Quick, Somebody Give Me a Christmas Cookie I Can Make in Twenty Minutes


Here are pictures of a lot of cookies I didn’t make.

I’d like you to know that I am not a total slouch at some aspects of Christmas. I like thinking up gift ideas, and I can wrap a mean present. My less-than-perfect pitch is balanced with caroling gusto. I’ve been planning dishes for Christmas Eve dinner for weeks now. But man, I’m bad at Christmas cookies.

Christmas cookies are one of those things, along with cards (and really, bless all those people who still send me Christmas cards, surely knowing that they are getting nothing in return), that I’m just bad at making myself do. My mom saved me a newspaper section that was completely comprised of cookie recipes. I have read it approximately twenty times without actually making any moves toward baking them myself. When my friend Mignon mailed me some whimsical sugar cookies (including one that, I’m pretty sure, was a teeny tiny albino dolphin), my first thought was, “Thank goodness. This buys me at least another two days.”

But let’s face it—it’s now or never. Help me out bakers: what’s your absolute easiest cookie recipe?

Baking in a Blender

Pie close-upO come, all ye baking inept, and I will show you the way, for its name is Buttermilk Pie and it will make you feel better about your poor pie-making skills.

Okay, so it’s no secret that I’m not really that great of a baker (see: my idea last year to “bake my way through the alphabet,” during which I gave up at about D when all the good stuff that started with Chocolate was behind me). So when my mother-in-law made us a delicious pie during a visit to Virginia a few weeks ago, I didn’t really harbor any illusions that I would be able to emulate it. Imagine my surprise then, when she sent us the recipe and it actually looked like something I could handle. It involves throwing a lot of things in a blender, and after a summer of making gazpacho and pesto, I am in tip-top blender-operating form. And that’s pretty much it! There’s Bisquick in the blended concoction, which forms a sort of crust, so you don’t even have to pretend that you made the crust yourself. I tried the recipe out last night, and it turned out so tasty that I might even try to engineer a smaller, tartlet version for the Sugar Sweets Festival that is coming up on October 25 (mark your calendars!)

buttermilk pieLet’s give credit where credit is due: the recipe comes from a friend and fellow teacher of my mother-in-law, but the almond kick-it-up-a-notch flourishes are all Katie Leahey. Leave it to teachers to set you on the right path, toward education and pie.

Bonnie Thompson’s Impossible Buttermilk Pie Continue reading

Holiday Sugar Rush Puzzle

Egad! The winter holidays have officially thrown down their gauntlet. Are you ready? As a little warm-up, try our Christmas dessert puzzle. Below are groups of ingredients, listed in rough order of largest to smallest quantity. Can you name the sugary treats that they combine to form? If you can get all ten, treat yourself to a little nip of schnapps in that hot cocoa.

  1. cookiesFlour, butter, powdered sugar, finely chopped nuts, vanilla
  2. Chocolate chips, sweetened condensed milk, chopped walnuts, butter
  3. Flour, eggs, sugar, margarine, baking powder, anise extract
  4. Flour, Hershey’s Kisses, brown sugar, peanut butter, butter, sugar, eggs, baking soda, baking powder
  5. Powdered sugar, peanut butter, white potatoes, vanilla
  6. White chocolate, candy canes, mini-marshmallows
  7. Graham cracker crumbs, sweetened condensed milk, coconut, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, pecans, butter
  8. Flour, sugar, butter, eggs, cinnamon, cream of tartar, baking soda, salt
  9. Flour, sugar, butter, fruit preserves, egg, vanilla, salt
  10. Powdered sugar, almond meal, butter, egg whites, egg yolks, sugar, milk, vanilla

Don’t click “continue” until you’re ready to see the answers. Continue reading

ABCs of Baking: Banana Nut Bread

banana nut bread

The obvious next step, alphabetically, after apple pie...

Alright, let’s get this out of the way first—YES, I was the one who told you all the bananas are dying. Clearly, I haven’t managed to completely wean myself off of our delectable tropical friends. While I was training for the Race That Never Was, Jason often bought me bananas as a good source of potassium after a run. But somehow, no matter how many he purchased, it always seemed to be one banana too many for me to finish before they turned off-puttingly brown and mushy. I’d heard long ago that when this happens, you’re supposed to peel the banana and stick it in the freezer to use later for banana bread, and I’d adhered to that wisdom. Of course, that solution supposes that you can bake, so I’d always just sort of skipped the last step and had been left with a Ziploc bag of scary permafrost bananas to throw out every time I changed apartments.

frozen banana

Um, not the best way to do this.

But no longer! This time I yanked those babies out of the freezer, along with one that I’d neglected to peel. (I was in a hurry, okay?) After letting them defrost, I managed to free the unpeeled one from its skin. And the defrosted bananas really were easy to use in the recipe.

One baking technique that I have yet to master is trusting that something is cooked all the way through when the recipe says it will be. I think I overdid it on the banana bread a little, and I was worried that it would be dry. But luckily, it seems to be a pretty forgiving baked good, and it tasted quite yummy, especially after it sat overnight. For breakfast, Jason liked slices of it toasted, making it crispy and buttery on the outside, moist and cake-y on the inside. So dive into the freezer and give it a go:

Continue reading

Baking 101: As Easy As…

dutch apple pie

Proof that I baked a pie! And that it bubbled over.

I can cook, at least at a level at which I can be reasonably confident of eating and enjoying the result, but I can’t boast the same self-assuredness about baking. A friend and co-worker recently asked me to bake something for the Havemeyer Sugar Sweet Festival (more about this awesome upcoming fundraiser in future posts) and blanching, I realized that, food blogger or no, I don’t know how to bake a damn thing.*

So this fall and winter, I’m going to try to teach myself to bake, and you will have the pleasure of watching all my mistakes. I considered doing a “Julie and Julia” sort of thing in which I try to go through all of the recipes in the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook that my mom gave me when I moved out of the house more than a decade ago, but there are like four or five whole sections in there filled with just baked goods, and really, who has the time? At any rate, I figured that whether I was seeking the alphabetical or philosophical beginning of any dessert list, apple pie would appear near the top. Besides, we had a lot of apples in the fridge.

pie ingredientsI came home with the ingredients for a Dutch apple pie and felt sort of ashamedly intimidated and decided to nap for a little while. Finally, though, screwing up my courage, I embarked on a crust. I had forgotten to buy shortening (doh!), so I used butter, and I also don’t have a pastry cutter, so I used a fork. Let’s just say that this was not ideal, and it was not the most beautiful piecrust in the history of piecrusts. But from there, the process got easier, maybe because I decided to start drinking beer while I peeled the apples. By the time the whole thing was assembled, it looked, if not impressively perfect, at least substantial. I had also made a colossal mess and used up a ridiculous amount of time. Apple pie, unlike Rome, can be built in a day, but if I’m the one constructing it, there better not be too much else going on. Continue reading