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Monday, December 10, 2007

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas,
Ev'rywhere you go;
Take a look in the five-and-ten, glistening once again
With candy canes and silver lanes aglow.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas,
Toys in ev'ry store,
But the prettiest sight to see is the holly that will be
On your own front door.

.It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas;
Soon the bells will start,
And the thing that will make them ring is the carol that you sing
Right within your heart.

.After being away for almost two weeks, it certainly is nice to be home. While I was gone, it seems that my whole town has been transformed. Holiday decorations are up. The Muzak in all the stores has been tuned to the "Christmas Lite" channel. Santa has been hanging out at the mall. Even the check-out ladies at the market have donned their elf hats and little light up wreath brooches. Yes, it is definitely beginning to look a lot like Christmas!
Each year, our local newspaper prints a supplement listing all of the addresses of homes in the area with special Holiday light displays. Many of these are quite spectacular. It's always fun to drive around and check them out. I have never outgrown the sense of awe that I feel when I discover one of these magical sights.
Yesterday, my husband finally had some time to haul out our own holiday decorations from the attic. It had been quite a while since they'd seen the light of day. It was kind of nice to see them again. Last year, we didn't decorate at all. My father had passed away just a few days before Thanksgiving and I couldn't bear the thought of having anything celebratory around me. Christmas came...and went, like any other day.

On our street, holiday decorating has become a friendly competition of sorts. It all started innocently enough, about five years ago, when my husband proudly installed the street's first air-blown, inflatable lawn ornament. (He is such a trendsetter!) It was a big old, light-up, Frosty the Snowman. He spent a good part of the afternoon setting it up, with the meticulousness of an aeronautical engineer. When darkness fell, he plugged it in. Frosty slowly began to puff up, bigger and higher, until he was finally in all of his seven foot tall glory. It was a sight to behold! A crowd of our neighbors gathered to watch. The wives all "oohed" and "aahed" over the spectacle, while the husbands all raced to their SUVs and off to Target, determined not to be outdone!

Pretty soon, the neighborhood lawns were teeming with inflatables, each one bigger and brighter than the last. Each subsequent year, the competition only got stiffer. I would have liked to think that my easygoing and good-natured spouse was above all that, but he wasn't. He too, joined the frenzy, and pretty soon, I needed a GPS navigation system to find my own house! Suffice it to say that Frosty has got a lot of air-blown company out there. Among others, a life-sized Santa, the Grinch, and Carolers in a giant snow globe, complete with falling snow and music have joined in the fun. This year, Bart and Homer Simpson, in a one horse open sleigh, will round out the scene!

As if all of that wasn't enough to get me in the Christmas spirit, I decided to do a little holiday baking. I can't think of anything that makes a home feel more "Christmas-y" than the smell of fresh cookies in the oven. Surrounded by some excellent cookbooks, I whipped out my trusty notebook and began to make my cookie list for this year. First, I wrote down my tried and true selections. These are the ones I make every year, like my Butter Pecan Cookies. I wanted to try some new recipes this year too. I found one in Sherry Yard's, The Secrets of Baking, for Rose Water Almond Tea Cookies. Wow! They sounded so lovely and elegant! The recipe calls for rose flower water and almond meal, both of which I happened to have on hand, so I gathered the rest of the ingredients and got started.

While most butter based cookie recipes call for softened butter, Sherry Yard's didn't. She advocates using cold butter cut into 1/2 inch cubes. I tried it her way, (Who am I to argue?) and it worked great. The cookies were delicate with a sandy texture. The flavor of the rose water was very subtle, but definitely present. They weren't showstoppers, but I really liked them..

The Butter Pecan Cookies are divine! The recipe is from Martha Stewart and they are a snap to make. The key with these is to toast the pecans before you add them to the dough. The end result are crunchy little packages that explode into buttery, nutty shards of flavor when you bite into them.

Both of these recipes are well worth trying. They taste great and they make a really nice presentation. If you're looking for some new cookies to add to your Holiday lineup, these are sure to please!

UPDATE: When I wrote this post, I was unaware of a really great blog event that was going on. Susan from Food Blogga is hosting Eat Christmas Cookies. She has invited anyone who is interested to submit their Christmas cookie recipes to her for a special holiday round-up. So far, she is off to a great start. I saw some terrific recipes when I visited her earlier. I think I'm going to join the party and submit my cookies too. If you have some time, check out her blog and send her some cookies!

Rose Water Almond Tea Cookies
Adapted from The Secrets of Baking by Sherry Yard

(Makes 3 dozen cookies)

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup almond meal
1 1/2 sticks cold, unsalted butter cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, plus 1/2 cup for dusting
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tbsp. rose water
2 large eggs, at room temperature

  • Sift together flour and almond meal in a medium bowl and set aside.

  • Using a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a hand mixer, cream the butter on medium speed until pale yellow, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle. Add the 1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar, salt, vanilla, and rose water. Cream on medium speed until smooth and lump free. Scrape bowl and paddle.

  • Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition, and beat on low speed for 15 seconds, or until fully incorporated. Scrape down the bowl and paddle again.

  • On low speed, add the flour mixture. Beat until just incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Remove the dough and wrap in plastic film, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. The dough will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, and in the freezer, for up to 1 month.

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Adjust rack to lower third of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

  • Flour your hands. Pinch off pieces of dough and roll into 1 inch balls. Place the balls 1 inch apart on he baking sheets. Continue to flour your hands as needed to prevent the dough from sticking.

  • Bake one sheet at a time for 12-15 minutes, or until cookies are light golden brown around the edges, rotating sheet halfway through baking.

  • As soon as you remove cookies from the oven, cover them completely with sifted powdered sugar. Let cookies cool completely before removing them from the sheets. Store cookies in in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
Butter Pecan Cookies
Adapted from Martha Stewart

(Makes 12 cookies)

3/4 cup pecans
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup sugar, plus more for coating
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  • On a baking sheet, toast pecans until fragrant, about 6 minutes. Let cool completely; finely chop.

  • With an electric mixer, cream butter and 1/3 cup sugar until light, about 1 minute. Beat in vanilla, salt, and flour, scraping down sides of bowl, just until dough comes together. Fold in pecans.

  • Separate dough into 12 pieces. Squeeze dough to shape into balls. Roll in sugar.

  • Place, 3 inches apart, on a baking sheet. Gently flatten with the bottom of a glass (reshape sides if necessary). Sprinkle with sugar.

  • Bake until golden brown, rotating sheet halfway through, about 15 minutes.

  • Sprinkle with more sugar. Cool cookies on a wire rack.


Patricia Scarpin said...

The cookies are delicious, I'm sure, and I love how beautifully presented they are!

Susan @ SGCC said...

Thanks, Patricia. They are definitely a popular choice at my house!

Katy said...

I have had that song stuck in my head for at least two weeks now! And, you had rosewater on hand? Impressive! The cookies look delicious!

Susan @ SGCC said...

Thanks, Katy! It's hard not to be stuck on that song. It is everywhere! Glad you like the cookies. Don't be too impressed about the rosewater. It was left over from when I made Pizza Grana last Easter.

Susan from Food Blogga said...

Thank you for adding the lovely note about my event. I'm thrilled you submitted your cookies. They will be a beautiful addition, indeed. -Susan

Susan from Food Blogga said...

P.S. Tell your husband he definitely has the edge this year with Bart and Homer.

daphne said...

how interesting! Lovely cookies you got there! and TWO types. YUM YUM YUM!!!

PS- i have to go hunt for rose water now!

Cakelaw said...

Both types of cookies look delicious - and the plate on which you have displayed the rosewater cookies is gorgeous.

Susan @ SGCC said...

Daphne- Thanks. I found my rose water at an Italian specialty store. I think you could also find it at a Middle Eastern or Indian grocery store as well.

Cakelaw- Thank you. I love that dish too. I found it for $1.99 at Homegoods!