Friday, December 25, 2020

2020 Cookie Tray and Recipes

2020 Cookie Trays

For nearly a decade, I have hosted a holiday cookie swap, and every year was themed around a movie title. Like year three was Return of the Crumb (LOTR: Return of the King), or The New Batch (Gremlins 2: The New Batch), but due to...everything, that didn't get to happen this year and I'm pretty bummed out about it. As someone who is usually a Grinch during the holidays, I am having an extra hard time getting into a happy festive mood this year, but one things that helps is baking. I didn't put up a tree, or decorate the house, but I did bake a butt-load of cookies. (And fudge!) 

So here's everything I made, links to all the recipes, and what I think about it or would change next time.

First up, these pistachio and dried cherry biscotti. RECIPE LINK

The original recipe called for cranberries, but I was all out, so I used dried cherries from Aldi, finely chopped, instead. Normally I am not a biscotti person, but not only were these incredibly easy to make, but they're delicious! Light and crispy so you can eat them as is, or dip them in your tea or coffee. Unlike other biscotti I have had, these are not hard as a rock and the flavor seems to get better the longer they sit in their tin. I will definitely be keeping this recipe, and the only change I would make going forward (other than keeping the cherries in place of cranberries) would be to double the dried fruit. I highly recommend this one, especially if you normally hate biscotti. 

I also tried this Chocolate Peppermint Biscotti. RECIPE LINK

Sadly, I was not as in love with this recipe. As a white chocolate hater I drizzled these with dark chocolate and crushed candy canes, but the issue I had was with the biscotti itself, not the toppings. This is more of a typical biscotti, it's hard, so you definitely need to dip it in something to eat it, I opted for coffee, and it was good, but not great. If you used a high quality cocoa is might taste a bit richer, but I found it to be not that flavorful on it's own. The other biscotti blew it out of the water, so I probably won't make this one again next year.

Then, I made Milkbar's Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies. THE RECIPE

This is probably my 5th time making these, because the recipe is THAT good. It's probably my favorite chocolate chip cookie of all time, but to be clear, I am a crispy chocolate chip cookie lover. I like them thin, crisp, and ready to dunk in milk. So you chewy cookie lovers out there might feel differently about this recipe, but for me? Absolute perfection. A while back I bought a box of Maldon's smoked flake salt and that is what I use for these cookies. Using smoked salt is the only "change" I make to the recipe, but other than that, it is perfect as-is, and will be my go-to chocolate chip cookie until further notice. (Although I can never get mine to look like the photos, my flaked salt is more translucent than that like, prop salt in those photos?)

A traditional recipe I make every year, Gingerbread Bats. THE RECIPE 

If you've been following the blog for a while, these should look familiar. I've been making these for over 14 years, using my trusty bat-shaped cookie cutter, and they are always a hit. It's a knock-off Pepperidge Farm recipe that is the best. Just don't use it to make a house, it's far to thin, but if you're looking for light crispy gingerbread, this is the one for you. I freaking love it, and if you pull the cookies out when the centers are still dark, you get dense, chewy, gingerbread instead. So if you like it light and crispy, stick with the recommended baking time, but if you are a chewy lover, try pulling them about 5 minutes earlier. (Look for dark molasses coloring in the center.) 

Another staple of mine has been these Almond Meltaways. THE RECIPE

I have only been making these for the last 3 years, not as long as the gingerbread, but these are just as much of a staple in my holiday baking. The cookies are buttery and thin, the icing is sweet, and I top mine with slivered almonds. Previously I used raw almonds, because they were prettier, but I toasted them this year and the flavor is just so much better that way. For the icing, I swap out the milk and vanilla extract for THIS almond drink you can buy at the Asian market. It tastes super sweet and intense, like drinkable almond extract, and that, and the slivered almond topping, are the only changes I make to the recipe. If you like extra crunch and almond flavor, be sure to top with almonds. Also, I can never EVER get all the cookies to be perfectly iced. The icing always runs on one side, but that's just more icing puddles for me to pop off the parchment and eat later. 

Then I made a few peanut butter cookies. THE RECIPE

It's a pretty standard recipe, I just added some Reese's cups to the center, but that caused a lot of the cookies to crack. I'm not a big fan of peanut butter, so I wasn't really wow'd by these, but I did find that the Reese's cups made them a bit more plateable for me. I mostly made them because I thought the people I was giving cookies to would like to receive them, and they did enjoy them, but said that didn't taste all that peanut-butter-y.

I didn't have enough Reese's cups to do the whole batch, so I took that same PB Cookie dough, added chopped up larger Reese's cups, chocolate chips, and m&m's, and made these cookies as well. Even with the peanut butter base, and added chopped up holiday-shaped Reese's, people still had a hard time telling that these were peanut butter or not. I'm not sure how to fix that in the future. Should I just add more peanut butter? Add PB chips? Or add powdered peanut butter for a more concentrated flavor? Any suggestions would be great because as a casual peanut butter consumer, I am at a loss on how to improve upon these.

Of all the recipes, this one is by far the easiest, and it's almost like cheating. I call them Soft Sugar Cookies, but here is THE RECIPE

They're made using cake mix, and a few other ingredients. The results are a super sweet, chewy, vanilla sugar cookie. I topped these with some of the Sugar Cookie Kisses I reviewed a few days ago, but honestly, I think the cookies taste better without them. They are super easy to make, you can easily toss them together after you get home from work, and the finished cookies are really pretty. I've made these three times now, and I plan to keep doing so, but ditching the added Kisses. 

Last, but not least, I made Old Fashioned Vanilla Fudge! THE RECIPE

I grew up spending every summer at the Jersey Shore, more specifically, in Wildwood. Every year we'd walk the boardwalk, get free fudge samples, and my mom would always buy herself vanilla and vanilla nut fudge. Well, that didn't get to happen this year, so I wanted to try and make some as a gift to her for the holidays. I followed that recipe exactly, and the only change I made was adding toasted walnuts to half the batch. I thought making fudge would be really difficult, since I had a hard time making my own caramel apples, but it was actually quite easy, just time consuming. You have to be sure you watch the thermometer and reach the exact temperatures to prevent the fudge from getting hard or being gritty, and it worked! I am very happy with the end results, and one batch (split into normal vanilla and vanilla walnut) is plenty! I have some for my mom, my grandpa, and more than enough to give some to friends and coworkers for the holidays. A lot of the recipes I saw online used condensed milk and white chocolate chips, but this is the real deal! I'm going to try and make a batch of chocolate and Penuche fudge before the new year!

So, other than a few Gingerbread Pomeranians, and some gluten free candy cane bark, that is everything I baked for my 2020 Holiday cookie trays. 

Thank you for taking time out of your day to visit my little corner of the internet, thank you for your likes, your shares, and your comments. Even though this has been a difficult year, and it's a strange holiday season where a lot of us are isolated and away from our family and friends, being able to write silly reviews on the internet, and having all of you read them, has made my life a little bit brighter during these dark times. I hope wherever you are, whatever you celebrate, and whomever you get to celebrate it with, is absolutely wonderful. 

Happy Holidays, I'll see you next week for more wacky reviews!   

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