The Seventh Day of Christmas: Double Chocolate Peppermint Crunch Cookies

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I have a secret to share with you. I still write letters to Santa Claus… every Christmas.

It’s almost more like a confession. Usually in these instances I would ask you to suspend judgment, but its okay today, you can judge me. I’m a 28 year old working professional with a college degree, and every Christmas Eve I sit down and write a letter to Santa Claus. The truth can’t be denied, I have the letter I wrote last year as proof.

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I have a second secret to share with you. Santa Claus writes me back… every Christmas. Again, I provide proof of this phenomenon by sharing the response letter he wrote back to me in 2011. At our house, Santa is always very clever writing letters backwards and in the wrong direction—he’s tricky like that. IMG_0422

Aside from creating a fairly persuasive argument for the fact that I’m completely crazy (which is exactly what my boyfriend thought when I shared this tradition with him on one of our first dates), I wanted to post these letters to show that you can never take yourself too seriously—no matter how old you are. Whether you’re 28 like me, or a wide-eyed 4 year-old sitting in Santa’s lap—why not have a little fun during the holiday season? What would you write to Santa in your letter for 2012? Now as to Santa responding to your letter, I can’t help you with that one…

One of the biggest choices on Christmas Eve can be selecting the best cookies to leave out for Santa. These cookies are packed with everything you (and Santa) could hope to enjoy in a cookie. Chocolate… more chocolate… peppermint… pecans…. seriously, they are completely delectable. Enjoy giving these guys a shot for Santa’s cookie plate!

Day Seven: Double Chocolate Peppermint Crunch Cookies
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Ingredients
1 cup unsalted butter
2 tablespoons instant coffee granules
2 cups plus two tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup baking cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 package (10 ounces) Peppermint Crunch Baking Chips
1-4 ounce bar of semi-sweet chocolate, chunked
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans

Directions
Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.

In a small saucepan melt butter with coffee granules over low heat until granules are completely dissolved. Remove pan from heat and let cool to about room temperature.

Sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl and set aside. Beat butter mixture, sugar, brown sugar and vanilla in a large bowl. Beat at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Beat in eggs. Gradually beat in the flour mixture 1/3 at a time, beating at low speed just until blended. Stir in peppermint crunch baking chips, chocolate chunks and nuts.

Drop rounded tablespoons of dough 2 inches apart onto an ungreased or parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Let rest on baking sheet for 1 minute then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
Butter should never be melted on high heat. High heat causes the milk solids to separate out and can burn the butter. Watch butter carefully when melting and remove it from the heat when it’s about three-quarters melted, then stir until it’s completely melted.

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The Sixth Day of Christmas: Colorful Candy Bar Cookies

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Around the holidays my own personal jukebox operates inside my head. I walk around humming and whistling holiday tunes as they enter my head. When I’m in my apartment, nothing can be completed without some accompanying Christmas music. I bake cookies to Frosty the Snowman, I wash dishes to White Christmas, I fold laundry to We Wish You a Merry Christmas, and I even read my books with Santa Baby in the background. You’re beginning to see my point… everything is accompanied by Christmas music, which mostly comes in the form of my Pandora radio station. This obsession typically begins the day after Thanksgiving and lasts up until the New Year.

Today, I decided I’d share some of my favorite Christmas songs of the moment. I say the moment, because sometimes my favorite songs vary by the day. However, I will admit that I have been obsessively listening to #1 on my list which is Mistletoe by Justin Bieber. I’m a big fan… I must ask for no judgment on this point. But enough talk about JB. Enjoy my top 10 Christmas songs which I present to you on this sixth day of Christmas.

1. Mistletoe- Justin Bieber

2. All I Want for Christmas Is You, Mariah Carey
3. Someday At Christmas, Stevie Wonder
4. Baby It’s Cold Outside, Glee Cast
5. Now Behold the Lamb, Kirk Franklin
6. This Christmas, Donny Hathaway
7. I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas, Gayla Peevey
8. Let It Snow, Boys II Men
9. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, DMX
10. Carol of the Bells, Trans-Siberian Orchestra

I hear you exclaiming… “What about the cookies?!” Well, these sugar cookies pack an extra punch inside them. I figured everybody makes sugar cookies for Christmas, so why not make something a little extra special. That’s exactly what these cookies manage to do. Not only do they have a delicious candy bar surprise in the middle, but they are also coated with festive holiday sprinkles to make them eye-appealing! Enjoy this fun twist on your traditional sugar cookies.

Day Six: Colorful Candy Bar Cookies
Adapted from Taste of HomeIMG_5787

Ingredients
1/2 tube sugar cookie dough, softened (it’s okay to cheat)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
24 miniature Snickers candy bars
Red and green colored sugar

Directions
Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. In a small bowl, beat cookie dough and flour until combined. Shape 1-1/2 teaspoonfuls of dough around each candy bar. Roll in colored sugar. Place 2 inches apart on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Bake cookies for 10-12 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Remove to wire racks to cool.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
Don’t have miniature candy bars on hand? Instead of using miniature candy bars, slice regular size Snickers candy bars into 1 inch pieces for the centers.

The Fifth Day of Christmas: Holiday Rice Krispie Bars

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Today’s post actually has very little to do with the delicious Rice Krispie bars I baked last weekend. I figured these desserts are pretty fail safe, so instead I could talk to you about other things holiday-related. As I’ve been enjoying the bustle of the holiday season this year, I realized just how easy it is to get caught up in our own lives at this time of year. The most important things become decorating the perfect Christmas tree or baking the most delicious dessert for your holiday party.

Now I am guilty as charged when it comes to obsessing over the holidays. Who doesn’t want the perfect Christmas tree? But I also believe that it’s important to have an awareness of what else is going on around the world. Christmas can be the perfect time to expand your world view and show that you care about the plight of people in other countries—to show you care about their stories, which most likely will not make it as a leading story on your local news channel.

This past weekend I was reading an article on conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and it completely shocked me. The Oxfam International article reported that since 1998, an estimated 5.4 million people have lost their lives in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in the deadliest conflict since the Second World War. Each day the civilian population faces killings, forced recruitment of children, extortion, pillaging and sexual violence at the hands of numerous armed groups and even the Congolese security forces.

You’re probably thinking this is an awfully heavy topic for a baking blog post about holiday cookies- which it undoubtedly is. But this post underscores an important issue for me. So often we have no idea what is going on in other countries, or what struggles a specific population may be facing. Sometimes all it takes is a little awareness to show that you care. Oxfam International has a great gift idea for the holidays that they call Oxfam Unwrapped. It’s an opportunity to donate a charitable gift on behalf of someone for the holidays. With a wide selection ranging anywhere from $35 for a brochure on HIV protection, to $20 to irrigate a farmer’s land for two months—this is a great opportunity to give to others in need around the world.

Finally, not to be completely remiss of my baking blog duties… let me say that these Rice Krispie bars are delicious and festive for the holidays. But my guess is that you’ve made them before and don’t need me to sell you on them!

Day Five: Holiday Rice Krispie Bars
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Ingredients
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
4 cups miniature marshmallows
6 cups Rice Krispies cereal
1 cup holiday M&Ms

Directions
In large saucepan melt butter over low heat. Add marshmallows and stir until completely melted. Remove from heat. Add Rice Krispies cereal and M&Ms. Stir until well coated. Press mixture into 13 x 9 x 2-inch pan coated with cooking spray. Cool. Cut into 2-inch squares.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
Once you remove the marshmallows from the stove and stir in the cereal, things can get a little sticky. To eliminate a mess, use a buttered spatula or wax paper to evenly press the mixture into the pan.

 

The Fourth Day of Christmas: Chocolate Snowballs

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It can be a definite challenge finding the perfect present for friends and family members during the holiday season. To help you out with some ideas, I’m going to give a rundown of my top 5 holiday gadgets for the people on your list that love to spend some time in the kitchen.

1. A stand mixer is the perfect gift for the baker in your life. The KitchenAid brands can get pricey but come in a variety of colors to customize to your kitchen. A 5 quart tangerine KitchenAid Artisan mixer is on my Christmas list for this year… a girl can wish, right?

2. An immersion blender is a nifty appliance you can use to blend ingredients or puree food in the container in which they are being prepared. Last Christmas my boyfriend Matt bought one of these and it’s been pretty indispensable when making soups.

3. Sometimes, a kitchen gadget is something that’s fun but you might not necessarily need. A spoon scale probably fits the bill for this description. If you’re shopping for someone who is a stickler for using recipes, this spoon will ensure you have exactly 0.5 ounces in the tablespoon that you are measuring.

4. Do you ever feel like you don’t have enough space to cool all your cookies on the counter top? Wilton came out with a three-tier cooling rack that solves this problem for anyone that’s searching for a little extra space.

5. Your recipe tells you to roll your dough out a 9 inch circle for a pie crust. You search in vain for your protractor from junior high but come up with nothing. This non-slip pastry helper mat not only gives you a solid foundation to work on, but also has measurements for whatever shape or size you dough you might need to form.

Now, can you make the chocolate snowball recipe featured today without a three-tier cooling rack, stand mixer, and spoon scale? Of course! But sometimes, it’s just fun to have a couple extra gadgets to make the process a little smoother.

Day Four: Chocolate Snowballs
Adapted from Taste of HomeIMG_0048

Ingredients
3/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup baking cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Confectioners’ sugar

Directions
In a large bowl, cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg, milk and vanilla; mix well. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Gradually add to creamed mixture. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Shape dough into 1 inch balls and place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 7-8 minutes or until tops are crackled. Remove to wire racks to cool completely. Roll in confectioners’ sugar.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
When trying to save time in the kitchen around the holidays, it’s tempting to skip the portion of a recipe that tells you to chill your dough for a certain amount of time. Don’t sell yourself short on this step—chilling your dough can be very important to the final product of your cookie. The chilling firms up the fat, which affects how the cookies spread. So if you find that your cookies are spreading more than intended, one solution is to chill the dough in the refrigerator before baking.

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Third Day of Christmas: Sugar Cookies with Jam

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It’s easy to get swept up in the bustle of the holiday season. We have checklists of presents to buy, parties to attend, cookies to bake, cards to send… the list goes on. Advertisers do their best to convince us that the season is about Santa, Rudolph, and the Grinch. We listen to holiday music as we sip hot chocolate and decorate our Christmas trees. But amidst all these activities, it’s easy to forget the true meaning of the season.

I received a gentle reminder when I opened an email from my mom with a link to an Advent plan that her church was using this month. It’s called Rediscovering the Christmas Season, and it features reflection questions and action steps that help you focus on Christ every day between December 1 and Christmas. The nifty thing about this program is that you can have it send emails directly to your inbox each day, which is what I’ve opted to do. It’s a nice way to stay grounded throughout December and not let yourself get swept completely away into the world of sugarplum fairies.

For most of us Christmas is probably a mixture of celebrating the birth of Christ intermingled with other things that make the season special for us. Things like gifts under the tree, lights in the windows, snow in the yard, and turkey dinners with family and friends. Holiday cookies have always been something that signaled the Christmas season for me. Enjoy making these sugar cookies with jam featured for the fourth day of Christmas, and take a little time to think about what the meaning of the season is for you.

Day Three: Sugar Cookies with Jam IMG_0091

Ingredients
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup peach preserves
Sliced almonds, for garnish
Confectioners’ sugar, for garnish

Directions
Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F.

In a small bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in egg and vanilla. Gradually blend in the dry ingredients.

Roll rounded teaspoonfuls of dough into balls, and place onto ungreased cookie sheets. Use your finger or an instrument of similar size to make a well in the center of each cookie. Fill the hole with 1/2 teaspoon of preserves.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven, or until golden. Let stand on cookie sheet two minutes before removing to cool on wire racks. Once cooled, garnish with sliced almond and confectioners’ sugar.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
Getting the perfectly baked sugar cookie is an art in itself. Rotate your baking sheets 180 degrees, halfway through the baking time. Baking on the center rack is best, but if you are using multiple oven racks, switch the position of the sheets, moving top to bottom, bottom to top. Both steps will help the cookies brown evenly and help to prevent over-browned edges.