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The 12 Treats of Christmas – #4 Spritz Butter Cookies

December 9th, 2012 by Pat Fischbeck

These pretty little cookies are second only to cut-out Christmas cookies in being the cookie that will really dress up a holiday cookie tray.  They are quick to make and only need a few sugar sprinkles or a candied cherry in the center to make them sparkle.

This recipe is a bit less sweet than most spritz cookies and the finely ground almonds make them very tender.  The almond and butter flavors develop as the cookie is stored so they really are one cookie that isn’t at it’s best just out of the oven.  Give them a day or two and they will be heavenly.

I used a cookie press to make mine.  They can also be piped through a bag with a tip.  I think that the press is easier.  Cookie presses are inexpensive but seldom used except at Christmas time.  You might want to borrow one from a family member, friend, or co-worker just to save storage space.  My mom is the only person I know who actually wore one out!

Cookie Press Christmas Cookies

Cooling Spritz Butter Cookies

Spritz Butter Cookies

1/2 cup blanched almonds

3/4 cup sugar

1 cup unsalted butter

1 large egg

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

pinch of salt

 

In a mini food processor chop the almonds to a fine powder.

Soften the butter slightly and place in the large bowl of an electric mixer with the almonds and the sugar.  Cream these three ingredients until fluffy.  Add the egg and extracts and beat until blended.  On low spead, gradually add the flour and salt and mix until incorporated.

Spoon the dough into the cookie press and following the manufacturers directions form the cookies using your favorite Christmas Cookie shape template.  I used trees and rosettes today.  Space the cookies about 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.

Decorate your unbaked cookies with glace cherries, sugar sprinkles, or dragees.

Bake for about 10 minutes at 375 degrees or until the cookies are a pale golden color.

Remove from the baking sheet, cool, and store for at least a couple of days before enjoying.

The 12 Treats of Christmas – #3 Rosettes

December 8th, 2012 by Pat Fischbeck

We saw a few flakes of snow this morning and more is predicted tomorrow…finally!  It wouldn’t be Christmas in Wisconsin without snow and it wouldn’t be Christmas at The Speckled Hen Inn without a batch of Rosettes on hand to garnish the morning fruit plates.  We make them to resemble snowflakes but dust them with spiced sugar to pair nicely with winter fruits.  We always have to save a few for our friend, Jay.

Making Rosettes does require some special equipment.  You will need a Rosette Iron.  They come in lots of fun shapes but the snowflakes are my favorites.  You can find them at specialty cookware stores especially in areas that have a Scandinavian heritage population.  You can also buy them online at Fantes.  Rosettes are fried in oil so having a deep fryer with a thermostat to keep the oil at a constant temperature is important.

It does take a bit of time to make a batch of Rosettes.  So, put on some Christmas carols and some comfy shoes and let’s get to work.

Rosettes

Rosette Snowflake Cookies

Rosette Snowflakes

1 cup flour

1/2 cup evaporated milk

1/2 cup water

1 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg

Mix milk, water, sugar, salt, and egg together with a whisk until the sugar has disolved.  Sift in the flour gradually whisking frequently (Yes, it would be nice to have 3 hands).  Let the batter rest for an hour or two in the refrigerator.

Heat at least 2 inches of oil in a fryer or pan to 365 degrees.  Place the rosette iron in the heating oil so that it seasons and gets hot too.  Lift the iron out, shake off the excess oil.  Dip the iron into the batter but only until it covers 3/4 of the iron. (Do not cover entire mold with batter…there won’t be a way to remove it from the mold!)  Hold the iron in the batter for a few seconds, lift it out and shake off any excess batter.

Dip the batter-coated mold into the hot oil.  As soon as the Rosette begins to brown slightly, lift the mold, and let the Rosette drop gently into the hot oil.  If the batter sticks (and it probably will the first time) try using a wooden chopstick to “help” it release.  Turn the rosette over to cook for an extra few seconds.  Using tongs or a spider lift the finished rosette out of the oil and let it drain on paper towels.

While the Rosettes are still warm, sprinkle with a mixture of 1 cup granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon of Penzey’s Baking Spice or just cinnamon.  Let cool completely.  Store in air-tight containers.

The 12 Treats of Christmas – #2 Mexican Wedding Cakes

December 7th, 2012 by Pat Fischbeck

Think about Christmas foods and the first thing that pops into your mind is a Christmas cookie.  Sweet, buttery, nutty, chocolate bites that transport us to our childhood days and fill a kitchen with the smells, sights and sounds of holiday preparation.  The great personal reward for a busy day of shopping, wrapping, or making last minute gifts is a cup of tea and a couple of cookies.  The perfect thank you gift for a holiday hostess is a tray of cookies.

Cookies come from the heart and the hearth.  Some are treasured family recipes, reminders of holidays at Grandma’s house.  Others are from ratty looking clippings from a newspaper or magazine that sits in the recipe file until December every year.  Or they may be a healthy bite filled with the trendiest ingredients to keep you fueled through the holidays.  Whatever your idea is of a perfect cookie and IF you need an excuse to tie on an apron, Christmas time just has to be the time to preheat the oven and create some cookie magic.

Here is my recipe for Mexican Wedding Cakes.  They also go by many other names.  You will recognize them when you see them.  These small powered sugar covered, tender discs are so worth the minimal effort required to produce them.  The recipe calls for toasted pecans but I’m going to experiment with making them with the black walnuts that we collected from our land this year…I’ll let you know how it goes.

Russian Tea Cakes

melt-in-your-mouth Mexican Wedding Cakes

Mexican Wedding Cakes

1/2 cup pecan halves

1 cup powered sugar

pinch of salt

1 cup unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups powered sugar for topping

Place the pecans on a cookie sheet and bake, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until lightly browned.  Cool completely.

In a food processor with a metal blade, process the sugar with the pecans and salt until the pecans are powder fine.  Cut the butter into a few pieces and add it to the work bowl.  Process until smooth and creamy.  Scrape the sides of the work bowl.  Add the vanilla and pulse in.  add the flour and pulse in until the dough starts to clump together.

Scrape the dough into a clean bowl, cover tightly, and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.

Measure the dough into 1 -inch balls and roll between the palms of your hands.  Flour your hands lightly of necessary.  Place the balls 1 1/2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.  Bake for 15 to 20 minutes at 350 degrees or until the cookies barely begin to brown.  Rotate the cookie sheets if necessary to assure even browning.

 

Cool the cookies on the sheets for 2-3 minutes.  Using a small metal spatula, lift the cookies from the baking sheet and roll them in powered sugar while they are still hot.  Roll them several times to achieve an even powdery coating.  Place the cookies on a wire rack to cool completely.  dust again with powdered sugar and store in a airtight container at room temperature.  They will keep for about a month (but they probably won’t last that long!)

The recipe makes about 4 1/2 dozen cookies.