Gingersnap Kiss Cookies

IMG_2524My mom has a thing for libraries. Ever since I can remember, the library has been presented to me as a much-frequented and much-adored building of worship. Whenever we traveled to another town, my mom gravitated toward the local library. Whenever there was a rainy day during my childhood (or a sunny one, or a snowy one, or a partly-cloudy one) my brother and I were often toted along toward…you guessed it…the library.

I guess all that library-loved rubbed off onto me, because I was an avid reader from an early age. During our library visits my mom would find five-year-old me hidden away at the end of an aisle, legs splayed out in front of me as I flipped through book after book after book. Some of my most favorite children’s books were the Laura Ingalls Wilder stories. I can still remember their colorful gingham covers, the paperbacks soft and smooth on my small lap. I read all about Laura and her family living in the big woods of Wisconsin, moving to the wide-open prairie, and having all sorts of pioneer adventures. I was enthralled with the idea of riding in a covered wagon, churning butter by hand, and having only one bath a week! And of course, I loved their good old bulldog, Jack.IMG_2507

Christmas in the Big Woods was possibly my most treasured Laura Ingalls Wilder book. I was as much a Christmas fanatic as a book fanatic, and I must have read that story a thousand times. The doll I received as a Christmas present in 1999 was named Charlotte after Laura’s own Christmas doll. I remember being disappointed that my candy canes weren’t straight and rectangular like the old-fashioned “peppermint sticks” in the book, and I used my own thimble to trace “frost pictures” on the window just like Laura and her sister, Mary. I was also entranced with the idea of the molasses candy depicted in the book. “Pa” would bring in a giant tub of snow from outside, and the girls would heat up molasses and pour it onto the cold snow to make beautiful, edible shapes. Since then, molasses has been a very “pioneer-y” ingredient to me.

These soft gingersnap cookies seem just like something Laura and Mary would have made. They’re simple, lightly-spiced, not-too-sweet, and full of rich flavor from the key ingredient (molasses). Being me, I couldn’t resist kicking them up a notch by adding a Hershey’s hug to each cookie, and I’m glad that I did. The milk and white chocolate pair wonderfully with the warm spices, and I could never say no to pretty swirls. I made these cookies before Christmas, but they’d be great at any time of the year! You’ll feel just like Laura Ingalls Wilder as you bake them…and whether or not that’s a good thing, I can’t quite say. But it sure was for me. 🙂IMG_2549

Gingersnap Kiss Cookies

Makes about 3 dozen cookies

3/4 cup butter or shortening (I like to use 1/2 cup butter and 1/4 cup shortening)

1 cup brown sugar, packed

1/4 cup molasses

1 large egg

2 & 1/4 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon salt

Granulated sugar, for sprinkling

3 dozen Hershey’s hugs (or kisses), unwrapped

Directions:

In a large bowl, cream together the butter (or shortening) and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the molasses and egg, scraping down the sides as needed.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, spices, and salt. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet, mixing just until combined. Cover the dough and chill for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line two cookie sheets; set aside. Roll the dough into tablespoon-sized balls and coat with granulated sugar. Place 3 inches apart on prepared baking sheets.

Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes or until the tops are set. Immediately press an unwrapped candy into the center of each cookie. Let the cookies cool for 5 minutes on the sheets before transferring to a wire rack.

(Recipe adapted from Red Checkered Picnics)

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Easy Peanut Butter Blossoms

IMG_2257So I gained some important new knowledge this week. I babysat for two of my favorites on Thursday (I’m home for the holidays!), and as I played chauffeur from school to dance practice the backseat conversation shifted to Santa Claus.

“An elf called us,” I was told. Moonbeam, I believe his name was, had some very important information to relay. “Santa is gluten-free this year. The elf told us this, and elves know everything about Santa…because they are tiny.”IMG_2259

I was fascinated to learn not only that Santa Claus is now gluten-free (although should I really be surprised, given the explosion of gluten-free in the western world?) but that elves are knowledgeable because of their size. Not because they are magical, not because they are mythical, not because they live in the North Pole or have pointy ears or are master toy makers…no. Elves know everything because they are tiny. Makes total sense…or at least, it probably would if I had the ability to experience logic as a five-year-old does. I kinda miss those days.IMG_2261

Regardless of how Moonbeam got his information, I think we had better pay heed. I bet there are lots and lots of gluten-free Santas out there this year who would be more than happy to receive a plate of cookies that he (or, um, she) can actually eat! Luckily, I have the perfect solution! These peanut butter blossoms are some of the easiest cookies I know how to make…and the recipe might possibly be sneakily listed in about four of my other blog posts, in slight variations. It goes like this: 1 cup of peanut butter. 1 cup of sugar. 1 egg. Stir. Scoop. Bake. I like to add a little baking powder and vanilla just because I can’t stand leaving a good recipe alone (and it adds a little lift and flavor), but you don’t necessarily have to if you want to go with the 1-2-3 easy approach. I’m willing to bet that Santa won’t care either way ;).IMG_2266

Of course, it never hurts to add chocolate to a peanut butter cookie! Am I right, or am I right? I turned these into peanut butter blossoms (one of the quintessential Christmas cookies!) simply by pressing a chocolate kiss into each cookie. The chocolate definitely takes them to the next level, and it makes them look pretty, too. If you know a gluten-free Santa (or are one yourself!) I would definitely share Moonbeam’s knowledge with the little bakers in your family. Even if you don’t think Santa will be stopping by your house next week, you should still make a batch of these peanut butter blossoms! They’re soft, chewy, full of peanut butter flavor…and are gluten-free! Elf-approved for sure. 🙂IMG_2268

Easy Peanut Butter Blossoms

Makes about 2 dozen cookies

1 cup creamy peanut butter

1 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

2 dozen chocolate kisses, unwrapped

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon mats. Set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together the peanut butter, sugar, egg, baking powder, and vanilla. Scoop the dough into tablespoon-size balls and drop onto prepared cookie sheets.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until tops are set. Be careful not to over-bake, because the cookies will continue cooking as they cool on the sheets. Immediately press a chocolate kiss into the top of each cookie. Cool on the sheets for 5 minutes, then move to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

All-American Apple Pie

Pie1Sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself. I like to think I’m not the only one who does things such as…

  • Spend several minutes trying to turn my car on with the key to my room
  • Put a dirty knife into the refrigerator and come dangerously close to dropping a jar of peanut butter into a sink full of soapy water
  • Start panicking because I can’t find my cell phone, only to discover that I am holding it up to my ear
  • Refer to Africa as a country (I’m cringing right now)
  • Act astonished that Scrabble comes in a Spanish version…um no, it’s just the same alphabet, EmmaIMG_0500

So. Now that I’ve exposed my most Darwin-award-worthy moments (or at least a teeny tiny fraction of them), I’m hoping that the next laughable thing on my list will seem a little less laughable. I’m talking about these pie pictures, of course. The pictures that I took on my iPhone at 8pm in the yellowy artificial light of my kitchen with my dad standing two feet away practically salivating as he waited for his slice. Unfortunately my brother won’t be home for the holidays until tomorrow; otherwise I would have clearly taken advantage of his  photography skills. Which are about 10,000 lightyears above mine.

Thus, instead of making you all wait even longer for my next post (I know it’s been over two weeks and I’m sorry!) I decided to have a long, hard laugh and offer you these fantastically grotesque pictures along with a pretty stellar recipe. Use your imaginations!IMG_0504

The truth is, this is a pretty darn delicious apple pie. I love how the crust is spiked with a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg, and the filling is a perfect balance of sweet, tart, and spiced. I used a combination of Granny Smith and Honeycrisp apples, which I would highly recommend. The filling itself is quite simple–just toss together some standard ingredients and fold in the apple slices. Pour it all into your pie crust (which, I’ll admit, is the harder part that I have yet to perfect) and bake until golden and bubbly! You’ll end up with a house that smells so good you’ll want to bottle it up and put it into a candle. And of course you’ll get a delicious apple pie, too. Horrid pictures aside, this recipe is a keeper!IMG_0506

All-American Apple Pie

Crust:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (optional)

1/3 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small chunks

1/3 cup chilled vegetable shortening

4-5 tablespoons very cold water

Filling:

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice (or 1/4 tsp nutmeg + 1/4 tsp allspice)

6 cups apples, peeled and thinly sliced (about 6 medium apples; I used 3 Granny Smith and 3 Honeycrisp)

To finish:

1 egg, beaten

Granulated sugar, for sprinkling

Directions:

For the crust, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large bowl. Using a pastry blender or two forks, cut in the cold butter and shortening until the mixture is coarse and crumbly. Add in the water one tablespoon at a time, tossing with a fork, until the dough holds together. Form the dough into two equal balls, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. For the filling, combine all the ingredients except for the apples in a large bowl. Fold in the apples until they are coated in the mixture.

Roll out the dough into two 12-inch circles. Carefully transfer one of the crusts to a 9-inch pie pan. Press the crust into the bottom and sides of the pan, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang along the sides. Pour in the apple filling and top with the remaining crust. Crimp the edges.

Cut several slits into the top crust. Brush the beaten egg onto the top and edges of the crust. Sprinkle the crust with granulated sugar. Cover the edges loosely with strips of aluminum foil and bake for 35 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 10-20 minutes or until crust is golden-brown and filling is bubbly.

Let the pie cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Store leftovers in the refrigerator.

(Recipe adapted from Land O’Lakes)

Classic Snickerdoodles

(You might notice a small ginormous change in the quality of these photos…I was home for Thanksgiving and able to utilize my brother once again 🙂 )

snickerdoodles1Those who know me well know that I’m just a teensy bit neurotic when it comes to holidays. For instance, I happen to be one of the hugest Christmas freaks that I know of, but nothing can begin until the day after Thanksgiving. No Christmas carols, no Christmas baking, no Christmas movies, nada. Apparently our consumer culture has different plans, of course, with Christmas decorations cropping up everywhere on November 1st! It’s ridiculous, I tell you. Can’t even handle it. Earlier in November I might have possibly sat in the JC Penney shoe section with my phone pressed to my ear for 45 minutes as I waited for my mother to try on shoe after shoe. They were playing Christmas music, you see, thus forcing me to turn on my own Pandora station and jam my iPhone up to my eardrum. TOO FREAKING EARLY, JC Penney! Please get your act together.

Luckily, we’re now in the safe zone. Thanksgiving has come and gone, today I opened the first little window on my advent calendar, and I can fully embrace my favorite season! I decided to kick it off with some baking last weekend. Since I’m a poor, penniless college student I opted to be a little more frugal this year when it comes to gifts, and I knew that my friends would all enjoy some homemade cookies. If there’s anything you can assume about 99% of college kids, it’s that they are low on cash and highly motivated by food. Truth!snickerdoodles2

I’ve always loved snickerdoodles, and most people I know love them too. They’re basically soft mounds of butter, sugar, and white flour coated in cinnamon-sugar. What’s not to love? Although I consider snickerdoodles a year-round kind of cookie, they seem to work especially well at Christmas. Maybe it’s all that cinnamon!

I ended up making a triple batch of these incredible snickerdoodles from Sally’s Baking Addiction, and I was quite pleased with the results! I wanted my snickerdoodles to be soft, thick, chewy, cinnamony (it’s a word if I say so), and full of that sweet-with-the-tiniest-bit-of-sour snickerdoodle flavor that comes from the cream of tartar. They delivered on all levels, and although I was up to my eyeballs in cookie dough (6 dozen cookies is a LOT of cookies) it was definitely worth it. Plus I figure I got in a pretty good arm workout with all the stirring, so any cookie-dough eating was completely justified. Not that I eat raw cookie dough or anything…

Start off your holiday baking (if you haven’t already) with a batch or three of these awesome snickerdoodles! They may not be packed full of fancy add-ins or crazy flavor combinations, but you can’t beat a classic. Plus they’ll make your house smell like Christmas, which is now totally appropriate. 🙂snickerdoodles3

Classic Snickerdoodles

Makes about 2 dozen cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 & 1/3 cups granulated sugar

1 large egg

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 & 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

For rolling:

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicon mats and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the butter until soft and smooth. Beat in the sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add in the egg and vanilla, scraping down the sides as needed. Slowly stir in the flour mixture, stirring just until combined.

In a shallow dish, combine the additional sugar and cinnamon. Form the cookie dough into 1.5-tablespoon balls and roll in the cinnamon-sugar. Place 3 inches apart on prepared cookie sheets.

Bake for 10-12 minutes or until edges are barely golden and tops are set. Let the cookies cool on the sheets for 5 minutes before removing to a cooling rack.

(Recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction)