And so, it begins.

It’s been a while since my last post, but I swear, it’s with good reason! I’ve been in the kitchen. Quite literally, if I wasn’t running errands of sorts, this past week I’ve been getting re-acquainted with my stand mixer and oven. “Baking Season” as I refer to it, doesn’t actually start until I dust off my Love Actually DVD and watch it in the background while I start prepping my kitchen. Don’t ask my why that is, I just seriously have a love on for that movie, always have. Once it’s run it’s course, and I’m all prepped, I crank some of this and get going.

This past weekend has long been known as the holiday party weekend. For most, it’s the kick off to the season’s festivities. A fact that was not lost upon my sister and brother in law. They held (what I hope to be an annual thing *hint*) their Christmas party on Saturday night. And in an effort to pull my weight and lend a hand, I offered to pony up a few dozen cookies for the dessert table. My menu this time round included: Mocha Bites, Sugar Cookies, Checkerboard Shortbreads and Pepernoten (a request from one of my faithful followers). Starting my venture last Tuesday, my plan was to make one type of cookie per day heading into the weekend, decorating the Sugar Cookies the morning of the party. I didn’t really anticipate how adventurous an endeavour this was until I factored in other commitments I had as well. I pulled it off, obviously. I’m just stating that the old saying “no rest for the weary” is a true statement, considering how fast I KO’d on Saturday night, and the fact that I was out until mid-morning Sunday.

Let’s start with the first cookies I churned out: Mocha Bites. This recipe was 100% hi-jacked from my sister’s cookbooks. Mocha Bites are a sort of coffee-infused short bread, so here’s what you’ll need:

Starbucks Mocha Bites 
1 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup icing sugar
1/4 cup Christmas Blend coffee (available from Starbucks in the winter)
4 tsp pure vanilla extract or vanilla paste
2 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup Dutch process cocoa powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 cinnamon
raw sugar for coating

Equipment
Electric Mixer
Knife
Baking Sheets
Parchment paper/Silicone Baking Mat

So, preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl or electric mixer (fitted with the paddle attachment), cream together your butter and icing sugar until smooth, then stir in the coffee and vanilla. Next, sift in the all purpose flour, cocoa, salt and ground cinnamon and mix until your dough starts to form. Turn the dough on to a board that is lightly dusted with icing sugar. Divide your dough in half, and shape into logs. Slice the logs on an angle, in about 1/2 inch slices, and place your “bites” upright on a parchment lined (or silicone mat lined) baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes. While warm, toss your cookies in a bowl filled with raw sugar, and allow to cool. 

I packaged up a few of the finished Mocha Bites to hand out to friends and family, presentation is key.

Next up, I slaved over some totally delicious Checkerboard Shortbreads. I originally learned how to make these holiday favourites in 2005, watching a re-run of Martha Stewart (guilty!) These cookies not only look amazing, but have the taste to match. This is the third time I’ve made them in a large batch, and each year, it seems I cannot make enough to keep up with demand. They are worth all the effort, trust me. I made a triple batch this year, the dough can be refrigerated for about 3 days pre-baking, or frozen for several weeks, so no excuses people!

Checkerboard Shortbreads (yields about 4 dozen)
1 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp pure lemon extract
1/4 tsp sea salt
2 1/2 cups sifted, all purpose flour
3 tbsp Dutch process cocoa powder
1 large egg

Equipment:
Electric mixer
Ruler
Rolling Pin
Sharp Knife
Pastry Brush
Cling wrap
Parchment Paper/Silicone Baking mat
Baking Sheets

In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with your paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar together, until smooth. Add vanilla and lemon extracts, and salt. With your mixer on a low speed, gradually add your flour, not forgetting to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Turn your dough onto a clean work surface; at this should it should be a little crumbly and loose. Knead your dough by pushing small amounts away from you with the heel of your hand. Once your dough has formed, divide it in half. Sprinkle one half with cocoa powder, kneading it continuously until the cocoa is fully absorbed.

Now, place half of the kneaded dough between two sheets of cling wrap. Using a rolling pin, shape the dough into two 7 inch squares, about 3/8 of an inch thick. Take your knife and ruler, and slice each squares into nine 3/4 inch wide strips.

Whisk together the egg, and 1 tablespoon of water in a small bowl. Grab another piece of plastic wrap, and place three strips of dough on the plastic, alternating between white and chocolate strips. Brush the tops and sides of the strips with egg wash, and gently press them together. Repeat, forming second and third layers, making sure to alternate colours to create your checkerboard effect. Once you’ve finished your third layer, wrap this log in plastic, and start your second, repeating the process. Refrigerate 30 minutes, and preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Line your baking sheet with parchment paper. Take your logs out of the fridge and on to a cutting board. Slice each log into 1/4 inch thick slices, and place onto the baking sheet. Bake for about 10-12 minutes. When you take your cookies out of the oven, be sure to leave them on the tray for 2 minutes, to ensure they are settled, otherwise if you transfer them to a wire rack too soon they will disintegrate.

Enjoy!

This next cookie is a new, and fast becoming must-do recipe for Christmas. A certain reader, based in Amsterdam, asked that I make a traditional Dutch cookie for the holidays. So, we made a deal, I bake the cookies, blog about them, and he blogs about Christmas- Dutch style.

Pepernoten (yields about 50)
50g unsalted butter
1/2 brown sugar
1/2 white sugar
2 1/2 tbsp milk
1 cup sifted, all purpose flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder

Speculaas spices:
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground anise

Preheat your oven to 320 degrees Fahrenheit. In a bowl or electric mixer, cream together your butter and sugar, then add your Speculaas spices. Mix until well blended. Gradually add the flour and milk, until your dough begins to form. Roll small marble sized balls and place them on an un-greased baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes until golden. Cool, and enjoy!

Once out of the oven, they will have flattened out slightly, and should have a crunchy exterior. The spices give you a totally different flavour in an otherwise totally sugar dominated cookie season.

This of course, is just 3 of the delights I made this time around. I’ll stop here, purely because I don’t want to bore some of you to sleep. Well, that and I should probably catch some shut eye as well.

Until the next, good eats!

Meera

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