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Perfect Christmas Sugar Cookies

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Is it even Christmas without cookie decorating?

I know it’s not really a thing in Ireland. The Irish I’ve spoken to about this largely believe an iced sugar cookie, or even gingerbread cookie, is a bit too sweet. I wholeheartedly disagree with this.

In Ireland, kids leave Santa mince pies as a snack. Mince pies! I wholeheartedly disagree with this.

The longer I reside in Ireland, naturally, the more Irish I become in my through process. I’ve noticed this. But there are some things I’ll never let happen; Christmas is a nostalgic time of year. When you think of your happiest times as a child, it’s generally Christmas most of us think of. I definitely do.

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When I was little, my brothers and I always went to Christmas Eve church service with our parents. Then we would go to our neighbour’s for a visit, then when I got a bit older I would go to spend time with my aunt and her family before heading home to my bed.

In the morning, as a kid, we could go down to see what Santa brought us but we were never, under any circumstances, allowed to touch the wrapped presents under the tree until my parents and my grandma, who was confined to a wheelchair, would get up and join us.

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I think my favourite Christmas was the one where I got my cat, Belle. My dad brought her over to me after we had opened all of our gifts. I couldn’t figure out why there was a basket for a pet under the tree and assumed it was for our dog. When my dad went out Christmas morning and came back with a kitten, I was over the moon with happiness.

“Santa got caught in a storm last night and had to leave her at the Scherzinger’s,” he said.

Belle would go on to live for a whopping 22 years, despite (or maybe in spite of) my mother not being a cat person. She was a great cat.

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It’s been hard to adapt to Irish Christmas traditions because my happy Christmas memories are all Canadian. But since my daughters have gotten a bit older, it’s gotten easier to adapt to Irish Christmas. I am at peace with having to make both turkey and ham for Christmas dinner (though I refuse to make Irish trifle, with canned fruit cocktail, jello and store-bought sponge cake). We have started our own Christmas traditions with the kids and it gets more fun every year.

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This year, as always, we will be making loads of gingerbread and sugar cookies. We’ll invite a bunch of kids over to the house and let them go crazy with the royal icing and sprinkles. Their parents will hate me, but it’s all in good fun.

Here’s my recipe for the perfect sugar cookie. A good sugar cookie, in my opinion, should have defined edges, taste better with age (I even like them straight from the fridge or freezer) and it absolutely MUST BE ICED. If the cookie is too sweet, you’re doing it right.

Christmas is all about being too sweet.

Enjoy!

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Perfect Sugar Cookies

Ingredients:

3 cups flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 cup unsalted butter

A pinch of salt

1 cup sugar

1 large egg

1 tsp vanilla

Directions:

  • Whisk flour and baking powder together in a bowl. Add a pinch of salt.
  • In a stand mixer (paddle attachment) or with a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  • Add the egg and mix to combine. Add the vanilla and mix again.
  • Add the flour mixture in by the cup, slowly, until everything is combined. Dough will be crumbly at first and then comes together.
  • Gather the dough by hand. Knead a few times to smooth out the dough.
  • Shape into two discs and wrap in plastic. Chill for 30 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 180˚C and line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  • Roll out the dough to ¼ inch thickness, then cut into shapes.
  • Transfer to the baking sheets and bake for 7-10 minutes (you don’t want them to brown too much around the edges – you still want them to be fairly white in colour).
  • Cool and decorate with royal icing, sprinkles or piped buttercream.

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Maple Pecan Cookie Bars

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Today has been a bad day.

It’s not like I didn’t realize it would be a bad day. Ciara’s been cutting her eye teeth for what seems like ages now and has grown fond of 3am, two-hour-long hangouts on the couch. So yeah, when your three-year-old wakes up at 7am and you’ve just managed to get back to sleep you are definitely not starting your day on the right foot.

So we had a slow morning. Luckily I batch-cook pancakes on the weekends so Maeve can have a quick breakfast if need be, but still, by the time I had her, myself and Ciara washed, dressed, breakfasted and out the door it was well past 9am. Maeve was fairly late for playschool.

It had been a frosty night. After dropping Maeve off, Ciara and I went to town (town being Thurles, about 20 minutes away from the farm). On Tuesdays and Thursdays Ciara hangs out with my friend while I make donuts and other goodies to sell at The Green Sheep. On the way in, my car hit a patch of black ice and I was so close to losing control of my car and sliding off into a hedge. I honestly don’t know how I managed to keep the car on the road. Needless to say, I crawled the rest of the way into town.

When I got to The Green Sheep, it was closed because my friend, the owner, thought I had a doctor’s appointment this morning and she had to go to a parent/teacher meeting. I had also thought I had a doctor’s appointment but thankfully called to double-check – it’s actually next week.

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My friend got back from parent/teacher and I managed to make some apple fritters and deep-clean my cooking equipment. Then, someone came into the café and I could hear them say, “Tell Janine to go move her car – the ticket guy is out there!”

Now, before you say anything: I know I should be paying for parking. BUT you get 15 minutes of free parking in Thurles, so I was taking advantage of that (ok, maybe too much advantage).

So I got to my car before the ticket guy gave me a ticket. However; he remembered me from two weeks ago, when he had fined me for having out-of-date car tax. I had just gotten this car a few months ago and with Christmas… well… I knew I was playing with fire. I paid for my tax once he ticketed me, but it was still in the post. He didn’t give me another fine; instead he chewed my ear off.

Combine this with exhaustion from being a parent and the hormones of a crazy pregnant lady and… well, you get the idea of how I’m feeling right now.

I basically want to cry myself to sleep. And then sleep for a really, really long time.

Instead, though, I might make some more of these Maple Pecan Cookie Bars. They’re so easy to put together and taste amazing.

Baking is really therapeutic, isn’t it? You’re in control. Your hands are busy. Your mind is in a zen-like state. This is probably why I liked working in the pastry sections of restaurants so much, even though I’m not really a pastry chef. That section of the restaurant oozes calm while the others get chaotic.

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Anyway, back to these delicious, nutty little morsels. They have a brown sugar cookie base and a maple pecan topping that is soft, chewy and crunchy all at once. The maple flavour really comes through (and I was using the generic maple syrup – even though it claims to be “100% Canadian Pure”, it’s way too inexpensive to be any good).

They were a hit at the café, so I’ll be officially adding them to The Siùcra Shack‘s menu and will put them on rotation at The Green Sheep.

Give them a try; they’re so forgiving. Baking them will make you forget all about your crap day.

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Maple Pecan Cookie Bars

Ingredients:

For the base:

250g/1cup plain flour

110g/2/3 cup brown sugar

110g/1/2 cup butter

For the topping:

1 egg

55g/1/3 cup brown sugar

75ml/1/3 cup maple syrup

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 bag (about 250g or 1 cup) whole pecan halves

Flaky sea salt

Directions:

  • Preheat your oven to 180∘C (350∘F). Line a rectangular baking tray with parchment and set aside.
  • In a bowl, (or in your stand mixer; paddle attachment), cream the brown sugar and butter for the base. Then, add the flour and mix until fully incorporated.
  • Press the cookie dough into the baking tray with your fingers. When the dough is evenly spread out, blind bake for about 15 minutes. Check it at 12 minutes; you don’t want it too dark.
  • Take the baked cookie base out of the oven and cool slightly. In a bowl, mix all of the ingredients for the filling except the sea salt and pecans.
  • Pour the filling over the top of the cookie base. Arrange the pecan halves over the top.
  • Bake the bars, still at 180∘C/350∘F, for another 15 minutes or until it’s just set. If the top seems soft that’s ok. It will set as it cools.
  • Allow the bars to cool completely in the pan. Then, remove the whole thing (parchment and all) and slice into bars or squares.
  • These guys will keep for 5-ish days (they don’t usually make it that long, though)
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