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Merry Christmas! I hope everyone’s having a wonderful holiday.  I just wanted to quickly post one last Christmas cookie recipe before the cookie-baking festivities come to a close.

These sugar cookies are very different from the old fashioned sugar cookies that I usually make. The old fashioned ones are chewy, with a crunchy sugary crust and a delicate lemony flavor. These bad boys are cakey and soft and slightly tangy from the sour cream.

James was really excited when I made these cookies – he loves frosted sugar cookies from the grocery store, which are usually pretty gross with their vegetable shortening and long, chemically ingredient lists. These cookies are buttery and delicious. The recipe makes a ton so I froze a couple dozen unfrosted ones to have later.

Frosted Sugar Cookies

From Brown Eyed Baker

Yield: 5 to 6 dozen cookies

Prep Time: 25 minutes | Bake Time: 7 minutes

For the Cookies:
6 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1½ cups sour cream

For the Buttercream Frosting:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups powdered sugar
Pinch of salt
6 tablespoons milk

1. In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt; set aside.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the flat beater attached, cream the butter and granulated sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated. Add the vanilla and sour cream and beat at low speed until combined.

3. Add the dry ingredients and beat at low speed until just combined, scraping down the bowl as needed. Dough will be a bit “sticky”. Divide dough into two sections. Flatten into rectangles about 1½ inches thick, then wrap with plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator overnight or at least two hours until firm.

4. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line large baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.

5. Flour the countertop and the top of the dough. With a rolling pin, roll the dough out to ¼-inch thickness. Using a 2 1/2-inch round cookie cutter, cut out circles and transfer to a baking sheet. Bake for 7 minutes, until pale golden. Immediately transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool. Cook cookies completely before frosting.

6. To make the frosting, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and vanilla. Slowly beat in the powdered sugar and the pinch of salt. Once smooth and creamy, add in heavy cream, 1 tablespoon at a time, then beat at medium-high speed for a minute or two until light and fluffy. If desired, add food coloring and beat until combined.

7. Once cookies have cooled completely, frost and add sprinkles. Allow frosting to set, then store in an air-tight container. Let cookies sit for several hours before serving to allow the flavors to develop.

I’ve said it before: I love all things pumpkin. It’s a bit of an obsession. It seems like every time I go to the grocery store lately, I pick up a can or two of Libby’s pumpkin.

Pumpkin bread is pretty much the epitome of pumpkin-y goodness to me. Even more than pumpkin pie, if you can believe that. I do love pumpkin pie, but I’m more of a cake person than a pie person, and pumpkin bread is like a cake that you get to eat during dinner. Wee! And you can have it for breakfast, guilt-free. Why? Because it’s pumpkin bread, not pumpkin cake. Heh. Perfectly legitimate breakfast option. Of course, if you were to slather on a nice layer of cream cheese frosting, it would be very cake-like… but let’s not blur those lines too much, shall we? It’s bread, and therefore, I get to eat a thick slab of it during dinner and still get to have dessert too.

This is my favorite pumpkin bread recipe. It’s moist and tender and spicy. It’s everything pumpkin bread should be! This makes two loaves, perfect for giving away as a holiday hostess present, or to your neighbors, or to bring in to work to make your coworkers love you… Or just keep them both for yourself! The loaves freeze well, wrapped in a layer of plastic wrap and then a layer of foil.

Pumpkin Bread

Adapted from AllRecipes.com

 

1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree

4 eggs

1 cup vegetable oil

2/3 cup water

1 1/2 cups white sugar

1 cup light brown sugar

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup white whole wheat flour*

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 2 10-inch loaf pans**.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water and sugar until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just blended. Pour into the prepared pans.
  3. Bake for about 60 minutes in the preheated oven. Loaves are done when toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

*You can use 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour and leave out the white whole wheat, but it makes it a bit healthier and you can’t taste it. So if you have it, use it, but if you don’t, you don’t need to run out and buy a bag!

**You can also make muffins with this recipe, which I haven’t done yet, but the recipe should yield about 24 muffins.

I have some savory, healthy things to post about, but right now, all we’re thinking about lately is Christmas cookies, right? I am, it seems. I visited my parents a little bit ago and baked Christmas cookies with them, then when I got home my husband and I baked several different kinds to give to our neighbors. And I’m already looking forward to baking even more cookies while we’re visiting my in-laws in California for Christmas (old fashioned sugar cookies, I’m looking at you).

These cookies are called magic in the middles because, while they have a fairly unassuming exterior, they have a layer of peanut buttery deliciousness tucked inside that really takes them to the next level. They’re rich, chewy cookie perfection. There’s nothing fancy to getting the magic in the middle, either – you make a ball of the filling, then a ball of the chocolate dough, flatten out the chocolate bit and wrap it around the peanut butter filling. Easy peasy. Then you flatten the ball with a glass before baking. You definitely don’t want to skip that last step. Here’s why:

Yup. That’s what I get for not reading the recipe thoroughly before tossing the first cookie sheet in the oven. We ended up with twelve of those lumpy chocolate-peanut butter mountains before I saw the bit in the recipe about flattening the dough balls before baking. Oh well, they still taste great!

If you’re a fan of the chocolate-peanut butter combination, these cookies will be pretty irresistible to you. I know they are for me! (Do you know how hard it was to break that one cookie in half for the photo shoot and not snarf down one – or both – halves when I was done?!)

Magic in the Middles

Adapted slightly from Recipe Girl

DOUGH:
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar (plus extra for rolling)
1/2 cup packed  brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg, room temperature

FILLING:
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1 cup powdered sugar

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats.

2. Prepare dough: In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. In another medium bowl, beat together sugars, butter, and peanut butter until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and egg, beating to combine, then stir in dry ingredients, blending well. Dough will be thick and slightly crumbly.

3. Prepare filling: In a small bowl, stir together peanut butter and powdered sugar until smooth. Roll the filling into one-inch balls.

4. Shape cookies: Scoop out 1 tablespoon of dough and flatten it into a disk. Wrap the dough around one of the balls of filling, then roll between your palms to make smooth. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.

5. Roll each cookie in granulated sugar and place on prepared baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Use the bottom of a drinking glass to flatten each ball to about 1/2-inch thick.

6. Bake cookies for 7 to 9 minutes, until they’re set. Remove them from the oven and cool on a rack.

There are some recipes that, when you find them, you have to make them immediately. This was one of those recipes for me. Rich chocolate cookies rolled in a decadent coating of crushed candy canes? Count me in!

I love this time of year. I love decorating the house for Christmas, I adore putting up the Christmas tree, I love the excitement of buying presents for the ones I love, and I get such a kick out of being able to bake cookies to my heart’s content. These delicious little numbers kicked off the Christmas cookie season for me, and they were perfect for the job. Chocolate and peppermint together are the flavor of Christmas, in my mind.  These cookies definitely rock the chocolate-peppermint thing, and they’ve got a great, almost brownie-like texture to boot. I’ll definitely be adding these to my Christmas repertoire. (The list of cookies I must bake each Christmas keeps growing longer, but that’s not a bad thing, right?)

One note about these cookies: I had a terrible time getting them off my Silpats while they were warm – they just shredded and crumpled up. There was a problem with the candy canes melting onto the Silpat and sticking, even though Silpats are supposed to be stick-resistant. You might have better luck with parchment paper. My solution was to let the cookies cool completely on the cookie sheets before attempting to move them.

Candy Cane Crunch Chocolate Cookies

From Two Peas and Their Pod

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup canola oil
4 ounces 99% unsweetened chocolate, melted (I used 2 oz unsweeted and 2 oz bittersweet)
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
5 candy canes-crushed up (I ended up needing a lot more than 5!)

1. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the oil, chocolate and granulated sugar and blend on medium speed. With the mixer running, add the eggs, one at a time, followed by the vanilla, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary. There may be some small clumps of sugar in the batter at this point. Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed, stopping once to scrape down the sides. Mix until just incorporated, 2 to 3 minutes. The dough will be sticky.

3. Gather the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours or overnight.

4. Position the racks in the lower and upper thirds of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with Silpats or parchment paper.

5. Pour the crushed candy canes onto a plate or into a shallow bowl. Roll the dough into 1-inch balls and roll each ball into the candy cane pieces, so that all sides are covered. Place 2 inches apart on the prepared sheets.

6. Bake for 10 minutes for soft, chewy cookies, or 12 minutes for crisp cookies, rotating the pans halfway through baking. The cookies do set up, so if you want them soft, take them out at 10 minutes. Let cool completely on cooling racks. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for 3 to 4 days.

Oh, I miss this cake.

I distinctly remember the moment when I discovered this recipe. I was thumbing through (devouring, really) my just-arrived copy of Everyday Food magazine. There are a lot of delicious-looking recipes in that issue (November 2011), but when I came to this one, I just stopped and stared.


Maple cake. A layer cake made with lots of maple syrup. Okay. First of all, I love me some layer cakes. I prefer cake over all other desserts, and I prefer layer cakes with frosting over unfrosted cakes. Second: maple syrup is one of my favorite flavors. It’s so good, it’s so… maple-y. It’s a unique flavor, isn’t it? There’s really nothing else like it. And then this divine confection of maple-y goodness is topped not just with frosting, but with brown sugar frosting?!

So I handed the magazine to my husband and pretty much demanded that I make it as soon as possible. As you can imagine, he wasn’t about to hold me back. He knows a good thing when he sees it. His wife is hell-bent on baking a cake? He definitely can’t complain about that!

I made it that weekend, and while the recipe does take a good amount of maple syrup (1 1/2 cups! yowza), I knew that it would be worth it, even though pure maple syrup is rather pricey. While the cake was baking, the house was filled with the most luscious maple aroma ever.

This cake is dense and  moist with a nice tight crumb a lot like a pound cake. The flavor is divine. The maple really shines through – the flavor is right out in front, not like some maple recipes that you kind of have to search for the taste of maple. The brown sugar frosting is the perfect complement. I actually forgot to add the walnuts to the cake batter (I remembered after the cake had been baking for 10 minutes, oops!) and I think it turned out wonderfully, so I’m going to say that the walnuts are optional. I topped mine with maple sprinkles that we bought at a sugaring-off festival in New Hampshire this past spring. If you use walnuts in the batter, you can make a ring of whole walnuts around the top edge.

Maple Layer Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting

Adapted slightly from Everyday Food, November 2011

Yield: 10 Servings Prep time: 45 minutes Total time: 1 hour 15 minute, plus cooling

For the cake:

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for pans

4 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon fine salt

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

1/2 cup packed dark-brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 1/2 cups pure maple syrup

3/4 cup whole milk

1 cup chopped walnut halves, toasted (optional)

For the frosting:

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

3/4 cup packed dark-brown sugar

4 cups confectioners’ sugar

  1. Make the cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two 9-inch round cake pans. Line bottoms with parchment paper; lightly grease parchment. Flour parchment and sides (tapping out excess); set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and brown sugar on high until light and fluffy, 5 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time, scraping down bowl as needed. With mixer on medium-high, add maple syrup in a slow, steady stream. Add flour mixture in two additions, alternating with milk, beating well after each addition and scraping down bowl as needed. Fold in walnuts, if using.
  3. Divide batter between pans; firmly tap pans on a flat surface several times to remove air bubbles. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of a cake comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cakes cool in pans on wire racks, 15 minutes, then invert onto racks; peel off parchment. Invert cakes again and let cool completely on racks.
  4. Make frosting: In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese, butter, and brown sugar on high until light and fluffy, 5 minutes. Gradually add confectioners’ sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, beating well after each addition.
  5. Assemble cake: Place one layer, top side up, on a cake stand or serving plate. Spread top evenly with 1 1/2 cups frosting. Top with second layer, top side down. Spread remaining frosting over top and around sides of cake.

Suzi

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