Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Start of My Christmas Baking

Aren't these gingerbread tealight holders absolutely festive and gorgeous? These are from Na Miotle and I think they are stunning. I would have never thought of making gingerbread candleholders but now I am dying to make these. Wouldn't they be the perfect addition to a holiday tablescape? I think there is something so traditional and magical about them. There are lots of gorgeous, creative Christmas baking projects over at Na Miotle.

Speaking of holiday baking, I baked my first batch of Christmas cookies late last night! I made my absolute favorite Christmas cookies from childhood and they were just as delicious and addictive as I remember.

The recipe comes from Taste of Home. I remember stumbling upon this recipe in Taste of Home magazine with my mother when I was little. I used to search through the magazines with her to see who could find the hidden toothpick first. :) I cannot remember how old I was when we first made these cookies, but I remember how I instantly loved them and begged for them every year since.

The recipe, White Velvet Cutouts, is essentially a soft sugar cookie with a slight tang from the addition of cream cheese in the batter. They bake up beautifully and don't spread too much as there is no leavening agent in the batter. They make for a beautiful presentation as they bake until just set but not brown (personally I hate a sugar cookie with a golden bottom).

The soft texture and unique flavor of these cookies make them memorable and utterly addictive. I really and truly think I may abandon all other sugar cookie recipes now that I have this one in my repertoire. The recipe includes a simple buttercream frosting which sets up just enough to allow the cookies to be stacked but is still soft and inviting. The cookies aren't overly sweet because of the cream cheese so the frosting adds a welcomed extra sweetness, though they are perfectly delightful without the frosting!

My mother and I always skipped chilling the dough and used a cookie press to shape the cookies for a Spritz Cookie-like effect. Since I don't have a cookie press of my own, I decided to follow the recipe and roll/cutout my cookies. I made a few different shapes but decided these trees were the cutest. I decorated the large trees by spreading the icing out on the cookie and adding a few sugar pearl "ornaments." I thought spreading the icing out evenly was a bit too tedious (I didn't start decorating the cookies until 2 or 3 am and was very tired), so I decided to pipe little star "branches" on the smaller trees.

I rolled and cut my entire batch last night but still have all the scraps from the first roll in the fridge, so I have lots of cookies in my future! It's a good thing too, because between my husband, the six friends he had over today, and myself, there are only a few of the original cookies left! They are that good, folks.

So if you have an opening in your holiday baking schedule, I highly suggest you try these cookies! I'm fairly certain they'll become a favorite and a tradition in your own family.

White Velvet Cutouts
adapted from Taste of Home

2 cups unsalted butter, softened
1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese, softened
2 cups sugar
2 egg yolks
1-1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
4-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Buttercream Frosting:
3-1/2 cups confectioners' sugar, divided (I sifted mine as well)
4 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 to 4 tablespoons milk, divided (I ended up using 5)
food coloring, optional

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add sugar, egg yolks and vanilla; mix well. Gradually add flour. Cover and chill 2 hours or until firm.

Roll out on a floured surface to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut into 3-inch shapes; place 1 inch apart on parchment lined baking sheets. Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes or until set (not browned). Cool 5 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool.

For frosting, combine 1-1/2 cups sugar, butter, vanilla and 3 tablespoons milk in the bowl of an electric mixer; beat until smooth. Gradually add remaining sugar; beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add enough remaining milk and food coloring (if using) until frosting reaches desired consistency. Frost and decorate cookies.

Yield: about 7 dozen cookies.

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