Category: Baking

Tips for Baking Better Christmas Cookies

Cookies and other baked treats are everywhere come the holiday season. It’s not uncommon to give cookies as gifts or arrive at holiday gatherings with cakes and other decadent desserts. Cookies are a classic holiday treat, and some families even build entire traditions around baking Christmas cookies.

Novice bakers making cookies for the first time may be a little overwhelmed when perusing recipes. Baking is a science, and sometimes it takes practice to get the results just right. However, there are some tips that can help yield better, buttery bounties.

Handle butter with care

Butter can make or break a cookie recipe, as butter is often the glue that holds the cookie together. Therefore, it is key to follow the directions carefully regarding how to handle butter. Smithsonian.com says to leave butter at room temperature for 30 to 60 minutes to properly soften it. This takes patience, but fiddling with butter too much can damage its delectable integrity. While purists may say butter is best, margarine may be acceptable if it has a high fat content; otherwise, cookies may spread out and flatten. When it comes time to cream the butter with sugar, be sure to do so thoroughly to incorporate air into the butter and remove the grainy texture of the sugar.

Measure flour properly

Measuring flour the right way can ensure cookies come out right. The Cooking Channel says to spoon the flour lightly into a dry measuring cup, then level it off with a knife. Do not dip the measuring cup into the flour or tap the knife against the cup. This will pack too much flour into the measuring cup and result in dry, tough cookies.

Slow down the eggs

Add eggs one at a time to make sure each will emulsify properly with the fat in the butter. Adding eggs en masse may cause the emulsification to fail.

Chill out

Follow recipes that call for chilling cookie dough carefully. This process is important for making sliced and shaped cookies. By chilling, the dough becomes more malleable for rolling and even slicing.

Use a bottom rack

Too much heat may compromise cookie integrity. The food experts at Delish say to try moving cookies onto a lower rack in the oven if they aren’t retaining their shape when baked. Put an empty cookie sheet on the top rack. That will block the cookies from the most intense heat that rises to the top of the oven.

Mastering cookies takes a little patience and some trial and error. Once bakers get their feet wet, Christmas-cookie-baking becomes even more special.

Thanksgiving Quiche Puts Sweet Potatoes Front and Center

Sweet potatoes are a favorite side dish at Thanksgiving dinner tables. Packed with vitamins, nutrients, fiber, and delectable flavor, sweet potatoes have earned their place on holiday dinner tables. While many holiday hosts bake, fry or mash their sweet potatoes, these beloved tubers can be prepared in other ways as well.

If you want to put a new twist on this Thanksgiving staple, whip up this recipe for “Sweet Potato Quiche,” courtesy of the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission. Submitted to the NC State Fair Tailgate Recipe Contest by Kristen Frybort, this recipe marries sweet tubers with decadent cheese, rich cream and savory spices.

 
 

Sweet Potato Quiche

Makes 8 servings

2 cups sweet potatoes, peeled and diced into small cubes

3⁄4 cup yellow onion, diced

21⁄2 tablespoons olive oil

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

Black pepper to taste

Egg mixture:

4 eggs

1 cup heavy cream

1⁄2 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced

1⁄2 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced

11⁄2 teaspoons salt

1⁄4 teaspoon pepper

3 ounces Gruyere cheese, shredded

Pre-baked deep dish pie crust

Preheat oven to 400 F. Mix together the first five ingredients and place on baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes. While sweet potatoes and onions are roasting, shred cheese and set aside. Whisk the egg mixture and set aside. Once potatoes and onions have finished roasting, spoon them into the pre-baked pie shell. Next, layer the shredded cheese on top of the sweet potatoes. Reduce oven to 375 F. Pour egg mixture over the cheese and potatoes. Place quiche in the oven on a center rack. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, or until eggs are set.

A Spiced Dessert for Halloween Parties

Halloween party hosts may want to have a variety of treats on hand to satisfy the assortment of sweet tooths in attendance. Candy might be the first thing people think of on Halloween, but cakes and cookies can make for delicious treats as well. Borrowing from the flavors of the season, including pumpkin, cinnamon and nutmeg, “Spiced Pumpkin Cake” from “Real Simple: Easy, Delicious Home Cooking (Time Home Entertainment)” from the editors of Real Simple can be a welcome addition to any Halloween spread.

Spice Pumpkin Cake (Serves 12)

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan

3 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled, plus more for the pan

5 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

11⁄2 teaspoons baking powder

3⁄4 teaspoon baking soda

1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt

11⁄2 cups granulated sugar

3 large eggs

1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree

1⁄2 cup whole milk

1⁄4 cup molasses

11⁄4 cups confectioners’ sugar

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Heat oven to 350 F. Butter and flour a 12-cup bundt pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and granulated sugar on medium-high heat until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. One at a time, beat in the eggs. Beat in the pumpkin puree, milk, and molasses (the mixture may appear curdled). Reduce the mixer speed to low; gradually add the flour mixture and mix until just combined (do not overmix). Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 55 to 65 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 30 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack to cool completely. In a small bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice until smooth. Drizzle over the cake. Let set before serving.

Tip: This cake can be baked and glazed up to one day in advance. Store, covered at room temperature.

A Quick and Delicious Holiday Dessert

The holiday season is synonymous with many things, including delicious foods. While Thanksgiving turkeys or Christmas geese will be found on many a table this holiday season, baked goods and desserts are what many people look forward to this time of year.

Holiday hosts with a lot on their plates might not have the time to prepare homemade baked goods for their guests. Thankfully, the following recipe for “Chocolate-Strawberry Pie” from Addie Gundry’s “No-Bake Desserts” (St. Martin’s Press) can be prepared in just 15 minutes, all without turning on the oven.

Chocolate-Strawberry Pie

Yields 1 pie

1 pint fresh strawberries, washed, trimmed and halved
1 store-bought (or homemade) chocolate cookie pie crust
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon minced crystallized ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch of kosher or sea salt
6 large egg yolks
21/2 cups half-and-half
6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 tablespoon rum extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Additional strawberries for garnish (optional)

1. Place the strawberry halves in a single layer in the bottom of the pie crust.
2. In a medium saucepan, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, cocoa powder, ginger, nutmeg, and salt over medium heat.
3. Whisk in the egg yolks to create a thick paste. Gradually whisk in the half-and-half until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat.
4. Add the chocolate and whisk until combined. Add the rum and vanilla extracts. Cool the mixture for 4 minutes.
5. Pour the filling over the strawberries and up to the top of the crust. Chill the pie for 2 hours or until set.
6. Garnish with additional strawberries, if desired.

Baking Shortcuts for Time-Pressed Entertainers

‘Tis the season for baking cookies, cakes and other treats. However, during the holiday rush, it’s easy to get side-tracked or tired, and perhaps even a little bit overwhelmed by all the things to do in such a short period of time. Holiday baking doesn’t have to add to seasonal stress. With these tips and shortcuts, there will be plenty of sweet treats for the family.

Stick with tested recipes

Although holiday bakers may want to branch out a bit with their culinary creativity, recipes that have previously been prepared with great success can take some of the work out of holiday baking. Preparing recipes you recall preparing in the past is much easier than trying something new. If you’d like, add sparkle to old standards, such as decorating oatmeal or chocolate chip cookies with colored sprinkles.

Cookies are fast-baking

Did you know that cookies were originally made to test oven temperatures? Culinary historians say that cookies were first made to test if an oven was hot enough to bake other goods. Today, cookies can be whipped up in mere minutes. Make a batch of dough and then freeze or refrigerate it, thawing it when the time comes to bake. Also, think about baking one day and decorating the next if pressed for time.

Embrace colored candy melts

Icing can be tricky to master. Simply heating colored candy melts and pouring over cakes or painting onto cookies can add festive appeal to desserts. Candy melts even come in many different colors and can be combined to achieve the tint desired.

Keep ingredients in top form

Don’t let poorly performing ingredients or a lack of supplies be your undoing. Butter can be softened quickly in the microwave when needed for recipes. Eggs can be brought to room temperature by allowing them to sit in a bowl of warm water. Ensure that brown sugar stays soft by putting a piece of sliced bread in the container. Don’t forget to stock up on other baking staples, such as vanilla and almond extracts, baking powder/soda, molasses, and confectioner’s sugar.

Don’t bake from scratch

Not all recipes need to be made from scratch. Boxed cake mixes can be embellished and turned into delicious desserts without much fuss. Substitute melted butter for oil, buttermilk for water, and add an extra egg for a rich cake. Mix in chocolate chips or nuts or experiment with garnishes for a festive look.

Parchment paper is key

Line cookie sheets or cake pans with parchment paper for easy dessert release and quick cleanup. Parchment paper and even foil can help lift cakes or cookie bars out of pans so they look neat and do not stick.

Holiday baking can be made much easier by employing a few tricks of the trade.

My Franklin Shopper App