December 8, 2008

Cranberry Shortbread Squares

I've always had shortbread cookies during the holidays and loved them. As far back as I can remember as a child, my mother made them and squirted them out of the cookie press onto the baking sheet. (Sorry, that is the only word I could think of at the moment.) We'd pick out our favorite shapes like stars or Christmas trees and dye the dough red or green. I remember making Christmas trees one year and I put sprinkles that looked like little dots because they reminded me of little lights. That was the extent of my creativity.

This year I figured I'd try something different. I'm not passing up the usual shortbread cookies from the handy cookie press but these are delicious and different. I'm definitely adding them to my annual list of
goodies to make and share.

Cranberry Shortbread by you.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature (using good, non-generic butter makes all the difference in taste)
3/4 cup sifted powdered sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup finely chopped dried cranberries or cherries (I used craisins and they were tasty)

**(Next time I plan to add about a 1/2 cup of white chocolate chunks or chips. Craisins and white chocolate go so well together.)

Heat oven to 325 degrees with a rack in center. Combine butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, flour, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Beat with a wooden spoon until combined but not too creamy. Stir in dried cranberries.

Spray an 8 or 9 inch square baking pan lightly with non-stick spray. Pat dough evenly into pan. Bake until just beginning to turn golden, about 20 minutes.

Place pan on cooling rack until cool enough to touch, about 20 minutes. Cut shortbread into small squares (about 2-inches). Run knife around pan edges to loosen and slide out gently. Or you can use a cookie cutter to cut out cookies in shapes. Cookies will keep for 5 days at room temperature in an airtight container.

Makes about 16 squares.

December 7, 2008

Chocolate Peppermint Cookie Sandwiches

Once you get the tree up you know that Christmas is just around the corner. (usually closer than you had realized) My husband, Chris, and I went to chop down our Christmas tree again this year. Yes, you can actually do that in Texas. We found a wonderful tree farm about 45 minutes north of us in a small town called Bonham, Texas. The first year we decided to start this family tradition, we visited two other tree farms in the same area. Nothing was really up to par with what we expected. I can't really explain how we decided on Wishing Star Farms. Maybe it's the talkative and sweet nature of the owners or it could be the friendly big dog named Buster who runs up to greet each visitor as they get out of their vehicles. Or maybe it's the smell of the campfire where you can toast marshmallows while you sip on tasty hot chocolate. Each time we go, it's like we're visiting relatives or old friends. They make us feel so welcome. It's become a tradition since we've moved to our first house. I think it's been about 5 years now. We both love fall and winter and especially Christmas. This is definitely a tradition to keep alive.

For this special day, Chris requested that I make some sweet treats to enjoy after we set up our tree. He shared a link which had the top 50 cookies. He selected one recipe and said we should try it. So even though I was tired and my feet hurt from walking all day, I made a quick list of what I needed and went off to the store to grab the few ingredients to make his treats. It was a long day but well worth the effort. They looked too pretty and seemed like they'd take a while to make. So needless to say, I was NOT excited at first to put so much work into them. But as I got started, I realized they were really simple. I hope you find them as easy and tasty as we did.


1-3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder ( I used Dutch-process)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
3/4 (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg

1 cup powdered sugar
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
2 drops red food coloring (or more depending on the shade of pink/red you like)

1/2 cup crushed red & white striped candy candy canes

For Cookies: Whisk flour, cocoa and salt in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in large bowl until well blended. Beat in the egg. Add dry ingredients and beat until blended. Refrigerate dough for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Scoop out dough using a teaspoon or cookie scoop, then roll in one hand until dough forms a ball. The dough may be crumbly at first but will come together the more you play with it. Place balls on baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Using the bottom of a glass or hands, flatten each ball to 2-inch rounds. (edges will crack) Bake about 11 minutes. Do not overbake or cookies will be too crisp. Cool about 5 minutes then transfer to racks to cool completely.

For Filling: Using electric mixer, beat powdered sugar and butter in medium bowl until well blended. Add peppermint extract and 2 drops of food coloring. Beat until light pink and well blended. (add more food coloring if you wish for desired color) Spread 2 generous teaspoons of filling evenly over flat side of 1 cookie to edges; top with another cookie flat side down and press gently to adhere. Repeat with remaining cookies and filling.

Place crushed candy canes on plate. Roll edges of cookie sandwiches in crushed candies or use fingers to gently press on filling edges. Store in a single layer in airtight container up to 3 days at room temperature or frees up to 2 weeks. MAKES ABOUT 18 COOKIE SANDWICHES