Archives for category: Baking

I’m a product of the 1950’s. Literally. That timeframe in the United States was very transitional even though we look back and think of it as a slower, gentler time. Christmas preparations always make me think of Christmases past. As I sit here Christmas Eve, I remember certain “must do” recipes from back in the day.
In my childhood, suburban housewives, (my mother was one) traded no-fail, trusted recipes at teas and coffee klatches. There were always steaks and chops in the freezer, and the pressure cooker was frequently my mother’s best friend. Moms baked in those days as a normal occurrence, not just for holidays. When I think back on that time, I remember plates of all kinds of cookies at my friend’s houses. There were cookie jars with cookies in them!

When I watch episodes of Mad Men on TV, it’s a voyage back in time for me. The Atomic Age shown in episodes fascinated my parents back in the day, and they lived the same young upward mobile lifestyle. They also imagined there would soon be a foimageur day work week. This last backfired with the invention of smart phones, computers, and the internet. Now we wish for a forty hour work week, instead of the longer ones many of us work now.

By this time on Christmas Eve, as a child, I would have put out a glass of milk and a special plate of cookies for Santa. Then I would try to go to sleep- Santa wouldn’t come to my house if I was awake. It was difficult. My own grandchildren have put out cookies for Santa tonight. Here is a photo of my daughter’s children anticipating Santa tonight. I look at their sweet faces and know exactly what they are feeling.

Even with all the modernness they were seeking, my parents still honored the old family traditions from their parents- they just put a new twist on it. Tinsel on the Christmas trees gave way to aluminum tinsel Christmas trees that had a rotating color changing light shining on them. My parents always insisted on a real tree, but our neighbor had the silver aluminum one and I loved it. The tinsel my parents hung carefully on the ends of each tree branch was, in the early days, made of lead. They saved it each year, reusing again and again. The thin lead strands broke and the tinsel became shorter and shorter. Eventually it had to be replaced with the new version. My father never adjusted. He balked at having to use the new plastic stringy stuff. It had static cling.

My mother always made cut out sugar cookies and my sister and I were allowed to sprinkle some of the vast array of colored sugars and dragées onto the trees, angels, stars, wreaths, and Santas. A tradition I still uphold. Mom also made wreath cookies made from cornflakes, green food coloring and some sticky stuff. I did not bring that tradition to my own home.

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Lots of us have fruitcake memories. Some good memories, but frequently bad. My mother loved fruitcake until the day she died. My grandmother sent one every year until the late 1970’s when she no longer baked. She made a big group of them, dicing the candied fruits carefully, and then mixing a huge amount of heavy batter just before Thanksgiving every year. Then she wrapped them in cheesecloth and doused them with brandy or bourbon every week until they were wrapped in a new tea towel and mailed out to recipients. I eventually made the fruit cakes when I grew up. No one in my own house could stand them, but my mother was happy when I took them to her. That is a tradition officially retired this year, as my mother passed away this past August.

When I got married, my new husband and I incorporated some traditions from both of our families. He insisted there must be Snickerdoodle cookies every Christmas. I failed to see these as Christmas cookies and added red and green sugars to the final cinnamon sugar roll before baking. They seemed better that way. My daughter-in-law makes them for “PopPop” now. She surprised him with them tonight.
We started making spiced pecans every year, and a favorite of my children, Chinese noodle confections. They also adore the Puppy Chow (some call it Charlie Brown mix) that we always make. Somewhere along the way fudge was added as a “must make” treat at Christmas. The kind made from semisweet chocolate chips and marshmallow whip. We’ve tried the more complicated kind, but my kids love simplicity.
So we kept some traditions, and made some of our own. Passed them down. The kids have improved on them and added. That’s the best. It’s wonderful.

Chinese Noodle Confection
1 cup Chocolate chips- semi sweet
1 cup Butterscotch chips
2 cups chow mein noodles
1/2-1 cup salted peanuts

Melt all chips over simmering water in a double boiler, being careful that water does not get into the chips and bind them up.
Place noodles into a medium-sized bowl.
Remove from heat and pour over the noodles. Add peanuts and stir all together.
Drop by teaspoonfuls onto waxed or parchment paper and let cool and become firm.
Store in a tin. If you are in a warm climate, you’ll want to store in the refrigerator.

Whatever your traditions, celebrate them. I wish each of you a wonderful Merry Christmas and the happiest and safest of New Year’s Eve celebrations.

I would love to hear about your family traditions, if you would like to share.

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First, I want to say “Welcome!” to all of those who have joined Jingle Pies and Starry Skies lately. I am humbled and honored that anyone would be interested in reading words I have written. I hope I do not disappoint.

This time of year is full of get togethers, work parties, neighborhood parties, school parties. The list goes on. One of our family favorites was always the Cookie Exchange. My children loved those. We thought about which cookies to make, and then baked, and decorated. We usually chose several different types of cookies to make and take to the parties.

When my children were little, and we had just moved into the neighborhood, they were so excited to discover the neighborhood was having a holiday cocktail/cookie exchange party.
My husband was living and working in St. Croix at the time, so the holiday preparations fell to me. I had dual duty that year of functioning as sole household holiday director and child wrangler. He got home just in time to celebrate Christmas. Involving the children in the excitement of baking kept them occupied and happy. And I knew where they were.

The cookies I chose for the exchange that year were Coconut Macaroons dipped in chocolate, Peppermint Candy Twists, and Meringue Puffs that looked like tiny Christmas trees. The rules were simple for this exchange: bring a dozen to put out at the party and enough to exchange whatever amount you wanted to exchange. In other words, if you brought two dozen to exchange, that’s how many you took home.

I discovered quickly that not everyone is a baker, but everyone loves home baked cookies. Some attendees had stopped at the local grocer and bought several dozen chocolate chip cookies and placed in a tin. There were enough home baked to bring home a nice assortment to my eagerly awaiting children. I visited the table early and chose take home cookies. My grown children still remember the cookie exchanges fondly. I do wonder how many other party attendees ended up bring home an assortment of the same store cookies that they brought, if they were late to the exchange table.

In the years after, the home baked cookie to store bought cookie ratio switched and eventually the pretense of it being a cookie exchange was dropped completely. I think it was the year that someone plopped down a package of Oreo cookies that did it.

But every year, magazines feature marvelous, wondrous cookie exchange parties. A huge spread of amazingly gorgeous cookies is featured. It barely fits on the large table. I think Southern Living even had a suggested set of guidelines to include with the invitations at one point. That would certainly avoid cookie exchange faux pas. Suggestions included “all cookies must be homemade” or “no drop cookies”, depending on what was desired. Many suggested that people inform the hostess ahead so that there are not needless duplications.
If I hostess a cookie exchange in the future, I may need to incorporate some of them. Of course, I really do like Oreos.

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In recent years, I have gotten my cookie baking joy fix by inviting all the grandchildren to come for a cookie baking party. This photo was taken during one of these. There was apparently a contest among the kids to have the most sugar on one cookie. It is not so much an exchange as it is gigglefest and sugar overload contest. I’m sure their parents dread picking their children up and trying to get them to eat dinner, much less go to sleep afterwards. As they have grown, the older ones like to use piping bags- and in this case the “squirt in mouth” technique is perfected.
This year, I may add in an apron decorating part to the party- no, not with frosting, but with Pompoms, google eyes, and felt.

I’ll leave you with a favorite cookie recipe. The children enjoy it because it’s like playing with clay. Enjoy your holiday baking. And I wish a bountiful cookie exchange in your future.

Candy Cane Twists

1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 egg
2 1/2 cups flour (all purpose)
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon red coloring (I use enough red paste color to make dough red)
1/2 cup or so, crushed candy canes
1/2 cup granulated sugar (I use coarse sugar)

Preheat oven to 375° F.
Mix shortening and butter together, then add the powdered sugar, egg, and flavorings.
In another bowl, mix flour and salt
Gradually sir the flour mixture into the butter mixture.
Divide the dough in half, and add red coloring to one of the halves.

Use slightly more than a teaspoon of dough of each color (although honestly, the children here use closer to a tablespoon) roll each into a smooth strip as if making a snake. Twist both color sections together like a barber pole design and bend the top to create a cane shape. Candy cane cookies!

Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for about 8-9 minutes. The cookies should be very lightly browned. As soon as you remove them from the oven and while still hot, sprinkle the crushed candy and sugar onto them.

My children liked to hook the peppermint cane cookies over the edge of their cups of cocoa.
I hope you enjoy making these cute cookies.