Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas Cookies!

I'm probably best known for my frosted sugar cookies. Let's get one thing straight: the sugar cookies are all about the frosting. The cookie is simply the vehicle for creamy, buttery frosting. I wonder how many sugar cookies I've cut out over the years??? I make pumpkins for Halloween and candy canes, bells, trees, angels, etc. for Christmas. The funny thing is, I never grow tired of it. Maybe it's because I know everyone loves them. That's the wonderful thing about baking...everyone loves makes people happy.
Here are my secrets for irresistable sugar cookies:

1. Roll out the dough THICK. I'd say it's about 1/4 inch. You may make fewer cookies from the batch, but they're better cookies, because they end up being soft and chewy instead of crispy.

2. Take the cookies out BEFORE they start to brown around the edges. They may seem like they're not done, but they are. I always know the cookies are ready to come out of the oven because the dough goes from shiny to dull. The cookies will bake a bit more on the pan outside of the oven before you remove them to a wire rack.

3. Almond extract in the frosting. Forget vanilla. Almond extract makes all the difference in the world.

4. Butter. Do people seriously still use margarine in anything?

Sugar Cookies for Cutouts
3 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup shortening
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
Combine mixtures and roll into two separate balls. Chill for two hours. Bake at 375 for 7-8 minutes. (Every oven is different---take my advice from above for doneness.)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Fluffy Marshmallows in Vanilla Carmel Hot Chocolate

Sounds delicious on a cold winter day, doesn't it? This is my first time making homemade marshmallows. You may wonder why I would make marshmallows, since the marshmallows you buy in the store are pretty good. Let me tell you...there's NOTHING like a homemade marshmallow. It's light, fluffy and ooooh so good in hot chocolate.

I'm packaging these up with a homemade hot cocoa mix for some Christmas gifts for those difficult-to-shop-for people on our list. It's really worth the effort and pretty easy to whip up!

The recipe is below, but one thing I would add is that it's much easier to cut the marshmallows with a pizza cutter than with the knife, so skip the knife!
My quality control specialist approves!
The marshmallows melt much easier in the hot chocolate than regular marshmallows. I bet they will be spectacular in s'mores!
My friend, Abby made marshmallows for us years ago, and I never forgot them. I searched the internet for the best/highest rated recipe, and this is what I found. I would absolutely give it five stars.
Makes about 96 1-inch cubed marshmallows
About 1 cup powdered sugar
3 1/2 envelopes (2 Tbsp plus 2 1/2 tsp) unflavored gelatin
1 cup cold water, divided
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 tsp salt
2 large egg whites
1 Tbsp vanilla
Oil bottom and sides of a 13x9 metal baking pan and dust bottom and sides with some powdered sugar.
In bowl of a standing electric mixer or in a large bowl sprinkle gelatin over 1/2 cup COLD water and let stand to soften.
In a 3-quart heavy saucepan, cook granulated sugar, corn syrup, second 1/2 cup of cold water and salt over low heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to moderate and boil mixture, without stirring, until a candy thermometer registers 240 degrees, about 12 minutes. Remove pan from heat and pour sugar mixture over gelatin mixture, stirring until gelatin is dissolved.
With standing or hand-held electric mixer, beat mixture on high speed until white, thick and nearly tripled in volume; about six minutes if using standing mixer or about 10 minutes if using hand-held mixer.
In separate medium bowl with cleaned beaters, beat egg whites until they just hold stiff peaks. Fold whites and vanilla into sugar mixture until just combined. Pour mixture into baking pan. Soft 1/4 cup powdered sugar evenly over top. Chill marshmallow, uncovered, in refrigerator until firm; at least three hours and up to one day.
Run a thin knife around edges of pan and invert pan onto a large cutting board. Lifting up one corner of the pan, loosen the marshmallow with fingers onto the cutting board. With a large knife or pizza cutter, cut marshmallows into one-inch cubes. Sift remaining powdered sugar back into your now-empty baking pan and roll the marshmallows through it on all sides before shaking off the excess and packing them away.