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Category Archives: All Things Christmas

Easy Homemade Chocolate Covered Cherries

Easy Homemade Chocolate Covered Cherries

These are my husband’s favorite, and it’s easy to see why!

These are made with a no-cook fondant–much easier than the made-from-scratch, cooked kind and far better than the store-bought fondant one finds in craft or baking shop supplies.

Scrumptious Chocolate Covered Cherries

Scrumptious Homemade Chocolate Covered Cherries!

Ingredients:

For the No-Cook Fondant:

3 TBSP unsalted butter at room temperature (don’t use margarine!)
2 to 2-1/2 cups of powdered/confectioner’s sugar
2 TBSP of light corn syrup
1/4 tsp of almond extract

Number of Cherries:

About 60 maraschino cherries. If you can find them with the stems, fine; if not, that’s OK, too.

For Dipping:

Dark (or Milk) Chocolate candy coating—use a good brand on these!

Directions:

Drain the cherries well and place them between layers of paper towels for about two hours to dry. They can’t be moist for the coating to stick well.

Mix the butter, corn syrup, extract, and sugar together until blended. Knead with a little additional powdered sugar until smooth and pliable.

Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Wrap about a teaspoon of the fondant around each cherry. Place on a waxed paper lined cookie sheet and put in the freezer for about 5 to 10 minutes while preparing the chocolate coating.

Melt the chocolate coating according to directions. If using cherries with a stem, dip each coated cherry into the melted chocolate coating and place on a wax-paper lined cookie sheet. If the cherries don’t have a stem, use a toothpick to dip the cherries into the chocolate coating, place on wax paper and immediately add a dot of melted chocolate coating over the hole where the toothpick was.

After they set up, check for any uncovered spots on the cherries–bottoms in particular–and seal them with a little more melted chocolate coating.

After these set up, place them in containers in layers separated by wax paper or in paper candy cups of the appropriate size–they will be quite big by the time the fondant and coating are applied. Again, separate the layers with wax paper.

Set aside in a cool, dry place for two to four weeks before eating–the longer they mellow, the better they get. The liquid center takes a few weeks to form.

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Mom’s Press (Spritz) Cookies

Mom’s Press (Spritz) Cookies

Spritz Cookies

A Christmas Tradition: Press (Spritz) Cookies

Mom made these every Christmas and they were always a hit:

Mom’s Press (Spritz) Cookies

1 lb butter (can use 1/2 butter, 1/2 stick margarine for these–don’t use vegetable oil spread!) at room temperature

2 cups powdered sugar

1 tsp almond extract

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 eggs

1/2 tsp baking soda dissolved in 1 TBSP warm water

6 cups of flour

Cream the butter and extracts. Add the eggs and beat until smooth

Add the dissolved baking soda and blend.

Gradually add the flour until a stiff, moldable dough forms. Do not add too much flour; it should hold its shape and stick together without crumbling

The dough can be put through a cookie press as-is, or you can divide the dough into three portions. Leave one untinted, tint one portion green, the other portion red and form 3 ropes together to put through the cookie press

Bake on ungreased cookie sheets at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes or until just set and bottoms are starting to JUST brown.

Yield: About 5 to 6 dozen press cookies, depending upon shapes used.

You can add maraschino cherry bits, colored sugars and other decos to these just before baking.

A minty kind of day

So, I thought it would be fun to post some minty recipes  for this holiday season. Or, for any time for that matter. Chocolate and mint are an unbeatable combination. So, here are a few recipes to share:

Copycat Andes Mints

Copycat Mints

Andes Mints: Make Your Own!!

1 pound dark chocolate coating
1/2 pound white chocolate coating
*10-15 drops peppermint oil (not extract. Most drug stores do sell the oil and it is also available through candy and cake baking suppliers)
2-3 drops green gel coloring

Line a baking sheet with waxed paper and set aside.

Pour half of dark chocolate coating into a microwave safe bowl and microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring after each until nearly melted. Stir until smooth and creamy.

Pour onto waxed paper and smooth. Place in refrigerator to firm up.

Add white chocolate coating to a second bowl and melt in the same manner as the dark. When smooth and creamy, add peppermint oil and gel coloring. Stir until flavor and color are well mixed.

Layer on top of the dark chocolate and return to refrigerator. Melt remaining dark chocolate and layer over top of the green mint layer. Allow candy to harden completely before breaking into bite size pieces.

*Start with 10 drops of peppermint oil and more if you feel the candy needs more flavor.

If you have candy molds, you can make these in two layers instead of three.

You can make these as thick or thin as you like.

While we are talking about Andes, here’s a recipe using them in cookies. Fantastic!

Andes Mints Cookies

Andes Mints Cookies

Andes Mints Cookies

3/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 tablespoons water
12 ounces chocolate chips
2 eggs
2 3/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
Andes mints (about 2 boxes)

Servings: 48

Cook Time: 10 minutes

In a medium-sized saucepan, melt together the butter, brown sugar, and water, stirring occasionally.

Add the chocolate chips and stir until melted. Let stand 10 minutes to cool. Add the remaining ingredients and combine to form a dough.

Chill the dough at least 1 hour.

Roll the dough into balls and place on a lightly greased cookie sheet, leaving ample space between the dough balls.

Bake at 350°F for 8 to 9 minutes.

Move to wire racks and work quickly (it helps to have the mints already unwrapped so they can be put on top of the cookies while they are still hot for quicker melting):

On top of each cookie, place half to one whole Andes mint, depending on the size of the cookie. Allow the mint to melt and then swirl the mint over the cookie with the back of a spoon or a knife.

Copycat York Peppermint Patties

Copycat York Peppermint Patties

Copycat York Peppermint Patties

1 Egg white
3-1/2 to 4 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon Peppermint oil or extract (start with less if using oil, and remember these will get stronger as they ripen)
Cornstarch for dusting
1 16-oz. bag semi-sweet chocolate chips

In a medium metal or glass (not plastic) bowl, beat the egg white until it is stiff and forms peaks.

Add the powdered sugar while blending with an electric mixer set on medium speed.

Add the corn syrup and peppermint oil or extract and knead the mixture with your hands until it has the smooth consistency of dough.

Using a flat surface and a rolling pin lightly dusted with cornstarch, roll out the peppermint dough 1/4-inch thick.

Punch out circles of peppermint dough with a biscuit or cookie cutter with a diameter of about 2 1/2- inches. Make approximately 20, place them on plates or cookie sheets, and let them firm up in the refrigerator, about 45 minutes. Alternatively, place in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes.

Melt the chocolate chips in a microwave set on high for 2 minutes. Stir halfway through the heating time. Melt thoroughly, but do not overheat. Melting the chocolate chips can also be done using a double-boiler over low heat.

Drop each patty into the chocolate and coat completely. Using 2 forks, one in each hand, lift the coated patty from the chocolate. Gently tap the forks against the bowl to knock of the excess chocolate and place each patty on waxed paper.

Chill the peppermint patties until firm. Makes 20 peppermint patties.

Spotlight Plant Of The Month For December: Christmas Cactus

Spotlight Plant Of The Month For December: Christmas Cactus

Christmas Cactus

Christmas Cactus

December offers many wonderful plants to grace our homes and to offer  the gardener on our holiday lists. One of the most interesting and beautiful of plants is the Christmas cactus. This plant has one of the more unusual of botanical names, though: Schlumbergera bridesii. No matter which name we use, common or botanical, this native of South America is quickly becoming a very popular plant to add to our indoor plant collections during the holiday season and beyond. It is a most fitting plant to feature as December’s spotlight plant.

Christmas cacti come in various shades of pink, white, and near-orange, or salmon. They offer color and a touch of the tropics when many of our homes are starved for durable blooming plants. Not a true cactus, but a succulent by nature, many make the mistake of under watering this plant.

Unlike poinsettias, which can quickly turn leggy and die, the Christmas cactus is a bit more durable. After the blooms cease, withhold water for about five or six weeks. It needs to “nap” a bit. Repot with fresh soil which is light and fertile. When new growth resumes, fertilize with a weak organic fertilizer every three weeks.

This plant likes shade in the summer and constant moisture. Not sogginess, but moisture. It makes an excellent porch plant in the shade. When the kids return to school, start to decrease the amount of water that you give it. Let it go thirsty in October. In November, keep it in a humid area, or place it on a bed of moist pebbles that do not “wick” into the pots. Water, but not too much or too often, just to keep it moist. This plant appreciates a bit more light indoors than out, but not the sunniest spot in your home.

To induce blooming, give Christmas cactus bright, indirect sunlight, and keep it in a temperature range of 55 to 60 degrees. If you have a cool, bright room, this is ideal. If the temps have to go higher, as it does in most of our homes this time of the year, keep it in a dark closet until bloom buds start to develop. You can start this process as soon as you bring the plant in from its summer vacation.

So, if you want a little different plant to share your digs with for the holidays, pick a Christmas cactus or two. I think you will be pleased.

Decorating for the holidays: Evergreen arrangements

Decorating for the holidays: Evergreen arrangements

 

fresh evergreen arrangement

fresh evergreen arrangement

 

You know, so many of us have artificial Christmas trees these days. For most of us, it’s a case of saving money and having a tree that doesn’t dry out over the season. It is also a matter of convenience.  Less hassle to have an artificial tree and we don’t have to worry about straight trunks or the tree having a “bad side” to it.

But, we’ve sacrificed one of the best things about having a live tree in our homes: The rich scent of the Christmas tree, whether of pine or fir.

So, how to have our cake and eat it too??

Well, if you are like me, buying those room sprays or even candles often doesn’t duplicate the true scent of a Christmas tree adequately. Many of them are close, but not quite on the mark.

One of the best ways to add an authentic scent to the air is to add floral arrangements made of evergreen cuttings.

Now, most of us have a pine tree, spruces, cedars, junipers, or firs growing in our yards. If we don’t, we can find the greens relatively easily. Most Christmas tree farms offer either free branches cut from the bottoms of the trees for customers when they purchase their trees. That, or they will charge a nominal fee for cuttings.

Whichever way you gather these evergreen cuttings, if you prep them before using them, you can add authentic Christmas scent to your home.

Start with fresh cuttings. Be sure to use a sharp pair of pruners to cut the end pieces of the stems–be forewarned, though; the cut ends often will leak a little sticky sap. You might wish to use gloves when cutting.

Once cut, plunge the cuttings in water for several hours for them to take up water. By plunge, I mean submerge them.

In the meantime, gather the glass bowls, vases, or baskets you intend to use for your arrangements.  You can use empty small butter or sour cream containers, cut floral foam to fit tightly, and add to baskets or other non-waterproof containers. You can later on hide the foam and container with a little moss.  Remove and soak the foam until saturated, place back in the container.

Remove the cuttings and cut again: About 1/4 of an inch.

Starting at the outside with the longest branches, add branches all the way around the base of the foam. Add progressively shorter stems, working your way into the middle. You can add other decorative touches such as a flameless candle in the center, some ornaments, some cones and ribbons.

Keep the arrangement misted and do not allow the foam to dry out. If you find a few branches are brittle or browning, you can remove and replace the stems with fresh cuttings treated the same way.

These arrangements, if kept watered and misted, will last up to a month and will hold their fragrance well.

Basic Homemade Buttercream Candies

Basic Homemade Buttercream Candies


Buttercreams


You know those fancy chocolates with the flavored centers that we give and receive for the holidays? How about trying your hand at making  a few of these buttercreams this holiday season instead? They aren’t that difficult to make and you can add the flavors you like to them.

Here are two basic buttercream recipes you can try. These are the foundation for the candies. All you need to do is to vary the flavors and if you wish, you can tint some of the centers as well.

Use a good quality chocolate coating on these. If you have candy coatings available, I’ve found that mixing them with real chocolate bumps it up a notch and adds a better consistency and flavor to the chocolate flavor.

Chocolate Covered Buttercream Candy Recipe I

4 cups powdered sugar
*1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup butter, softened
3 Tablespoons heavy cream

1. Combine these four ingredients and mix well until smooth and firm. Add more sugar as necessary to make a firm mixture that will hold its shape.

2. Form into balls and place on waxed paper covered trays. Chill.

3. In the top of a double boiler, melt 2 cups of chocolate chips or pieces, 1 Tablespoon of butter, and 5 drops of vanilla. Alternatively, use a good quality candy coating in dark or milk chocolate. Add real dark or milk chocolate to it and melt for a better flavor and coating. This is what I use.

4. Dip the buttercream balls in the chocolate and place on waxed paper covered trays to set. Chill if desired to set faster.

*Note: You can add orange extract, almond, coconut, peppermint extract, maple, or any other flavor you desire. You can also tint the centers. Just decrease the vanilla or eliminate it. For example, use 1/2 tsp vanilla and 1/2 tsp of another extract. Or one tsp of extract of choice–for stronger flavors, add 1/2 tsp of extract at a time and taste-test first.  Keep in mind that the flavor fully  develops after a day or so.

Chocolate Covered Buttercream Candy Recipe II

1 pkg. (3 oz.) cream cheese, softened
1/2 c. butter, softened
4 c. confectioners’ sugar or more to make a fairly stiff mixture
*1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
Beat cream cheese and butter in bowl until smooth. Blend in sugar and vanilla. Chill 1 hour – shape into 1 inch balls and chill overnight. Coat as above.

*Note: You can add orange extract, almond, peppermint extract, maple, or any other flavor you desire. You can also tint the centers. Just decrease the vanilla or eliminate it. For example, use 1/2 tsp vanilla and 1/2 tsp of another extract. Or one tsp of extract of choice–for stronger flavors, add 1/2 tsp of extract at a time and taste-test first.  Keep in mind that the flavor fully  develops after a day or so.  You can also flavor with 1/2 vanilla, 1/2 coconut and add finely shredded coconut to the mixture before dipping the centers.

Sour Cream Cut out Cookies

Sour Cream Cut out Cookies

Sour Cream Cutout Cookies

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup shortening
1 cup white sugar
1 egg
1/3 cup sour cream
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tsp finely shredded lemon peel (optional)
1/2 teaspoon of ground mace
3/4 teaspoon of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Dash of salt (or none, if using salted butter)
2 1/2 cups flour

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and shortening. Add the sugar, sour cream, vanilla and lemon peel, if desired, baking soda, mace, baking powder, and dash of salt. Beat until thoroughly combined.

Beat in as much flour as you can with an electric mixer. Stir in any remaining flour with a wooden spoon. Divide dough in half and chill for one to two hours.

Keep unused dough chilled. Roll out remaining dough on a lightly floured surface to between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thickness and cut into shapes using 2 to 3 inch cookie cutters. Place cookies 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake for 7-8 minutes in the preheated oven, or until edges are firm and the bottoms are light brown. Remove and cool, decorate as desired.

This recipe makes about 24 cookies, depending on the cookie cutter and thickness.

Helpful Hints:

I also freeze the shapes on cookie sheets covered in parchment paper and then carefully remove them, put them in large freezer containers in layers with wax paper or parchment paper between the layers. Remove them and place them on cookie sheets, let them thaw a bit and decorate and bake or bake, cool, and frost. Or, you can just freeze the dough, thaw, and proceed to roll and cut them out when you are ready to bake them.

Nesting In On A Cold Autumn Day

It’s a really cold autumn day here. The coldest daytime temps yet since the turn of the seasons.

Days like these make me feel cozy and my thoughts turn inward to home bound pursuits.

Reading, needlework, crocheting, drawing are all things I like to do when the weather turns.

I’m also thinking ahead to the Holidays and doing little things to get ready for the same. Some homemade gifts. And, believe it or not, I’m making cookie dough and have been freezing it for baking later. No one will know the difference when they bite into a cookie that the dough was made in October and early November. And it sure cuts down on the mess and time for baking.

Here is a favorite of mine, an Eastern European cookie recipe that are widely made in Hungary, The Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Poland. Make a few for a touch of Old World Charm for your family and friends:

Poinsettia  Cookies (Kolacky)

kolacky
1/2 lb. of butter
1/4 lb. of cream cheese (3 to 4 ounces)
3 TBSP of sour cream
1 whole beaten egg
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups of flour
Zest of one lemon (best fresh–may use dried lemon zest, 1 TBSP
1 tsp. vanilla
Assorted jams, fruit butters or lekvar, nut pastes. (Solo brand makes great fillings that are thick enough to not run).

Powdered sugar and flour in equal portions to sprinkle the board where the cookies will be rolled out.

Cream the butter, cream cheese, and sour cream together.

Add the beaten egg, salt, vanilla, and  lemon zest in.

Add the flour and blend completely.

Chill at least two hours and work with chilled dough and chilled clean, ungreased cookie sheets. (May also line sheets with parchment paper)

Roll chilled dough out to about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick on board dusted with powdered sugar and flour mixed to prevent sticking.

Using a pastry wheel, cut in strips about 2 inches wide. Cut across the strips about 2 inches apart to form 2 inch squares. Place each square on the chilled cookie sheets.

On each corner of the cookie, make a cut about 1/2 way down the corners. (You will be folding the left side of the cut corners over to form a pinwheel).

In the center of each put about a teaspoon of Lekvar (plum butter), Apricot butter, thick preserves of choice or a mixture of finely crushed walnut meal, one egg white, and one cup of sugar blended to make a paste.

Bake in a pre-heated 375 degree oven until golden–don’t overbake!

Cool completely and store in a cookie tin between layers of waxed paper. Store in a cool place. Will keep up to a month. When serving, dust with a little powdered sugar.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Hints:

The dough may be frozen if wrapped tightly in two layers of plastic wrap. It will keep in the freezer for about three months. To use, thaw but keep cool in the refrigerator. Only use what you need to roll out cookies, keeping the rest cold in the refrigerator to work with the next batch. Or, roll out all the batches of cookies and while one batch is baking, keep the others chilled in the refrigerator to go into the oven cold when the previous batch comes out.

Any leftover fillings, if you are using the Solo brand fillings, can be put into freezer containers with some plastic wrap over the top and kept frozen for use later.