Category Archives: Holiday

Limping Along

This past week I have been sick, not horribly so, but sick enough that I’m not getting much sleep and daily activities seem to require a lot of effort.  The kind of sick that requires lots of over the counter measures and an all day supply of hot tea to be functional.  Germs don’t really care if you have 20 dozen cookies you want to bake or gifts that need to be bought or loaves of bread to bake.  They just come on in and take over your life when they feel like it and we just have to sit back and watch it happen. What little energy I have, has been devoted to baking.  The house is a mess, no presents have been wrapped, and meal planning for the holidays has been almost nonexistent.  I did buy a ham.  That should feed us for a couple days.  We’ll survive on cookies and ham this Christmas.

The boys were a big help to me over the weekend when we baked up cookies for packages that needed to be sent and for a cookie exchange.

Most of these doughs were made and frozen before I got sick and they just required cutting, decorating, and baking.  Then, when the pizzelle maker came out of the pantry, the husband got in on the action as well.

Making pizzelles is a four person operation: one to scoop (that was me), one to time, one to remove the cookies, and the last one to cool and pack them.

The boys also did most of the packing up.

We put each type of cookie in its own tin  so that flavors and moisture levels don’t mingle.  Then the boys bagged up a lot of cookies and packed up the boxes we wanted to mail out.

Which reminds me that I never announced the winner of my giveaway!  It was  Sara, also known as crazysheeplady on Instagram.  She has a great blog called Punkin’s Patch where she documents her life as a sheperdess.  Hopefully, her package will get there in the next day or so.  Thank you to everyone who entered!

Once those cookie boxes were sent out (also known as stage 1 of Christmas baking), I turned my attention to stage 2: breads.  First on the agenda was Panettone.

I make these every year with the same recipe.  The only thing I change is to substitute candied chestnuts for half of the fruit/candied peel mixture.  This year I also decided not to do the glaze.  It’s very messy and stuff falls everywhere when you turn them upside down to hang.  I just sprinkle them with a little pearl sugar and it looks pretty enough for me.  This year, I also tried a version with dried pear and chocolate.  We’re looking forward to trying that one.

One advantage to being sick and homebound is that it has allowed me to develop a rolling schedule for feeding the starter and building these bread doughs.  If I time it right, I can bake a pandoro in the morning and a panettone in the evening.  Of course, last night’s pandoro did not rise in our cold kitchen, so it is getting some remedial time in our furnace room which is the warmest room in the house.

Hopefully, these will turn out well and we’ll have some yummy bread to go with our cookies and ham.  Maybe I should try to cook something red or green, too.  How about these.  Would these count as a vegetable?

I thought we were done with cookies, but I had to squeeze these in for my younger son.  I’ll tell you the story next time!

Hope your holiday preparations are humming along!  What are your strategies for getting it all done when time is running out?

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Almost Last Minute

Is it just me or does time speed up in December?  I always start off with grand plans and lists and intentions, but halfway through the month, it seems I have barely made a dent in all the things I would like to do.  I’m sure there are many of you who feel the same way.  This is the point in which we have to make peace with not getting everything done and buying some gift cards.  It’s the though that counts and I’m not just saying that.  I know I’m not the only one with a list of people to get gifts for and for half of them I can’t think of anything to get.  I spend a lot of time racking my brain over these people and, if nothing has come to mind by this time of the month, gift cards are a wonderful invention.  That leaves me some spare time to try to finish off my Christmas baking wish list, yay.

The last time we talked, my list was really long.  Unfortunately, it only got longer and now has reached the point where it has to be trimmed.  I can’t make everything I’ve made in previous years AND add a few new things I’ve been itching to try.  Mostly, I am now baking whatever I feel like baking, because I really believe that if one is going to bake during this crazy season, it better be something you REALLY want to make.

Unfortunately, as sometimes happens when trying new things, the new stuff does not always work out the way we wish they would.  Like these Lebkuchen.

I had high hopes for this recipe since I love this cookie.  I made a recipe last year that was quite good and I  thought this one would be better and more authentic.  This year’s recipe is from Classic German Baking, which I mentioned last week.

There is no flour or leavening in this recipe and, as a result, what you you put into the oven is what you get when they come out.  They do not spread much or change really.  The dough was pretty sticky and hard to spread onto the papers, so that made for lumpy bumpy cookies.  I thought maybe the glaze would help its looks, but no.  The glaze was also a pain to apply evenly.  They taste ok, but I’ll just say that next I will go back to the recipe I made last year.  At least I got some good quality time with this cutie pie who helped me assemble them.

After that disappointment, I moved on to a new cookbook with some great Christmas recipes, Sweet by Helen Goh and Yotan Ottolenghi.  This is the book the husband used last week for me birthday cake.  I wanted to try the Soft Gingerbread tiles with Rum Butter glaze.

After I figured out how best to use the cookies stamps with this dough (coat them with a light film of oil for each cookie), these were fun to make, especially since I had some help from the husband.  The dough is easiest to handle when chilled and rolled between sheets of parchment.  I also found that the rum butter glaze was best applied by dipping the cookies into the glaze rather than brushing each cookie individually.  These might be our new favorite gingerbread cookie.  I love the look of the stamped ones, but I want to make another batch in some other shapes, too.  Maybe I’ll be able to get to that this weekend.

I’ve also got my sweet sourdough starter going to prep for pandoro and panettone baking next week.  On a whim yesterday, I decided to try out a sourdough kugelhopf recipe instead of discarding the unused portion of the starter.  I wasn’t sure if it would work because I have a stiff starter, whereas the recipe calls for a liquid one.  I just made up the difference in weight with water and a little extra flour.  The dough came together quite well.

However, it didn’t seem like it was very active for a long time, even after I transferred it to the pan for its last, long rise.  It seems, though, that a watched dough doesn’t rise.  I just had to ignore it for a few hours and it rose just fine.  It did take a couple extra hours, but our house is pretty cold, so that does not surprise me.  Once baked, it looked great.

What I was really impressed with, though, was the crumb structure.  It’s spongy, but firm, elastic, and yet sort of cakey, moist, and fine textured.  It was a little tangy from the sourdough and just a little sweet.  The bits of rum soaked fruit was a perfect complement.

It was so good, I decided to make another one today.  I love it when experiments work out like this!

Now that time is getting short, I don’t know how much more I will be able to get done before Christmas.  But, I’ve promised you a giveaway so I’m just going to keep it simple this year.  Leave me a comment on this post by midnight this Saturday, December 16, and I will randomly pick one winner to receive a box of goodies to be shipped on Monday, December 18th.  This giveaway is limited to United States addresses.  Only one comment per person, please!  Tell me what you’re doing to get ready for the holidays.  Are you baking a lot?  Shopping?  Making any gifts?  Trying to get over a cold (as some in our house are doing) or avoid illness (the others in our house are doing this)?  I’ve been tempted to go on a diet in preparation for the holiday week of treats, but it’s hard to do that with all the baking that is happening here!

 

Advent Season

Hello friends!  It’s been a crazy busy couple of months here as we continue to adjust to our high school/middle school schedule.  We were not prepared for the increased work load and all the issues that come with that.  It kind of threw us all off mentally and left hardly any time for extra things, especially during the week.  Oddly enough, now that the older one is swimming 2 hours everyday, our schedule seems to be settling down.  Maybe he just needed regular exercise to help his mind focused?  Or maybe we’ve all just adjusted our expectations.  Anyway, I’ll take it and run with it for now!

And now, it’s time for Christmas baking to begin!  Squeee!!!  I’m super excited this year for all the baking.  I think the early Thanksgiving holiday really helped us to get a head start on all things Christmas.  Already this week, I have tried three new cookie recipes:

Pfeffernusse from Classic German Baking by Louisa Weiss

Springerle, also from Classic German Baking

and Bakery Style Butter Cookies from Deb Perelman at Smitten Kitchen

I have literally been waiting for months since I got Classic German Baking to start baking some of the recipes in the Christmas chapter.  I love that that she has a special section for Christmas!  I chose to make Pfeffernusse and Springerle first because they are long keepers.  In fact, they are supposed to get better as they age.  This is perfect for including in packages that might go a long distance, like to a different country.  Neither one of these cookies has any butter in them, which makes them a different texture than most cookies out there, but we don’t mind that.  Actually, it’s probably better for our waistlines at this moment!  Both cookies are really yummy.

The Pfeffernusse are like a dry, bready, and chewy gingerbread.  The lemon glaze on that one really compliments the cookie well.  It was a very stiff dough. Next time, I might try a cake flour to get a softer dough.

We also made Springerle last year, but I used a different recipe, which I actually like better.  These are drier, but that could be because I baked them too long.  Next time, I will pull them out earlier.  That being said, those of us who like anise, preferred this recipe.  I preferred the fruity/floweryness of the recipe from King Arthur Flour.

The third cookie I made mostly because I had two egg yolks lying around and a container of sprinkles I wanted to use up.  These were a bit of a fiasco to make, only because of my choice of equipment.  I did not have a big star tip for piping and I actually dislike piping anyway (it hurts my hands).  Instead, I decided to use my cookie press.  We had a hard time getting them to press out evenly (a lot of them curled into strange shapes) and making them a uniform size was also quite challenging.  Not to mention, loading the press was a three person job (one to unscrew it, one to hold it, and then one to fill it).  Good thing there were three of us!  Anyway, despite all that, they are quite delicious.  I could do without the chocolate dip and sprinkles.  I left some plain, with just jam sandwiched between and those were my favorite.  The kids prefer the sprinkled ones, so everyone is happy, really.

This is a great start to the Christmas baking season.  There’s still a lot left.  So far, we are up to 9 different breads/pastries and 10 different kinds of cookies.  We just need to add a few more and we’d have enough to populate an advent calendar!

Clearing Up

Happy New Year to you!  I hope that you had a wonderful break from your normal routines.  We sure did enjoy ours.  It was very full of baking, travel, and spending time with good friends.   Now that it is over, I can feel just how good it was to take a break from the everyday work of our regular lives.  We really needed that physical and mental break!

Also, now that I am not a crazy person who bakes every moment of every day, I have really enjoyed revisiting my other hobbies: quilting and knitting.  On the quilting front, I was able to get my charity quilt for do.good.stitches organized for machine quilting.  I’m doing simple straght-ish lines because my machine is really basic and doesn’t really do free motion quilting that well.

I do really love all the blocks that came in for this quilt.  I’ve got all the horizontal lines done and just need another afternoon or two to get the vertical ones done as well as the binding.  The only trouble is that I really need to do the quilting on the dining room table in order to be able to have enough space to move it around.  Unfortunately, the dining room is also the most used space of the house!  Well, maybe I can convince the boys to go somewhere else to work for a day or two if I give them enough chocolate!

This week, I also took an afternoon to take a hard look at all my knitting projects and my yarn.  I took out every work in progress and asked myself if I really liked the yarn and wanted the finished product.  After ripping out three projects, I was left with a few that I felt could be finished rather easily and quickly.  A couple of dedicated knitting evenings meant that I had a handful of things that needed a bath.

Clockwise from the top right are: Fraxinus from Ysolda’s 2016 club, Mareel from Knitworthy3, an 1898 hat that I gave to the husband for Christmas, a cowl that I made from a blanket strip from Blanket Statement, and in the middle is a really old Andean Chullo hat that just needed its crown finished.

I’m really happy with all of these, except for the Llama hat.  After blocking, it turned out too big for anyone.  I started that hat years ago and let’s just say that my stranded knitting skills have greatly improved since then and I am not happy with how uneven it looks.

My happiest finished object of the bunch has to be the cowl I made from the unfinished blanket strip.  Oh, how I love blankets, but Oh, how I hate to knit them!  I thought maybe a club knit along atmosphere would help me with that, but alas, though the spirit was willing, other projects were just more interesting.  As I was holding it in my hand, wondering if I should rip it out, the thought of turning it into a cowl suddenly came to me.  It was just the right length.  Eureka! Fifteen minutes later, I was sewing in the ends and giving it to my older son who expressed an interest in it.  I just love it when things like that happen.

With my Mareel shawl, I was able to use the new blocking pads and wires that the husband gave me recently.  They worked like a charm!  Blocking shawls is not always my favorite thing to do, so anything that makes it faster, more accurate, and easier is great in my book.  I especially like the fabric that has 1 inch grids that came with the blocking mats.  With that underneath the shawl, it was easy to make the points symmetric–something that is always challenging to do with a shawl.

Oh, and I almost forgot!  I did manage to finish a secret sweater project for the husband for Christmas.

I designed the sweater as I went along, but couldn’t really talk about it here because it was, you know, a surprise.  The most challenging part of the sweater was sewing in the zipper along a steeked opening.  I used a sewing machine, which has a tendency to push stitches along as it sews, so even though I basted in the zipper, I had to redo it to make the colorwork pattern line up properly.

Also, I am worried that the steek will start to unravel as the garment is worn, even though I reinforced it with two lines of sewing–time will tell!

Overall, I am happy with it, though there are a couple of things I would do differently if I were to do it over again.  The collar does not quite come up far enough and it is also a bit tight when fully zipped.  He’ll just have to go for a casual, partially zipped look when he wears it!  The important part is that it fits, which is always a worry when one is knitting a surprise sweater.

What about you?  Have you been doing any organizing or clearing out?  I’ve got some more to do in my sewing room, but that will have to wait for another day.  I’ve got a little startitis to work through.

Merry Christmas!

Hi All!  Just popping in to announce the winner of the Christmas Treat Box Giveaway.  I used the random number generator to help me pick the winner and it chose post 67, which is Laura C. with this post:

“I’ve seen these cookies before but never had any. Glad the machine was fun and easy to use”

Well, Laura, there are some pizzeles in the box I just shipped off to you, so I hope you enjoy them and the other treats as well!

Thank you to all of you for being faithful readers and commenters.  I wish you could be here to enjoy a piece of cake with me.  Our event on Saturday ended up being cancelled due to weather, so we’ve had to eat the whole cake by ourselves, but I would have loved to share it with you.   You all make writing this blog a lot of fun!

Today, despite getting off to a late start, has been fairly productive.  My candied orange peel is drying now.

And the next batch of panettone dough is made and rising (very slowly).  Do you see how stretchy and sheer the dough is?  Heavenly!  I know it’s only Monday, but the week is looking good so far!  How’s your week looking?