Rolled Sugar Cookies

It’s become a tradition in our family to get all the kids together before Christmas Eve to decorate cookies for Santa. They love smearing the royal icing on the cookies and getting creative. Not gonna lie…the kids eat most of the royal icing before it gets to the cookies, they almost always use way too many sprinkles and it’s a huge mess. But, they have a blast and then I send them home to their parents to deal with the sugar rush.

I have been making these rolled sugar cookies for years. I like my sugar cookies to be thick and slightly soft, but if you like a crunchier cookie just roll your dough out thinner. It’s important to chill the dough before rolling it out and after cutting the cookie shapes.  This will help the cookies retain their shape during baking.  

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups salted butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder

Method:

  1. Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until fully combined. 
  2. Add the eggs and almond extract.
  3. Reduce mixer speed to low and add in the flour and baking powder, one cup at a time, until fully incorporated.
  4. Wrap cookie dough in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours or overnight. The dough can also be frozen at this point for later use.
  5. Preheat oven to 400F and line baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. 
  6. Once dough has chilled, roll out to 1/4  to 1/2 inch thickness and use cookie cutters to cut into desired shapes.
  7. Place cookie cut-outs on prepared baking sheets and put the entire baking sheet in the freezer for about 10 minutes to chill. 
  8.  Bake for 8-10 minutes.

*Yield: Approximately 30 cookies

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Croccante Americano (aka Peanut Brittle)

Croccante is Italy’s version of nut brittle. It’s a holiday treat many of our mothers, nonnas and zias typically made with almonds. A few years back, I discovered a recipe for croccante americano — aka peanut brittle — that is highly addictive and made even more delicious by a light sprinkling of sea salt as a final touch. This recipe has become a favourite in our family and was featured in Panoram Italia magazine.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups sugar
  •  1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)
  • 1/3 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 1/2 cups roasted salted peanuts
  • Fleur de Sel or Maldon salt for sprinkling
  • Candy thermometer

Method:

  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
  2. In a stainless steel saucepan, combine the sugar, water, butter and corn syrup. Bring to a boil.
  3. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture turns a light brown colour and registers 300F on a candy thermometer. This should take about 10 to 15 minutes. It is essential to use a candy thermometer here. The caramel must reach 300F — the hard crack stage — to set properly and achieve that perfect, crunchy texture.
  4. Remove from the heat and stir in the baking soda. The mixture will bubble.
  5. Stir in the nuts, then quickly pour the brittle onto the prepared baking sheet.
  6. Spread the brittle into an even layer using a lightly-oiled spatula.
  7. Lightly sprinkle with Fleur de Sel or Maldon salt.
  8. Let the brittle cool completely (about 25 minutes) and break into large shards. The brittle should be stored in an airtight container and kept in a cool, dry place. Use parchment paper to separate layers of brittle to prevent them from sticking together.

Almond Biscotti

Biscotti are the ideal holiday cookies because they can be made well-ahead of time and freeze beautifully. I have been making these almond biscotti for years; they are crunchy, filled with roasted almonds and not too sweet. What’s great about this recipe is that you can easily change-up the flavour by replacing the almonds with your own preferred add-ins. Pistachios and grated orange rind as well as hazelnuts and mini chocolate chips are two of my favourites.

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp butter, softened
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups roasted almonds, chopped

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  3. Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, olive oil and sugar.
  4. Add the eggs, one at a time, until fully combined. Add vanilla.
  5. Reduce mixer to low and slowly add the flour mixture. Mix until fully combined.
  6. Mix in the chopped almonds.
  7.  Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a log, approximately 12 inches long and 4 inches wide.
  8. Place log on prepared baking sheet.
  9. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the edges are golden.
  10. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least ten minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 300F.
  11. Once the loaf is cool enough to handle, use a sharp knife to slice into 1/2 inch thick slices.
  12. Transfer biscotti back to the baking sheet and bake for an additional 20 minutes, turning over once.
  13. The cooled biscotti can be stored in an air tight container at room temperature. These biscotti also freeze extremely well. They can be stored in the freezer for up to three months.

*Yield: Approximately 15 biscotti


Cranberry, Orange & White Chocolate Chip Cookies

Cranberries are one of my favourite ingredients to bake with during the holidays because of the tart flavour and festive pop of colour they add to baked goodies. These drop cookies are a great make-ahead holiday treat because you can freeze the unbaked balls of dough and just pop them into the oven when you need them. I store my cookie dough in plastic freezer bags for up to three months. Frozen cookie dough needs about one or two extra minutes of baking time, depending on your oven. I used white chocolate chips in this recipe, but milk or dark chocolate chips are just as delicious. Pecans taste great in this cookie too!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup salted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp grated orange zest
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup fresh cranberries, chopped
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 375F and coat baking sheets with nonstick spray.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and brown sugar.
  3. Add the egg and mix until combined.
  4. Next, add the orange zest and vanilla extract.
  5. Turn mixer to low and slowly add the flour, baking soda and salt.
  6. Fold in the cranberries and white chocolate chips.
  7. Form dough into balls and place on prepared baking sheets.
  8. Bake for 12 minutes. Do not overbake if you want cookies to stay chewy!

Yield: Approximately 30 cookies


Pumpkin Spice Muffins

In a desperate attempt to recreate the Autumn Spice muffins from Tim Horton’s, I have come up with this recipe.  I know the best part of the Tim’s muffin is the sweet cream cheese filling…I haven’t quite figured out how to make that happen without the filling melting into the muffins as they bake and becoming a nasty, soggy centre.  I’ll keep trying, though.  I’m no quitter!  In the mean time, this is a pretty darn good pumpkin muffin.

Ingredients:

  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 cups pumpkin puree (canned or homemade*)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups spelt or whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ginger
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 baking soda
  • 1 tsp  salt
  • [optional] pumpkin seeds, to garnish
  • [optional] coarse sugar, to garnish

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 375F and grease muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray or line with paper baking cups.
  2. In a mixing bowl, beat together the eggs, oil and sugar.
  3. Add the pumpkin, molasses and vanilla.  Stir until just combined.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add dry ingredients to wet and mix until combined.
  5. If desired, top muffins with a few pumpkin seeds and a sprinkling of coarse sugar.
  6. Bake for 22-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in centre of a muffin comes out clean.

Yield: 14 large muffins.

*To make your own pumpkin puree: Preheat oven to 350F. Remove stem, cut pumpkin in half and scoop out seeds and pulp. Place pumpkin, flesh side down, on an oiled baking sheet. Bake for one hour. Let roasted pumpkin cool completely before spooning out flesh and pureeing in a blender. Pumpkin puree can be stored in the freezer for several months. I like to divide it into one-cup portions and store it in freezer bags.

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Oatmeal Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies

Everyone needs a solid peanut butter cookie recipe in their baking arsenal and this is my favourite. The inspiration for these sandwich cookies are those delicious-looking Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies my mom would never let us get at the grocery store when we were kids. We weren’t allowed to have Kool-Aid either. To create these cookies, I took my oatmeal cookie recipe and rejigged it to include peanut butter. The result is a dense, chewy cookie that’s packed with peanut butter flavour. These cookies taste great on their own; but if you want to get fancy, you can turn them into sandwich cookies stuffed with a creamy peanut butter filling.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 1 1/4 cups oats

Filling:

  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F and spray baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and soda.
  3. Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  4. Add eggs, vanilla and peanut butter. Mix until fully combined.
  5. Reduce mixer speed to low and slowly add in the flour mixture.
  6. Add in the oats and mix until fully incoprorated.
  7. Use an ice cream scoop to shape dough into equal sized balls and place on prepared cookie sheet.
  8. Bake for 15 minutes. Cool cookies completely before adding filling.
  9. For the filling: Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter and peanut butter until light and fluffy.  This should take about 5 minutes.
  10. Reduce mixer speed to low and slowly add in the powdered sugar. Mix until fully incorporated and smooth.
  11. Using an offset spatula, spread about 2 tbsps filling onto a cookie and top with a second cookie.

*Yield: 10 sandwich cookies or 20 cookies

 

 

 


Pumpkin Tart

Growing up in an Italian-Canadian family, Thanksgiving was never really a huge holiday in our home. My mom would maybe make a turkey — but there was no delicious stuffing or pumpkin anything on our table. I remember watching American movies and TV shows with their Thanksgiving tables laden with platters of delicious-looking food and wishing we could have some of that. We eventually introduced some canned cranberry sauce and grocery store pumpkin pie to the menu. Over the years, Thanksgiving has become somewhat of a family tradition for us; there’s turkey, stuffing, homemade cranberry sauce and this delicious pumpkin tart. The only thing missing from our table is that sweet potato casserole with the marshmallows on top. Haven’t tried that yet.  Maybe next year?

Ingredients:

For the crust:

  • 1 1/2 cups pecans
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup cold butter, cubed
  • 2-3 tbsp ice water

For the filling:

  • 2 cups pumpkin puree
  • 1 300ml can condensed milk
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F and grease a nine-inch tart pan with cooking spray.
  2. Using a food processor, pulse the pecans, flour, sugar, salt and cinnamon together.
  3. Add in the butter, one cube at a time, until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs.
  4. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and add in the ice water, one tablespoon at a time, until the dough just comes together. Be careful not to add too much water or your crust will be soggy.
  5. Press the dough into the prepared tart pan. Bake crust for 12 minutes. Allow crust to cool while you prepare the filling.
  6. Increase oven temperature to 425F.
  7. Make the filling: In a bowl, whisk together the eggs and brown sugar until smooth.
  8. Next, add the pumpkin puree, condensed milk, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and salt.
  9. Pour the filling into the tart shell and bake for 15 minutes. Lower oven temperature to 350F and bake for an additional 30-35 minutes.
  10. Allow tart to cool completely before removing from pan.

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