December 20, 2009

Christmas Cutout Cookies


In my Thanksgiving post, I mentioned trying a couple of new recipes in search of the perfect cutout cookie recipe.   I initially thought that they were too much like shortbread for my liking, but one of the recipes in particular grew on me and I’ve since used it for 3 batches of Christmas cookies.   It’s a pretty simple recipe.  The only flavoring it calls for is almond extract.  I tried adding some vanilla and salt, but decided that I prefer the recipe in its original form.

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The question is: why do these cookies hold their shape so much better than those made with my old sugar cookie recipe?  Is it that one uses baking soda and baking powder and the other only baking powder, or is it that one recipe calls for two eggs, while the other only calls for one.  Maybe it has something to do with the absence of salt in the new recipe.  I suspect that it is related to the leavening and/or eggs.  Once again, my knowledge of food science falls far short of my culinary aspirations.

I hope that this won’t always be the case, however.  I've had my eye out for a book on the subject and came across one at the library a couple of months ago.  I didn’t get to spend near enough time with it, though.  I got about one quarter of the way through a fascinating chapter on the historical significance and chemical behavior of dairy products before I had to return the book.  It’s on my Christmas wish list, and I hope that soon I’ll be one step closer to at least attempting to answer the cutout cookie question and others. 


All of the cookies in this picture were made using the same cookie cutter.  Some of them actually look like pumpkins and others are just orange blobs.

In addition to its shape-holding power, the new dough is much easier to roll out and cut.   An added bonus is that it doesn’t call for corn syrup like my old recipe does.   Below are their ingredients for comparison.  The old recipe is baked at 350, and the new one at 400:

Old Sugar Cookie Recipe

1 ¼ cups granulated sugar 
1 cup butter    
2 eggs 
1 tablespoon vanilla 
1-2 teaspoon almond extract (optional) 
¼ cup light corn syrup   
3 cups all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking teaspoon powder  
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ to 1 teaspoon salt

New Cutout Sugar Cookie Recipe

1 cup sugar 
1 cup butter 
1 egg 
1 ½ teaspoons almond extract 
2 tablespoons milk
2 ½ cups flour 
1 teaspoon baking powder

Believe it or not, I don’t spend all my time wondering about the science behind everything I cook.  Sometimes I just enjoy it (not that I don’t enjoy the science part).

This week I even had a friend to bake with!

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December 5, 2009


We survived hosting our first Thanksgiving!   Usually the holiday is a huge extended-family affair, but since we couldn’t get down to Arkansas this year, we decided to host Thanksgiving for our friends who were also spending the weekend here. 

I was really excited about making my first turkey, which was pretty much my only consolation for not being able to go home.  We reserved a turkey at the farmers' market a few weeks in advance, so we got it fresh and straight from the farm!

I spent lots of time in the kitchen and even laid out a cooking plan for the days leading up to Thanksgiving and a detailed schedule, in 15 minute intervals, for the hours leading up to dinner time.  I knew if I hadn’t done this we would not have eaten until well into the evening.  As it was, we sat down just barely an hour after our 2:30pm dinner time.   There were plenty of appetizers to nibble on in the mean time, and no one seemed to mind the wait.

Bake bread for stuffing

Orange-Scented Cranberry Sauce
Pumpkin-Spice Cheesecake

Salt Turkey
It was my first time dealing with a whole bird.  I was a little intimidated when I first saw the giblets, but I quickly got over it and went to working dry-brining the turkey.
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Make Cookie dough
Make Cheese ball
Bake and skin sweet potatoes
We bought some at the farmers’ market and realized we didn’t have enough, so we had to supplement with a couple of supermarket sweet potatoes.  Look how much deeper in color the local potatoes are!
Make pie crust

Dry bread for stuffing
Bake Cookies
I have a sugar cookie recipe that I have used for years.   It makes wonderfully chewy and delicious sugar cookies.  However, the cookies spread quite a bit when baked, which all but ruins most cookie-cutter shapes.  So this time, in addition to my usual sugar cookie recipe, I tried a couple of new recipes (which came in the mail with my beautiful new cookie cutters).
While they were much more shortbread-like than my usual sugar cookies, they still tasted great and held their shapes perfectly.

Bake pies
My favorite holiday pie is the Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie that my mother has made for years.   Since one of our guests can’t eat chocolate and Brian can’t eat pecans, I decided to make miniature variations for the special diets:
2 miniature chocolate-bourbon pies and 2 miniature pecan-bourbon pies.

Make frosting and decorate cookies
Since I didn’t start frosting the cookies until  after midnight, I decided to skip the butter cream just use a glaze.
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Make bourbon cream
Make streusel for sweet potato casserole
Start gravy
   (I’ll spare you the photo of the giblets frying.)
Wash veggies and herbs
I didn’t do all the work.  Brian made sure the apartment was spotless and washed all the produce for me.
Stuffing, turkey, gravy, sweet potato casserole, corn casserole, rolls…
Stuffing and Roasting the Turkey
Salt pork lends flavor:
Several hours later
Setting the Table

Carving the Turkey
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The Spread

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The Aftermath