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Rosettes: Portland

6 Oct
Sometimes, baking inspiration just comes to you. For Hannah and I, it took a trip to the Scandinavian Heritage Center in Southwest Portland (with a delicious brunch at my fav place, Broder) and a random garage sale next door.
It was our first try at rosettes, a traditional Scandinavian cookie much like a funnel cake, and these were probably three of the best.
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Our rosette adventure started when we stumbled upon this vintage Nordic Ware rosette iron set — for only 25 cents. And who wouldn’t pass up that kind of deal? Let us also point out that a new set with essentially the same equipment will cost you close to $50.

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Equipment in hand, we mixed up some rosette batter and heated up some oil. We soon learned that the tutorials online make this look a lot easier than it is. Lesson 1: Heat the oil in a deeper pan next time, and make sure the irons are really hot before starting. (Side note: This vintage set is cool because you can, in theory, fry two cookies at once.)

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The recipes we found told us to dip the irons in the oil until hot, then dip in the batter and return to the pan until the bubbling stopped. Lesson 2: Do not get the batter too high on the iron, or it won’t come off easily (kind of duh, but you’d be surprised how many times I messed this up at first).

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Sometimes the rosettes came out perfectly (see below), but most often they didn’t look like the pictures we saw online. Still, now that I’m the proud owner of a rosette set, I’ll have to try these again, probably closer to Christmas.

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Once I try a couple recipes, I’ll get back to you on which worked best. The batter recipes don’t vary much, but the technique and cooking equipment does. Here are a few I looked at online, with some tips from each.

From Food.com: gives a specific temperature and depth for the oil
From Rachael Ray: liquid measure used to hold the batter
From Pinch My Salt: uses a Dutch oven to hold the oil
From Food Network: batter adds cardamom, a lovely spice
From King Arthur Flour: suggests chilling the batter before frying

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2014: Portland

15 Dec

DSC_0287 Happy holidays, one and all! Since the first year of the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap, I’ve looked forward to this time of year. Putting together packages and sending them off, then sharing the cookies I get in the mail, what a great tradition!

Per normal, I picked up some baking books from the library to get some inspiration. This year, I grabbed Cooking Light’s How to Bake and the Grand Central Baking Book, from a popular Portland shop famous for its cinnamon rolls. My recipe ultimately came from the latter.

Cranberry-pistachio shortbread seemed sufficiently festive and would likely ship well. I also tried another recipe of the same format: ginger-oat shortbread, which I sent to a cousin. Here’s how my cranberry-pistachio cookies came together:

DSC_0258 DSC_0260DSC_0275 These kind of cookies, i.e., when you roll up the dough and cut them into disks, are a bit difficult to cut evenly, so I almost ended up running out of dough (I always make 4 dozen, three for the swap itself, and one for my co-blogger). I had to do a bit of reshaping, but I ended up having exactly enough. Downside was I didn’t get to sample the finished cookie. But the oat-ginger variety tasted great, so I assume these turned out well too. And honestly, with as much butter as goes into a shortbread, it would be hard to be bad (I hope).DSC_0310 The three packages I received were lovely! Panini Happy dressed up chocolate chip cookies with writing on top, wishing fellow bloggers joy, hope and love for the holiday season. (The cookies surrounding them are chocolate surprise that Blaine and I made. They’re wonderful, with brownie-like texture on the inside.)DSC_0321 A blogger with The Big Fat Jewish Wedding and The Big Fat Indian Wedding sent a two-fer: a tin full of colorful sugar cookies and chocolate biscuits. DSC_0326 Mommy Powers offered oatmeal raisin walnut cookies, shaped perfectly and snug in a sleeve. And of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Hannah’s wonderful biscotti, but of course she’ll be blogging about that herself. Loved the presentation on all these packages (something I’m still working on myself). Thanks to all for sharing these treats!

Finally, many thanks to Julie of The Little Kitchen and Lindsay of Love and Olive Oil for all their work organizing the swap and working to help Cookies for Kids’ Cancer with Oxo as a sponsor to make it all happen! Until next year, cookie swap.

Solo projects: Fall baking in Portland

9 Nov

Happy Fall, everyone! It’s been a busy October and early November. After taking some time off during the summer (something about using a hot oven when it’s above 80 degrees just doesn’t seem right), I’ve jumped back into the delights of baking. And so far, I’ve made one of the fall baked goods I had on my list.

Here are three highlights from the last few weeks:

I finally tried making Bon Appetit’s butterscotch pie with curry crust. It was surprisingly delicious and well-received at a coworker get-together. (I’ve also come to a realization about my taste for fennel: only in baked goods and only when toasted or crushed to disarm the flavor.) The crust combines vanilla wafers, curry powder and toasted fennel seeds. Its savory taste plays amazingly well off the super-sweet butterscotch filling, which is nothing more than a caramel custard with gelatin. All dressed up with whipped cream and cashews, I couldn’t have hoped for a prettier pie.

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For Halloween, I couldn’t resist reprising the pumpkin gingerbread recipe Hannah and I made a few years ago. This year, my mom sent me a combo cookie cutter-stamp set for making GingerDEAD men, so naturally I had to try these out. My frosting technique could use some practice, but they tasted great and weren’t too crunchy. Just the right amount of cakey texture, which is how I prefer gingerbread cookies. The recipe calls for pumpkin pie spice, and I tried an experimental mixture of my own this year. Basically, I adapted the recipes from The Kitchn, whose baking and cooking tutorials I adore, and My Baking Addiction, while adding some cardamom instead of mace. I’ll always make my own from now on. Couldn’t be simpler.

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Armed with quite a bit of leftover icing from the gingerdead men, I decided that hot cross buns would be the perfect way to use the extra. On Nov. 1, All Saints’ Day, my mother would often make us “saint cakes,” which are actually just hot cross buns. They’re typically more associated with Easter and Lent than All Saint’s Day, but the two baked goods are pretty similar. Plus, these ones are a yeast bread, which makes them extra flavorful. Egg wash always gives these such a lovely sheen.

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With the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap getting underway this month and Thanksgiving quickly approaching, I’m sure to spend more time in the kitchen on everything from cookies to pies. Figuring out which recipes to use will be the hard part, but I’ll keep you posted on all my November baking adventures.

Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2013: Portland

11 Dec

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Ever since last year’s Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap, when I made cherry-almond and chocolate-walnut combo cookies, I’ve been fixated on the idea (and the ease) of sliced cookies.

So for this year’s swap, I decided to try out a simple sliced cookie that I loved eating as a kid: pecan sandies. (And yes, that’s cookie fabric that my sandies are sitting on — just couldn’t resist.) I remember associating pecan sandies with the holidays because my mom’s parents always had the Keebler variety when we visited their house in Omaha, Neb.

I can’t speak for Hannah, but I’m beginning to get used to the cookie swap being part of my annual holiday traditions at the beginning of December. Every year I feel like I get a little better with my cookie technique, and experimenting with different recipes keeps things interesting. Plus, it’s always fun to see what other bloggers are up to and to send out some festive packages across the country.

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Because I like to consider myself somewhat of a traditionalist, I always venture to the library in early November to uncover some holiday cookie inspiration. “Christmas Cookies: 50 Recipes to Treasure for the Holiday Season” ended up having just what I was looking for. The author even gave suggestions of what cookies mailed well, so that was helpful when narrowing down what recipe to tackle. Another book that featured non-holiday sliced cookie recipes also caught my eye (“Slice & Bake Cookies: Fast Recipes from your Refrigerator or Freezer”), and it had several ideas for savory cookies, something I’d never much considered.

The recipe is essentially butter, sugar, 1 egg, flour and toasted pecans. If I had to pick an Internet recipe to replicate, I’d try Smitten Kitchen’s bite-size sandies. On to the baking.

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First of all, toasting pecans makes one’s house smell wonderful, and I’d make these cookies again just for that benefit. My particular recipe called for 3/4 cup of pecans, which is significantly less than other recipes specified, but the trick here is to grind them with a food processor so the pieces are spread throughout the cookie. I liked this method better, as opposed to having large chunks of pecans. It’s more reminiscent of the cookie I grew up eating, and it has a more uniform pecan flavor.

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As usual, first step was to cream the butter and sugar, then add the egg. The pecans waited in the wings until they were cooled from their toasting.

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After incorporating the flour, which even at less than 2 cups always seems like too much, I formed them into two rolls, and they went into the refrigerator for several hours. I often make cookie dough the night (or weekend) before I actually intend to bake the cookies so I can plan my time a bit better.

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When I cut them up into 1/4- to 1/3-inch cookies, I could tell they had flattened out on the bottom a bit, and I haven’t figured out a way to prevent that from happening.

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As you can see, some cookie cuts were straighter than others.

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About 15 minutes in the oven, and they were golden brown and crispy. (Side note: I upgraded my cookie sheet this year in anticipation of making more cookies this year and next. And it made quite a bit of difference as far as consistent baking.)

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My packaging involved a couple Ziploc bags (holiday-themed, of course), and some newspaper (which I have in abundance). Here’s who got my cookies:

And the cookies I received were all wonderful! Because there’s no reason one person should eat three dozen cookies, I made sure to share with friends at a tree-trimming party.

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First were lemon-glazed cookies from Sheryl of Mama’s Gotta Bake. Nothing I like better than a good lemon cookie.

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Next were date pinwheels from Jessica of Kettler Cuisine, which win most inventive cookie that I received.

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Last were brownie drops from Mercedes of Satisfy My Sweet Tooth.

And of course there were Hannah’s lovely sugar cookies, which I especially enjoyed with a nice cup of peppermint Christmas tea.

I’m so glad I’ve had the chance to participate in this wonderful swap for the past three years, and thanks to all (especially Julie and Lindsay) for making it so much fun.

Hopefully I’ll have more cookie adventures (namely gingerbread) to report soon.

Happy baking, and happy holidays!

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Great Food Blogger Cookie Exchange 2013: Denver

11 Dec

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I’m so glad to be doing this lovely swap for a third year running! I imagine it is a formidable amount of work for Lindsay and Julie, who organize it each year, so I want to thank each of them so much for doing this. The organization raised almost $14,000 to fight children’s cancer this year. Remarkable! Shout out to you two, and to your corporate partners who matched donations. Oxo sent me some totally amazing silicone spatulas, which I basically haven’t put down since they arrived. They’re mega high quality and I love them.

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This year, I went a different route than my typical cookie exchange cookie, and I’m not sure I think it was a great idea, retrospectively. Past years have brought chocolate-cherry biscotti and cranberry noels to my kitchen, both of which I thought were delicious but outwardly plain cookies. This year, I wanted to try a simple taste with some graphic flash! I made plain ‘ol vanilla sugar cookies, dying half of the dough and rolling them into swirled logs. They looked ok when they were done, but I wasn’t thrilled with their overall quality (more on this later).

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The recipe itself was about as straightforward as possible. I used Martha Stewart’s Perfect Sugar Cookie recipe pretty much unmodified. I actually made a triple batch, because I needed to get at least 48 cookies out of it (and I remembered last year’s ordeal when I had to go back and make an extra batch in the end to get me to 48).

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I always forget how dense sugar cookie dough is!  Adding in all that flour definitely put some strain on my beloved hand-mixer.

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Pulled out my trusty gel food coloring…

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I separated the dough into fourths, coloring two of the fourths (I decided I wanted red/white pinwheels and blue/white pinwheels).

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After chilling, I rolled them out, and chilled them some more!

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Assembly was surprisingly easy. Using a water wash, I was able to stack colored dough on uncolored dough, line edges up, and roll. It took some effort to roll them evenly. To prevent any gaps inside the swirls, I rolled the logs around for quite a while.

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Finally, a water bath went on the outside, and each log got rolled in goodies.

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This part was so messy!

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The red/white log was rolled in crushed peppermint, and the blue/white log was rolled in snowflake-shaped sprinkles.

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I let the logs chill in the fridge, then, finally, sliced and baked the cookies!

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Like I mentioned above, I wasn’t amazed at how these turned out. They were cute enough, but they spread a lot more than I thought they would, so they weren’t very uniform. Also, I’m a nitwit, and I didn’t think about the fact that the peppermint chips on the red/white cookies would melt in the oven! Duh. The best-laid plans, I tell you. Finally, I wasn’t amazed at the texture of these cookies; they turned out pretty hard. However, they were good with a cup of tea or milk to dunk them into, and they were certainly more graphic than previous swap efforts. I thought it was fun to branch out and do something decorative this year!

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My batches went out to Justina at Fail Sweetly, Camilla at Culinary Adventures with Camilla, and Laura at Pink Cake Plate. I included a little homemade card in each package, because someone did that for me during my first year, and I really loved the tidbits that author included about herself. All three of these blogs are varied, beautiful, and interesting. I hope the cookies arrived intact!

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This year, for the first time ever, I got all three of my official swap cookies on the same day! I’d had a loooong Wednesday at work, followed by commute home from work that took almost 90 minutes due to a snowstorm, but I got home to three packages!

One was from Harvey at Baked Chicago. I was telling my roommates that one of the things I like the most about the GFBCS is that you get folks from all walks of life – form college kids to grandparents to professional cooks! Harvey definitely lies on the latter side of that spectrum, from what I can tell from his website. His cookies were variations on soft-baked gingersnap molasses cookies; some were plain, some were filled with chocolate, and some were filled with chocolate and topped with granola. All of them were delicious, and Harvey’s packaging/presentation was beautiful. He also sent me a copy of his e-cookbook, which I think was amazingly kind. Thank you, Harvey! I can’t wait to make some brownies 🙂

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Another batch were from Renee at Tortillas and Honey. Her beautiful blog looks mostly focused on New Mexican cuisine – which is near and dear to my heart. I’m a Coloradan, but I loooove New Mexican food. I may or may not have already bookmarked some of her posts for my future meals. Renee sent chocolate peppermint crinkles, which were truly phenomenal. Like, ho-ly mo-ly. The texture on these puppies was absolutely flawless…they pretty much literally melted in your mouth!  I will be making a batch or two of these to give as gifts to local friends, I think. Thank you, Renee!

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My final batch were absolutely wonderful thyme-sea salt chocolate chip cookies. These were a big hit in my apartment. I really appreciated the twist on a classic, and they were expertly executed – delightfully salty, but not over salted (I imagine this was a narrow line to walk), and the thyme was a great foil to the chocolate. Regrettably, this package didn’t come with any contact information, just a note that said “Thyme sea salt chocolate chip cookies, from Jenni”. Jenni, wherever you are, thank you so much for these!

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As tradition holds, Nora and I each make a fourth dozen and include them in our Christmas packages to each other. You can read about Nora’s batch here, but I can tell you first-hand that they were a. maze. ing.  I looooove pecan sandies, and Nora’s were excellent, with a crumbly texture that was to die for. Plus, they were mega cute. Thanks, girl.

Ice Cream Sandwiches: Portland

11 Jul

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Turns out, trying to bake cookies in 90-degree heat was the most challenging part of this challenge. Well, I didn’t actually do any baking when it was that hot, but the weather certainly delayed my baking efforts for a few days. The Fourth of July was finally cool enough to use the oven (even in my second-floor apartment it was still pretty toasty), so I got to work on reverse Reese’s ice cream sandwiches, with peanut butter cookies and chocolate ice cream. And because I had access to a Cuisinart ice cream maker (thank you, Michael), I decided to try my hand at making my own. Special America bonus: The West Wing was on in the background.

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As cookies go, these were easy to assemble with some brown sugar, butter, eggs and peanut butter…

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…followed by flour, baking soda and baking powder. I did make the dough a few days before I was able to actually bake the cookies, so I froze it, hoping it would keep its consistency. It didn’t, but it turned out pretty much OK in the end. More on that later.

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For the ice cream, I went with Cuisinart’s Simple Chocolate Ice Cream recipe. I thought it best to use a recipe that was 100 percent compatible with the machine I was using. Ingredients: whole milk, whipping cream, white sugar, brown sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla extract. Stir to dissolve sugar and cocoa.

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Once everything was dissolved, I left it in the fridge until the ice cream maker bowl was frozen enough to start mixing. The mixing was its own challenge.

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When it actually came time to bake the cookies, they did not defrost well. There was a lot of crumbling, and the dough didn’t want to hold together. Ideally, I would have chilled the dough for an hour after mixing it, and then it would have rolled out nicely.

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With the traditional peanut butter cookie fork marks, you can see even more evidence of crumbling around the edges.

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But once out of the oven, they held together well. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from baking cookies, it’s to never make them too big, lest they spread out into one giant cookie mess. These were a little more crunchy than I would have preferred for an ice cream sandwich,

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This is how the ice cream turned out: semi-successful. I don’t think my freezer got the machine’s mixing bowl all the way frozen, so the ice cream never thickened as promised. Short on time, I shoved the whole thing in the freezer. The result was better than expected, but still a lot of ice crystals. (Not sure that I’d go to the trouble of making ice cream again, at least not with my freezer’s capabilities.) Eileen had the good idea of mixing it around with a fork like granita, and it definitely had that texture on the top. Once I scooped it, though, and it started melting together, it was a pretty normal consistency: dense, but creamy.

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Here it is all assembled. (Hand model credit goes to Eileen.) Now that it’s getting hot again, these are perfect for cooling down after a long bike ride home from work. The subtle peanut butter cookies and the creamy chocolate ice cream made a tasty combo.

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!