It smells like gingerbread.

The snow squeaks underfoot.

The frost gathers thickly in the morning sun.

It must be December.

_

Spices and Snowfalls

_

It’s time for us to gather our ingredients, put on some good music, and bake for charity again. Each year we sell cookie platters and put the money to good use. Until this year we’ve bought livestock for third-world families, but this year we’re moved to switch to UNICEF. It’s a simple idea that our kids can understand: we make delicious goodies, raise money, and people live better lives. The tangible exchange of time for cookies then cookies for money and finally money for help made sense even when they were small.

This year, like last year, I’m capping the orders at a much lower level. For about 4 years we did 50-60 platters. 1800 cookies. Yes, we raised hundreds of dollars. Yes, we had stories to tell every year. But it got to the point where Christmas arrived and I collapsed. I felt all used up. I want the energy to make a gingerbread house. I want to feel like Christmas is a time for us, too. So we’re doing 25 platters and you know your definition of normal is way out when you think, “Oh, only 150 of each kind of cookie. What a nice break.”

I’d like to share these recipes. They are dependable and yet fabulous.

(Most of these pictures are from other years.  We’re nowhere near done.)

Chocolate Orange Shortbread

This is such a simple yet elegant bit of luxury.

2 1/2 – 3 c cake flour
3/4 c icing sugar
1 TB grated orange zest
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 c soft butter
4 1-inch squares of semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1 tsp shortening

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, orange zest, ginger and salt. Cut butter in small peices and knead in with hands.

Let rest 10 min then toss back and forth between hands until it holds together like regular cookie dough.

Pat into 8″ round cake pans. Prick evenly with a fork.*

Bake 40 min at 325 til golden brown. Immediately cut each pan into 16 wedges. Cool and remove from pans.

Melt chocolate and shortening, dip the wedges into the chocolate. If you dip them tip first, held at an angle, and leave the top undipped you’ll make an elegant slanted chocolate covering.

Store in fridge.

To freeze, freeze before dipping. If making many, many, cut into squares and then simply drizzle chocolate from a bottle.

* To make it easier we just pat out on a flat cookie pan into 8″x8″ squares.  Then we cut in rectangles – the little points on the wedges were breaking off and we didn’t feel right selling those.

_

orange shortbread

_

____________________

Chocolate Marshmallow Fudge
2 Points per fudge, if you’re a Weight Watcher.  But no one will ever guess this is a recipe of restraint – buy good chocolate and it will seriously slay any and every chocolate craving and sweet tooth.

Ingredients

1 2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup fat-free evaporated milk
2 Tbsp reduced-calorie margarine
12 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
14 large marshmallow(S)
Instructions

1. Coat an 8- x 8-inch pan with cooking spray.

2. Stir together sugar, evaporated milk and margarine. Bring to a boil in a sauce pan, reduce heat to medium-low and cook 3 minutes, stirring constantly.

3. Stir in chocolate and marshmallows. Remove from heat and stir until smooth.

4. Pour into pan and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours. Cut into 36 squares and serve. (Leave fudge in refrigerator or freezer for a firmer consistency.)

______________________
Mom’s Gingerbread
This is the cookie without which there is no Christmas. I could forget about all others and only bake this one and it would be Christmas. It makes a nice, crispy cookie with a deep, rich blend of spices. It’s not too sweet, making the icing you decorate it with a perfect match rather than too much. It’s also sturdy enough to use for house pieces.

1c margarine
1c sugar
1/2 c molasses
2 beaten eggs
2 tsp vanilla
4 c flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp ginger
1 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp cloves
3 tsp cinnamon

Cream margarine. Add sugar, molasses, eggs and vanilla. Add dry ingredients and mix well. Roll out 1/8 inch thick, cut into shapes, and bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes. Makes 75 3″x2″ cookies.
______________________
Lemon Cheesecake Squares
Brilliant as a nice counterpoint to all the chocolate on your Christmas platter, and brilliant because it freezes well.

Crust:

6 TB unsalted butter
1/3 C (packed) brown sugar
1 C all purpose flour
1/2 C finely chopped walnuts

Beat butter and sugar till fluffy. Stir in flour and walnuts. Press most of it into a greased 8″x8″ pan. Reserve 1/3- 1/2 for later. Bake at 350 for 15 min. (golden brown)

Topping:

1 pkg cream cheese
1/4 C sugar
1 egg
1 TB fresh lemon juice
2 TB milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp lemon zest
2 TB finely chopped walnuts

Beat cream cheese and sugar; beat in egg, milk and vanilla; beat in zest and lemon juice. Spread over crust, crumble left-over dough on top, and sprinkle on the 2 TB walnuts. Bake at 350 30 min. or til puffed in centre. Cool, then cut. To freeze, place waxed paper between layers.

    _

    Peppermint Cookies

    _

____________________

Peppermint Crunch Cookies

I’m proud of these.  I mashed them together from three different recipes as well as my own imaginings and unvented something special.
1/2 c butter, softened
1/2 c sugar
1 egg
1tsp peppermint extract
1 3/4 c all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp each salt and baking soda

Beat butter and sugar til fluffy beat in egg and peppermint. In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Add to the butter mixture in two batches. Divide in half and shape into two rolls about 3 cm thick. Chill for half an hour at least. When firm, cut with a sharp knife in 5mm slices. Bake at 180 C (350 F) for 9 min, til firm to the touch and just barely golden.

Hard Glaze

  • 1/3 c meringue powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3-4 c icing sugar
  • 1/3-1/2 c cold water
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • green food colouring

Combine dry ingredients. Add 1/3 c water and vanilla and beat on low speed. It will seem hard and lumpy, but keep going. Add water 1 TB at a time til it’s the consistency of corn syrup.

Once cookies are cool, pour glaze into a small bowl. Dip the cookies into the glaze and place glaze side up on waxed paper. You may need to spread it with a knife to smooth the surface. Sprinkle with crushed candy canes before the glaze hardens – don’t try to glaze all the cookies and then do the sprinkling.

These can be frozen. When storing, make sure there’s a layer of waxed paper between the layers of cookies to keep them pretty. Depending on the size of your rolls, a single batch will make more than 75 of these sweet morsels.

_

Cookie plate

_

Yum!