The Joys of Baking

When I was a child growing up in rural Maryland, I was always filled with joy and excitement every December to finding my mother in the kitchen baking several varieties of cookies.  It wasn’t because I was a sweet tooth, rather it was the enjoyment of spending time with my Mother and learning about the traditions from her childhood.

Her mother always made a lavish spread of baked goods every year and was a phenomenal cook, who loved to entertain others.  Every time, we would always receive a baked good…you knew it was baked with good will and love.  My mother still carries on the same traditions, and these only enhance Christmas in my eyes.

Now, it is my turn to take on some of these traditions of good southern hospitality at Christmas.  I have created my own traditions by adding new twists to old-fashioned standbys.  One is implementing new tastes to the “vintage theme” Christmas tree.  Today, I share my Peppermint Bark recipe for your enjoyment.

Peppermint Bark
2 c. All Purpose Flour
1/4 tsp. Salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
1 large egg yolk
6 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 c. finely chopped red and white striped hard peppermint candies or candy canes
2 oz. white chocolate

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 13 X 9 X 2 inch metal baking pan with a long strip of 9 inch wide parchment paper, leaving overhang on both short sides of pan.

Whisk flour and salt in medium bowl.  Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until creamy.  Gradually beat in sugar.  Continue beating until mixture is light and fluffy, stopping occasionally to scrape sides of bowl.  Beat in vanilla, then egg yolk.  Gradually add flour mixture, beating on low speed just to blend.

Drop dough by tablespoonfuls into prepared baking pan, spacing evenly.  Using moistened fingertips, press dough to form even layer over bottom of pan.  Pierce dough all over with fork.

Bake cookie base until light golden brown and slightly puffed and edges begin to come away from sides of pan, about 30 mins.  Place pan on rack; immediately sprinkle bittersweet chocolate over.  Let stand until chocolate softens.  Using small offset spatula, spread bittersweet chocolate over top of cookie in thin even layer.  Immediately sprinkle chopped peppermint candies over.

Stir white chocolate in medium metal bowl set over saucepan of simmering water until melted and smooth.  Remove from over water.  Using fork, drizzle white chocolate all over cookies.  Chill until white chocolate is set, about 30 minutes.

Using paper overhang as aid, lift cookie from pan and transfer to a cutting board.  Using a large knife, cut cookie into irregular pieces.  You can also do this recipe ahead of time by placing cookies in an airtight container between layers of waxed paper.

Christmas Cookie Season Begins!

December always brings out the cookie sheets and creativity.  Every year, we always try to out-do the year before by creating new recipes and traditions or relying on the old stand-bys to bring cheer.  It is always a good time to bond with family members and loved ones.

Every year, my Mom would make a lavish spread of cookies for family.  These cookies included the traditional standards of cut-out sugar cookies, gingerbread men, “What’s in a Kiss?” cookies, and the infamous chocolate chip cookies.

So…this year, I decided to try my hand at creating my own twist to Mom’s Chocolate Chip Cookies.   The idea was to add an additional ingredient that would make my cookies have a taste of their own.  First, my Mom always adds pecans or walnuts to her cookies.  While I love her cookies, I wanted to do a version with crushed Heath bars while keeping the cookie moist.  Lastly, I made my cookies larger than Mom’s by using an ice cream scoop.  The cookies were big, but they offered more of a great tasting product.

Crushed Toffee Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 sticks butter (1 c.) softened

3/4 c. Granulated Sugar

3/4 c. Packed Light Brown Sugar

1 tsp. Pure Vanilla Extract

2 Eggs

2 1/4 c. All-Purpose Flour

1 tsp. Baking Soda

1/2 tsp. Salt

2 c. (1 package) Semi-sweet Chocolate Chips

1 c. Crushed Heath Bars

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl using an electric or stand mixer until creamy.  Add eggs; beat well.  Stir together flour, baking soda, and salt; gradually add to butter mixture, beating until well blended.  Stir in chocolate chips and crushed heath bars.   Using an ice cream scoop or teaspoon, drop onto ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned.  Cool slightly, and place cookies on wire rack.  Cool completely.