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by Heather Harris Brady

These cookies are a little kooky for me, but I guess sometimes I’m as susceptible to the charms of decorations as anyone else! And, if you can’t go all out during the holidays – when can you?

These cookies are really all about fun, fun on the outside, fun on the inside. I’ve adapted a recipe from an article I cut out years ago from a magazine.

Secret Cookies, Makes about 30 3″ cookies

  • 1/2 c. butter
  • 1 c. granulated sugar
  • 1/2 t. baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 t. vanilla
  • 2-1/2 c. all purpose flour
  • 1/3 c. dark chocolate chips, melted
  • 1/4 t. almond extract
  • Sprinkles or colored sugar for coating

Preheat the oven to 375. Put the butter and sugar in a bowl, cream well.

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Beat in the eggs and vanilla.

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Then the flour.

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Stir 3/4 c. of dough into the chocolate.

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Roll a 1″ ball of chocolate dough and then cover it with a thin pancake of vanilla dough.

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Then roll each ball in sprinkles or sugar.

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Put them on a lightly greased cookie sheet.

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Bake for about 10 minutes.

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I added an extra white chocolate drizzle to the plain sugar ones to dress them up for a party!

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by Heather Harris Brady

If you see the word biscotti and automatically picture those behemoth jawbreakers in the cannisters at the coffee shop, let me just say, these are not those. These are both crunchy and tender, and are gone in two-three bites. Because of their small size they are just as at home on a cookie plate as they are in pretty bags for gift giving.

They include dried cranberries (you could use dried cherries too), pistachios and a coating of white chocolate on one side – because it’s the holidays and we’re being fancy. However, you could mix in anything – or leave them plain.

Holiday Biscotti, Makes about 36 2-1/2″ cookies

  • 1/2 c. butter, soft
  • 3/4 c. granulated sugar
  • 1-1/2 t. baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 2-1/2 c. flour
  • 3/4 c. dried cranberries
  • 3/4 c. pistachios
  • 8 oz. white chocolate couverture (chocolate tempered for melting)

Preheat the oven to 350. Cream the butter and sugar together well, then beat in the eggs and baking powder.

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Beat in the flour.

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You’ll have a lovely soft moldable dough.

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Divide it in three parts, divide the berries and nuts evenly among them, and knead them in.

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Roll each one into a log about 9″ x 2″. Put them on greased cookie sheets and push them down with a spatula to flatten them a bit.

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Bake them at 350 for about 20-25 minutes, until firm and lightly browned.

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Reduce the heat to 325 and take them out of the oven. Let the logs cool a bit, then slice them into pieces 1/2″ wide. Lay them on the cookie sheet on their side.

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Put them back in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes, flip them, and bake for another 10 minutes. This will toast each side lightly without the bottoms getting too dark.

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Cool the biscotti on racks while you melt the white chocolate. Spread the chocolate on one side of each cookie.

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Let it harden, then serve or store them at room temperature in airtight containers. These will keep nicely for about two weeks, freeze for longer storage.

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Three years ago: Swedish Visiting Cake
Two years ago: Sweet Potato Pumpkin Pie
One year ago: Apple Clafouti


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by Heather Harris Brady

Building a gingerbread house is much like building a real house – it’s going to take longer, cost more and create a bigger mess than you expected. But at the end you’ll feel like you really accomplished something. Last year we used a kit (the best option for anyone with a short attention span) but this year there were big dreams in the little house. Still, the kids (a teen and a tween) didn’t believe me when I told them this project was going to take all day – they were washed and ready to get on the job at 9 am. The final lifesaver went down about 8 pm. It’s not constant work, to be sure there’s plenty of time when things need to dry, but it’s a long process.  It’s also a good learning process – my son took a photo of the lighthouse and scaled it into a pattern using 1/2″ graph paper. Before we cut from the dough he made a scale model out of cardboard to make sure the pieces fit.

In the last post I provided the recipe for the dough, and here I will give you the recipe for the icing as well as some lessons learned the hard way. Before you even contemplate a building project make sure you have plenty of meringue powder on hand. It’s your new best friend and it looks like this:

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Our lighthouse took nearly two large batches of icing, one for coating the pieces and one for final assembly. You use the same icing, in different thicknesses, for everything.

Royal Icing, Makes one Batch

  • 1/2 c. meringue powder
  • 9 c. powdered sugar
  • 1/2 c. water

Combine the meringue powder and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Whip in the water a bit at time until you achieve a thick frosting. Continue to beat for another two-three minutes until thick and glossy.

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Icing and assembly step one: Coat all the exterior pieces and let them dry. If you like the brown color you can skip this step and just decorate each piece, then let it dry. But our lighthouse is red and white and so it must be painted!

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We piped a dam around the edge of each piece and then frosted inside the outside with a slightly thinner frosting.

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The windows got sashed with thick piping, the roof and trim pieces were painted red.

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After the exterior paint was dry we were ready to stand up the first walls. Make sure you have a good base here, we used an 1″ thick board covered in aluminum foil. Also have lots of things on hand to prop up the walls while they dry. If you have a small fan handy to speed up the drying process so much the better. Start building from the ground up.

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Attach the walls at the corners with a thick band of icing. Add some supports while they dry.

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Once you’ve got two walls standing you can add the other two. Let it all dry, then add the roof. With our gable roof we added the bottom sections first, let them dry, and then added the top.

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Keep the supports to make sure your roof panels don’t slide under their own weight! Finally, once the roof is set, you’re ready to decorate. The fun part!

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This is one of my favorite parts – the lighthouse has a yellow M&M light in it and there are lifesavers handy all around.

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The finishing touch – a final sprinkle of some fresh powder(ed sugar)! I’ll be scanning the pattern pieces and adding a link here if you want to build your own artistic interpretation of the Point Betsie Lighthouse. It can be done!

Two years ago: Spitzbuben
One year ago: Buche de Noel (Yule Log)

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by Heather Harris Brady

It’s been a while since I’ve done a full menu so I thought I’d take the chance now, because this would be great for people who are ready for something different. You can make it your own, keeping the sauce on the side, adjusting the amount of heat, leave out the meat – whatever! So I’m going to do the run-down today and tomorrow we’ll start on the recipes. Most of these are from Paula Wolfert’s amazing The Food of Morocco, but I translated the idea for the appetizers and the apple burek from my other experiments.

Appetizer: Sausage-Stuffed Pastries

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Salad: Orange and Grated Carrot Salad

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Main Course: Moroccan Stew with Couscous

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Dessert: Apple Burek

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Two years ago: Cookie-Palooza

One year ago: Sweet Potato Pumpkin Pie

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by Heather Harris Brady

I’m doing a Mexican twist on traditional Christmas dinner this year, ending with this buche de Noel. While the cake itself is very traditional, I’m going to serve it with a dulche de leche sauce.

Since we’ve already gone over making a cake roll, I’m going to skip over that part here and jump to the filling. Since the filling is chestnut I took the time to make a chocolate chestnut garnish. Both this chestnut filling and the chocolate chestnuts come from my Bernachon Chocolate cookbook.

Buche de Noel with Chestnut Filling, Serves 8

One cake roll

One recipe chocolate ganache

Chocolate chestnuts for garnish if desired (subject of next post)

Chestnut Filling

1 c. milk

1″ piece vanilla bean

2 egg yolks

3 T. sugar

3 T. flour

1 c. mashed chestnuts

2 T. butter

Heat 3/4 c. milk with the vanilla bean to boiling.

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Remove it from the heat. Combine the yolks and sugar in a bowl, whisk until well combined. Stir the flour and remaining milk together, and whisk it into the egg yolks.

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Whisk the yolk mixture into the hot milk and return it to the heat. Cook for about three minutes, stirring constantly, until thickened. Remove it from the heat and take out the vanilla bean.

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Stir in the chestnuts and the butter. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap and cool thoroughly.

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Spread the cold filling over your sponge cake sheet.

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Roll it up.

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Cover the outside with a thin layer of ganache.

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Cool it until it firms up, then move your cake to a serving plate to add the final layer of icing. I like to take a slice off the  end and move it to the side.

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I served it after our Christmas dinner with a sauce of dulce de leche (which I spooned straight out of the can!).

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One year ago: Viennese Crescents

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These are a nice little time-saver as you get two (or more) recipe variations out of one batch of milanderli dough. My husband loves cookies with jam, so these are his favorites. Plus, I ask you – how can anyone resist something called spitzbuben?

Milanderli Dough

1 c. plus 2 T. butter
1 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla
1 T. finely grated lemon peel
4 c. flour

Cream the sugar and the butter together, beat in the eggs, lemon peel and vanilla. Mix in the flour. You can chill the dough if you make it ahead, but if I’m in a hurry I use it right away. This dough also makes great cutouts, just bake your cut shapes on a greased cookie sheet at 325 for about 10 minutes.

For the spitzbuben:

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Roll out the dough on a floured surface 1/8″ thick. Cut into circles, cutting a smaller inner circle out of half of them. Stack each “ring” on top of a whole cookie on a greased cookie sheet. Drop a 1/2 t. of jam (apricot is traditional) into the middle of the ring. Bake at 325 for about 10 minutes, or until barely colored. Cool the cookies on a rack and drizzle with dark chocolate.

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When the chocolate has hardened store them in tins or ziplock bags.

For the bishop’s hats:

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Roll out the dough on a floured surface 1/8″ thick. Cut into circles and lay them on a greased cookie sheet. Drop a dab of jam into the center of each circle and pinch the edges up to form a triangle. Bake at 325 for about 10 minutes or until barely colored. Cool on a rack and store in tins or ziplock bags.

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That darn day job has gotten in the way of my regular updates this week, as I finished over 150 gift baskets yesterday!

So, quickly, here is the recipe I use for vanilla crescents from The Old Vienna Cookbook, by Lillian Langseth Christiansen.

I’ll update the step by step yet this week!

Vanilla Crescents, Makes about 60

1 c. minus 2 T. butter
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. pulverized hazelnuts or pecans
2-3/4 c. flour
1 egg yolk
1 t. vanilla
1 t. almond extract
Powdered sugar

Combine the flour and sugar in a mixing bowl. Cut in the flour. Stir in the egg yolk and extracts.

Chill the dough for at least an hour and up to overnight.

Flour a work surface and preheat the oven to 300. Shape the dough into crescents about 2″ long and 3/4″ wide. You fit them rather tightly on the cookie sheet because they will not spread.

Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until just barely colored. While they are hot roll them in powdered sugar and place them on racks or a paper bag to cool.

Store in tins or ziplock bags. Before serving dust them with additional powdered sugar. If you have time to make vanilla sugar, by adding half a vanilla bean to your powdered sugar a few days before baking that really makes these special.

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And now we enter the butter cookie portion of our program!

This pretty little cookies really dress up a tray. This is mostly my aunt’s recipe, and they have been one of my favorites for as long as I can remember. I have made a few changes, and I prefer the peppermint oil to the crushed candy. You could also drizzle these with white chocolate and sprinkle crushed candy on top.

I’m sorry that I don’t have a step by step for you this today. Something happened to my SD card! I’ll try and have it fixed by tomorrow.

Candy Cane Cookies, Makes about 40

1 c. butter
1 c. powdered sugar
2 T. cream cheese
1 egg
1 t. vanilla
1 t. almond extract
2-1/2 c. flour
Red food coloring
1/2 c. crushed candy canes OR 1 t. peppermint oil

Beat the butter, cream cheese and sugar together, then beat in the egg and flavorings. Beat in the flour and the crushed candy if you’re using it.

The dough will be very soft. Flour a work surface well and divide the dough in half. Color one half red with a few drops of food coloring.

Take a golf-ball sized lump of dough from each color. Roll them into long snakes about the thickness of a pencil. Cut them into 2″ lengths and twist the two colors together. Place them on a greased cookie sheet and bend the top so you have a cane shape.

Bake at 375 for about eight minutes, until the bottoms just start to color.

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These are another one of the magic cookies that transform themselves after baking into something transcendent. They taste okay just out of the oven, but after a couple days in a tin they will blend and melt in your mouth in a little burst of spices.  You will have a beautiful little mountain of tiny cookies when you’re done, ready to make beautiful packages in clear bags. Plus, they smell amazing so you’ll want to scatter some little bowls of them around your holiday party.

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This recipe is from Beatrice Ojakangas Great Scandanavian Baking Book, which should be on your list to Santa if you don’t already own it. When you see the cutting method you’ll realize just how quickly you can these little babies out.

Danish Peppernuts Recipe (Makes tons – like 500!)

1 c. butter

1 c. light brown sugar, packed

1 egg

1 c. pulverized hazelnuts (I do this in the food processor.)

2-1/2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour

1 t. baking powder

1/2 t. baking soda

1 t. cardamon

1/2 t. each cinnamon, cloves, allspice and nutmeg

Cream the butter and sugar, then beat in the egg and hazelnuts, followed by the dry ingredients.

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Clear your workspace. I keep a cup of flour at hand here to help with rolling them out.

Take a handful of dough and roll it out into a long snake. Use a paring knife to cut the snake into small segments.

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Drop these little pieces onto greased cookie sheets. Fill the sheets in a light, single layer.

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Bake at 350 for about 8 minutes. They will puff up a little bit and get nicely brown on the bottom.

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Spread them out to cool. Store in tins or ziplock bags until you need them for parties or gifts!

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I hope you’ve been squirreling away pounds of butter because tomorrow we’re kicking off Cookie-Palooza! I give out a lot of cookie bags as gifts to teachers, the dog groomer, friends and then, of course, I have to reserve some for family party trays.

My holiday cookie list has changed over the years, and I’ve edited it down to what I think are the best of the best – at least until I fall in love with a new recipe 🙂 What can I say – it happens. . .

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I have a few criteria: the cookies should not be something otherwise readily available and overall I look for a nice variety and mix. Several of them need to be baked ahead as they improve over time,  and the more labor-intensive ones I do in parts because this is a holiday marathon people – not a sprint!

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Spiced

Filled

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Cutouts

Chocolate and Other

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Posts start tomorrow!

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