Gingerbread Cut Outs

In the very first post for this year’s 12 Days of Christmas I talked about how my love for this time of year is hugely inspired by all the baking that my mom and grandma did during the holiday season. They made lots of delicious things, but one of the most memorable of the treats was the gingerbread cookies. They shaped them into both gingerbread men and gingerbread teddy bears that we decorated with chocolate chips. They were so good.

For the most part I do try to introduce new, fresh recipes to the 12 Days of Christmas. I do it to give y’all some interesting options, challenge myself, and to find new holiday baking favorites for our house. Sometimes though, the classics are best. After all, what kind of Christmas would it be without a good, old-fashioned classic gingerbread cookie recipe to put to good use?

The gingerbread cookies that my mom and grandma made when I was a kid were thick, slightly soft, slightly chewy and full of strong, spicy flavor. I’ve made quite a few gingerbread cookies of my own, but most of them failed to tick off all of the above boxes at the same time. It’s difficult for one recipe to do that, I admit. But if any of y’all have been looking for a perfect gingerbread cookie recipe that’s good for cut outs, decorating, gift giving, Christmas tress decoration–anything really–then you can stop looking. Cause it’s right here.

What puts these gingerbread cookies above all the others I’ve had boils down to about three things: Spice, Texture, and Durability. Because the dough is generously seasoned, they’re slightly spicy–they have a ‘bite’ that lingers on your tongue, as it should. The texture is soft, but it does have a pleasant chew, especially towards the edges. These are also plenty durable enough to decorate (rather heavily if you like), ship in the mail, or even make them into Christmas tree ornaments (just pierce holes into the tops).

This recipe makes quite a bit of dough, so don’t be afraid to go big with the cookie cutters if you don’t want a whole bunch of leftovers sitting around your house, tempting you (and they WILL tempt you) . They hold their shape extremely well after baking, so don’t worry about designs getting lost in indiscernible blobs. That won’t happen.

Eight days into the 12 Days of Christmas now–don’t forget to check out the other recipes from the previous days below!

(Btw, aren’t these cookies 100xs better than 8 maids a milking?)

DAY 1: VANILLA RED PINWHEELS

DAY 2: CHRISTMAS ELF BITES

DAY 3: THREE FRENCH HEN PIES

DAY 4: CRANBERRY BUCKLE

DAY 5: GINGERBREAD MARSHMALLOWS

DAY 6: HOLIDAY SPICE S’MORES

DAY 7: CRANBERRY ORANGE ROLLS

DAY 8: GINGERBREAD CUT OUTS

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Gingerbread Cut Outs

Recipe Courtesy of The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (2 sticks, 8ounces) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) packed brown sugar (light or dark, doesn’t matter)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons allspice
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) molasses
  • 1 large egg
  • 5 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda dissolved in 1/2 cup water

Directions

In the bowl of a standing mixer (or using a handheld one) cream together the butter, sugar, salt and spices together until light and creamy.

Add the molasses and the egg, stirring just until combined. Use a spatula to intermittently scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure even mixing.

Add half of the flour with the baking soda that’s been dissolved in the water on low speed. Stir in the remaining flour, mixing just until combined.

Scrape the dough into one large mound, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Sprinkle a clean work surface with powdered sugar. Divide the dough into quarters, keeping the other 3 in the fridge while you work with the 1. Using a rolling pin to roll out the quarter of dough to about 1/4 inch thick. Use whatever cookie cutters you like to cut out the shapes, then transfer to baking sheets that you’ve lined with parchment paper. Leave about 1/2 inch space between the cookies.

Refrigerate the cut out cookies for about 10 minutes, then bake on the middle rack for 8-10 minutes. Let them rest on the baking sheet for about 65 seconds before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Sharing at this week’s Fiesta Friday #254, co-hosted this week by Antonia @ Zoale.com and Kat @ Kat’s 9 Lives.

Cranberry Orange Rolls

Tell me some of the traditions you or your family had when you grew up. How about some of the traditions that you have now?

I think that my love for Christmas started because of all the traditions that we had while I was growing up. I enjoyed those traditions and the way that they made me feel, and it created this huge nostalgia for the holidays that lasts to this day.

In elementary school, I remember the traditions that happened on the last day before our Winter Break. Classes ended early and for the latter half of the day, the school would turn into a ‘holiday carnival’ of sorts. Each classroom would turn into a fun activity for us to do until was time to go home. One room had games, one room had holiday movies playing on a television, one room was for making Christmas ornaments, another was for decorating Christmas cookies, and so on.

My mom and my sisters and I had a tradition of driving around the neighborhood on Christmas Eve night and looking at other house’s lights and decorations that they put up.

Now that I’m grown I have several holiday traditions of my own. We try to put up our Christmas tree within the first couple of weeks of November, which is also when I dust off my holiday playlist. There is a list of holiday movies that we watch all throughout the month of December. And of course, I do the 12 Days of Christmas here on the blog.

I’ve heard about a lot of families that have a tradition of eating cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning. We don’t, but it’s a holiday tradition that I can definitely get behind.

My sister doesn’t like cinnamon rolls (insert eyeroll emoji), so whenever I get the craving for breakfast rolls, I have to get a bit creative and make something that she’ll like. These Honey Sausage Rolls were a hit. These Orange Rolls were a HUGE hit.

And then came today’s rolls.

I don’t know who it was who first came up with the flavor combination of cranberry and citrus, but whoever they are, they were a genius who truly gave us a Christmas miracle. It has truly never, EVER let me down. These were so delicious. Where do I even begin?

The dough itself is flavored with vanilla, orange zest and juice. The powdered milk and instant potato flakes are there to improve the overall texture of the finished product–it gives the rolls a chewy, but light richness.

The filling is both tart and slightly sweet thanks to the combination of cranberry and orange juice. I think it gives a great, fresh balance of flavor to the icing that gets slathered on top of the rolls while they’re still warm.

As you can see, this recipe makes a modest sized bunch. If you’re baking for a crowd, you may want to consider doubling it. You may want to consider doubling it even if you’re not baking for a crowd. I wish that I had.

We’re over halfway through the 12 Days of Christmas already! Check out the other posted recipes if you haven’t already:

DAY 1: VANILLA RED PINWHEELS

DAY 2: CHRISTMAS ELF BITES

DAY 3: THREE FRENCH HEN PIES

DAY 4: CRANBERRY BUCKLE

DAY 5: GINGERBREAD MARSHMALLOWS

DAY 6: HOLIDAY SPICE S’MORES

DAY 7: CRANBERRY ORANGE ROLLS

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Cranberry Orange Rolls

Recipe Adapted from King Arthur Flour

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup warm water
  • 1 tablespoon fresh orange zest
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) softened unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup dry powdered milk
  • 1/4 cup potato flour, or dry instant mashed potato flakes
  • 1 egg, beaten

For Filling

  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter

*A heaping 3/4 cup of leftover cranberry sauce will work in lieu of the filling as well. This is my go-to favorite recipe.

For Icing

  • About 1 1/2 cups powdered
  • A few tablespoons orange juice

Directions

Lightly spray an 8 or 9 inch square baking dish or cake pan with non-stick cooking spray; set aside.

In a small bowl, pour the water, sprinkle the yeast on top. Sprinkle the sugar on top of that. Allow to sit for ten minutes, until proofed and frothy. In a medium size bowl combine the flour with the dry milk and potato flour and stir with a fork. Set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer, pour the proofed yeast, the orange zest and juice, the butter, vanilla extract and salt. Use the paddle attachment to stir together. Switch to the dough hook and add the dry ingredients in increments. When the dough starts to gather around the hook, remove from the bowl, turn out onto a clean work surface, and use your hands to knead the dough for about 10 minutes, adding more flour if need be until a smooth dough is formed. (The dough should spring back when you press your finger into it.)

Grease the inside of the mixing bowl, place the dough inside. Cover with plastic wrap, then a damp kitchen towel and allow to rise until doubled in a warm place, about 65 minutes.

To make the filling: Combine all of the filling ingredients except the melted butter in a small, heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thickened. Remove from the heat, and stir in the melted butter. Set aside to cool.

Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface that you’ve sprinkled with flour and gently deflate. Roll/pat it into a 16 x 12 rectangle.

Spread the filling out onto the dough. Roll up into a log tightly, pinching the seams closed to seal. Cut the log into 9 slices. and place the slices into your prepared baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and your damp kitchen cloth. Allow to proof for an additional 45 minutes until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Brush the proofed rolls with the beaten egg. Bake until golden brown in the center (an instant read thermometer should read 195-200F), 35-40 minutes. Cover with foil if they’re browning too quickly.

To make the icing, combine the powdered sugar with just enough OJ to make a smooth glaze. After the rolls have cooled for about 7-8 minutes, Spread the icing over the rolls while they are still warm so that the icing can seep into the crevices of the rolls. Keep any leftovers in a sealed plastic container in the fridge.

I’ll be sharing these at this week’s Fiesta Friday #254, co-hosted this week by Antonia @ Zoale.com and Kat @ Kat’s 9 Lives.

Holiday Spice S’mores

Are s’mores just for summertime? I think not.

If y’all have been following this blog for a while you know that I’m a ‘s’mores all the year round’ kind of girl. Let the record speak for itself:

S’mores Cake. S’mores Sandwich Cookies. S’mores Brownies.

Pretty soon, I’m going to run out of S’mores flavored things to bake. But not today. Today, I’ve got one more.

I’ve known that I wanted to make homemade s’mores for a while. As much as I love all the flavors of s’mores, I don’t like eating them with store-bought graham crackers. It’s a texture thing. I was pretty sure I could do better with a cracker that I made by myself, with a more pleasant texture. While I was planning out all I would make for the 12 Days of Christmas series, I thought of them again. I tried to think of how I could make them ‘Christmasey’. This is what I came out with.

Basically, I’ve taken a standard graham cracker recipe and added some spices to the dough that remind me of the holidays: cinnamon, ginger cloves and nutmeg. I cut them into squares just to give them the traditional s’mores look, but you can cut them into whatever shapes you like. (Gingerbread man shaped s’mores would be really cute). These aren’t as crunchy as store-bought graham crackers, but personally I prefer them that way.

When they have a tiny bit of chew, biting into the s’more doesn’t make it ooze all over the place, which can get messy with melted chocolate and marshmallow. It’s also a really, really tasty spice cookie all by itself. We’re just going to enhance that by adding the other 2 components.

Here’s the thing. I said in my last post that I understood why going to the trouble of making marshmallows from scratch may SEEM unnecessary and extra. I also said that I had found another use for them besides adding them to hot chocolate. I am not exaggerating when I say that that second use was a revelation.

A gingerbread spiced graham cracker sandwiching melted chocolate AND a melted, gooey gingerbread spiced marshmallow?

Y’all. I wasn’t prepared. I really wasn’t. That first bite was all of the things. Every single one of them. I’m pretty sure my eyes rolled back in my head. This is one of the best ideas I’ve ever had and I’m so pumped to share it here at the holidays. Making marshmallows from scratch is worth it, if for no other reason than this: Holiday Spiced S’mores.

DAY 1: VANILLA RED PINWHEELS

DAY 2: CHRISTMAS ELF BITES

DAY 3: THREE FRENCH HEN PIES

DAY 4: CRANBERRY BUCKLE

DAY 5: GINGERBREAD MARSHMALLOWS

DAY 6: HOLIDAY SPICE S’MORES

Holiday Spice S'mores

Recipe Adapted from Bake From Scratch

Ingredients

For Graham Crackers

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Cinnamon sugar, for sprinkling
  • Your choice of chocolate (For assembly)

(For Marshmallows: See recipe Hereor purchase seasonal gingerbread flavored marshmallows from store)

 

Directions

In the bowl of a standing mixer or using a handheld one, beat together the butter and sugar until creamy and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract.

In a small bowl combine the flour with the spices, salt and baking soda, stirring together with a fork. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in 1 cup increments, mixing just until combined.

Shape dough into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least one hour, preferably overnight.

Sprinkle a clean work surface with powdered sugar. Divide dough into quarters, keeping 3 in the fridge while you work with one. Roll dough to ⅛-inch thick. Use a cookie cutter to cut into roughly 2 inch squares. Use a chopstick to punch a hole through the center of the squares, then remove to a baking sheet you’ve lined with parchment paper.

 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Refrigerate the cut out cookie dough for 10 minutes. Sprinkle tops with cinnamon sugar.

Bake in the oven on the middle rack until just golden brown, about 9-10 minutes. Allow to set on sheets for about 60 seconds before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

To assemble the s’mores, place a square of chocolate and a marshmallow on one of the crackers. Microwave for about 5-10 seconds, until they just begin to melt. Press another graham cracker on top.

(Note: no one oven is the same, & different baking sheets bake cookies differently. Keeping this in mind, I will ALWAYS test bake one cookie before baking entire sheets of the whole batch, just to get a good idea of how long they should be in the oven and if I need to adjust the way I’ve cut, rolled them out, etc. I highly recommend that you do the same.)

Gingerbread Marshmallows

Full disclosure ahead: as much as I advocate for intentionally making more things that can be bought from a store from scratch, there are some times–SOME times–where even I question whether or not it’s actually worth it to go to the trouble. Sometimes I just don’t think I’m a good enough baker or cook to make it myself. Sometimes I don’t have the necessary time or equipment. Sometimes, I choose convenience.

I’ve known that it was possible to make marshmallows at home from scratch for several years. I never so much as considered making marshmallows at MY home, by MYSELF until this year. The reasons, I think are probably obvious. I debated the issue with myself for several days.

Making marshmallows from scratch? Really Jess?

Why?  For what? Who even does that?

I don’t know y’all. For some reason, this year I felt differently about it. I got to thinking about how cool it would be if I COULD not only make marshmallows, but if I got to do it for the 12 Days of Christmas. And how much more cool would it be if they turned out even better than those I could just buy in a store?

(If you think this is all ridiculous & unnecessary, I get it. Kraft absolutely does sell gingerbread flavored marshmallows during the holiday season. If you were to go to a local grocery right now, you’d probably be able to find them with no problem.)

But if you’re like me and you’re feeling a little bit adventurous, then maybe you ought to keep reading. You may be pleasantly surprised when I tell you that making marshmallows isn’t complicated. It’s really not. You’re going to need 2 very crucial tools: an instant read thermometer and an electric mixer. It doesn’t have to be a standing one, a handheld one will do, but trying to do this without the thermometer and by hand…eh. I can tell you why it’s a bad idea.

Marshmallow is made when a sugar syrup gets poured over gelatin, then whipped at a very high speed for a certain amount of time. You need the thermometer to let you know when the sugar syrup has reached the right temperature. You need the mixer because the gelatin syrup needs to be whipped/beat for up to 10 minutes. Trying to do this manually by hand will put your arms in a whole lot of discomfort. Capisce?

Like a proper gingerbread, these are flavored with ginger, cinnamon, cloves and molasses. What most makes a homemade marshmallow different from a store-bought one is texture. Homemade marshmallows are fluffier and chewier. They melt and are far gooier than storebought ones. They’re just so much better. As you can see, they go beautifully in a cup of hot chocolate, and give it AMAZING flavor. I also found another use for them….that I’ll be sharing on Day 6 of the series. Stay tuned!

DAY 1: VANILLA RED PINWHEELS

DAY 2: CHRISTMAS ELF BITES

DAY 3: THREE FRENCH HEN PIES

DAY 4: CRANBERRY BUCKLE

DAY 5: GINGERBREAD MARSHMALLOWS

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Gingerbread Marshmallows

Recipe Courtesy of Betty Crocker

Ingredients

  • Butter or shortening for greasing
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar, plus more for sprinkling & coating
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons unflavored gelatin
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar 
  • 1 cup corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup molasses

Directions

Generously grease the bottom of an 11 x7 baking dish with butter or shortening. Line it with parchment paper, grease the paper and sprinkle the bottom with 1 tablespoon of powdered sugar. Set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer (or a large bowl) sprinkle the gelatin, ginger, cinnamon and cloves over 1/2 cup of cold water to soften. Set aside.

Place a glass of ice water next to the stove. In a medium saucepan, heat granulated sugar, corn syrup, salt, water and molasses over low heat, stirring constantly with a wire whisk until sugar is dissolved.

Bring to a boil and cook without stirring until mixture to comes up to approximately 240 degrees Fahrenheit on a candy thermometer. If you drop some of the mixture into the glass of ice water, it should form a soft ball that forms its shape, but is still pliable. Remove from the heat.

Turn the mixer onto low speed (or use a handheld one). Slowly pour the syrup mixture over the gelatin. Once all of the sugar has been poured in, turn the speed of the mixer up to high. Beat for 8-10 minutes, until the mixture turns white and becomes thickened and shiny. It should also triple in volume.

Use a spatula to pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Wet your hands to make it smooth across the top. Let stand uncovered at room temp for a minimum of 8 hours or overnight.

Sprinkle a clean surface with powdered sugar. Use the corners of the parchment paper to lift the marshmallow out of the baking dish. Turn it out onto the sugared surface. Use a sharp knife or pizza wheel you’ve greased with butter to cut the marshmallows into squares.  Dip each one into powdered sugar and lightly dust off the excess.

Store in an air-tight container for up to 5 days.

Cranberry Buckle

Have you ever cooked or baked something that was really really good, but needed to come with an explanation?

I was looking over the Recipe Index of this blog and realized that I do that pretty often, actually. I’ll announce that I’m making something to my family and the response will be, “Huh?” or “What’s that?”

The conversations usually go something like this:

Me: “I’m making Shakshuka and naan for dinner.”

Family: “What’s Shakshuka?”

Me: “It’s kinda like a tomato sauce, except you put cumin, eggs and ground beef in it. The naan is the dipping bread that goes along with it.”

Family: “…..Um.”

Me: “Look, just don’t worry about it. I know what I’m doing, and it’s going to be fantastic, trust me!”

Occasionally it may be a miss, but 9 times out of 10, I’m usually right and the recipe that needed an explanation was still delicious.

Today I’m sharing another one of those recipes that I had to give an explanation for. Unless you’re a baker or someone who bakes with fruit pretty often, I’ve noticed that not a lot of people will know exactly what you’re talking about when you announce that you’re going to bake a buckle. They may have a vague idea, but if you had to differentiate it from say, a cobbler, grunt or pandowdy, they probably won’t know.

The closest comparison that I can give to a buckle is a coffee cake. This coffee cake batter has a lot of fruit in it–like, a lot. There’s actually more fruit than batter. The batter’s function is to absorb the fruit and hold it all together like a cake-like sponge. The cake does rise thanks to leavening agents, but the amount of fruit in the batter does weigh it down. There’s also a streusel topping that gets sprinkled on top of the batter before baking. After baking, the bumpy uneven surface of that streusel looks ‘buckled’–hence the name.

Most buckles are made with blueberries, but because this was for the 12 Days of Christmas, I decided to make mine with cranberries, which I find more festive (and tasty). It came together in literally minutes.

You may be tempted to reign it in when it’s time to add in the cranberries. I was. Three cups is a lot, especially for such a small pan of cake and a batter that is thick. But, listen: we’ve already been through this. The primary function of the batter is to just hold the fruit together. The more fruit that is in this, the better it’s going to turn out. Trust me. Add the whole three cups. Just do it.

Same thing with that streusel: it may seem like it’s too much when you’re mixing it together. It’s not. It’s just enough. Dump it all on top of the batter. The whole she-bang. You will thank me later.

We loved this so much. I had originally intended to send it to an office to share, but upon sampling it, the Family made an executive decision that we were no longer interested in sharing, and that the Cranberry buckle would be staying right here at home with us. Once you bake this, you’ll understand why.

Don’t forget to check out the other recipes from the 12 Days of Christmas series if you haven’t already:

DAY 1: VANILLA RED PINWHEELS

DAY 2: CHRISTMAS ELF BITES

DAY 3: THREE FRENCH HEN PIES

DAY 4: CRANBERRY BUCKLE

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Cranberry Buckle

Recipe Adapted from Alton Brown

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup milk (plus more if needed)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 3 cups fresh cranberries

For Streusel Topping

  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 ounces unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes.

Directions

Lightly spray an 8 or 9 inch square baking dish or cake pan with non-stick cooking spray; set aside.

In a small bowl use a wire whisk or a fork to combine the flour with the baking powder, salt, and ginger and set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer using the paddle attachment (or using a handheld one), cream together the butter and the sugar until it’s creamy. Add the egg and stir just until combined.

Pour the vanilla and milk together in a small cup.

Add the flour and the milk to the batter alternately in batches, starting and ending with the flour. (This batter is supposed to be thick, but if it’s too thick to spread in the pan and/or too crumbly, you can add in a few tablespoons of milk–just enough to make it smooth enough to spread.)

Use a spatula to fold in the cranberries. Spread the batter into the baking dish and place the baking dish on a sheet tray.

For the streusel: combine the flour, sugar and nutmeg together in a small bowl. Use the tines of a fork to cut the butter into the dry ingredients until it looks like course breadcrumbs. Sprinkle on top of the batter in the pan.

Bake until golden brown and puffed up in the middle, 45-50 minutes. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes before serving.

Sharing at Fiesta Friday #253: co-hosted this week by Liz @ Spades, Spatulas, and Spoons and Mila @ Milkandbun.

Three French ‘Hen’ Pies

I just realized that in the five years I’ve been doing this series, I’ve never addressed just how silly the song the 12 Days of Christmas really is.

I guess now’s a good time as any for me to do so: The 12 Days of Christmas is silly.

12 Days of gifts sounds great in theory. But when you actually stop and think about the so called ‘gifts’ that somebody’s true love picked out…meh.

I mean, five gold rings are fine I guess, but…what exactly am I supposed to do with seven swans ‘a-swimming’ or four calling birds?

A twelve person drumline may be cute, but…does that partridge happen to be sitting in a pear money tree? Cause if not…keep it.

Come to think of it, most of the gifts given during the 12 Days of Christmas were birds. And since I am a cook, and we are all just here for the food anyway, let’s just think of it as a bunch of poultry. I’ve got no use for a bunch of live birds. But dead, butchered poultry? That’s something I can definitely use.

So let’s pretend that on the third day of Christmas, your true love didn’t send you three French hens. Instead, they sent you three (or more) of these pies. (Hen is, after all, chicken so it’s not too big of a leap.)

I like to try to throw a savory recipe into the baking series, just to mix things up. Last year was this tourtiere pie. I wanted to do it again, and from very early on, I had what I thought was a pretty good idea of a place to start. A few years back I did a post where I made a chicken pot pie filling that I paired with biscuits. For these pies, I took that chicken pot pie filling and stuffed it into a delicious, flaky pie crust that I had made before last year for some Jamaican beef patties. (How’s that for recipe recycling?)

There are a lot of corners you can cut in making these to make the process go faster: you absolutely can make the filling for these with either rotisserie chicken or leftover turkey. I did. You absolutely can use a bag of frozen vegetables. I did. You can also make the filling and pie crust ahead of time, leave it in the fridge overnight, then come back the next day, assemble and bake so that the actual dinner prep takes less than an hour. I did.

It’s the 3rd Day of Christmas, so why not swap out 3 French Hens for these French Chicken–I mean HEN Pies?

DAY 1: VANILLA RED PINWHEELS

DAY 2: CHRISTMAS ELF BITES

DAY 3: THREE FRENCH HEN PIES

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Three French 'Hen' Pies

Recipe Adapted from Ina Garten

Ingredients

For Pie Crust

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, frozen
  • 1/2 cup butter flavored vegetable shortening, frozen
  • 3/4 cup, plus 1 tablespoon cold water, plus more if needed
  • 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten

For Filling

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 large sweet onion, diced
  • 1 16 oz. bag of frozen mixed vegetables
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Onion Powder
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 sprigs rosemary
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 tbsp-1 tbsp. honey mustard (depending on taste preference)
  • 4 cups chopped, cooked chicken (from 1 large rotisserie chicken) OR leftover turkey
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch (if needed)

For Assembly

  • 1 large egg, beaten with 2 tablespoons of water

Directions

For Pie Crust: In a large bowl, mix together the flour, salt and pepper with a fork. Use the large holes on a box grater to grate butter directly into dry ingredients. Slice the shortening into small chunks and sprinkle into the flour. Mix together with a fork or a rubber spatula. (Mixture should resemble coarse bread crumbs, with chunks of butter/shortening throughout) Make a well in the center of the bowl and pour in the water, beaten egg and vinegar. Mix together until just combined, then turn out onto a cutting board or pastry mat dusted with flour. Working quickly, pat and press with your hands until you have a mass of dough that holds together. Shape into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at LEAST one hour, but preferably overnight.

In a large pot, heat 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add the onions and sweat until the onions are translucent, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the bag of frozen veggies, cook for further 5-6 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, 1 minute more. Remove the vegetables and garlic from the pot.

Heat the remaining 4 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Once melted, whisk in the flour. Cook until the mixture is just starting to turn golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Gradually whisk in the chicken broth. Bring the mixture to a simmer. Add the vegetables back to the pot, along with the bay leaf, rosemary, and thyme. Season with salt, black pepper, onion powder and the honey mustard. Simmer for 15 minutes.

Stir in the cream, and chicken and return to a simmer. Simmer for 4 to 5 minutes more. Remove the mixture from the heat.

(If you need to thicken the mixture up, dissolve the cornstarch in about 1/2 cup of cold water with a fork, then stir this into the chicken mixture, allowing it to cook uncovered for about 5 minutes more until it reaches the desired consistency)

Refrigerate the filling overnight to allow the flavors to develop.

Preheat oven to 375°. Remove the dough from the fridge and divide into quarters. Keep the other 3 in the fridge while you work with one. Sprinkle a clean surface with flour. Roll dough out with floured rolling pin to about 1/8 inch thick. Cut into 4-5 inch circles and place two heaping tablespoons of filling on each. (Don’t overfill, it will mess up your finish) Use your fingers to rub the bottom edge with water or egg wash, then pull the top edge over the filling and press down to fuse the two edges together. You may crimp the outer edges afterwards with a fork if you like. Repeat until you’ve used all of the dough, keeping unused rounds AND filled pies in the fridge as you work to keep the dough cold as possible.

Once finished, line a sheet pan with parchment paper or foil, and lightly spray with cooking spray. Place pies on pan. Brush the tops with the beaten egg, then bake on the middle rack until dough is cooked through & golden brown, about 25-30 minutes. Let stand about 5 minutes before serving.

Linking up to this week’s Fiesta Friday #253, co-hosted this week by Liz @ Spades, Spatulas, and Spoons and Mila @ Milkandbun.

Christmas Elf Bites

Every year for the 12 Days of Christmas I try to include at least one recipe in the series for any of the followers or visitors to this blog who don’t like to cook or bake, or those who want to cook or bake but just don’t believe that they can.

You’ll notice that I specifically did NOT say that they *couldn’t* cook or bake–that was on purpose.

Take it from someone who not too long ago, couldn’t do much else but scramble eggs and boil water for pasta: you can cook. You can bake. You really can. Yes, even without the help of a cake mix or pre-made cookie dough. It’s possible. This holiday, you can bake 100% from scratch without messing it up, and come out with something you’ll not only enjoy, but be able to share with others who are definitely going to enjoy it too.

I don’t want to shame anyone who doesn’t like to bake or thinks that they can’t bake at all. It’s not something that everyone is going to love to do. I get that. But honestly, today’s recipe is about as easy and basic as you can get for baking without using a frozen dough–and I guarantee that this is going to taste better than ALL of those. (Baked goods made from scratch always do.)

This starts with a very simple, straightforward shortbread. Because it is so simple, I recommend your using a good butter for it. Generic butter has a much higher ratio of water in it, and therefore has less flavor. Name brand butter (especially the European ones) is far more cultured than generic. I don’t mean ‘culture’ as in sophistication–I mean that is has been churned longer in order to have a higher ratio of fat in it. More fat = flavor. You’d be surprised the difference it makes.

This is a rather whimsical themed recipe, and because I think almond extract gives a ‘whimsical’ flavor to baked goods, that’s what I used to flavor these. Vanilla will work just as well, as will citrus extract or zest you add to the flour as well. I also hand kneaded in some sprinkles to give them some color (don’t use a mixer to do this, it will make them bleed prematurely and they may stain messily while baking). The dough is first pressed into a square baking pan and chilled. From there, you lift it out of the pan in one block, cut it up into mini bite sized pieces, then bake.

And that’s literally it. 15 minutes later, you’re done. Sound easy enough?

These cookie bites are a delicious idea for gift giving & stocking stuffers. They’re easy enough to do with the kiddies. They’re small enough to have dessert without feeling guilty. Plus, I just find them cute to look at, so I gave them a cute “Christmas-y” themed name to match. Ho ho ho.

We just started the 12 Days of Christmas a few days ago, so go back and check out Day 1’s recipe if you haven’t seen it yet!

DAY 1: VANILLA RED PINWHEELS

DAY 2: CHRISTMAS ELF BITES

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Christmas Elf Bites

Recipe Courtesy of Land O Lakes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon multi-colored nonpareils

Directions

Line a square 8 or 9 inch cake pan with parchment paper and lightly spray with non-stick cooking spray; set aside.

In a small bowl combine the flour with the salt and stir together with a fork. Set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer or using a handheld one, beat together the butter and sugar until creamy and fluffy. Add the almond extract.

Slowly stir in the flour, mixing just until combined. Use your hands to gently knead in the nonpareils. Press the dough into the pan, doing your best to make the top smooth and flat. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Use the corners of the paper to lift the dough out of the pan. Use a sharp knife, pizza wheel or a bench scraper to cut the dough into 1/2 inch squares. Gently place the squares about 1/2 inch apart on a sheet pan you’ve lined with parchment.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, until they’re just beginning to turn golden brown. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.