Monday, December 12, 2011

Visions of sugar plums

One of Jack's classmates hosted the loveliest holiday cookie party today after class. Parents held their children's hands as we crossed a sunny but chilly Michigan Avenue to our hosts' building.

Sweet smells of buttercream icing and candy welcomed us. Our hosts had thought of every detail - each child had a red tin with his or her name on it, which Jack and his classmates decorated with holiday stickers. Lunch was served and then it was cookie time. Cookies lined the tables; small hands filled the tins. Undecorated cookies were set at the end of one table, with a tub of Sweet Mandy B's icing and sprinkles for decorating.

A few of the recipes shared:

Stylin' Snowmen
1 cup white chocolate chips
50 mini chocolate chips
Orange decorators' gel
Fruit leather
10 gummy rings
10 gumdrops
10 (8-inch long) pretzel rods

Place the white chocolate chips in a 2-quart bowl. Microwave them for 1 minute, then stir with a wooden spoon. If the chips are not completely melted, microwave them for 30 seconds more, then stir until smooth. Let the chocolate cool and thicken slightly.

One at a time, dip one end of a pretzel rod into the melted chocolate and use a plastic spoon or knife to spread the chocolate two-thirds of the way down the pretzel rod. Place the pretzel on a sheet of waxed paper and press on mini chocolate chips for eyes and buttons. Use orange decorators' gel to add a carrot nose.

Chill the pretzels in the refrigerator until the chocolate hardens, about 2 minutes.

Stand the pretzels in a mug or glass and tie on strips of fruit leather for scarves. For each hat, stretch a gummy ring over the narrow end of a gumdrop and secure it to the pretzel rod with a dab of melted chocolate. Makes 10.

Deep Dark Chocolate Cookies
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 ½ cups bittersweet chocolate chips (about 9 ounces), divided
3 large egg whites
2 ½ cups powdered sugar, divided
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Spray 2 large baking sheets with nonstick spray.  Melt 1 cup chocolate chips in glass bowl in microwave, stirring twice, about 2 minutes. 

Using electric mixer, beat egg whites in large bowl to soft peaks.  Gradually beat in 1 cup sugar.  Continue beating until mixture resembles soft marshmallow creme.  Whisk 1 cup sugar, cocoa, cornstarch, and salt in a medium bowl to blend.  On low speed, beat dry ingredients into meringue.  Stir in lukewarm chocolate and ½ cup chocolate chips (dough will become very stiff).

Place ½ cup sugar in bowl.  Roll 1 rounded tablespoon dough into ball; roll in sugar, coating thickly.  Place on prepared sheet.  Repeat with remaining dough, spacing 2 inches apart.  Bake until puffed and tops crack, about 8 minutes.  Cool on sheets for 10 minutes.  Transfer to rack; cool.  Makes about 24.

Italian Pizzelles
This is an Italian wafer-like cookie that Jack and I brought. It requires a pizzelle press.

3 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 1/3 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder

Beat eggs and sugar. Add cooled melted butter and vanilla. Sift flour and baking powder and add to egg mixture. Batter will be stiff enough to be dropped by spoon. Batter can be refrigerated to be used as a later time. Bake using a pizzelle press, following the manufacturer's instructions. Makes 30 pizzelles.

And one mama's honest response when I asked for cookie recipes:

Pressed wreath cookies
1 roll Pillsbury premade sugar cookie dough
Peppermint candies

Shove dough into cookie press (wreath-shaped, of course). Sprinkle cookies with peppermint candies and bake per package instructions. Place in extremely overpriced cookie tin in hopes of fooling friends. Even the extremely overpriced cookie tin won't fool anyone but they won't call you on it either!

We are very fortunate to have found Jack's preschool. It is such a warm community of teachers, parents and children. And today's activity could not have been more festive and full of childlike wonder.

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