Family Holiday Recipes

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Button-ScotchShortbread Button-CoconutToffeeSquares Button-SwedishSpritz

In many homes the holiday season calls forth treasured family recipes that are an important part of celebratory traditions. With Christmas approaching, I’m looking to these recipes for some relaxed baking fun. Part of what makes them relaxing and fun is that they are perfect as they are. One of the must-do recipes in our house is for shortbread. When I was living in residence at university, I decided to serve these at a seasonal open house in my room. A perfect choice as they required few ingredients and could be made by hand if necessary (which was the case in the minimally equipped floor kitchen). I procured what I needed and set the pound of butter in a saucer and placed it on the radiator to soften while I went to work in the library. When I returned, I found that not only had the butter softened, it had mostly melted and overflowed the saucer, running down into the unreachable inner workings of the radiator.  So, into a refrigerator with the butter to firm it up a bit and then on to making the cookies. The shortbread was a huge success and, with the visible evidence of my mishap wiped up, I forgot all about it. A few days later though, my room began to acquire a rancid, sheep-like smell. Throughout the rest of the winter, I had to leave the heat in my room off and the window cracked no matter how cold it got outside. Made for a long winter.

Just in time for the season, here are some of my family’s holiday favourites. Enjoy!

Scotch Shortbread

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Of all the recipes tried over the years, this is still the family’s shortbread of choice. While you can use any butter and the shortbread will be great, I recommend purchasing a quality brand (as opposed to a store brand) as they usually have a higher fat content and slightly better flavour. I also like to keep decorations to a minimum so nothing detracts from the luxurious shortbread – usually a small snippet of candied fruit or a single silver or gold dragée. I avoid the balls that come in the round combination of sprinkles containers in the grocery store as they do not always retain their shape and melt into the cookies. I also roll the dough out between two pieces of waxed paper to avoid any sticking issues. The shortbread will keep in an airtight tin for at least a week (if they last that long – yum!) and can also be well wrapped and frozen for up to a month.

Button-PrintVersion

  • Makes: Approx. 30 (Depending on size)
  • Hands on Time: 30 min
  • Baking Time: 20 min

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup salted or unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ cup icing sugar, sifted if lumpy
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. Cream the butter until light and fluffy (shouldn’t take more than a minute as you are not trying to whip air into the dough). Beat in the icing sugar just until combined.
  3. Gradually beat in the flour and mix until combined (about a minute, or so). Knead the dough briefly by hand to bring it all together. If your butter was very soft, you may want to wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for about 30 minutes to firm up a bit. Otherwise, you can proceed with the cookies once you have kneaded the dough and it is smooth and easy to handle.
  4. Pat the dough into a disk and lightly sprinkle the top and bottom with flour. Place a piece of waxed paper on the work surface and dust lightly with flour; place the dough in the middle and cover with a second piece of waxed paper.
  5. Roll out the dough to a scant ½ inch thickness and cut out your cookies. I usually use cutters between 1 ½ inches to 3 inches. The shortbread are really rich and you don’t want them too big. You also want to cut as many cookies as possible from this first rolling of the dough as cookies from subsequent rollings are not quite as tender (but still perfectly acceptable).
  6. Use a metal spatula to transfer the cookies to the prepared sheet and bake until the bottom edges are starting to turn a delicate golden brown colour (you can lift one up with a fork for a quick peek – see below), about 20 minutes. I usually do a first check for browning after 15 minutes just to be safe.
  7. When done, remove from the oven and cool on a baking sheet for 10 to 15 minutes, then place on a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

Variation:

  • Divide the dough in half, and add two tablespoons of coloured sprinkles. Pat
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    Variation Cookies

    the dough into a square about ½ inch deep and smooth across the top. Chill for at least 30 minutes. Cut the dough into ½ inch cubes. Bake the cubes as in step 6 above.

  • Divide the dough in half and add 2 tbsp of finely grated orange zest. Also add 3 tbsp of finely chopped crystallized ginger.

Coconut Toffee Squares

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These squares are sweet and totally yummy. They keep well for several days at room temperature in a sealed plastic container. I like to cut them into small squares of roughly 1 inch or so.

Button-PrintVersion

  • Makes: 32 small squares or 20 larger bars
  • Hands on Time: 15 min
  • Baking Time: 40 min total

Ingredients:

  • Base:
    • ½ c butter, softened
    • ½ c brown sugar
    • 1 c all-purpose flour
  • Topping:
    • 2 large eggs
    • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
    • 1 c brown sugar
    • 1 tsp baking powder
    • ½ tsp salt
    • 1 c shredded sweetened coconut
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • ½ tsp almond extract

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line an 8 inch square pan with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. For the base: Cream the ½ cup of butter briefly with the brown sugar and then beat in the 1 cup of flour until combined. You will have a crumbly mixture. Press firmly and evenly into the prepared pan and bake for 10 minutes in a 350F oven.
  3. While the base is baking, prepare the topping. In a bowl, combine all the topping ingredients and beat them together.
  4. After the base has baked for 10 minutes, remove it from the oven and spread the topping mixture over the base. Return to the oven and bake for a further 25 to 30 minutes until the top is golden brown and the filling below is set. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan on a wire rack. When the squares are still somewhat warm, lift the uncut baking out of the pan by the parchment and cut it into squares. Cool completely.

My Christmas Variation: Add 2 tbsp of finely grated orange zest and a ¾ cup of dried cranberries to the topping mixture, stirring them in after the other topping ingredients have been combined.

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Swedish Spritz

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These cookies have always been a favourite of mine. My mom made these every Christmas. For these cookies, you will need a cookie press. These take a bit of practice. It’s worth mentioning that I learned some choice vocabulary watching my mom trying to operate her cookie press. But the cookies were always good! If you don’t want to use a cookie press, it is also possible to chill the dough and then roll it and cut it with cookie cutters.

Once I have the cookies pressed out onto the cookie sheet, I chill them in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. This helps the cookies to keep their unique shape while baking. Without the chilling, the cookies tend to spread and loose definition. You can decorate these cookies before or after baking. I usually add a sprinkling of coloured sugar before I bake them.  I make my own coloured sugar by adding a little food colouring (either liquid or paste) to some granulated sugar that I’ve placed in a baggie and then I give the whole works a good shake.

Button-PrintVersion

  • Makes: Approx. 40 cookies.
  • Hands on Time: 45 min
  • Chilling and Baking Time: 40+ min

Ingredients:IMG_0375

  • 1 ½ cups salted butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, well beaten
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 3 ½ to 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder

Steps:

  1. Line two cookie sheets with parchment and set aside.
  2. Cream the butter briefly, then beat in the sugar thoroughly. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until well combined.
  3. Combine the flour and baking powder (and any spices you might be adding – see variations). Gradually beat the flour mixture into the butter/sugar/egg mixture and mix until you have a smooth dough. Do not over mix.
  4. If using a cookie press, force the dough through a cookie press now. If not using a cookie press, shape it into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for about 30 minutes before rolling out and cutting. If you are having trouble getting the dough to come away from the press and separate cleanly when forming the cookies, you probably need to add a little more flour to the dough. In this case, gather the dough back together and knead in by hand another ¼ to ½ cup of flour. Cookies should be about 1½ inches apart on the cookie sheet. Add decorations as desired and chill the cookies on the sheet for at least 30 minutes.
  5. Preheat oven to 400F. Bake the chilled cookies until set but not brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Keep an eye on these – they burn easily.

Variations:

  • You can also play with this recipe by adding spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, and ginger, or a combination along with the flour. A teaspoon or so should be enough, but you can also add to taste.
  • You can also wrap the dough around the small Lindt Lindor chocolate balls for a cookie with a surprise. Bake as above.

happyholidays

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“Tis an ill cook that cannot lick his own fingers”

Button-JumpToRecipeI am recipe obsessed – continually in search of the recipe that yields a taste sensation; that has you thinking about its blending of flavours; and that leaves you dying for just one more taste.

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My obsession includes a collection of some one thousand cookbooks, stacks of cooking magazines, and boxes, files, and notebooks crammed with recipes. Recently retired (I was a teacher), I can now indulge my passion further by actually ferreting out the best tastes in my collection; or, if need be, developing the best. As William Shakespeare put it, “Tis an ill cook that cannot lick his  [or her] own fingers.”

This blog is a record of my adventures and experiments in finding the ultimate recipe for…

Beginnings

I began my cooking experiments as a three year-old by dumping flour, oats (and everything else at hand in the bottom cupboard) into the middle of my grandmother’s kitchen floor and stirring them together. I am told there was no bowl or other container involved. Granny thought I was very clever; my mother not so much.

Notebooks

My other grandmother had some of her baking fall victim to my experiments with the dials on the front of her stove. She, however, had the wisdom to recognize a budding interest in cooking. She set about teaching me how to stir so ingredients stayed in the bowl. I also learned that there was an order in how things went together, and how things tasted (yummy or yucky). Once I could read, she taught me how to understand a recipe, measure carefully and, most importantly, to think about taste and texture and what I was aiming for. I began to develop pretty strong technical skills and was not frightened of trying new recipes, even those deemed difficult. By the time I was twelve my mother had me making soufflés for a ladies’ luncheon.

During the 1980s I spent a lot of time at Bonnie Stern’s School of Cooking. It was there that I really began to expand my taste experiences and consider the new flavours and ingredients that were flooding Toronto’s culinary scene. Bonnie’s recipes always provided that jolt to the taste buds, that  “there’s the taste I was missing” experience. It was also where my obsession with recipes began; the search for the very best tasting recipe for whatever dish had captured my attention.

The Chocolate Chip Cookie

In the last few years that I was teaching, our school staff included a number of foodies and a social convenor who set up several staff bake-offs. The first of these I entered was for the best chocolate chip cookie.

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It so happens that the perfect chocolate chip cookie was one of my first food obsessions. In the 1970s there used to be a Dutch bakery on the east side of Church Street just south of Wellesley, close to where I was working for the summer. Their chocolate chippers had a wonderful “tingle” of some subtle flavour in the background. It took me a long time to identify the ingredient – even now, I’m not sure, but almost certainly it was mace– and it became my secret ingredient too.

For the bake-off I seriously began experimenting with add-ins to my cookie dough. About eight variations later I had what my family thought was the best: a dough that contained not only mace but also orange zest and espresso powder. Intriguing, more sophisticated, not too sweet – and really good! (But not a winner – they came second.)

Cookies - Orange Peel

Recently Scandinavian baking has been capturing my attention. It has given me some new ideas to try with my chocolate chip cookie dough. I have introduced some rye flour and the zest of a whole orange for taste. In an old note book, I have a version that adds corn flakes (another uses Rice Krispies). I decided to try Frosted Flakes to add to the crunch. Further experiments have yielded some great variations, the overall favourite being one that included homemade candied orange peel (more about that in another post). Whatever the choice, you end up with a large, rustic-looking and utterly delicious chocolate chip cookie. One obsession down.

This is a very easy recipe to play around with. You can switch the cereal to another crispy variety; you can use all-purpose flour instead of the rye; if you love coffee flavour, increase the amount of espresso by ½ to 1 tsp; not fond of orange  – leave the zest out. In developing this particular take on a chocolate chip cookie, I found that Kellog’s brand of Frosted Flakes is sturdier than store brands and maintains a somewhat better crunch when mixed in. This dough is best mixed with a stand mixer but can also be made with a hand held electric mixer or even by hand with a wooden spoon as no long periods of beating are required. If mixing with something other than a stand mixer, you might want to crush the cereal somewhat before adding it to the dough. The paddle or beaters of a stand mixer will crush the cereal for you.

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(Makes 24 large cookies)

Button-PrintVersion

  • Hands on Time: 10-15 minutes
  • Chilling and Baking Time: 1 hour 13 min

Ingredients:

  • 1 ¼ c all-purpose flour
  • ½ c dark rye flour
  • ½ c butter, (either salted or unsalted), softened
  • ½ c granulated sugar
  • ½ c brown sugar (light or dark), firmly packed
  • 1/3 c canola oil
  • Grated zest of 1 orange
  • 1 tsp espresso granules
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 2 c Frosted Flakes
  • 1 1/2c semi-sweet chocolate chips

Steps:

  1. Combine the all-purpose and rye flours in a bowl and set aside. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside. One of the sheets will be used for chilling the cookies.
  2. In a large bowl combine the butter and the granulated and brown sugars. Beat until well combined.
  3. Beat in the oil to combine.
  4. Add the orange zest and the espresso powder and mix in. I grate the orange zest directly into the bowl using a micro-plane so that none of the flavour in the peel is lost.
  5. Add egg and vanilla. Mix well.
  6. Sprinkle the salt and baking soda over the surface of the dough, then mix in well.
  7. Add the flour mixture to the sugar/butter/oil mixture all at once and mix just until combined.
  8. Add the cereal and chocolate chips and mix just to distribute through the dough.
  9. Scoop the dough in 2 tbsp balls and place on one of the parchment lined cookie sheets. As the cookies are going into the refrigerator to firm up, they do not have to be spaced far apart. All 24 cookies can go on one sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour.
  10. Just before the hour is up, preheat the oven to 350F.
  11. Remove cookies from the refrigerator. Place 12 of the cookies on the second prepared cookie sheet, spread out about 1 ½ inches apart. Bake this sheet first. Reposition the remaining cookies on first sheet and set aside. Bake cookies for about 13 minutes or until they have a light, golden colour. Allow to cool on the cookie sheet for 10 minutes and then remove to a wire rack to cool completely (if they don’t get consumed first).

Variations:

  1. Replace rye flour with unsweetened cocoa powder.
  2. Substitute chopped, candied orange peel for the chocolate chips.
  3. Use a combination of chopped, candied orange peel and chocolate chips in either the rye or the cocoa flavoured doughs.
  4. Substitute a Terry’s Chocolate Orange, coarsely chopped, for the chocolate chips.
  5. Use mini-chocolate chips in place of regular sized chips in any of the variations.

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