Archive | December, 2012

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2012: Denver

12 Dec

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Last year, Nora and I participated in the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap. Organized by two awesome food bloggers, Lindsay and Julie, this is a way for food bloggers across the country to bond and share delicious, sugary foods. It’s pretty simple, in theory: Nora and I sent our names and contact info to Lindsay and Julie, and then each received the contact info for three other food bloggers. We send one dozen cookies to each of the names we received; we get three batches of a dozen cookies from other food bloggers who got our info. In addition to our required three dozen cookies, Nora and I decided we would both send each other a dozen of the cookies we made. It really only makes sense, given the whole origin of this blog.

For last year’s exchange, I made chocolate-cherry biscotti. They turned out pretty good, but I wanted to do something totally different this year. I briefly thought about something along the lines of a gooey bar-cookie, but then I thought about the challenges of shipping these babies across the country. I decided to take a Martha Stewart recipe for Cranberry Noels and modify it. Cranberry noels are basically shortbread cookies with cranberries and nuts in them. I followed Martha’s recipe for the most part, but I used ground walnuts in place of the chopped pecans – I’ve never liked pecans very much.  I also used some almond flavoring in addition to the vanilla. (These cookies include Nora’s homemade vanilla extract, though! Couldn’t leave that out.)  Finally, I decided to dip my cookies into some white chocolate and add some festive red sprinkles on top. I love chocolate-dipped cookies, and I thought the white chocolate would be a nice foil for the tart cranberries. I also figured that it might help hold otherwise crumbly shortbread together en route to four different cities.

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White chocolate-dipped cranberry-walnut noels (adapted from Martha Stewart):

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup dried orange-flavored cranberries
  • 3/4 cup ground walnuts
  • white chocolate for melting (I used Ghirardelli)
  • sprinkles

-Cream the butter and sugar with your electric mixer. Add milk, vanilla, and almond extract, and mix until smooth. Then, with mixer on low (unless you want four everywhere), gradually add flour, salt, cranberries, and walnuts; continue beating until fully combined.

-Refrigerate the dough, plastic-wrapped, for an hour to two hours. If you want to slice-and-bake, roll the dough tightly into logs before you put them in the fridge.

-Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll and cut your cookies, or slice them into evenly-thick rounds. Bake, rotating baking sheets halfway through, about 15 minutes. Let ’em cool on a wire rack.

Other than my modifications to the recipe, these are very simple cookies…so simple, in fact, that the photos I took of the mixing process were pretty dull. Butter/sugar was creamed, dry ingredients mixed in, cranberries and walnuts last.

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I did chill my dough for about an hour after it was made – but when it came out of the fridge, it was super crumbly! I didn’t want to make my cookies into slice-and-bake logs, which Martha suggests, but rather, I wanted to roll/cut them out. Initially, I was planning to do Christmas-tree shaped cookies, but then I remembered that not everyone celebrates Christmas. Then, I decided I’d do stars…only to realize that the points on my stars would almost definitely break up during shipping. I still think I’ll do stars if I make these again to have here in Denver – I think they’d be gorgeous with yellow sanding sugar on them! Ultimately, I settled on my grandmother’s antique 1930’s tin fluted circle cutter.

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Rolling and cutting these out was a little arduous when the dough was cold, but (ironically) it held together pretty well once it had warmed up. Martha’s instructions were to cook these at a higher temperature for longer, but I had good success with my lower temp/slightly shorter time. There’s almost nothing worse than scorched shortbread.

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I actually ended up needing to make another batch of these cookies, even though I started with a double batch! I always have a lot of dough attrition when I roll cookies to cut them out, because my dismal spatial intelligence makes it hard to economize dough space per roll-out. My first (double) batch made about 35 cookies…one more put me well over the 48 I needed.  Once they were cool, I melted my white chocolate in a double-boiler…

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And started dipping! As a child, I really hated white chocolate. I still think I may be mildly allergic to it, because if I eat any more than just a very small amount, I get a headache – does this happen to anyone else? I don’t love the stuff on its own, but I really love it coating cookies (and pretzels).

Once dipped, they got sprinkled, and then I let them cool on cookie sheets covered in parchment. Once each sheet was full, it spent about 15 minutes in my fridge, which hardened the chocolate up beautifully.

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That night, I wrapped them up in some parchment, put the parchment tubes into plastic bags (stale cookies are a very real thing in Denver), and tied some ribbon around each package.

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The bags stayed in the fridge overnight, and then the following morning were packed into boxes with some red tinsel! Last year, my packaging was nothing fancy… Nora’s packages were so gorgeous, though, so I wanted to do something festive, too, this time. Sadly, the package I sent to Nora didn’t have any tinsel packaging, because her box was too full with her Christmas gifts 🙂

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In each box, I also included a card with one of my favorite wintry views of the Denver skyline on it (the view from the west side of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, looking across the lake to the boathouse). Last year, I included kind of bland cards that didn’t have much written in each, but this year, I put a little more effort into my messages. One package I got last year included this great, handwritten introduction from the woman who had sent them, and I liked learning about her and her interests – so that’s what I included in my messages this year.

The recipients of my boxes were:

Mercedes of Satisfy My Sweet Tooth in Minneapolis, MN

Jackie of Just Add Milk in Yonkers, NY, and

Ali of CheaterBites in Pittsburgh, PA.

By the way, want to feel particularly intimidated about sending your baked goods to a stranger? Look at Jackie’s blog and tell me how I felt sending my ugly cookies to her! Ha.

The neatest part about this whole shebang, though, is receiving some cookies in exchange!! I got some good ones this round.

The first batch I got were from Liz and Janice of Meal Makeover Moms. They sent along “Monster Cookie Makeovers” – these were like granola in soft holiday cookies and I loved them. Their cookies had chocolate-covered sunflower seeds in them, which I may or may not have gone out to buy after the cookies were gone…

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Second, I received Fruit Squares from Janet at A Cook At Heart. These. Were. Incredible. Janet’s cookies had unbelievable texture – soft and crumbly and smooth. I am genuinely pissed at myself because I managed to delete my photo instead of uploading it – and they are (of course) gone. They were beautiful, though, and you can see Janet’s post here.

The last batch of cookies I got were chocolate biscotti from Kelley of The Culinary Enthusiast – they were delicious!! Strangely, Nora also got cookies from Kelley. She must have been confused to send two batches to two states for people who only have one blog. Kelley’s cookies were crunchy and AMAZING with my final-exam-coffee-marathon.

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And, of course, I got an amazing batch of cookies from my own, dear Nora. She made little chocolate-cranberry coins, which you can also read about on Catsandcommas! I laughed so hard when she told me (after I’d texted her about getting her batch) that, before she baked hers, “they sort of looked like salami”.

Thanks so much to Nora, Liz and Janice, Kelley, and Janet! You’re all dolls.

I already can’t wait to participate in the Great Food Blogger Cookie Exchange next year. This is becoming a favorite tradition!

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2012: Portland

12 Dec

DSC_0290For this year’s cookie swap, I wanted to make a cookie with a technique I hadn’t tried before. Sliced cookies sounded like a good option, as I typically find rolled cookies a little too tedious for big batches, and I haven’t had good luck with the consistency and size of my drop cookies (see last year’s ginger snaps).

Instead of consulting the Internet for inspiration, as I typically do, I consulted the public library’s cookbook shelf and found “Christmas Cookies from the Whimsical Bakehouse.” This was a great resource for  all sorts of creative recipes, including shortbread snowflakes, spritz cookies and even a 3-D Christmas tree, with chapters on each cookie-making method.

Several cookies caught my eye, but I ultimately decided on a combination cookie with two doughs baked in one: cherry-almond and chocolate-walnut. They’re called yin-yang cookies in the book, but mine really didn’t turn out looking that way (as you’ll see below). The idea is to make to separate doughs, roll them into logs and then roll them together into one log that you slice later.

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Here’s what went into these combo cookies (note the Tillamook butter). The two doughs were pretty simple, but it did help to have a stand mixer. And a word of warning, this recipe makes a ton of cookies — up to 6 dozen, depending on how big your rolls turn out.

Cherry-almond dough

1 1/2 sticks butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1 large egg
1 Tbsp. orange juice
1/4 tsp. almond extract
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup blanched almonds (chopped)

1. Cream butter and sugar.
2. Add egg, orange juice and extract.
3. Add flour, cherries and almonds.

Chocolate-walnut dough

2 sticks butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 cup walnuts (chopped)

1. Cream butter, sugar and extract.
2. Add flour, cocoa and walnuts.

Once both doughs are mixed, make four logs out of each dough and let chill briefly. Combine two logs of each dough so you have four double rolls. Wrap and let these chill overnight (at least 8 hours is best). Cut into 1/4-inch slices and bake for about 10 minutes at 350 degrees until not quite brown.

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As part of my goal to learn from my previous baking experiences, I’m trying to become more patient when it comes to one of the foundations of baking — waiting until the butter is soft before creaming it with the sugar. And perhaps it helped the consistency of the cookies this time around. (This photo is from early on in the process, so it doesn’t have that silky, pale yellow sheen yet.)

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The cherries (actually cherry juice-infused Craisins, which added an interesting albeit potentially fake flavor) and the almonds looked so lovely chopped up together. In fact, cranberries (or any red berry) remind me a lot of the holidays (and fittingly, Hannah’s cookies had some cranberries, too!).

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After combining the ingredients for the cherry-almond dough, I mixed the chocolate-walnut separately. I was surprised that this dough didn’t call for an

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Each dough got separated into four logs, so I ended up with eight logs that I needed to roll together into four mega-logs. These were supposed to look like yin-yangs, but the directions didn’t help me that much, so I just opted to see how they turned out.

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The best thing about roll cookies is that they chill in the refrigerator for a long time, which means the dough is easier to work with and they won’t run into each other while baking.

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When I cut up the logs after a whole night of chilling, they looked a little too much like salami …

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… but they baked up just fine. I had some trouble rolling the chocolate-walnut dough into a cohesive log (and honestly I was surprised this recipe didn’t call for an egg), but they texture incorporated just fine with the cherry-almond when they baked.

I also wasn’t sure if I’d like two cookies in one, or if they were big enough, but I hope the bloggers I sent them to — the Lushers of Life with the Lushers, Vicki of My Purple Kitchen,  Cookie of Cookie Loves and my blog partner, Hannah — enjoyed them.

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Lastly, I have to give a shout-out to the amazing cookies I got from across the country.

First were Hannah’s cranberry-white chocolate shortbread, which looked and tasted wonderful.

Next were white chocolate peanut butter krispies from Mollie of Sprinkles of Life. These had almond bark, peanut butter, mini marshmallows, peanuts and crispy rice cereal. These had great texture and a great combination of flavors.

Third were amaretti cookies, made from almond flour, from Kristin of Nanna’s Cookbook. These seemed so simple, but they looked and tasted elegant.

Last were double chocolate biscotti from Kelley of The Culinary Enthusiast. They went great with my morning tea!

Here’s a photo of all of them together on one plate.

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I ended up having so many cookies (four dozen, plus extras from my batch) that I got to share with my friends and coworkers.

A couple things I’ll try to do next year, though: 1. Use social media better to share my cookie swap experience. 2. Come up with a cute (and safe) way of packaging. Another cookie swap success. I’m excited to do it again next year.

Happy holiday baking!