Sunday, December 20, 2009


I grew up making Christmas cookies with my mom.  We always had a variety of them, and they were usually the same from year to year.  I can't really remember what we did with them; I don't think we gave them away.  I'll have to ask her!  Maybe we just ate them all ourselves.  I know we did take a big lot of them down to my aunt's where where we always spent Christmas day.

We put them in a big box, like a gift box you'd receive a shirt in.  They were in paper cupcake holders, three or four cookies in each one, and there were maybe five or six varieties.  It's very hard to find the right kind of boxes anymore.  They aren't tall enough.  But I still like the box with cupcake papers best for Christmas cookie presentation.

After I 'grew up' (actually, I'm still waiting to do that) and moved out, I continued to make Christmas cookies to give away as gifts to family, friends, and co-workers.  Every now and then I get too busy and Christmas goes by without me doing the cookies.  I always feel let down when that happens.  Often I do them the week between Christmas and New Years when things have calmed down a little, and that is probably what's going to happen this year.

While the variety of cookies changes from year to year, I have favorites that are always included - Mrs.  Jordan's Ginger Cookies, Hello Dollies, Special K Bars, Pecan Balls, and good ol' Toll House Chocolate Chips.  I usually will include brownies. When you're trying to whip out many cookies, the bar cookies really help speed things along.  I will usually make up the dough for the Ginger and the Toll House cookies ahead and freeze it, which helps a bit too.

Our biggest problem has always been keeping the many different cookies fresh until they were all baked and packed and ready to deliver.  I've never been one for freezing baked cookies and at this advanced age, I don't think that's going to change.  What we did when I was growing up was use empty coffee cans.  We would fill them with cookies (sometimes you need to use wax paper in between layers), and the snug plastic lids do a great job of keeping the cookies fresh for quite a few days.

So I am a great hoarder of coffee cans.  Especially since we don't buy our coffee in cans and haven't for ages, so they can be hard to come by.  I still have a box or two in the garage full of coffee cans to use for Christmas cookies. I just wish I knew where they were!  Without the cans, I'm reduced to making the cookies all at once so they can be delivered fresh.  My goal for 2010 is to find the coffee cans for next Christmas!

This year I plan to make seven different cookies -- the five aforementioned, along with brownies and blondies.  I've already got the Ginger cookie dough in the freezer and maybe I can get the Toll House dough made up today.  Of course, we'll have to bake a tray to eat right away, but I'm confident we can save enough dough for the freezer.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Whole Grain Challah

For December the HBinFive group is making a whole grain challah with cranberries and orange zest.  It was easy and yummy.

I followed the recipe exactly as written, using melted butter.  One batch as written just about filled up my Kitchen Aid mixer.  I added the water with the mixer on a lower speed, and there were no overflowing issues at all.  I ended up with just under 5 pounds of dough, so was able to make 5 braids.  I did a one-stranded braid, following the directions on this YouTube video.  It wasn't as easy as they make it look, and I still wouldn't be able to do it without watching the video and pausing it midway through.  But the end result looked great, if I do say so myself!  And was pretty tasty too.

I've never eaten challah bread before, so I really have nothing to compare it to, but this whole grain version was not dense and heavy as you might expect.  The cranberries and orange zest give it a nice holiday flavor.

One of the things I have enjoyed about both this recipe and the November pumpkin bread recipe is having the dough on hand in the fridge.  It makes it so easy to whip out a loaf of delicious home-made bread pretty darn quick.  I whipped up a batch last Wednesday evening, baked one loaf on Thursday, one on Saturday, and three on Sunday.

The last three loaves I made all at once and being in a hurry, forgot to put the egg/sugar/orange zest glaze on.  Which was too bad because that added a lot to the bread, in my opinion, so I'll have to be more careful in the future.  All in all, this is a great holiday bread for eating at home or giving as a gift.

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