Thursday, December 29, 2011

Looking forward to Next Christmas!

Have you enjoyed the recipes, stories and tips on this blog? Then you'll love our Holiday Goodies blog! We'll post regularly with recipes and traditions about the year's holidays, from President's Day to Valentine's...even to Good Riddance Day! (That one just happened a few days ago.)

Follow us at the Holiday Goodies blog -- and you won't miss a thing. 

And come November or so, the Christmas Goodies blog will start back up...we hope to see you then.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

God Bless Us Everyone

A Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

"Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given."

Friday, December 23, 2011

Heirloom Week: Lebkuchen

 If any cookie spells tradition in the Brick house, it's a lightly-spiced 'gingerbread' cookie I first tasted at a coffee bar in Nuremberg, Germany, back in my college years. Lebkuchen may remind you of molasses cookies, but they're really a mix of honey, ground nuts and the ginger-related spices. In old times, monks would mix old honey (at least 6 months fermented) with flour, and let the mixture mellow for a few months before baking the cookies. I've tried this, as well, with success. So if your time is limited right now (who's isn't?), mix up the dough, then put it in the freezer. Roll out the cookies a month or two from now, instead, and enjoy them during a winter snowstorm. They're incredible, and worth the extra work.

(Thanks to Epicurious for this basic recipe)

For nut flour
  • 3/4 cup hazelnuts (3 1/2 oz)
  • 3/4 cup sliced almonds (2 1/2 oz)
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

For cookies
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup mild honey
  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fine-quality mixed candied fruit such as citron, orange, and lemon*
  • 4 (11 1/2- by 8 1/4-inch) sheets edible rice paper, cut with scissors into 32 (2 1/2-inch) rounds

For icing
  • 2 cups confectioners sugar
  • 3 tablespoons water

Make nut flour:
Finely grind nuts with remaining nut flour ingredients in a food processor.
Make dough:
Beat together brown sugar, honey, and butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until creamy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in nut flour at low speed until just blended, then stir in candied fruit.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Arrange rice-paper rounds, shiny sides down, on 2 large baking sheets. Roll level 2-tablespoon amounts of dough into balls with dampened hands, then put 1 on each paper round and flatten slightly (dough will spread to cover paper during baking).
Bake cookies in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until surface no longer appears wet, about 15 minutes total. Transfer to racks to cool.
Ice cookies:
Sift confectioners sugar into a bowl, then stir in water until smooth. Evenly brush tops of cooled cookies with icing. Let icing set, about 1 hour. 

* Available at Fauchon (212-308-5919) or The Baker's Catalogue (800-827-6836).
Cooks' note: • These cookies improve with age but icing will darken. If making ahead, do not ice until day of serving. Cookies keep, layered between sheets of wax paper, in an airtight container 1 month. 
   Editor's note: Instead of rice paper, the Germans use a round edible disk I heard described as 'gebaken.' Feel free to substitute these, instead. The cookies are also wonderful iced with melted bittersweet chocolate.

Lebkuchen hearts, Santas and other shapes are a favorite at
'Christ Kindl Markts' in Austria and Germany. Photo from Wikipedia; read more about Lebkuchen's origins here.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Heirloom Week: Yule Log

The French know it better as "Buche de Noel," a rolled sponge cake confection that's frosted roughly to resemble 'bark,' then decorated with meringue mushrooms, candies...or in this case, gnomes!

 It was one of Julia Child's favorite Christmas desserts on her PBS cooking shows. For one episode, she planned to stick lit Fourth of July sparklers into her cake, just before serving it. The only problem -- the cake hadn't come out well, so they'd frosted a copy of the local newspaper, instead. When she pushed the sparklers in, they bent double and bounced back! (A quick sign-off on that one.)

Marzipan fruit and other shaped goodies make a nice addition, and are more readily available this time of year, especially at places like Trader Joe's or Cost Plus Imports. This quick lesson on Yule Logs may also be helpful before you start cooking:



  • 1/2 cup sifted cake flour
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/8 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups whipped cream
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 8 (1 ounce) squares semisweet chocolate, melted
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/8 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon green food coloring
  • 8 ounces marzipan


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a 15x10-inch jelly roll pan. Line with waxed paper. Grease paper.
  2. Sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt.
  3. Beat together sugar and egg yolks at high speed until light and fluffy. At low speed, alternately beat milk and flour mixture into egg mixture.
  4. Using clean beaters, beat egg whites at high speed until stiff, but not dry, peaks form. Fold one third of beaten whites into batter. Fold in remaining whites. Spread batter in prepared pan; smooth top.
  5. Bake cake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) until set, 12 minutes.
  6. Dust a clean cloth with confectioners' sugar. Turn cake out onto prepared cloth. Remove waxed paper. Trim cake edges. Starting with a long side, roll up cake, jelly-roll style. Transfer, seam-side down, to a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes.
  7. Unroll cake; remove cloth. Spread whipped cream over cake to within 1 inch of edges. Re-roll cake. Place, seam-side down, on serving plate.
  8. To prepare frosting, in a small saucepan, bring heavy cream, melted chocolate, and butter to a boil over medium heat, stirring vigorously until blended. Remove from heat. Let stand until set. Spread frosting over top and sides of cake.
  9. To prepare garnish, dust work surface with confectioners' sugar. Knead food coloring into marzipan until blended. Using a rolling pin dusted with confectioners' sugar, roll marzipan to a 1/8-inch thickness. Using a small knife, cut out leaves. Arrange leaves, cinnamon candies, and snowmen on top of cake and around plate. Dust with confectioners' sugar.                                

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Heirloom Week: Gingerbread Houses

Any kid, whatever age, would appreciate a spicy, crunchy house on the sideboard, just waiting for post-Christmas munchies. The best place on the 'Net to learn about this art is Ultimate Gingerbread, a website that will help build your own place, from getting out the ginger to frosting that final brick.It also helps you submit your creation for any number of contests!

Here's a basic recipe to get you started. (Thanks, Ultimate Gingerbread.)

Debbie's Gingerbread House Dough Recipe

Comments from Debbie:  I have made a gingerbread house every Christmas since I graduated from college in the late 70s. At first I used to make them and take them home for my cousins to decorate and eat. Then they became great masterpieces that looked like the house I was living in and they had stained glass (lollipop) windows and lights inside (an old Christmas tree bulb rigged up on a cord with a plug). Now I make a house every November with my kids, before the seasonal preparations get too crazy. We put all our leftover Halloween candy on the houses (a great way to use it up!). We have a tradition of having a house eating party on New Years Day, when we invite the neighbor children to sit in the backyard with our kids and break apart the house and eat whatever part they want. Its pretty gross and dusty at that point but it doesnt seem to matter. They never eat that much of it anyway but it is fun to break it apart! This recipe makes a good crisp cookie that smells delicious baking and gets very hard for good strong walls. It hardly puffs at all so you will keep good definition in window holes and doors.

Mix together:
  • 6 3/4 cup flour
  • 1 Tbsp cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp salt
Stir together over medium heat till margarine is melted:
  • 1 1/2 cups Karo Syrup
  • 1 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup margarine

Add to the flour mixture and blend till the dough is easy to handle, I do it in my Kitchenaid mixer. It's a firm dough and gets harder as it cools. I like to roll it out while it's still warm!
Cut out a front/back wall and a side wall shape from paper. Use the top edge of each of those 2 pieces to make a roof piece, it should be a little bigger so it hangs over the walls. Now line your cookie sheet with heavy duty foil (moisten it to keep it from sliding), spray very lightly with Pam spray, roll 2 1/3-3 cups dough 1/4" thick, use paring knife to cut around shapes and peel scraps off sheet. Cut windows and doors. Leave 1/2" minimum between pieces. Bakes at 350 12-15 minutes, cool on foil. If it puffs at all, you can trim around the windows or edges to make the lines square while it is still hot out of the oven. Once it cools, it is very hard.

Windows (lollipop mixture)
bring to a boil:
  • 1 cup water

remove from heat. Add and stir till dissolved:
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup light Karo corn syrup
  • 1 Tbsp butter

Return to heat. When boiling cover about 3 minutes so the steam can wash down crystals. Uncover and cook at high heat without stirring to 300. Take off heat and let the bubbles subside.

Very carefully spoon or pour mixture into window holes. BE CAREFUL THIS IS VERY HOT AND STICKY. ONLY GROWNUPS DO THIS PART. Have ice water handy in a bowl for emergency first aid. Can be colored but is naturally a nice light amber color.
Royal Icing
  • 2 Tbsp meringue powder (available at cake decorating supply store)
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
beat till foamy
  • 1 lb. powdered sugar
Beat till stiff and white on high speed for about 5 minutes. Keep bowl covered with a damp towel when not in use. Can be thinned slightly and tinted for spreading to Paint@ a wall. I like to put in a pastry bag and pipe it onto the joints of the house with a star tip #16. Hold the walls in place with cans and bottles from the cupboard. Let the walls dry overnight before you put on the roof.
Let the roof dry overnight before you start putting on the candy. Walls can be decorated before they are put together, let them dry overnight. I put a light on the tray and tape it down before I start construction, then build the house around the cord. Put anything inside the an ice cream cone spread with green icing and covered with sprinkles (for a Christmas tree) or little pieces of lace (on either side of the windows for curtains) before you put the roof on top. Coconut tinted green (shake it in a zip lock bag with green food color and 2 tsp water, spread it out on a cookie sheet to dry) makes great grass, or leftover white frosting makes good snow piled in drifts against the house, or dripping from the roof in icicles. Cookies and cereal and sticks of gum and necco wafers make a great roof. I love this site, what a great place to share ideas! Good Luck! And have fun!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Heirloom Week: Stollen

Germans everywhere would be unhappy with me, if this holiday favorite wasn't included. It's heavy on the dried fruit...and at least to this palate, resembles the Italian Panettone, although it's a different shape. (Deutschers and Italians everywhere, please don't hurt me for saying so!) Try it sliced and toasted, with a light slathering of real butter, for your Christmas morning breakfast.

This recipe is courtesy of, and comes via a professional baker. It's a bit different, for the surprise marzipan center -- omit it, if you don't care for almonds.



  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 2/3 cup warm milk (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon salt
  • 1/3 cup butter, softened
  • 2 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 1/3 cup currants
  • 1/3 cup sultana raisins
  • 1/3 cup red candied cherries, quartered
  • 2/3 cup diced candied citron
  • 6 ounces marzipan   (omit this, if not interested)
  • 1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon


  1. In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in warm milk. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the yeast mixture with the egg, white sugar, salt, butter, and 2 cups bread flour; beat well. Add the remaining flour, 1/4 cup at a time, stirring well after each addition. When the dough has begun to pull together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead in the currants, raisins, dried cherries, and citrus peel. Continue kneading until smooth, about 8 minutes.
  3. Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl, and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
  4. Lightly grease a cookie sheet. Deflate the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll the marzipan into a rope and place it in the center of the dough. Fold the dough over to cover it; pinch the seams together to seal. Place the loaf, seam side down, on the prepared baking sheet. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise until doubled in volume, about 40 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  5. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C), and bake for a further 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow loaf to cool on a wire rack. Dust the cooled loaf with confectioners' sugar, and sprinkle with the cinnamon.

Heirloom Week: English Christmas Cake

The Brits are passionate about their Christmas cake, a almost-white, almost-fruitcake concoction heavily frosted with thick icing. Miss Read, one of my favorite 'cosy' authors, is forever having her heroines add frosting holly and robins on top! (Maybe yours truly, being a Coloradoan, should add frosting magpies, instead.)

Serve your cake at Christmas tea, along with a good English Breakfast or Prince of Wales cuppa, and you'll be in with the best of 'em. (Maybe even listen to the Queen's annual address, while you sip and crunch.)

This version is adapted from Tasha Tudor's TAKE JOY, a wonderful compendium of recipes, stories and crafts that celebrate the holiday season. Tasha had a thing about candied fruits, and LOVED her butter intake. I'm not fond of greasy pools spreading over the baking pan, so adapted that. Add a cup of candied fruit to this recipe if you're a fruitcake-lover. 

CHRISTMAS CAKE (Colorado style)
1 1/2 cups butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
8 eggs (no, I'm not making this up)
1 cup chopped almonds, pecans, filberts (your choice)
4 tablespoons orange juice (I also grate a bit of the orange rind in)
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
5 cups flour (make this 5 heaping cups if you're cooking at high altitude)
1 cup 'craisins' (dried cranberries -- or substitute raisins, if you like them)
1 cup halved maraschino cherries

Cream butter and sugar together. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing as you go, then the other ingredients -- stop before the flour. (It's easiest with two people, but one can manage just fine.) Stir in the flour, a cup at a time, then add craisins and cherries. Mixture will be very thick.
Line your pans with foil -- I can generally get a 10" springform pan, plus 3 or 4 little patty pans out of this, but you might prefer two round cake pans or an angel cake-type pan (the kind with a funnel in the middle). You'll get approx. two round cake pans, or a round (or loaf) pan plus the angel food cake pan. Now 'glop' the mixture into the pans, smoothing on top when they're done. (About half-full)

Bake at 275 degrees for approx. an hour -- my 10" springform took 1 1/2 hours because it was so thick. Cake is done when it's firm in the middle...test by gently pushing against it, or using a toothpick poked in. (Clean means it's done.) Let cool in pans, then fold foil over and store in a cold place for at least a week. (Tasha does it for months, but I have had these spoil when held that long.) Frost with confectioner's sugar, or serve as-is with tea. (The Brits like to add a layer of almond paste on top, then frost it.)
Makes one good-sized cake for you and your dinner companions -- plus a cake for a friend. Intensely rich and memorable.

One sad year, I made a double batch of Christmas cake. It turned out beautifully. I put all of the cakes in a heavy box 'safely' on the back deck. They were -- for about a week. The night before Christmas, they all disappeared...with only a few delectable crumbs left. So if you're stashing your cake, make sure it's protected!


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Heirloom Week: Panettone

Thanks to Mangio Bene Pasta for this beloved old Italian recipe! 

Panettone  (Makes 1 large bread)
1 (1/4 ounce) package dry  yeast
1/4 cup warm water (110 - 115 degrees F)
1/2 cup flour

2/3 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup
grappa or brandy
5 tablespoons butter, room temperature
2 eggs
4 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup warm water  (110 - 115 degrees F)
1 tablespoon vanilla
4-1/2 to 5 cups flour
Grated zest of 1 orange
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup chopped candied citron

To make the starter dough, or sponge, dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup warm water in a bowl.
Add 1/2 cup flour and stir to make a very loose dough.
Cover the bowl with a towel of plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for at least 6 hours or overnight.
In another bowl, combine the raisins and grappa, and let them soak for at least 6 hours or overnight.

In a large bowl, combine the butter, eggs, yolks, sugar, 1/4 cup warm water, and vanilla.
Drain the soaked raisins in a strainer set over a bowl; press with a spoon and set aside.
Add the liquid to the egg mixture.Add the starter dough and mix well.
Gradually add the flour, mixing with your hands until a soft dough forms.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Add more flour as needed.
Butter a large bowl, place the dough in it and turn once to coat both sides with the butter.
Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let rise for 6 hours in a warm place.

Butter and flour a panettone mold or other deep mold that is about 6 inches tall and 8 inches wide.
Punch down the dough and transfer it onto a lightly floured surface. Flatten the dough into a large rectangle.
Evenly distribute the orange and lemon zest, raisins, and citron over the dough.
Fold the dough in half to enclose the fruit and knead to distribute the fruit throughout the dough.
Place the dough in the prepared mold, cover with a towel, and let rise for 45 minutes in a warm place.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Cut an X in the top of the dough with a sharp knife.
Bake for 15 minutes.
Reduce the heat to 350 degrees F.
Continue to bake for 30-35 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Place the bread on a rack to cool for 30 minutes before removing it from the mold.
Be sure that the bread has cooled completely before wrapping it for storage.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Heirloom Week: Sachertorte

This coming week will feature Christmas desserts that have been especially popular over the years -- classics that have come to represent the holidays for their fans. Today: Sachertorte.

One of the things I brought home after a college summer spent in Austria and Germany was a recipe for Sachertorte. This dense, chocolately "cake" uses breadcrumbs, and has a layer of apricot jam between its layers. Then another layer of chocolate is brushed all over the cake. The whole thing is served with a puff of whipped cream ("schlag," unsweetened, if you're doing it the Austrian way) to cut all the richness.
According to Wikipedia, "In 1832, Prince Wenzel von Metternich charged his personal chef with creating a special dessert for several important guests. The head chef having taken ill, let the task fell to his sixteen-year-old apprentice, Franz Sacher, then in his second year of training with Metternich's kitchen. The Prince is reported to have declared, "Let there be no shame on me tonight!" While the torte created by Sacher on this occasion is said to have delighted Metternich's guests, the dessert received no immediate further attention."
    Sacher finished training as a chef, and eventually opened a specialty deli in Vienna. It was his oldest son Eduard, however, who made this cake famous, when he served it at the Demel Bakery, and later at the Hotel Sacher, which he founded in 1876. Since then, the Sachertorte has remained one of Austria's most famous foods.
    Don't let all this fancy rigamarole fool you -- the Sachertorte is actually quite simple to make. It's easiest if you do it in steps -- bake the layers in the morning, then assemble and frost the cake in the afternoon. (Or do it successive days.)  The Brick version has two changes: we substitute raspberry jam for apricot, and the finished cake has a rimmed edge of chopped nuts, preferably filberts.
    There's no better dessert with a cup of coffee or tea. It's the kind of dish meant for a long leisurely talk after supper, with your daughter gleefully spearing the last nutty bits off your plate, and everyone laughing about what the dog did that morning.

photo courtesy of Wikipedia; read more about it here.


1 6-oz pkg chocolate chips (or equivalent fine chocolate bar - the darker, the better)
1/2 cup butter
8 eggs (separate into yolks and whites)
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup fine dry breadcrumbs
3/4 cup flour

Melt chocolate chips and butter in the microwave (approx. 1 1/2 min.) In the meantime, get out your commercial mixer and start beating the egg WHITES until they're stiff. (Make a peak when you stop the mixer and lift the blade up.)

By hand, mix the egg yolks and sugar in a separate bowl #2, add the melted chocolate mixture, then gently fold in the vanilla, breadcrumbs and flour.

Add the stiffened egg whites (gently) to bowl #2, then pour mixture into one greased tube pan, springform pan, or two 9" layer cake pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 min. (9" pans) to 60 min. (tube or springform) -- cake will be done when firm to the touch, and an inserted toothpick comes out dry. Let cool, then gently release from the pan.


1/2 cup apricot jam (the traditional -- strawberry or any red berry works, too)

1 6-oz. pkg chocolate chips (or equivalent bar)
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon coffee
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons milk or sour cream

Set the jam aside. Microwave everything else until melted (about 1 1/2 min.)

If your cake was baked in a tube or springform pan, slice it in half horizontally. (This is easier to do if it's cool.) Spread jam between layers and-resandwich.

Spread the melted chocolate mixture on top of the cake, taking care to frost around the sides, as well. Keep the top as glossy as possible. (Easiest way to do this is to take a knife dipped in hot water and smooth the top after the chocolate has been iced.)

The traditional finishing was to write 'Sacher' on top in chocolate icing -- but I generally spread chopped nuts on top or the sides. (Filberts are the traditional choice, but who cares.)

Makes 12 slices of incredibly decadent cake. Serve with strong coffee or espresso mit schlag.

Friday, December 16, 2011


These crunchy little cookies are literally shot out of a gun -- a cookie gun, that is. (Fine - some people call it a cookie press!) Fast to make, fun to eat.

(thanks to for sharing)

  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 cups butter softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract


7-8 dozen cookies.


Preheat oven to 350ºF. In bowl, combine flour and baking powder. In large bowl, beat butter and sugar with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add egg, milk, vanilla and almond extract; mix well. Gradually add  flour mixture to butter  mixture; beat until combined. Do not chill. Fill cookie press with dough and with desired disks, press cookies onto ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake 10-12 minutes or until edges are light golden brown. (Do not overbake - the cookies should be barely gold.) Cool 2 minutes on cookie sheet on cooling rack. Remove from sheet; cool completely.
Editor's note: The Mama usually did not include almond extract in her spritz cookies. Sometimes she added half a package of jello powder, which gave the cookies color and an interesting tang. I remember green (lime) and red (cherry) the most.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Candy's Dandy, But...

Dipped Oreos are WAY quicker!

Normally, yours truly is not a big Oreo fan...but their holiday peppermint version has me swooning with pleasure. It's got a very nice hit of mint, mixed with the chocolate.
    After a day spent making Grandma's sugar cookies, I really longed for a simple cookie that I didn't have to schlep into the oven umpteen times. These are it!


1 package Oreo sandwich cookies (I'd really recommend the mint)
1 package semisweet, dark chocolate or white chocolate chips
any decorations you'd like -- sprinkles, candy cutouts, etc.

Hold onto your seats -- here we go.
Melt whichever chocolate you choose in the microwave. (Approx. 1-1 1/2 min. - watch and stop when it smooths out.) You can also melt it using a double boiler...but the mike's faster.

Dip the cookies in the melted chocolate, using tongs. Place them on a clean counter, or on top of wax paper.

Sprinkle with whatever edible goodies you've chosen.

Let cool, and store in single layers, separated by foil or wrap.

That's it!

And if you're a bit uncertain how they could look, try Home Based Mom's version (half-dipped, biscotti style) and Frugal Upstate's version below, fully dipped. (Frugal made them for Valentine's Day, but they would be gorgeous on a Christmas plate, too. Can't you see them sprinkled with blue sugar and silver dragees for Hanukkah, as well?)

Frugal Upstate's version...nice!

The Secret Sugar Cookie Recipe - Revealed!

Grandma Cumings was famous in our part of Michigan for her wonderful cooking. Casseroles, bread, fried chicken, baked beans and pie all flowed through her capable fingers. And she was willing to share them all, recipe-wise, except one: an amazing sugar cookie that stayed soft and delicious. The recipe had come down to Grandma from ancestors more than a century before...and she was proud of it.

Fortunately, she was willing to pass on the recipe to her children and grandchildren, who made her cookies by the bushelful at Christmastime. My mom would make dozens of sugar cookies, which were then decorated by Little Brother, yours truly and a close group of cousins during one very long day. 
    First, the confectioner's sugar frosting in different colors. (One cousin, a democratic sort, made sure to use a little of every color on each cookie.) Then chocolate chips for snowmen buttons, red cinnamon hots for eyes and lacy edges on stars and bells. Silver dragee balls for shoes and hats. (How come you can't find these much anymore?) And sprinkles everywhere...on the table, our smeary mouths, and the floor. By nighttime and supper, it looked as if someone threw up in rainbows on the kitchen floor!

Now you too can make these wonderful sugar cookies for your cookie platter. 


1 cup margarine (that's what Grandma used - but you can substitute butter)
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup sour milk  (or use regular milk with a teaspoon of vinegar stirred in - wait 5 min.)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt (may be omitted)
1 teaspoon nutmeg
4-5 cups flour

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Cream together margarine, sugar and eggs until they're mixed and fluffy. Add everything else and mix - last of all, the flour, added in one cup measures until you've got a moist cookie dough.
    Heavily flour your work area. Thump a large batch of dough in the middle, and sprinkle generously with 1/2 cup flour. (I generally work with a quarter of the batch at a time.) Carefully fold the flour into the dough until it's easier to work without sticking, then roll out thickly (approx. 1/4") on your floured work area. (Add more flour whenever needed.) Cut cookies with whatever cutter you like -- or use a sharp knife to cut diamonds or squares. (A floured glass can also cut circles.)
     Transfer the cookie cutouts to an ungreased cookie sheet, then bake 8-10 min., until the cookies are set and juuuussst starting to turn brown. (This step is very important.)  Do not, if at all possible, let the cookies actually brown. Remove from the cookie sheet, and let cool before frosting.

These are not as sweet as some cookies -- something I actually prefer. You can sprinkle them with sugar, sprinkles or add red-hots before baking, to add sweetness. Or frost and decorate after the cookies are cool. Makes about 3 1/2 dozen. (Store flat in layers, with waxed paper in between -- or if you don't mind a bent leg or busted hat or too, just bung them in the cookie jar.)

Thank you, Grandma!

sugar cookies, ready for the oven

Monday, December 12, 2011

Almond Brittle and Almond Roca

The Mama was the youngest of eight, and nearly every one of those uncle/aunt pairs produced more than five children. By the time I was actually paying attention at our huge Christmas get-togethers, there were an awful lot of cousins to compete with for the contents of Grandma's Christmas candy plate. If I was lucky, a piece or two of brittle was left, along with the peppermints. 
    Try this crunchy recipe at your next holiday shindig, and watch the pieces disappear. (Just make sure the youngest cousin gets a crack at it before the older relatives grab it all.)

Honey Almond Brittle  (thank you,

2 cups sugar
1 cup honey
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup water
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups slivered blanched almonds
In a heavy bottom saucepan, stir together sugar, honey, salt and water. Stir until sugar has dissolved. Bring to a boil and continue to cook until mixture reaches 300°F on a candy thermometer (see Sugar Candy Chart).Remove from heat and add butter and almonds, stirring only enough to mix them in.
Pour mixture out onto a well buttered or oiled marble slab or cookie sheet (with sides). Spread using a spatula or the back of a large spoon until mixture is very thin. Let cool, then break into pieces and store in a lidded container.

For more, visit here.

Almond Roca is hands-down one of The Mama's favorite candies. She's even partial to this version of the chocolate-covered nut toffee:

Almond Roca (the homemade way, thanks to


  1. Over medium heat, melt butter in a large pot.
  2. Add corn syrup, water and sugar to pot and cook until temp reaches 290 degrees OR until the mixture becomes the color of a brown paper bag (about 15-20 minutes) stirring constantly with a wooden spoon (mixture will rise and bubble quite a bit).
  3. Remove from heat and stir in half the almonds
  4. Turn mixture onto a greased cookie sheet with sides
  5. While the mixture is cooling, melt the chocolate over low flame until all the chips are gone, and chocolate is smooth.
  6. Score the almond butter mixture into squares, diamonds or rectangles
  7. Pour the hot chocolate over the almond mixture and spread evenly.
  8. Sprinkle with remaining almonds and allow candy to cool completely and chocolate to harden before breaking apart and serving.

Read more here.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

No Truffle At All!

Candy often shares the plate with other Christmas goodies. Why not make them yourself this year? Truffles are one of the best candidates, both for their ease of making, and the delicious results. They literally are no truffle at all!

This excellent  recipe comes by way of Lynn's Kitchen Adventures, a helpful blog for down-home food.


  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (or 10 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped)
  • 1 cup finely chopped pecans or chopped Andes Mints
In a medium saucepan, bring cream to a boil; remove from heat, and add chocolate. Let stand 3 minutes; whisk until smooth. Transfer chocolate mixture to a medium bowl, and refrigerate, uncovered, until thick and firm enough to spoon out in mounds, about 3 hours.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment or waxed paper. Drop level tablespoons of chocolate mixture onto baking sheet. Refrigerate chocolate mounds until firm, about 1 hour.
Place pecans in a shallow bowl. Using hands, roll each chocolate mound into a ball; roll balls in pecans, pressing lightly to adhere, and place on baking sheet. Refrigerate truffles until set, 30 minutes to 1 hour. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks.

More great truffle recipes here.

COMING UP NEXT:   Peanut Brittle and Almond Toffee

Saturday, December 10, 2011


When he was a feisty young bachelor, the Brick would make a pan of brownies every weekend, then sit down and help his brother eat the whole pan-ful while watching Saturday Night Live. He still loves a good brownie...and these, thanks to thirty years of tweaking on my part, are pretty darn good.


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1/4 pound margarine or butter (1 stick)
8 heaping tablespoonfuls of cocoa
2 teaspoons  vanilla
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1/4 cup oil
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup flour (a heaping measure, if you live in high altitudes)

Options: 1/2 cup chocolate chips or chopped nuts


Butter or spray a 9" square or round pan. Microwave butter until melted, then quickly stir in the rest of the ingredients. (This is one baked good you don't want to over-mix, so no worries if it's still a bit lumpy.) Pour into pan -- top with one or both options, if desired -- bake approx. 25 min., until the top is springy when you gently push on it. (Don't check it with a toothpick - it will still be 'dirty.')
Let cool, then cut into 9 squares....or 6, if you're feeling generous.

This recipe doubles beautifully -- use a 9x13 pan. You may want to use 5 eggs instead of 4...but otherwise, just double the ingredients.

Try your brownies with a little icing, as well -- melt chocolate chips (along with a few spoonfuls of milk or sour cream) and spread on top. Bliss.

Friday, December 9, 2011

I Can't Put My Finger (Thumb) On It!

But these crunchy, nutty cookies are absolutely wonderful. A hit of raspberry or strawberry jam in the pushed-down center gives them a holiday look and touch of sweetness. (Or try chopped almonds with orange marmalade or peach jam.) These are some of the easiest cookies in the world to make -- but they don't look it. An elegant addition to your next cookie tray!

Thumbprint Cookies:

1/2 cup (113 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated white sugar
1 large egg, separated
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup (130 grams) all purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (80 grams) hazelnuts, almonds, pecans or walnuts finely chopped
1/4 - 1/2 cup (60 - 120 ml) raspberry jam 

Directions:  Cream butter, sugar, egg and vanilla together, then gradually mix in flour and salt. (Your dough will be quite firm.) Shape into balls, roll in chopped nuts and use your thumb to press down the center of the ball down deeply. Bake at 350 degrees on a greased cookie sheet approx. 12-15 min, until lightly browned. Let cookies cool, then fill with jam. 


Read more:
For a helpful video and more cookie tips, go here. 

(Editor's Note: I'm sorry this blog has been quiet for the past week -- an uncle died suddenly, and I had to make a quick trip back for his funeral service, and help out. The Mama does not believe in the Internet, and I wasn't able to check in too often that way. Back now.)