Friday, December 18, 2015

Candy Cane Cookies


It's about time I posted something here and a seasonal post no less! I told a friend the other day that there is never really a good time to write except when you make the time. The "other" always trumps - whether it be laundry, cleaning, Christmas shopping, a paid job, you name it. But, for some of us, writing is therapeutic (and cheaper than therapy!) and so we temporarily shelve the "must-dos" and replace them with an hour or two behind the keyboard. Most of my "writing time" lately has been spent over at my personal blog processing some good and some hard things that I've been thinking about. I'm scratching my whiskers and toying with the idea of combining my blogs so that I can write about whatever I want in the very same space but I haven't fully wrapped my mind around what that would look like just yet.

Until I figure all that out, I felt the need to pop in over here and share a recipe because it's been far too long. Today I'm thinking about cookies and all things light-hearted and maybe you, like me, are doing some last minute scrounging so that you'll have a plate of goodies to share at the cookie exchange you committed to this weekend. So that, my friends, is why you are the privileged recipient of one of my very favorite Christmas cookie recipes today. You're welcome.

My mom was the queen of Christmas cookies back when I was small. Her party contributions always, always included a festive tray of much-anticipated sweets. Looking back, I have absolutely no idea how she did it. She was a stay-at-home mom to FOUR kids all of whom she homeschooled and still managed to show up around the holidays sporting a plate with no less than 7-10 varieties of cookies and candies. And here I found myself, earlier in the week, honestly unsure if I would be able to scrounge up the energy needed to make even ONE batch of relatively easy cookies this month, let alone 10!

May it be known: my mom was supermom (and she still is!) When it came to Christmas cookies, her "usuals" included Russian Tea Cakes, hand-dipped frango mints, chocolate crinkle cookies, almond roca, chocolate mint fudge, English toffee cookies, chocolate-covered peanut butter balls, sugar cookies and, the focus of today's post: CANDY CANE COOKIES. I have very fond memories of my mom, adorned in her blue cow apron (she had a cow collection in her kitchen that I think us kids somewhat forced upon her with cow-themed after cow-themed gift - odd I know...) with Christmas music pumping, standing over the double boiler dipping her famous frangos in chocolate as she belted Christmas carols. Maybe the memory is so vivid because my dad actually captured it on video one time, back in the day when video cameras were novel and MASSIVE in size. It must have been his new toy because he definitely staged it and hid the camera so he could capture the moment in all its candidness. It was perfect. My mom went all out in an operatic rendition of O Holy Night before she looked up and saw that he was filming. I think it's apparent that my parents were the cutest.

Anyway, most of the treats my mom did herself. Now that I am a mother of littles, I can understand why. It takes me weeks to stockpile enough patience and stamina to accommodate having the kids "help" in the kitchen. And then it takes another couple of weeks to clean up the aftermath which usually includes wiping flour off the ceiling and chocolate off the toilet (man that stuff can travel!) My wise pastor's wife once told me she used to LOVE doing the dishes when the kids were younger because it was when doing this chore that NO ONE EVER BOTHERED HER. Maybe frango-dipping was the same for my mom. True rest was not an option for her as a busy mother of four so she went with the next most relaxing alternative: dipping frangos???? Anyhow, she DID bring us kids in to help with a couple of the cookie varieties (an endeavour she probably had to start prepping herself for back in March): sugar cookies and candy cane cookies. And these two cookies are the ones I now make most often as an adult. I guess the moral here is this: let your kids "help" with the recipes you want them to make for you in your old age. Because these are the ones that stick.
This year I'd resolved to make sugar cookies, if I got around to making any cookies at all, until my husband begged for me to just make "those delicious almond ones." At first I didn't know which cookie he was talking about because one doesn't usually look at a cookie shaped like a candy cane and think almond. He didn't have to twist my arm much once I realized the recipe he was referring to because these are one of my favs too. Plus, the dough doesn't require refrigeration, cookie cutters, or the laborious process of frosting and decorating. Sold!

This recipe isn't actually the one I was raised on (sorry Mom! Well, Betty Crocker actually). I stumbled upon this one back when Taste of Home Magazine was a thing (is it still?) I used to sign up for 2 free issues and then unsubscribe immediately and landed myself with a lot of cooking magazines this way. When I spotted this recipe, I was overcome with nostalgia and clipped it out, assuming it was the same as my childhood version. Upon closer examination, I realized that this version contains only almond extract (versus the peppermint extract and vanilla in Betty Crocker's recipe) which I love. My kids were quite pleased by this too as my middle child was worried the cookies would "taste like mom's toothpaste" when she heard the word "peppermint." She was relieved to learn the only hint of mint would come from crushed candy canes, which she loves. Crisis averted.

The mixing of the cookie dough is a pretty straight forward process and my kids can attest that the raw dough tastes delicious. I love how the sweet almondy flavor is accented by the salt. I changed the recipe just a smidge, mostly just adapting the yield to the more accurate 50 cookies rather than the in-their-dreams 72 that it originally predicted. I just don't get cookie recipes sometimes. It's like they think you're making cookies for miniatures with the measly amount of dough they estimate per cookie. Some of us prefer cookies the size of our face. Ok, not quite. But at least the size of a cookie!

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Candy Cane Cookies
(adapted from Taste of Home Magazine)

2 cups butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
2 eggs
1 Tablespoon almond extract
5 cups flour
2 tsp salt
Red food coloring
4 candy canes, crushed
1/3 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

In a mixing bowl with stand mixer, cream butter and powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and extract and beat to mix. Combine flour and salt and gradually add to butter mixture until well mixed.

Divide dough in half and remove one half from mixing bowl. Add 15-20 drops of red food coloring to the half that remains in the mixing bowl and mix to distribute coloring evenly. Shape generous tablespoons full of each color of dough into 6 inch ropes and line up side by side. Lightly press ends together and twist to create a striped effect and curve the top to create the shape of a candy cane. Place on greased baking sheets.

Bake for 9-12 minutes or until very lightly browned. Combine crushed candy canes and sugar and immediately sprinkle mixture over cookies. Cool for 2 minute before removing to wire racks to cool.

Yield: 50 normal-person-sized cookies

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posted by kelsie