The Best Gifts are Homemade and Edible!

Just in case you’ve missed it, the holidays are here!  From the week before Thanksgiving (early grocery shopping) to Christmas Day evening (cooking dinner) I never seem to stop running.  There’s cookie baking, decorating, shopping, mailing, wrapping, Christmas cards (taking the family photo with the pets seems to take an hour or two by itself), and the list goes on and on.  With as busy as it is, I would not change one thing.  This is my favorite time of the year!

You heard me mention baking.  This has to be one of my favorite tasks that have kept me moving so quickly (without an opportunity to actually sit down) for the past weeks.  I’m a big believer in the idea of making the gifts that you give during the holidays special.  Remember the idea of quality over quantity?  When I was in college, with absolutely no money to spend at the holidays, I got the idea to make a variety of holiday treats to give my friends and family as gifts.  The idea spread like wildfire.  Everyone from my grandparents to friends across the country started making requests to have cookies instead of regular gifts.  This is something that my wife and I have continued since we’ve been married.  There are some cookies that I make each year, such as my chocolate chip cookies that have been previously featured on this blog (you can find the recipe here).  I also make an attempt to try one or two new recipes each year.  This helps to always ensure that there’s something new for everyone to try.

One of the favorites that is requested each year, particularly by my mother-in-law, is a recipe that is very near and dear to my heart.  The recipe is for my great-great-grandmother’s molasses cookies.  I first got this recipe when I was younger and participating in an elementary school bake sale.  My grandfather, who has since passed away, gave me the recipe to make and I’ve loved it ever since.  I’ve always refused to give out this recipe, but have recently had a change of heart.  Recipes are meant to be shared, not lost forever when the person holding it passes away.  My wife’s grandmother had a recipe for fudge that she never shared with anyone else before she passed away and now it’s gone.  My wife still wishes that she could make just one batch of that fudge.

Since Christmas is less than a week away, I thought that I’d share all five recipes that I made this year.  They may come in handy if you need a last minute gift for that friend or family member.  The link to my chocolate chip cookies is above.  You’ll find the other four below.  First and foremost, the molasses cookies.

Great-Great-Grandma’s Molasses Cookies

Great-Great-Grandma's Molasses Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 heaping tsp. baking soda
  • 1 heaping tsp. salt
  • 1 heaping tsp. allspice
  • 1 heaping tsp. ginger
  • 1 heaping tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 1 cup hot (just short of boiling) water
  • 1 cup golden raisins (if desired, but they really add something special to the final cookie)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Whisk together the first 6 ingredients.
  3. In a stand mixer (or by hand), cream together the shortening, butter, and sugar.
  4. Add in 1 egg at a time and mix until thoroughly incorporated.
  5. Add molasses to the cream mixture.
  6. To the cream mixture, alternately add the flour mixture and the hot water until all combined in the mixing bowl.
  7. Remove the bowl from the mixer and, by hand, fold in raisins (if using).
  8. Using a small cookie scooper, drop the cookies onto a baking sheet that is lined with parchment paper.  Make sure that they are about 2 inches apart because they do spread as they bake.
  9. Bake the cookies for 12-15 minutes (time will depend on your oven) or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean (sounds strange, but they rise a little like a cake).
  10. Cool the finished cookies on a cookie rack before eating or storing.

Vanilla Melting Moments (This recipe is from Irish Chef Rachel Allen and utilizes metric measurements)

Vanilla Melting Moments

Ingredients for the cookies:

  • 175 grams self-rising flour
  • 125 grams corn meal (I use yellow)
  • 50 grams powdered sugar
  • 225 grams unsalted butter, softened and cut into pieces
  • 1 vanilla pod worth of vanilla caviar (split the pod and scrape out the inside)

Ingredients for the filling:

  • 50 grams unsalted butter, softened
  • 125 grams powdered sugar
  • 1 vanilla pod worth of vanilla caviar (split the pod and scrape out the inside)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Whisk together the self-rising flour, corn flour, and powdered sugar in a food processor and mix for a few seconds.
  3. Add the butter and vanilla caviar, and mix until the entire mixture combines.
  4. When the mixture is combined, remove the blade of the processor and roll the mixture into marble-sized balls.  Place them about half an inch apart (they really don’t spread) onto a parchment lined baking sheet.
  5. Using a fork, flatten the cookies (they will be very puffy if you don’t).
  6. Bake the cookies for about 15 minutes or until they are just turning golden and a bit firm.
  7. Completely cool the finished cookies on a rack.
  8. Combine the ingredients for the filling until it forms a smooth mixture.
  9. Take a small amount of the filling and sandwich it between two of the cookies.
  10. Allow the icing in the cookies to set at room temperature before storing them or eating, your choice (the vanilla smell by this point will be amazing and you will want to eat them all).

Stem (Candied) Ginger and Semisweet Chocolate Cookies (This recipe is from Irish Chef Rachel Allen and utilizes metric measurements)

Stem (Candied) Ginger and Semisweet Chocolate Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 150 grams all-purpose flour
  • 25 grams rice flour (or an additional 25 grams of all-purpose flour)
  • 125 grams unsalted butter, softened
  • 50 grams light brown sugar
  • 75 grams candied ginger, finely chopped
  • 75 grams semisweet chocolate (I just use Ghirardelli chips)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Combine the all-purpose and rice flours, butter, sugar, and candied ginger in a food processor.  Run the processor until the mixture is a completely combined dough.
  3. Roll the dough into marble-sized balls and place them onto a baking sheet that is lined with parchment paper about an inch apart.
  4. Using a fork, press down the cookies and use your finger to slightly smooth out the top.
  5. Bake the cookies for about 20 minutes or until they are golden.
  6. Place them onto a rack to cool completely.
  7. Once they are cooled, melt the chocolate in the microwave in 10 second increments (watch it closely because it will burn).
  8. Using a brush (I used a small basting brush), brush a thick strip of chocolate across the middle of the cookie.
  9. All the chocolate to dry and harden completely before storing the cookies.

Ricotta Cookies

Ricotta Cookies

Ingredients for the cookies:

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tbsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1- 15 oz. container of whole milk ricotta
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • zest of 1 lemon

Ingredients for the glaze:

  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. milk
  • 2 Tbsp. lemon juice (please use fresh and not the stuff in the bottle)
  • 1 large Container of nonpareils

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Whisk together the first 3 ingredients.
  3. In a stand mixer (or by hand), cream together the butter and sugar until its very light and airy.
  4. To the mixture in the mixer, add in the ricotta, vanilla, eggs (one at a time) and the lemon zest.  Mix until combined.
  5. To the cream mixture, slowly add in the flour mixture.  Mix until combined.
  6. Using a tablespoon, place the dough (two inches apart) onto a baking sheet that is lined with parchment paper.
  7. Bake the cookies for 15 minutes or until the cookies turn brown (they puff a bit, so I used the toothpick test and it worked just as well).
  8. Place the cookies on a rack to cool completely.
  9. Once they have cooled, combine the powdered sugar, milk, and lemon juice in a bowl.  Mix until it is thoroughly combined.
  10. Taking one cookie at a time, dip the top of each cookie into the glaze until you almost reach the bottom of the cookie.  Lift the cookie out and let it drip for about 5-10 seconds to allow the excess glaze to drip back into the bowl.  Place the cookie (glazed side up) on a cookie rack and sprinkle with nonpareils (you may want to place a piece of parchment paper or cling wrap under the cookie rack to catch any drips).  Allow the glaze to harden completely before storing the cookies.

These recipes offer a wide variety of options for you to give to those special people in your life.  You don’t have to make them all, but why wouldn’t you.  They are delicious and are a great treat during the holidays.  I hope that these recipes make your holiday season a little bit better.  Just remember that cookies make everything better, even the crazy parts of the holidays.  Enjoy!

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