Vanilla Wafers

This week’s episode of the Cooking is My Sport show is entitled “But Jess…Is It Really Worth It, Though?”

Thank you for tuning in. It’s going to be a good one.

Over the past few years on the blog, I’ve shared recipes for things that many of us could, theoretically buy from elsewhere rather than make ourselves. It is easier and more convenient go to our local grocery store and buy something with little to no trouble.

I could buy quite a few of the things that I post here–if not from a grocery store, then from a bakery or something. And though even EYE I am not going to go to the trouble of making something like, puff pastry, for the most part, I really do cook or bake most of what we eat. Why do I do this?

Because I believe it’s worth it. I really do.

If you ask, “But Jess, is it REALLY worth it, though?” to bake Christmas cookies rather than just buying some in a store, I’m going to say yes. It’s worth it.

Ask “But Jess, is it REALLY worth it, though?” to bake your own cake from scratch, then go to the trouble of making your own buttercream and skip the store bought cake with that greasy, lardy crap, I’m going to say yes. It’s worth it.

Come to me with, “But Jess, is it REALLY worth it, though?” to make biscuits from scratch when they’re available at the local chicken joint, I am DEFINITELY gonna say, yes. It’s worth it.

(My biscuits are better than any others that you can buy anywhere else anyway. Including Popeyes. Yeah, I said it.)

I shared the recipe for my grandma’s banana pudding on the blog years ago. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever made–but up until recently I had always made it with store-bought vanilla wafers. I’ll be honest and admit that is the way that she makes it, and it tastes fantastic. But recently, I decided to see what it would be like if I went the extra mile and made the pudding with vanilla wafers that I made by myself. Any guesses on how it went? Anyone?

OHMYGODGAMECHANGER.

From the beginning, I had two major concerns for the recipe as a whole: the short, crisp texture of store-bought wafers and the intense vanilla flavor. If I wasn’t going to get a comparable or superior result to the store-bought version, it just wouldn’t be worth it in the long run to make them. I’m pleased to report that this recipe delivers on both. They are crisp, but the butter keeps them from being too crunchy or crumbly. They’re not too sweet, and that vanilla flavor is spot on. Even if I had no intention of making banana pudding at all, I still would’ve considered this time well spent–it’s that tasty a cookie.

Go ahead and ask me: “But Jess…is it REALLY worth it, though?”

Yes. It’s worth it.

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Vanilla Wafers

Recipe Adapted from Williams Sonoma

Ingredients

  • 1 Cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 Tbs. vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

Directions

In a small bowl, combine the flour with the salt, stir together with a fork and set aside. In the bowl of a standing mixer (or using a hand-held one) cream together the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy.

Add the egg yolks, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as you mix. Stir in the vanilla extract.

Stir the flour into the butter mixture, just until blended. (If it’s a little dry, you can add a few tablespoons of milk, one at a time, just until it holds together.

Form the dough into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper. Sprinkle a rolling pin and clean work surface (like a pastry mat, wax paper) with powdered sugar.

Divide the dough into 4 equal portions. Keep the other 3 in the fridge while you roll out the 1 portion to about 1/4 inch thick. Use a small (1 1/2 inch), round cookie cutter to cut out rounds. Place the rounds on the sheet pans.

Refrigerate the cookies on the pans for about 20 minutes. Sprinkle each one with white sugar, then bake the cookies, 1 sheet at a time, until the edges and bottoms are golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer them to wire racks and let cool completely.

(Sharing at this week’s Fiesta Friday #242, co-hosted this week by Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook and Jen @ Apply To Face Blog.)

D.I.Y. Dunk-a-Roos

Alright. Allow me to set the scene for y’all.

Picture it. Michigan, 1996. I was in elementary school. My mom hadn’t given me the option yet of choosing to eat a ‘Hot’ lunch that the school provided. For a while, we were sent to school with ‘Cold’ (Packed) lunches from home. On one hand I was annoyed that I didn’t get to eat the food that most kids love. On the other hand…I got to bring along snacks from home to eat at lunch that weren’t served in school.

One of those snacks served as the inspiration for today’s post. I’m quite sure that a few of you will know exactly which one it was, as it was as treasured part of your childhoods as it was mine.

I’m talking about Dunk-A-Roos.

Dunk. A. Rooooooooos, y’all. Those that know, *know* why I just had to say it again. For those that don’t, I’ll press pause and give some background info.

Dunk A Roos are a snack food; when they were first released it the early 90’s, they were small crisp vanilla flavored cookies that came with a few scoops of sweet white funfetti dip that you could DUNK them in. (Get it? DUNK-a roos.) Later on when they became more and more popular the company started making chocolate flavored ones too.

Well, every kid I knew was crazy about them–myself included. Dunk-a-Roos were THE snack. If you brought them with you to lunch, it was guaranteed that you were gonna be swarmed by others who would encourage you to share. Except if you were like me, you were greedy and kept them all for yourself, because…no.

Unfortunately, Dunk-a-Roos were discontinued by the company that made them years ago. All good things and whatnot. On one hand it’s a shame that my niece and other kids her age will never be able to know the deliciousness of mass marketed Dunk-a-Roos. On the other, she does now know the deliciousness of today’s post.

Boys and girls of all ages, I give you: Do It Yourself Dunk-a Roos.

I mean, c’mon. Doesn’t this just look like fun? Not only was it fun for me to make this, it was also so easy. The process is actually similar to making crackers. The dough is one of the least finicky I’ve ever made–it’s not a whole lot and it comes together in minutes. You’re going to want to roll it pretty thin in order to get the crisp texture and ‘snap’ that you want from the cookies. Of course, if you would prefer them softer you could always roll them thicker or just bake them for less time. If you don’t have tiny cookie cutters, I wouldn’t worry about it either. Just use a pizza wheel or a sharp knife to cut them into squares; I promise you it won’t make a difference.

The ingredients are minimal and you most likely have them in your house already; the brown sugar and cinnamon are there to give them the richer, caramel-y flavor that I remember the Dunk-a-Roos from my past having. The cookies themselves aren’t overly sweet and I really don’t think they need to be considering that they’re meant to be eaten with the funfetti dip, which (trust me) is plenty sweet enough on it’s own. My version is made with a butter base and flavored with vanilla extract, BUT, if you wanted to get a little creative with it I can see variations made with almond extract, or cream cheese and citrus extracts instead and coming out fantastic.

This was a really fun little project that me and my niece did together and it turned out really yummy results. It received her stamp of approval and seeing as 5 year olds are some of the toughest critics out there, I’m more than satisfied with that. Try it out with your little ones—or just make it for yourself. Somebody’s tummy is going to be happy regardless; I guarantee that.

Sharing at this week’s Fiesta Friday #221, co-hosted this week by Jenny @ Dragonfly Home Recipes.

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DIY Dunk-a-Roos

Recipe Adapted from Delish.com

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Ingredients

For Cookies

  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • White sugar, for sprinkling

For Cookie Dip

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons whole milk
  • 2-3 tablespoons rainbow sprinkles

 

Directions

In a medium bowl combine the  flour with the baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt and set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer with the paddle attachment (or using a handheld one) cream together the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy.

Add the egg, and vanilla and mix until just combined. Add the flour mixture in batches, mixing until just combined.

Scrape the dough out and onto a piece of plastic wrap. Shape into a disc, wrap tightly and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 350F. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper. Divide the dough into quarters, keeping the other 3 in the fridge while you roll out the one.

Sprinkle a clean work surface (like a pastry mat, wax paper or a cutting board) with powdered sugar or flour. Roll out the quarter of dough to about 1/8 inch thickness. Cut into whatever desired shapes you like, but I would keep them small. Reroll and cut the scraps as necessary.

Place the sheet pans in the freezer for around 10 minutes. Sprinkle the tops with the white sugar, and bake for 5-8 minutes.  Let cool on pans for 3 minutes. Remove from pans, and let cool completely on wire racks.

For Cooke Dip: Cream together the butter and powdered sugar In the bowl of a standing mixer with the paddle attachment (or using a handheld one) until it’s light and creamy. Add the salt and vanilla. Add the milk until it’s fluffy and not too stiff. Gently stir in the sprinkles. Serve the cookies with the cookie dip when they’ve cooled and store the dip in the fridge when not in use.

Vanilla and Mocha Cookie Sandwiches

Okay, so look. I know what you’re thinking. What is the point in taking the time and effort to make your own sandwich cookies when there is a big name brand company that pretty much has the monopoly on sandwich cookies, and have gone out of their way to mass produce just about every possible flavor known to man and tried to jam it into a sandwich cookie you can run to the store and just buy?

I can think of several reasons.

First, when it comes to store-bought sandwich cookies, I feel like it’s a real hit or miss situation–there isn’t much space for ambiguity. They’re either really really good, or really bad. Both the cookie and the filling has to be right and that’s a harder thing to accomplish than you might think. That huge company has put out a LOT of different flavors of sandwich cookies, but in my opinion there are only a select few that have achieved that perfect sweet spot of delicious cookie and filling. The filling is where many mass produced sandwich cookies go terribly wrong–it either tastes too sweet, too artificial, or both.

I think that making your own sandwich cookies gives you the chance to correct the mistake of overly sweet and artificial filling, while also giving you the opportunity to get creative with your own taste buds and create something that you may not be able to find in stores. I’d be willing to bet that you’ll be able to pronounce every ingredient that’s in them.

And if none of the above are good enough reasons, then there’s always bragging rights–which, is more than enough for me.

I decided to make my own sandwich cookies, two ways. I knew going into it that I first wanted to make a perfect vanilla sandwich cookie. Most of the ones that are on the market now just don’t do it for me. (Yes, including the one from the huge name brand.) The cookie itself is usually okay, but that filling just kills it for me every time. I knew that what I was looking for was a cookie that was delicious enough all on its own, and a filling with a robust vanilla flavor and a smooth, non-pasty consistency.

The base is a butter cookie that I’ve made many times in the past. It’s quite simple, but you’d be surprised how the simply made baked goods will knock the fancy ones down from the pedestal. It has a buttery rich flavor and a tender crumb that melts in your mouth. For the filling I used a mixture of powdered sugar, butter, milk and vanilla. And listen guys. I want you to use REAL vanilla bean paste. I’m not above using extract but I insist that this time you go with the good stuff. You really can taste the difference and your taste buds will thank you for it.

The second flavor is where the coffee addict in me finessed its way into these cookie. I kept the same butter cookie for the base, but the filling gets a few teaspoons of instant espresso powder and liquid coffee in place of the vanilla and milk. Then, because coffee and chocolate flavors enhance one another, I decided to drizzle the top of the cookies with melted chocolate. What do you get when you combine coffee & chocolate? Mocha, that’s what. And there you have it.

I knew that these would be pretty good when I made them, but listen. They are REALLY good. They surpassed my expectations. They’re better than anything I’ve had from the store and I’m not trying to brag by saying that; I’m just being honest. I made these a while ago and I’m still giving myself a pat on the back for how they turned out, so if you’d like those kinds of bragging rights I’d suggest you give these a try yourself. Sharing at the Fiesta Friday #215, co-hosted by  Laurena @ Life Diet Health and Alex @ Turks Who Eat.

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Vanilla & Mocha Cookie Sandwiches

Recipe Adapted from Genius Kitchen

Ingredients

For Cookies

  • 2 cups unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups white granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla bean paste, or 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 4 cups all purpose flour

For Vanilla Filling

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • At least 1/4 cup of milk, divided

For Coffee Filling

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
  • At least 1/4 cup of your favorite flavor of coffee, divided
  • Melted chocolate, optional

 

Directions

In a medium bowl combine the flour and salt together in a bowl and set aside. In the bowl of a standing mixer or using a handheld one, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Add the egg yolks one at a time, using a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the vanilla.

Gradually add the flour mixture in about 1 cup batches, stirring just until combined. (It may be a little dry and if so, you can add in a few tablespoons of milk at a time, just until it comes together.) Shape dough into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight,

Preheat oven to 325°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Divide the dough into quarters, keeping the other 3 in the fridge while you work. Dust a clean surface (like wax paper or a pastry mat) with flour. Roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thick. Using a 2- to 2 ½-inch round cookie cutter, cut the dough into rounds and place on parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing them 1 inch apart. Using a ¾- to 1-inch round cookie cutter, cut out the centers from half of the cookies. Reroll and cut the scraps as necessary.  Note: Make sure you’re cutting a ‘top’ cookie and a ‘bottom’ cookie each time you stamp, just to make sure you have an even number of cookie sandwiches. Also, don’t throw away the centers: they make wonderful mini cookies. 

Place the sheet pans in the freezer for around 10 minutes. Sprinkle the tops with white sugar. Bake in the oven on the middle rack for 14-16 minutes, until cookies are golden brown. Allow to cool on sheet pans for 60 seconds, then remove to wire racks to cool completely.

For Fillings: In two separate bowls stir together the sugar, butter, and/or vanilla and/or espresso powder. Drizzle in the milk in the vanilla bowl 1 tablespoon at a time and the coffee in the other 1 tablespoon at a time until the filling reaches a smooth and desired consistency.

Divide the cookies in half (half for vanilla, half for coffee) Spread about a heaping 1/2 tablespoon of filling onto each bottom cookie (make sure the bottoms face up), then place on the tops (bottoms facing down). Gently press to make sandwiches. You may drizzle the coffee flavored sandwiches with melted chocolate if desired, then allow them to set for about 15 minutes until chocolate has hardened.

(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. )

Teddy Bear Cinnamon Crisps

I’m running a little short on time, so this post (like this recipe) is going to be short, simple and sweet.

I really like Teddy Grahams. They’re small little graham flavored crackers made by Nabisco and they’re really quite scrumptious. When I was growing up, they came in a few different flavors: Chocolate, Chocolatey Chip, Honey and Cinnamon. (From what I understand, there are more now, but I’m not too interested in them.) My favorite were the Cinnamon and the Chocolatey Chip. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. The good thing is that the Chocolatey Chip ones are immensely popular and as such, can be found just about anywhere.

The bad news is that, for whatever reason, the Cinnamon ones are not. At least not in this area. I can’t find them anywhere. I happen to like the Cinnamon ones a tad bit better than I do the Chocolatey Chip, so this is…inconvenient.

But y’know, whatever. It’s a temporary setback and I do like myself a good baking challenge.

If you’ve been following the blog over the past year, then you’ll know that I’ve been experimenting with making my own crackers at home with pretty good results. I love the simple process of it almost as much as I love all the different flavor options there are available. On the way home from the grocery store on yet another recent failed attempt to find Cinnamon Teddy Grahams, I thought that maybe I should just stop looking elsewhere for them and start looking in my own kitchen.

This recipe really couldn’t be easier to put together. There’s a trio of spices of cinnamon, mace and cloves that gives it plenty of warm, toasty flavor. Brown sugar rather than white gives the crackers a richer taste. It all comes together within minutes, but does require a rest in the fridge to give the dough a chance to rest, which you definitely want because cracker dough needs to be rolled out VERY thing in order to ensure that the finished product has the right crispness. They were originally plain on the tops, but I decided to give them another layer of texture by sprinkling cinnamon sugar on them just before baking.

In the first place, they smell like warm, sugary spice & everything nice. I wish I could get the scent captured in a candle or something–it’s much better than the vanilla candles you see in stores that are so cloying and overpowering that they just end up triggering your gag reflex. They bake up a nice golden brown with a pleasant, crispy snap while the spices also give them a flavor that does remind me of the Cinnamon Teddy Grahams.

I said I was in a hurry and I am. You guys remember why? Yep yep yep. Black Panther is now released in theaters in the U.S. and I’m on my way to see it now. I’m so excited I can hardly stand it, but my wait is offically over, so it’s ttfn.

(Linking this up to Fiesta Friday #211, co-hosted this week by Lily @ Little Sweet Baker and Alisa @ Livin’ Well.

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Teddy Bear Cinnamon Crisps

Recipe Adapted from Serious Eats

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Ingredients

For Cookies

  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground mace
  • 1-2 dashes ground cloves
  • 1 cup (2 sticks, 8 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup light or dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Topping

  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup white granulated sugar

 

 

Directions

In a small bowl combine the flour with the salt and spices with a fork.

In a large bowl or the bowl of a standing mixer, cream together the butter and both sugars until light and fluffy. Add the egg and the vanilla, using a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure even mixing.

Sift in the flour mixture to the butter mixture (not all at once, in about 3 batches) until just combined.

Shape the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place a sheet of parchment paper on a sheet pan and lightly spray with cooking spray.

 In a small bowl combine the ingredients for the topping and set aside. Sprinkle a work surface like a wooden cutting board, a pastry mat or wax paper with flour. Cut the dough into quarters. Keep the quarters you’re not using in the fridge while you work. Use a floured rolling pin to roll out each piece of dough very thin (about 1/8th inch). Use a cookie cutter of your choice (I used a teddy bear one) or a pizza wheel, bench scraper or knife to cut dough into shapes. Arrange the cookies on the baking sheet (you will probably need more than one). When you’ve finished, refrigerate the cookies on the sheet pan for about 15 minutes.

Lightly spray the cookies with cooking spray, then sprinkle the cinnamon sugar on top. Bake in the oven until golden brown, about 10-12 minutes. Allow to cool on baking sheet for about 1 minute before removing to wire racks to cool completely.

(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.)

Smoky Chili Crackers

There are certain foods that I just can’t have in my house, for reasons.

When I was younger I loved the Keebler Chips Deluxe chocolate chip cookies, especially the ones with rainbow M&Ms. I could put away more than a few of those and STILL have an appetite for dinner. This was also when I had the metabolism of an Olympic athlete.

I love Waffle Crisp cereal, but I can’t let it be in my house. Why? Because I can eat half a box of Waffle Crisp handful by handful in one sitting, that’s why. I don’t even need milk. Just leave the box with me and go. Therefore, it’s not a good idea for me to have it.

There’s one other snack that although I love, I know I just don’t have the willpower to summon portion control for and just don’t buy.

Any guesses? I’ll give y’all a hint.

It’s a cracker. It comes in a red box. It also looks very similar to today’s recipe.

Yeah. Cheez-Its.

My love for Cheeze Its is especially weird in light of the fact that I…don’t like cheese in and of itself (except for on pizza, but that’s different). I don’t know, there’s just something about that salty flavor that I can’t get enough of or resist. Because I have such a hard time putting them down, I just can’t have them in the house. My salty munchie cravings I’ve found are much stronger than sweet ones.

Although most people favor sweets at Christmas, I thought it would be nice to sneak a savory recipe or two in this year’s series. This is one of them. If you’ve been following the blog this year then you’ll know I’ve put out several homemade cracker recipes. They’re easy to make and I’ve found that the results are just as good (and sometimes even better) than the ones you can buy in the store. Some flavor profiles aren’t necessarily available through store-bought crackers and I find it fun to create my own and get something new that’s exactly what I want.

So, do these taste like Cheeze Its? No. But, I still REALLY liked how they turned out.

First of all, there’s no cheese in them. They’re flavored with cumin and smoked paprika, and have an earthy smoked flavor. The tomato paste balances out that smokiness and also gives them the warm orange hue. There’s also a touch of chili powder to give a kick on the back end. The texture is somewhat coarse thanks to the cornmeal in the dough. I think these crackers would be just fantastic with hummus, french onion dip, spinach dip or soup. Those who like raw cheese would also really enjoy eating a small wedge on top. Try and enjoy, will ya?

12 Days of Christmas Banner

Day 1: Winter Spice Toaster Tarts

Day 2: Smoky Chili Crackers

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Smoky Chili Crackers

Recipe Adapted from King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion

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Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon powdered/dry milk (like Carnation’s)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon smoked parika
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 cup shortening, cut into cubes
  • Scant 1/2 cup water
  • Coarse salt, for sprinkling

Special equipment: cookie cutter of choice

Directions

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit.

In a large bowl combine the flour, cornmeal, dry milk, cumin, smoked paprika, baking soda, sugar and chili powder.

Cut in the shortening and tomato paste with a fork until the mixture looks like coarse bread crumbs.

Add enough water to make a workable dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and allow to rest in the fridge for an hour or the freezer for twenty minutes.

Divide the dough into quarters, working with one piece at a time. Keep the other 3 in the fridge while you roll out the other on a floured surface, like wax paper, or a pastry mat.

Roll the dough out to about 1/8 inch thickness (very thin). Cut into 1 1/2 inch squares. Repeat with remaining portions of dough. Freeze the crackers for about 10 minutes on a sheet pan.

Poke a hole in the center of the crackers using a fork tine, or the tip of a knife. Lightly spray crackers with cooking spray and sprinkle with the coarse salt.

Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool on the pan.

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. 

Winter Spice Toaster Tarts

It’s about that time again….

I know I say it every year, but I really can’t believe we’ve reached December and are on the verge of entering a new year. I wouldn’t exactly say 2017 flew by, but it is rather ethereal that it’s almost over and that we’re so close to starting 2018. Show of hands, how many of y’all have your Christmas trees up?

Hopefully it’s a good number; now that Thanksgiving is over, it’s undeniably the holiday season. Mine’s been up since the first week in November. (Shh. Don’t judge me. I have the Christmas spirit of Buddy the Elf.)

If you’ve been following the blog for at least a year, then you already know what the month of December will bring ’round these parts. If you’re new here, then welcome. This post will kick off a little series I’ve been doing annually from CIMs very first Christmas called the 12 Days of Christmas. For 12 days I share Christmas-themed baking recipes that I think would fit in rather nicely on a holiday spread of goodies that you make for yourself or others.

Baking twelve days worth of treats is no small task, but guys, I’m still so excited to get this series going. The 12 Days of Christmas is my absolute FAVORITE time of year to be a food blogger. There are so many delicious looking posts/recipes that I get to see fill my timeline and also contribute myself. I try to plan ahead and put out a variety of posts that can be tried out by both amateur and advanced bakers. Sometimes all goes accordingly to the plans–other times…most times, I have to adjust/tweak a bit.

Regardless, I always end up having fun, which is what really matters.

I first made my own pop tarts about two years ago. I wasn’t sure how it would go–or if it would go at all. But the 12 Days of Christmas seemed like a good time to test it out. I found that it’s actually a pretty easy process and that both the dough and filling go VERY well with just about whatever you want to do with them. Today’s recipe revisits my first go at toaster tarts, but then tweaks it a bit with the addition of some new ingredients. Those new ingredients are a Winter Spice mix that has classic holiday baking flavors: ginger, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves. There’s also some pepper (yes, pepper) just to give it an extra kick.

I added about two generous tablespoons of this spice mix to the base of my buttery toaster tart dough. It doesn’t alter the chemistry of the recipe, but it sure does give a whole new depth of flavor to dough itself. The filling I did keep the same just because I love it SO much, but I realize not everyone is a cranberry-clementine fan, or you just may not have the time to make it from scratch. As I said, you really can do anything you want with the filling within reason. Any jam, jelly or preserves you want to use would work. If you’re a fan of apple butter or pumpkin butter, it’ll work. Heck, if you want to use biscoff spread, cookie butter, or Nutella: IT’LL WORK.

But come on: doesn’t that cranberry-clementine filling look delicious? Don’t you want to at least try it? I thought so. Sharing this recipe at today’s Fiesta Friday #200.

Stay tuned for more recipes for the 12 Days of Christmas!

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Winter Spice Toaster Tarts

Recipe Adapted from Anne Burrell & Williams Sonoma

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Ingredients

For Winter Spice Mix

  • 2 tablespoons ground ginger
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

For  Cranberry Clementine Filling

  • 12 oz. fresh cranberries
  • 6 clementines, peeled and sectioned
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 cup cranberry juice
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 star anise pod
  • 1 cup dried cranberries

For Tart Dough

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons of Winter Spice Mix
  • 1/4 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 10 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 3/4 cup cranberry clementine filling

For Decoration

  • 1 cup of powdered sugar
  • A few tablespoons of milk
  • About 1-2 tablespoons of light corn syrup
  • Holiday themed sprinkles

 

Directions

To Make Winter Spice Mix: Combine all of the ingredients together in a small bowl and keep in an airtight lid. Set aside.

For tart filling: In a small saucepan combine fresh cranberries, clementines, orange and cranberry juices, sugar, cinnamon stick, and star anise. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes. Add the dried cranberries and simmer for 10 to 15 more minutes, or until the sauce has thickened. Set aside, cool completely.

For tart dough: combine the flour, winter spice mix confectioners sugar, salt in a bowl. Add the butter and cut in until mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs. Add milk and egg yolk and mix together, just until dough comes together. (You may need to add a bit more milk here. I did, adding just enough until it held together in a ball.) Wrap dough ball into two sheets of plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

 Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. On a floured work surface, divide dough in half and form each into a rough rectangle. Roll 1 rectangle until it measures about 16×9 in. Using a ruler and pizza cutter, cut dough into 12 small rectangles, each about 3×4 in.

Lay half the rectangles on the work surface and lightly brush with the beaten egg. Spoon about 1 tbsp. of the filling into the center of each, spreading it over the dough but leaving a 1/2 inch border.

Top with a plain dough rectangle, crimping the edges together with a fork– try not to let any filling ooze out.

Preheat oven to 375°. Place 6 tarts on each baking sheet, spacing them out evenly. Lightly prick the tops with a fork to create steam vents– be careful you don’t prick through both layers so the tarts don’t leak while baking!

Position 2 racks evenly in the oven and bake the tarts for 15-18 minutes, rotating halfway through. Let cool on a wire rack.

To decorate, combine all ingredients (except for sprinkles) together in a small bowl, adding additional milk if glaze is too thick to spread. Spread or drizzle glaze over tarts, topping with sprinkles is desired. Allow to set up and harden, about 15-3o minutes. 

 

Cinnamon Sugar Crackers

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There’s a large grocery store chain back in the Mitten that when I was growing up, sold their own generic brand of products that they would sell alongside the name-brand stuff. It wasn’t so very different from the name brand, and you could get just about anything. And believe me, we certainly did (it being the cheaper option and all).

One of the things I remember that my mom would get for us from this grocery store’s line of products were these cookie/crackers that the chain sold in the snack aisle. They came in an orange bag and were marketed as butter-flavored animal shaped cookies. But since, they were on the thin side, I always thought of them as crackers. They were SO delicious.

For whatever reason that still irritates me to this day, the product was discontinued. I haven’t seen it in years and there’s not even a trace of them left on the internet (which is how you KNOW they’re not coming back anytime soon). Nothing I’ve seen sold in stores since has ever replicated them in appearance or taste.

Isn’t that just the worst? Sometimes I wonder where the recipe for those crackers is now; shoved away somewhere at the bottom of a drawer in some corporate office, never to see the light of day again. And who was the genius who made the call to stop selling them in the first place? I want the name of their supervisor so I can write in a strongly worded complaint. Such a waste.

I mentioned before in my last few posts that I’d started in on a kind of cracker-making spree. When my first attempt turned out great, I started experimenting with a bunch of other recipes that I knew I would eventually get around to sharing on the blog. It doesn’t happen very often, but sometimes I’ll make something that I end up liking SO much, that I almost immediately want to make it again–just to have plenty of it. Sometimes, I don’t even want to share it. I just want it all to myself.

That’s what happened here.

I tried this recipe on a whim. I had all the ingredients on hand, plus I made some additions/modifications of my own that I thought would make it taste a bit better, but I wasn’t expecting anything *huge* to come from it.

So, imagine my surprise when I tasted one and was immediately transported back to my childhood, reminded of the delicious butter cookies/crackers in the orange bag from the supermarket’s generic knock-off line.

Are they 100% the same? No. They’re (if I may say so myself), actually an improvement. Te vanilla in the dough gives them a wonderful aroma as they’re baking. The cinnamon and nutmeg is noticeable, but not overpowering. Besides the flavor, the texture of these is what I love best about it; it’s a tender crumb that still has that perfect amount of snap that gives it the ‘cracker’ feel. Then, the coarse sugar topping gives it a pleasant crunch to compliment the cracker itself.

I was SO impressed/thrilled/greedy with how these turned out that as soon as the first batch of these were done cooling, I was already washing out my dishes and getting all the ingredients back together again to make another. This is a very easy and forgiving dough; I just stuck with regular squares, but I think they will hold just about ANY shape, so if you have cookie cutters and want to make these with kids, I’d say anything will go & work.

I’m sure that that recipe for the discontinued butter cookie/crackers is out there somewhere; but I think that this one is a very easy and delicious substitute. So take that, processed food corporate execs.

Linking this post up to Fiesta Friday #169, co-hosted this week by Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook and Elaine @ Foodbod.

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Cinnamon Sugar Crackers

Recipe Adapted from Serious Eats

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon dry powdered milk
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, plus 1/8 teaspoon
  • 1 egg white
  • Extra flour for dusting
  • 1 heaping tablespoon coarse sugar
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar

Directions

In the bowl of a standing mixer, (or using a handheld one) cream together the butter and sugar with the dry powdered milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, baking soda. It doesn’t have to be light and fluffy, just combined.

With the mixer still running, drizzle in the vanilla. Add the egg white little by little alternately with the flour until dough just comes together. Don’t overmix.

Gather together into a ball, shape into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Place in the freezer for about an hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Dust a clean work surface with flour. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Roll the dough to about 1/8 inch thickness. Run a metal spatula underneath the dough as you roll and turn it out to make sure it doesn’t stick, sprinkling with additional flour if necessary.  Use a cookie cutter or bench scraper to cut out the dough into crackers. Place the crackers on the baking sheets and freeze for about 20 minutes.

Using the tines of a fork, evenly prick holes through the dough. In a small bowl, combine the coarse sugar, brown sugar, a dash of cinnamon and the 1/8 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Lightly sprinkle this on top of the crackers.

Bake for 12-13 minutes until just beginning to brown at the edges. Remove to wire racks to cool completely.