Category Archives: Christmas

Winter Solstice and Pfeffernüsse

The winter solstice is tomorrow I wrote this article for Images, the quarterly publication produced by Boulder County Parks and Open Space. Please read because it’s pretty interesting (in my very humble opinion). I thought about copying it here but I didn’t want to lower my google ranking for duplicate content. So yeah.

Anyway Monday is Pfeffernüsse Day in many European countries. No I did not just sneeze, pfeffernüsse (also known as pepernoten in Dutch, päpanät in Plautdietsch, or peppernuts in English) are traditional German cookies. Although they are more related to Christmas (Weihnachten) these days, they were often enjoyed during winter solstice celebrations.

When I took German in high school, we would celebrate Sankt Nikolaustag on December 6th. We would put our shoes in the hallway and our teacher, Frau Singer, would fill them with sweets. Afterward we would sing Christmas carols auf Deutsch and then we would head to the home economics classroom where we would make these spicy little cookies. Fond memories.

Today I would like to share the recipe with you. It makes about 5 millions small, round, thin cookies so you might want to half the recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup healthy margarine such as smart balance or earth balance (butter works too)
  • 2 eggs (vegan option: 4 tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 4 tablespoons water)
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons anise extract
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions:

Stir together the molasses, honey and margarine in a saucepan over medium heat; cook and stir until creamy. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Stir in the eggs, anise extract, white sugar, and brown sugar. Combine the flour, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, pepper, and salt in a large bowl. Add the molasses mixture and stir until thoroughly combined. Refrigerate at least 2 hours. Preheat oven to 325°F (165°C). Roll the dough into 3/4″-sized balls. Arrange on baking sheets, spacing at least 1 inch apart. Bake in preheated oven 10 to 15 minutes. Move to a rack to cool.

Molasses, honey and margarine in medium sauce pan.

While that cools to room temperature, mix together the dry ingredients (flour, spices baking soda and salt).

Then add the sugars, eggs and extract to the molasses pot.

Finally add the molasses mixture to the flour mixture and stir until combined. It’s very sticky so be ready for your arm workout for the day. Switch arms to build muscles evenly.

Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, then roll into balls and place on cookie sheet. Bake at 325°F for 10 minutes.

Eat, drink and be merry!

Pictured from left to right: Sugar Cookie Cut-outs (and how to ice them), Vegan Cinnamon Sugar Cookies, Candy Cane Blossoms, and Pfeffernüsse

Upcycled Gift Bags

I inherited some small brown paper bags with handles at a volunteer project this summer. I thought to myself, “These would be perfect for gift bags, if only they didn’t say Xcel energy on them.” Fortunately, I am a very clever person and I have upgraded the ugly plain bags into cute gift bags for Christmas gifts.

It’s very simple to make some of these cute bags for your own use and for any occasion. Find some plain bags. Then check the scrapbooking section of your local craft store for decorations.

Gather some glue and scissors (it’s even easier if you just use stickers), and assemble. Be extra Earth-friendly and reuse your beautiful creations year after year.

Have fun with your creativity! Share a picture of your works of art on my Facebook page.

Vegan Cinnamon Sugar Cookies

This recipe comes from my College Vegetarian Cooking cookbook. The author describes these cookies as “giant Teddy Grahams” which is so accurate I couldn’t think of a better way to say it.

They are vegan and we all know the best thing about vegan baking is that you can eat the raw cookie dough (I guess I should add, “without worrying about getting sick,” because raw eggs have never stopped me from eating cookie dough). The other best thing about vegan baking is that you can take the cookies out early if you like soft cookies or leave them for the entire duration if you like them crunchier (for the same reason). So with all that said, here’s the recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup softened margarine (I use smart balance)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325°F. Add margarine and sugars to a mixing bowl and combine vigorously until smooth and creamy. Add flour, cinnamon and baking soda. Stir until thoroughly incorporated. Roll dough into 1″-sized balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet, approximately 2″ apart. Bake for eight to 10 minutes or until lightly browned on the edges.
Dear my parent’s Ninja blender and food processor,
I’ll miss you when I move out. I have treasured our time together. We created delicious and nutritious smoothies in individual travel cups. You perfect the art of making cookie dough. If I wasn’t a poor unemployed post-graduate I would invest in your cloned family members. I will not forget you, let’s make the most of the time we have left together.
Love, Maggie
Dear my parent’s convection oven,

I’ll miss you when I move out. I have treasured our time together. You have made it so that I can cookie two trays of cookies at the same time for the same amount of time. Your light provides rays of light as if God is watching over the things that bake within you. If I wasn’t a poor unemployed post-graduate I would invest in your cloned family members. I will not forget you, let’s make the most of the time we have left together.
Love, Maggie

These cookies look so yummy…. mmmmm cinnamonny goodness. Did I ever tell you that cinnamon is my favorite food group? Well it is. 🙂
Cinnamon Sugar Cookies with Candy Cane Blossoms

Sugar Cookies and How to Ice Them

The sun is slowly setting behind the Flatirons. I am watching it through a window Espresso Roma on the Hill. Small snowflakes speed to the ground as if racing; they cover the dirty black asphalt in a pure white blanket of snow. My Bhakti chai steams in a chipped blue mug in front of me as I breathe in the crisp Boulder air, filling my lungs with it’s slightly marijuana-smelling freshness. The colors of autumn, which were incredibly lovely this year, have been erased and replaced with a new beauty. It reminds me why I love Colorado so very much: the beauty is spectacular for a few fleeting moments before it disappears and is replaced by some other magnificent sight. There’s no way to capture the moment to recall later so the best thing to do is enjoy it while it’s there.

With the fresh snow I am giving myself permission to feel festive, not that I haven’t tried. My personal rule is that Christmas doesn’t exist until Thanksgiving is over so now my Christmas playlist is on repeat and my Holiday movie count is at ten. I’ve also eaten an entire package of Hershey’s candy cane kisses and Christmas cookies are building up. To makes these sugar cookies that don’t spread and keep their shape see the recipe below.

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups unsalted butter (at room temperature)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 tsp vanilla extract
  • 5 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt

Directions:

  1. Cream the butter and sugar together in a medium bowl with an electric mixer on low to medium speed.  Mix thoroughly, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a plastic spatula and mix again. Do not over mix as this aerates the dough and causes the cookies to spread more during baking.
  2. Add eggs and vanilla extract to bowl, mix, scrape down the bowl with your spatula and mix again.
  3. In a separate bowl sift flour and salt together .
  4. Add all of the flour mixture to the sugar mixture bowl.  Mix on low speed. Do not over mix at this stage either, the glutens in the flour develop and the dough can become tough.
  5. Roll the dough out between 2 large pieces of parchment paper.  Place on a baking sheet and into the fridge for a minimum of 1 hour.
  6. Roll out the dough further if you need to, and cut out cookie shapes.  Place on parchment paper-lined baking sheet.  Re-roll scraps and repeat, refrigerate again if necessary.
  7. Put cookie dough shapes back into the fridge for 10 minutes to 1 hour to chill again.  They will then hold their shape better when baked.
  8. Preheat your oven to 350°F (176°C).
  9. Bake cookies for 8-12 minutes or until the edges become golden brown.  The baking time will depend on the size of your cookie.
  10. Let cookies cool to room temperature before decorating.

This was my first attempt using a glaze this way. Below is the icing recipe I used…

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup powder sugar (confectioners sugar)
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 drop lemon juice (can be fresh)

Directions:

  1. Mix all the ingredients together. These amounts are approximate: use more powdered sugar and less milk for the edges so it doesn’t run everywhere, use less powdered sugar and more milk for the insides so it spreads itself. It takes a little practice. The lemon juice isn’t for flavor, it just counteracts the sweet sugary flavor.
  2. Once mixed you can add food coloring however you’d like.
  3. Refrigerate the icing for 10 minute before using (and periodically during the process).
  4. If using an icing bag follow the instructions for using the attachments. Line a glasses with a plastic bag or an icing bag and pour the icing in.
  5. Cut a small corner off the bag for the icing to come out of. Start very small at first, you can always cut more but you cannot cut less. Add the icing attachments if you have them.
  6. Use the thicker icing to line the edge of the cookie and make shapes, the fill with the thinner icing.
  7. Add sprinkles and create a masterpiece. 🙂

Variation on a theme: Candy Cane Blossoms

I know today is Black Friday and it’s tempting to go out and get all the great deals that have been advertised. I just want to get on a soap box really fast and say how ridiculous I find it that we spend one day expressing how thankful we are for all the blessings we have in our lives and the very next day all that goes out the window. And for what? Cheap goods that no one really needs. I hope that everyone who reads this might take a step back and really evaluate what’s important. I also want to put a plug in for Small Business Saturday which is tomorrow. You may not get a toaster for $3, but chances are you already have a toaster. And by shopping small you will support your community in a very big way and you will find great gifts that are unique and meaningful. Use this map to find small businesses in your community. That’s all *takes step down off soap box*…

I do love this season. I love the music and the tingly feelings and the well-wishers. Oh… and the cookies. I LOVE cookies! The way cookie monster loves cookies. *nom nom nom* One of my favorite Christmas cookies is peanut-butter blossoms. They’re the ones with the kiss stuck on top. (Follow the link for the recipe).

So, when I saw a picture for the most adorable “Candy Cane Blossoms” on Pinterest, I was super excited. I mean, the spell Pinterest holds over me was broken: I didn’t even pin the recipe. I actually got off the couch and checked whether I had the ingredients. Keep scrolling down for the recipe.

Ingredients

  • 48 Hershey’s Candy Cane Mint Candy Kisses
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened (vegan option: smart balance or other healthy margarine for baking)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg (vegan option: 2 tablespoons cornstarch mixed into 2 tablespoons water)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons milk (vegan option: milk substitute of choice)
  • Red or green sugar crystals, and festive sprinkles

Directions

Heat oven to 350°F. Remove wrappers from candies. Beat butter, granulated sugar, egg and vanilla in large bowl until well blended. In a separate bowl, stir together flour, baking soda and salt; add alternately with milk to butter mixture, beating until well blended. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Roll in red sugar, green sugar or sprinkles. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are lightly browned and cookie is set. Remove from oven; cool 2 to 3 minutes. Press a candy piece into center of each cookie. Move from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely.

You can also make them birthday cookies like I did for the girl I used to nanny.

Happy late Thanksgiving everyone! Let me know what your favorite cookies are in the comments below.