Soft Sugar Cookies

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Growing up, my family’s holiday traditions were somewhat unconventional compared to those of my peers. I never believed in Santa Claus. Ever. Our holidays were focused on Jesus’ birth as well as spending time together as a family. Also, I didn’t open presents on Christmas morning. Can we still call it Christmas without Santa and morning presents? I think so. We traveled to be with my grandparents on Christmas so our family celebrated a couple days early. Still, our Christmas was full of excitement and wrapped in our own set of traditions that I looked forward to each year.

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Like most families, the dinner was an important part of our celebration. Our table would be covered in a tablecloth and set with china and cloth napkins. The lights would be dim and candles lit. This was the kick off to our special Christmas night, though it was December 23 instead of the 25. Mom would make clam chowder every year and every year she would say how it doesn’t taste as good as Mo’s. Mo’s is a chowder place in Portland, Oregon that my parents grew to love. The holidays were the only time I remember eating clam chowder, or any seafood for that matter. I always enjoyed it and the chewy canned clams. After dinner there would be sugar cookies followed by a trip around the neighborhood looking at Christmas lights.

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Mom makes soft sugar cookies every year. Whenever I eat a sugar cookie I expect it to taste like this one. Pillow-y and tender and a little cake like. Yet none every do. Every year my sisters make these with their families and I decided this year that I wanted to as well. As adults we get to make our own choices about what traditions to keep from our past as well as what to add for the present. Making soft sugar cookies is one that I will be keeping around. I hear Santa loves them.

Soft Cut Out Sugar Cookies

Makes about 24 cookies

This recipe is slightly adapted from Food52.com and is slightly different than mom’s original one. More sugar and flour with the addition of baking powder and almond extract. I also upped the vanilla and salt. The dough is soft but not as sticky.

Some people love decorating cookies and others fizzle out by the time the cookies are out of the oven (me!!) I started using this quick decorating technique and thought you might like it too. Similarly to scones, before putting the cookies in the oven, brush lightly with heavy cream. Next, go wild with the sprinkles (I liked this) Wilton 710-1260 Gold Pearlized Sprinkles Mix though not the little the balls – they melt in the oven. The gold sugar is divine. Top with Wilton White Sparkling Sugar, Net Wt. 8 oz. . Sweetened shredded coconut is another fun option. The coconut gets nice and toasty in the oven and goes really well with the slight almond flavor of the cookie. Of course, these are great with frosting as well.

Ingredients:

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1 egg

1/2 cup sour cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

For topping: 2 tablespoons heavy cream, sprinkles, sparkling sugar and sweetened shredded coconut

Directions:

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy – about 3 minutes on medium speed. Scrape bowl and add the egg. Mix on low until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Now add the sour cream, vanilla extract and almond extract. Mix on low to combine for another 30 seconds or so. Scrape the bowl with a spatula, making sure to get to the bottom of the bowl. Spoon flour mixture over the dough and mix on low to incorporate. Stop the machine when most of the flour is mixed in. Scrape the bowl again and then cover with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or over night.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cover baking sheets with parchment and set aside. On a moderately floured surface, work in small batches to roll out the dough to 1/4 – 1/2 inch thick. Don’t over work the dough – a couple pats and a couple rolls will do it. Sprinkle with flour as needed. Cut out shapes and place on parchment paper. Once the sheet is filled, use a pastry brush to brush heavy cream on the cookies. Sprinkle liberally with sprinkles and sparkling sugar or shredded coconut. I love that the sprinkles are contained in the baking sheet and not rolling all over my table and floor! Bake on the middle rack for 10-12 minutes, depending on the size of your cookies. You want a little color around the edges and the middle to be nice and puffed before taking out of the oven. Repeat with the rest of the dough.

These cookies taste best the day they are made but I doubt there will be much complaint a day later. Store in air tight container.

Tip: Not all sprinkles are heat proof so some might melt more than others. I really loved the gold and yellow tones. Colored sugar would work great as well. These cookies tend to spread. I like using the circle cutter or other non-intricate shapes. If you want a sharper shape, let the cookie cool slightly after baking and then use the cookie cutter to cut out the shape again. This will leave you with cleaner edges if desired.

 

Quick Cinnamon Orange Rolls

fullsizeoutput_17aThe count down to Christmas is in full swing and it has me thinking about the act of gift giving. As a child our family of six would pile into the car and drive two hours to the nearest mall on Black Friday. It was especially magical when the year’s first snow would coincide with this family outing. I would have my allowance in my hand and head out to find the perfect gift for each family member. I doubt I had more than ten dollars to spend but that didn’t bother me. One year I found the perfect snow globe for my twin sister. I was mesmerized by the snow floating and swirling around the little figurine. Waiting a whole month to give it to my sister felt like an eternity. It was one of my earliest memories of the anticipation of giving and not just receiving on Christmas day.

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Though I love finding gifts for others, it can also be a source of stress, especially this time of year. I want each and every gift to reflect thought and care. I want each gift to be perfect. But let’s be honest – this is a tall order for any package. It’s good to keep it in perspective. The true gift is the time and thought goes into each oen. This in and of itself is an act of love. I think of the gifts I’ve received over the years and the time and effort required and feel so much gratitude.

To me the gift of time and attention is one of the most thoughtful and lasting presents we can give each other. There are a multitude of ways to show our affection and love this season and they don’t all have to be wrapped in bows.

But I really would like a snow globe of my own.

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Quick Orange Cinnamon Rolls

Baking breakfast is an especially kind act of love and these orange cinnamon rolls are just the trick. They come together quickly and require no wait time or frosting. Cinnamon rolls are always a favorite in our family but I find the timing for breakfast challenging. Normally, this means that breakfast is ready closer to lunch. So when I saw this recipe in Cooks Illustrated, I had to give it a try. The technique is similar to making biscuits. I added orange zest and nutmeg to punch up the holiday cheer.

Tip: Altogether you will need about 8 tablespoons of melted butter. Three tablespoons are used in the filling and dough and are best measured precisely. The other 4-5 tablespoons are used to grease the pan, brush the dough before adding the filling and brush on the rolls before baking. I melted it all at once and then measured it out as needed.

Ingredients:

Filling:

3/4 cup dark brown sugar

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 tablespoon melted butter

Dough:

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder (I prefer aluminum free)

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 – 1 teaspoon orange zest (I used a mandarin orange)

1 1/4 cup buttermilk, warmed (butter will stay in liquid form when added together)

2 tablespoons butter, melted

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Use some melted butter to grease an 8 or 9 inch round cake pan. Set aside. In a small bowl, whisk the brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Add 1 tablespoon of melted butter and mix. The mixture will stick together slightly when pressed. Set filling aside.

In a large bowl, whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, orange zest and salt. Combine 2 tablespoons melted butter to the warmed buttermilk. Pour into the flour mixture. Mix with a spatula or wooden spoon. The dough will be shaggy.

Dump onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times so that dough becomes smooth. Roll out the dough to a 12 x 9 inch rectangle. Brush with a couple tablespoons of melted butter, leaving an inch or two around the border. Spread filling evenly on top and press it down gently.

Start with your hands on the long edge nearest you. Begin to roll the dough away from you. Once your dough all rolled up, use a bench scraper to cut the dough into 8 even pieces.

To transfer the buns to the pan, pick them up one at a time and gently pinch the under side of the bun to help keep the filling in place. Put 7 rolls around the edges and 1 in the center of the pan. Brush with the rest of the butter.

Bake on the center rack for 23-25 minutes. The buns will be dark golden brown and the filling will be bubbling beautifully all over. Err on the side of over baked if not sure.

Let cool slightly and sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired. Serve directly out of the pan.

Like most baked goods, these are best eaten right out of the oven, but I found them completely acceptable 1 – 2 days later. Store in a air tight container. I wouldn’t feel bad at all about baking them the night before and then warming them back up in the oven (or microwave) in the morning. I would suggest transferring the buns to an air tight container though so that they don’t stick to the pan. Enjoy!