canes!) and then had to do something with the snicker-doodles and ended up letting the chocolate solidify instead of chancing it burning on the stove. I personally thought this was the way to go, until it would not remelt! Luckily we couldn't melt the double batch at once, so we ended up with only one kinda crumby batch (which we all found slap-happy hysterical).
  • 2 lbs white chocolate
  • 12 candy canes, crushed into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract
Melt white chocolate either in a double boiler or in a bowl over a pot of boiling water (chocolate will only melt once!)
Stir in crushed candy cane and peppermint flavoring into melted white chocolate
Line a 11x17 baking pan with wax paper
Pour and spread chocolate mixture onto wax paper
Chill until firm and break into pieces. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

The next batch went perfectly and tasted AMAZING!
Honestly at this point we were starting to regret taking this all on in one day. But like the phenomenal team we are, we forged on.
The Fudge Crinkles were fun to make...for reasons seen here:
Here is the thing, I did not see confectioners' sugar listed when I copied down this recipe (I added it below), so ours were done with white sugar.
  • 1 Betty Crocker Moist devil's food cake mix
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar
Preheat oven to 350°
Stir dry cake mix, oil and eggs in a large bowl until dough forms
Dust hands with confectioners' sugar and shape dough into 1" balls and let them "dry" for a few minutes
Then roll them in confectioners' sugar and place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets
Bake for 8-10 minutes or until center is JUST SET
Remove from pans after a minute or so and cool on wire racks

Even with the sugar mix-up, they still turned out great!
The final recipe that I planned for was Soft Chocolate Chip cookies. I was intrigued by the use of pudding.
  • 2 1/4 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup butter (softened)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 (4 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 (12 ounce) package chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 375°
Mix flour with baking soda in a bowl and set aside
In a large bowl, combine butter, sugars and pudding mix
Beat until smooth and creamy
Beat in eggs and vanilla; gradually add flour mixture
Stir in chips
Roll into balls and flatten slightly or drop by teaspoon full on a non greased cookie sheet
Bake at 375° for 8-10 minutes

I don't know why, but I love that we made an egg lake while making these.

All in all, these were easy to make and tasted pretty good. My only note would be to let they sit out and cool for a while as they are very soft if you don't.

On a personal note, I like my families recipe for Chocolate Chip cookies (using oatmeal) better than these. These were just off somehow (but still good).

Mark needed cookies for a cookie exchange at work, so we made one last double batch! However, I don't have the actual recipe for the Salted Caramel Dark Chocolate cookies. Leah and I were really starting to drag at this point (hour 8ish).

Luckily, a little sugar picked me up for the final stretch!
But then we gave up and made Mark drizzle the damn caramel on them (I salted!).
They looked really good when they were done and tasted OK.
Leah and I were completely wiped out by the time we were done.
What I have learned:
  1. Cookies are not cheap
  2. Baking is hard work
  3. Do not double everything without looking at how many cookies you actually need
  4. Read recipes completely BEFORE you start making them
  5. Do not bake for more than 4-5 hrs at a time (maybe more like 3 tops!)
  6. Sisters are AMAZING
  7. You cannot ship things that need to be refrigerated without proper considerations
  8. Left over cookies will make you eat nothing but cookies for a week

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