Baking up a Storm!

Perhaps this is what brought on the Blizzard! Little did Nishad and I know, we were “baking up a storm!”
Anyone that knows me, knows that I love to bake. I consider it an art and science.
However, there is only one thing more that I enjoy when it comes to baking, more than baking itself; Baking with Nishad. Nishad is actually wearing his Grandma Wanda’s Christmas baking apron and I’m wearing the apron my Aunt Bev sent me last year. He was so proud to wear it. This is his second year baking. Oh how he loves “food work!”
For as long as I can recall, my mother would start weeks ahead of Christmas baking things that one can only dream of year round once sampled. We would purchase our kolacky at Vesecky’s year round, but on Christmas, they were homemade- the best kind of all. I recall the dough being rolled out and the glass rim dipped in flour to cut out each divine little creation, filled with apricot, strawberry, cheese, poppy seed and prune. Despite the various spellings and pronunciations of “Kolacky,” one thing all who consume these little Czech delights can agree on is that they are good. It has taken me some time to perfect my kolacky recipe. When my mother passed away, there were about 4 recipes of kolacky in her recipe book, including an ice cream kolacky (which I knew wasn’t it). She wasn’t very good at writing notes or adjustments. She always cookies from the hip, so-to-speak, and we always just assumed Mom would be around. This year, I’m proud to say, with my partner by my side, I think we came pretty close to “THE” recipe. I don’t want to commit and say this is “THE” one, but it’s pretty close! We did make them smaller that the full size kolacky, which seemed to work out great for popping them directly in your mouth, one after the other. haha. (Hmn. Maybe not such a good thing!)
We also made her famous pecan crescent cookies, that my father would devour by the dozen (not kidding). They seemingly melt in your mouth. After my Mom passed both my brother and I had such a craving for these nutty treats, that I baked varying recipes in hopes of nailing down a similar version. I’ve learned one thing about my Mom’s cooking in general; she always added more butter than listed. I added a touch of lemon zest this year to the recipe. Delightfully refreshing!
Other cookies were peanut butter-chocolate star cookies (recipe courtesy of my dear friend Vicki who use to make these for her students every year at Christmas) and a new invention…I called them Drizzle Cookies. They are pecan, oatmeal, chocolate chip cookies with a healthy heaping of white chocolate and chocolate drizzled on top! Which reminds me, I need to write that recipe down still! 🙂
One thing that we didn’t get to this year were Ginger Bread cookies…which, who knows! There IS still time. I recall fondly of how my Aunt Bev and I would make these together. The best part was decorating with all the icing and candy, of course! She was always an Aunt that took time to do things with me…patience combined with a fun spirit. I think I enjoy baking most with Nishad today because of her.
Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without sugar cookies! We made three different types. This year I was inspired to re-create a childhood favorite; multi-sprinkle sugar cookies, along with red sprinkle cookies. The decorated cut-outs were inspired by thoughts of the winter solstice which occurred on the 21st. We embellished them with silver dragees from India Tree. At $12 per 3.3 oz container, these add an elegant touch to cookies and cakes, though they are not edible. Swirls…Swirls was the common them for the icing. I used a different recipe this year. One that wasn’t from my Mother’s collection. This is now a recipe that I will continue to use as I think that these cookies not only tasted amazing, were simple to whip up but the dough was easy to work with.
Dorie Greenspan’s Sugar Cookies (Bon Appetit December 2007)
Credit to: “Happy Holiday Cookies”
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest (optional)
2 cups all-purpose flour

Cream together the butter, sugar and salt in a mixer fitter with the paddle attachment, until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg, beat until well blended, about 1 minute and then add vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add flour and beat on a low speed until just combined. Gather dough into a ball;divide in half. Form each half into a flattened disk and wrap in plastic, chill for at least 4 hours.
Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking trays with parchment paper. Working with one disk at a time, roll out dough between two sheets of wax paper to 1/8″ thin. (I didn’t have any so I rolled mine out on a lightly floured counter and it was just great. I had to add flour when it seemed that the cookie dough might stick to the counter or rolling pin.)
Using decorative cookie cutters, cut out cookies and transfer to a cookie sheet, spacing 1 inch apart. Gather any scraps, roll them out until all the dough is used. If not using icing then decorated with sprinkles before baking.
Bake one sheet at a time until cookies are firm and golden around the edges, about 10 minutes for smaller cookies and up to 14 minutes for larger ones. Cook completely on rack.
Decorate with Royal icing, sprinkles or other decorations. Let stand until icing sets.

Royal Icing:3 1/4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
2 large egg whites
1 teaspoon lemon juice, strained

Using electric mixer, beat 3 1/4 cups powdered sugar, egg whites and lemon juice until thick and shiny, adding more powdered sugar by the tablespoon if it is too thin to spread, about 3 minutes. Cover with wet towel until ready to use.
About 12 years ago, I made a cookbook based off all my Mom’s recipes and gave it to my siblings and father as a Christmas gift. I typed everything up, collected pictures of our family- only shoots taken in the kitchen, took it to a copy supply store and hand pages printed and a binder put on it. My theme was a “Recipe for Family” that was displayed on the front page. It reads, ” Start with Love, take 1 Bill and 1 Wanda, mix together until Mom and Dad are created, blend with affection, take 1 Debbie and add 1 John to create mischief, blend in 1 Beverly after dough rises for 10 years to complete the family.” I’m so glad I created this recipe book and still have it today. It’s one of the most used books in our house!