It’s been quite a month of the January blahs, and before it ends, I thought I might provide a review of my Christmas baking. My love of freshly baked treats sometimes hampers my ability to deliver the goods according to my original plan. Several items I meant to make were dropped. And then a nasty cold had me bedridden (or couch ridden, watching made-for-TV Christmas movies) right after Christmas and lasting all through the season.
You know when people say, “my eyes are bigger than my stomach?” In my case, my eyes are bigger than my ability to bake, and I returned from the bulk and grocery stores with enough ingredients to make any dessert you can imagine. By the end of it all, I had five unused packages of cream cheese, a large carton of whipping cream, several pounds of butter and a pound of dates … not to mention the glass cherries … the shelled pistachios … the walnut halves, etc. etc.
I made four types of cookies/squares, a cheesecake and a pound cake, which I mentioned in an earlier post. It was more than enough baking from our small holiday gathering (including seven adults and two children), yielding enough to send people home with a good plate of desserts, plus leftovers in my kitchen that lasted well beyond the new year.
Cookies and squares
Okay, just to be clear, this is not an alternative to shortbread, but it’s an amazingly light and satisfying butter cookie. I turned this into a vanilla butter cookie so that I could showcase homemade vanilla, courtesy of my brother following his travels to Mauritius. I made several variations to this recipe:
- I added some salt (½ teaspoon) because I love a salty edge on anything that wants to call itself shortbread
- I added a teaspoon of vanilla extract
- I followed one reviewer’s advice and beat the butter for 15 minutes – this is what makes them melt in your mouth
- I drizzled a vanilla glaze over the cookies:
- ¾ cup icing sugar
- 1 tablespoon milk
- ½ teaspoon of vanilla
I had a delicious pecan square one evening at Rooster Coffee House and wanted to replicate it. I figured I’d give this recipe on the Joy of Baking site a try. I was a bit put off by the lack of butter in the filling, so I did some research and found that in fact most recipes don’t contain butter. So I modified this recipe by adding some softened butter (about ¼ cup). The result was okay, but they definitely didn’t match up to the ooey and gooey squares at Rooster. My filling didn’t exactly ooze out. It was altogether a very neat and tidy bar once I sliced it, which isn’t exactly what I’d envisioned. I think the addition of butter was probably a big mistake.
I went back to a Christmas baking magazine for this one, and now I can’t find it. What I’ll say is that the cookies were fine, but a little meh. My mom always complains that the cookies dry out quickly, despite the jam filling, and while they’re good shortly after you pull them out of the oven, they don’t have a lot of staying power.
This Anna Olson recipe is an all-time favourite, with a few variations:
- I use lemon curd as the filling instead of marmalade
- I only use pistachios because the green of the pistachio against the yellow cookie is striking
- I fill the cookies before putting them in the oven – per one of the variations listed in the original recipe
See my previous post on this one.
I wanted to try a different type of cheesecake, and I was intrigued by the addition of butter and ricotta into what otherwise looked like a traditional recipe. This produced a slightly lighter cheesecake than others I’ve made. I’ve never done this type of cheesecake without a crust, and I liked the result. My only variation to this was to top it with some brandied cherries.