Shortbread (Scotland)

Believe it or not, this was my first time making shortbread cookies. I’ve made shortbread-like crusts before, but for some reason I’ve never made the actual cookies. I figured it would be really simple. Basic shortbread is made of a whopping three ingredients: 1 part sugar, 2 parts butter, 3 parts flour. You can make additions and adjustments from. How easy is that, right?

My first time making this delectable, buttery cookie absolutely did not go as planned. In fact, it went the opposite. And I was lured into a false sense of security while I was at it. I thought it was going well until the end product came out of the oven in a big ol’ mess. I mean, it still tasted good, but visually? Not so much…

I think I may have put a little too much butter in the dough because the shortbread spread out a lot. I also think I rolled it out a bit too thin. I should have left them on the thicker side so they would have been a bit more biscuit like. As I said, they still tasted good, but they just didn’t come out the way I’d visioned.

Now, a little history:

Shortbread originated in Scotland back in the Medieval times, but the first printed copy of a recipe wasn’t until the early 1700s. It began as more of bread that was twice-baked and coated in sugar and spices until it was hardened into a sweetened biscuit. Eventually, the yeast in the bread was replaced with butter and became closer to what we know it as today. Shortbread was expensive at the time so it was considered a luxury and saved for special occasions such as Christmas and Hogmanay (Scottish New Year’s Eve celebration). Now a days you can get shortbread year-round and all over the world, but it is still very much associated with the holidays.

Even though my didn’t turn out visually like I wanted, I will still share my recipe. I really do think I added too much butter, so I removed the extra half a stick I added at the end, so hopefully that will help. I also made everything in a bowl with a pastry cutter, but I wonder if using a mixer would have been better to incorporate everything a bit more.

Shortbread

½ cup sugar

1 cup butter, cut into pieces

2 cups flour

a splash of vanilla extract

green and red sprinkles

In a bowl, mix together your sugar and flour. Add your butter and vanilla and cut the butter into the flour-sugar mix until it looks like coarse crumbs. Using a stand mixer may make this easier and better combined. I will try that next time.

Dump the dough out onto a surface, add your sprinkles, and begin kneading the dough together. This takes some patience and is a great arm workout.

Once everything is together and formed into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

Roll out the disk into a larger piece. I made mine about ½ an inch and I really think I that ended up being way too thin. Aim closer to about an inch thick.

Cut into the shapes you want (small bite-sized squares, longer rectangles, circles, whatever) and put on a parchment lined baking sheet.

Bake at 325 for about 20 minutes.

Hopefully the minor adjustments I made to the recipe will help the end result, but even if it doesn’t, it still tastes great! Just don’t enter it into a cookie beauty contest!

Spritz Cookies (Germany)

I’ve been making spritz cookies with my mom since I was a kid. They are very similar to a shortbread in that they are very butter and a bit on the fragile side.

The name spritz is actually a shortened version of the German word Spritzgebäck. These cookies originated from Germany and Alasace (which the French region right along the German border) and they are very popular at Christmastime. Many families have their own recipes that get passed down from generation to generation.

Spritzen translates to squirt in English, which describes how these cookies are made. The dough is put into a cookie press and then extruded through the holes in the disk that fits into the press. You can also use a pastry bag fitted with various nozzles. The cookie press my mom gave me comes with a variety of designs to make different shaped spritz cookies.

Full disclosure, when I was making this dough, I lost track of how much flour I had put in, so I accidentally added too much. The dough was a bit hard to extrude through the press and didn’t stick to the baking sheet like it was supposed to when I pressed it out, so I had to do it by hand. The dough should be a bit on the sticky side and a rule of thumb to keep in mind is don’t refrigerate the dough before you use it. It should feel a little wetter than most cookie doughs. That’s just been my experience for a better spritz cookie.

The extra flour didn’t hurt the cookie much. It still tasted great and I was able to keep them all together, but it just made everything a little harder to get out of the press. The moral of the story is don’t get distracted while making cookies!

Spritz Cookies

1 ½ sticks of butter, softened

½ cup sugar

1 egg

¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon almond extract

2 ¼ cups flour

¼ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

Food coloring (optional)

In a bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the egg and both extracts. 

In another bowl, combine the flour, salt, and baking powder. Mix into the wet ingredients. Add food coloring here if you want. I made snowflakes and Christmas trees, so I just took out half of the plain dough and made the snowflakes and then added green coloring to the other half for the trees.

Put the dough into a cookie press fitted with whatever shape you want.




Press each cookie onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees for about 8 minutes.

 

If you don’t have a cookie press, you can use a pastry bag.

I forgot to take a picture of them being pressed onto the baking sheet, but I think you get the idea.

Gingerbread Loaf Cake

When I first set out to make this cake, I knew it was going to be a total experiment. I’m sure there are still some adjustments to be made (like why did it fall in the middle?) but it actually turned out so good! It was fluffy and moist and full of Gingerbread/Christmassy flavor! And the frosting… oh my. Let’s all just take a moment and savor this cream cheese goodness that would be delicious on pretty much ANYTHING.
 

Last year, when I made gingerbread cookies, I gave a little history of the European origin of gingerbread, so I’m not going to get into all that again. Feel free to read up on last year’s post. And maybe make some cookies while you’re at it.

I like making this cake because it is a nice change of pace from the typical cookie you see a lot but you still get that familiar holiday flavor.

Gingerbread Loaf Cake

For the Cake:

1 ½ cups flour

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¾ teaspoon ground cloves

¾ teaspoon ground ginger (you can add more if you want more ginger flavor)

1 teaspoon salt

½ cup butter, softened

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

½ cup molasses

½ cup buttermilk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the cream cheese icing:

1 8oz package of cream cheese, softened

2 cups powdered sugar

Zest of one orange

Juice of half an orange

½ cup dried cranberries, chopped

In a bowl, mix together your dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, salt. Set aside.

 

In another bowl, whisk together the softened butter and sugar. Add the eggs and beat until combined. Then add the molasses, buttermilk, and vanilla and mix well.

A little bit at a time, add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix well.

Pour into a greased and floured loaf pan.

Bake at 350 for 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Let cool slightly and remove from the pan to cool more.

Meanwhile, for the icing: mix together the cream cheese and powdered sugar until combined. Then stir in the zest, juice, and cranberries.


When the cake is cooled, pour the icing on top. However much or little you want. 

 

Chop up a few extra dried cranberries and save a tiny amount of zest and sprinkle over the top of the frosting just for decoration. Let the icing set before cutting in and enjoying!

 

This is especially good with a cup of coffee!! (but then, what isn’t?)

 

White Chocolate Cranberry Cookies

To me, white chocolate and cranberry are food soul mates. They just belong together. And they make for perfect Christmas treat bedfellows. You can make just about any dessert white chocolate-cranberry and not only would people love it, but it would look super festive on any table or cookie tray.
 

These are just a twist on a basic chocolate chip cookie recipe which I usually adapt from Nestle.

Fun Fact: The chocolate chip cookie was invented by a woman named Ruth Graves Wakefield in 1938. She owned a restaurant called the Toll House Inn. During WWII, soldiers from Massachusettes (where the Toll House Inn was located), shared the chocolate chip cookies from their care packages with other soldiers. Soon they were requesting them from their families who then inundated Ms. Wakefield with requests for her recipe! After her recipe became so popular, she contacted Nestle and struck a deal: they would print her recipe on the back of all their chocolate bars (she originally used a chopped up bar of chocolate and they used to include a chopping tool with each bar) and she would get a lifetime supply of chocolate. When Nestle started producing chocolate chips for the purpose of cookies in 1941, they printed her recipe on each bag. The recipe you see on the bag now is Wakefield’s original recipe.

Now, on to the recipe:

White Chocolate Cranberry Cookies

1 cup butter, softened

¾ cup brown sugar

¾ cup white sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup dried cranberries

½ bag of white chocolate chips

In a bowl, cream together your butter, brown sugar, and white sugar. One at a time, add your eggs and vanilla.

 

In a separate bowl, combine your dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, salt. A little at a time, mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until well combined.

Finally add in your white chocolate chips and cranberries until evenly dispersed in the dough.

 

You can then drop by spoonful onto a lined baking sheet and bake. I, however, love to use an ice cream scoop. It makes for a bigger cookie and they always come out perfectly soft and loaded with whatever mix-ins you are using in your cookie.

Either way, bake at 375 degrees for 9-11 minutes or until done.

 

Let cool as long as you can hold out and then devour.

Rabanada (Brazilian French Toast)

Good morning!!  Welcome to my first post of this year’s Christmas series. If you remember, last year I shared recipes that went with a Christmas movies theme. (If you don’t remember, you can check it out riiiiggggght here. See the individual recipe posts in the “Ping Back” section at the end.)

This year, I decided to go back to the roots of my blog and explore Christmas Around the World. I did a little research and found some fun Christmas recipes that are considered traditional in other parts of the world. I gotta say, the more I researched for this and decided what to make, the more excited I got! I hope you enjoy this theme as much as I do.

For the first recipe, I chose Rabanada, which is a Brazilian-style French Toast. At first I was thinking it would just be like any other french toast, but I can assure you it is not. This is seriously next level french toast! It is really easy to make and it tastes amazing. This is a breakfast table game changer.

French toast goes back really far in history, to the 4th and 5th centuries even. It is sometimes referred to as “Poor Man’s Toast” because it is used as a way to not waste stale bread. Many different countries have their own version. Rabanadas are popular in Brazil for special holidays, like Christmas and New Years, although they are typically eaten as a dessert rather than breakfast. These are so good though, I can’t see why they can’t be made all year round anytime of the day! They are fried, so they are perfectly crisp on the outside and nice and soft on the inside from soaking in the custard overnight. It’s almost like a churro!

When searching for recipes, I learned that there is a basic way to make these, and everyone has their own way. I took that as license to run with it! I hope you like it as much as my family did!

Rabanadas (Brazilian French Toast)

1 French Baguette (use the skinnier baguette, not the big one)
2 eggs
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1-1/2 cans regular milk (use the empty sweetened condensed milk can)
splash of vanilla
pinch of salt
vegetable oil, for frying
1 cup sugar
a couple tablespoons cinnamon

Slice the bread on a bias (at an angle) into about 1 inch-thick pieces. If the bread is fresh, leave it out to get stale. If it’s already stale, then congratulations. You are one step ahead!


In a 9×13 baking dish, whisk together the eggs, sweetened condensed milk, regular milk, vaniila, and salt. Add the bread and turn over to coat in the custard mixture. Put in the fridge to sit about 4 hours or overnight. It’s easiest to just do it the night before. Who wants to get up that early?


When ready to make the rabanadas, heat enough oil in your skillet to come about halfway up the slice of bread. Let it come to about 325 degrees.

Take the bread out of the custard and let the excess mixture drip off. Add to the hot oil. You’ll probably need to do this in batches to not crowd the pan. I think I was able to do about 5 or 6 in each batch.


Fry on each side for about 4 or 5 minutes, until golden brown. This will give you a nice crunchy outside and soft inside.

While the bread is frying, mix together your cinnamon and sugar in a shallow bowl or pie plate. I eyeballed this and it really all depends on how much cinnamon you like. If you like it really cinnamony, add a lot. If you just want a hint of cinnamon, add a little.

When they are done, remove them to a paper towel-lined plate. Then, while they are still hot, dredge them in the cinnamon-sugar mixture. After this step, they will look an awful lot like a churro. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! :0)


Now, serve them up and watch them disappear fast!

Pesto (Christmas Movie Series)

We’re all familiar with Throwback Thursday, right? The social media trend of posting old photos or whatnot that make us all nostalgic and remind us of days gone by.

Well, sometimes watching these TV holiday movies is like an extended Throwback Thursday. For those of us in my age group, anyway. I was born in 1984 so while I do remember some things from the late 80’s, I was only 5 years old when the decade ended. Most of my memories are from the 90s and it is a decade I look back on fondly.

Lots of these Christmas movies that I enjoy so much star celebrities from my childhood. A few of them could even have a category all their own. Here is just a sampling of where you can find your favorite stars of yester-year:

  • The Mistle-Tones: One half of the Sister, Sister duo, Tia Mowry, competes in a singing competition against Beverly Hills 90210’s Tori Spelling (Tori can also be found in A Carol Christmas)
  • Holiday in Handcuffs: Clarissa Explains it All’s Melissa Joan Hart kidnaps AC Slater (Mario Lopez) in an effort to trick her parents into thinking she has her life together (Sabrina would have just cast a spell, right?). Mario Lopez is also the voice of a holiday saving dog in The Dog Who Saved Christmas. MJH is also in Santa Con with Urkle himself, Jaleel White.
  • Northpole: Everyone’s favorite Bayside cheerleader, Tiffani Thiessan plays a single mom whose son teams up with an elf to save Christmas. Ah, Tiffani, we knew you before you dropped the Amber…
  • 12 Wishes of Christmas: One-time Cher Horowitz frenemy Amber, Elisa Donovan, is no longer a “full-on Monet” when she encounters what can only be described as a Christmas fairy godmother who grants her 12 Wishes. If you were to guess she will have to use some of her wishes to set right the ones she used irresponsibly, you’d be right. Elisa can also been seen alongside Mario Lopez in The Dog Who Saved Christmas.
  • 12 Dates of Christmas: AC Slater and Kelly Kapowski aren’t the only Bayside Alumni to bring the Christmas cheer. Mark Paul Gosselar stars in this “Groundhog Day” style holiday treat.
  • Hitched for the Holidays: Blossom’s daffy but sweet older brother, Joey Lawrence stars as a commitment-phobe who hires a girl to play his girlfriend for Christmas to get his parents off his case about settling down. This one is a two-fer, because she uses him as well for the same reason. The one is notable in that (as far as I know) it is the only TV holiday movie that includes Hanukkah.
  • A Christmas Melody: 90s songstress Mariah Carey plays a former high school rival of Lacey Chabert. FYI Mariah is 46 and Lacey is 33… Not sure what high school they went to, but in real life Lacey Chabert was only 12 when Mariah graced the world and every holiday season for the past 21 years with “All I Want for Christmas is You”

There are a few stars from the 90s who have been in enough Christmas movies to host their own film festivals. Since that probably won’t happen, you can just have your own little marathon at home:

  • Dean Cain: Apparently one of Superman’s powers is spreading Holiday Cheer. Dean Cain can be seen in at least 10 holiday movies (there could be more, this is what I found on his Wikipedia page): Christmas Rush, A Christmas Wedding, The Dog Who Saved Christmas, A Nanny for Christmas, The Case for Christmas, Defending Santa, A Belle for Christmas, Small Town Santa, Merry Ex-Mas, A Dog for Christmas
  • Lacey Chabert: This former Party of Five/Mean Girl apparently stopped trying to “make fetch happen” long enough to star in five Christmas movies: A Christmas Melody (with Mariah Carey too!), Matchmaker Santa, A Royal Christmas, A Holiday Heist, The Tree that Saved Christmas, Black Christmas—OK, this one was a horror film released in theaters and not a heartwarming Hallmark movie, but still. Christmas. It counts.)
  • Candace Cameron-Bure: Let’s be honest, we all wanted to be DJ Tanner when we were kids, amiright? I thought so. Well, she’s all grown up now and making her mark at Hallmark. Her Christmas movies have quickly become some of my favorites and she tends to make a new one every year: Christmas Under Wraps, Moonlight & Mistletoe, The Heart of Christmas, Let it Snow, A Christmas Detour

So far for this Christmas movie series, I’ve tried to make recipes that correlated with the specific facet of TV holiday movies that I was writing about: Gingerbread boys and girls for the relationship post, Cheesy popcorn because the movies are totally cheesy and the definition of a popcorn movie… you get the idea.

So, what to do for the post about these movies being a landing spot for the stars of the past? Bear with me on this one…. Christmas PASTa! Get it? PAST… Pasta… See what I did there? OK, moving on.

So the only thing that makes this “Christmas” is the fact that it is red, green, and white. And the bow ties. Like a present? Yes? Otherwise, this is a year-round dish.

Pesto is very easy to add to your recipe arsenal. You just throw everything in a blender and done.  You can use it for lots of things. There are also LOTS of ways to make pesto, just do a Google search and you’ll see. This is just how I make it. Feel free to substitute things to adjust the flavors to your liking.

In a blender, add the following:

1 big handful of spinach (this is not a traditional ingredient, but I love the color and it add so much nutrition. You can also do kale if you like that sort of thing)
1 big bunch of fresh basil, leaves torn (you’re going to blend it up anyway, so you don’t have to chop or anything. I used the entire package from the grocery store. Use a lot.)
3/4 cup walnuts (I don’t like pinenuts, which is the traditional pesto nut. Use what you like.)
4 cloves of garlic (I start with 4 cloves. If you want it more garlicky, you can add more later after a test-taste)
1/2 cup parmesan cheesehefty pinch of salt
olive oil

Put all the ingredients in a blender and turn it on a medium level to get it going.

   

While the blender is going, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until the pesto reaches the consistency you like.

To assemble the “Christmas PASTa” dice up some mozzerella (use what you want, but fresh mozzerella is so good! I’ve heard it’s easy to make, maybe I’ll have to try that sometime), and cut some cherry tomatoes in half.

Boil some pasta and mix in some of your pesto. It really doesn’t take much, so just add a couple spoonfuls and mix in while the pasta is still warm. You can refrigerate the leftovers.  Add the mozzerella and tomatoes, and eat up!