Happy December, everyone! We are in full holiday swing around here, although we have heavy hearts with the fires in Southern CA. And this time we’ve got family in the immediate area of the fires. We have great hope and prayer that the fires are extinguished- that the firefighters have continued strength as they fight exhausted hour after hour to get these fires contained.
On a positive note- I really love this season of preparing- not just in the kitchen, but the house, gifts, gatherings, our hearts, you name it. It’s the Christmas season and the excitement of our three kids truly makes it more fun as each year passes. Even as the skepticism about Santa and strange elves (warranted!) seems to be taking hold, the magic of Christmas is strong and it makes me smile ear to ear.
Years into dating Eric, I wanted to continue a Christmas tradition that he remembered fondly from his childhood. There were two particular desserts- Tassies and Chocolate Mint Stripes- that I would hear about and I wanted to continue the tradition. There was one problem, those recipes were closely guarded and it wasn’t until I had a ring on my finger that I was given the recipes. Those recipes are dear to us and are a beautiful addition to the holiday recipes that I grew up with.
As for my family, exactly 10 years ago my mom made a family cookbook that contained a collection of recipes that we grew up with. They were the recipes that my siblings and I would call our mom for, quickly scribble down the recipe while we were at the store because the craving was so strong, only to lose the recipe and repeat the same story the next time we were craving a particular childhood favorite. This book was such a treasured gift to all of us. It included familiar recipes that we had growing up, ones that became favorites and some that we didn’t quite remember having but my mom swears were staples at family gatherings (why are nuts, mayo and green jello even allowed to be combined in a bowl anyhow?). The book also has family birthday dates, anniversaries, quotes, favorite scripture, and most importantly, some beautiful poetry that my mom wrote during some happy as well as trying times. The book is titled “A Mother’s Treasure of Family Favorite Recipes,” and that it sure is.
Much of what makes me smile each year are the traditions that our family has developed over the years. We all have them, right? My kids have come to expect certain activities in December, decorations around the house, and gatherings with family (because cousins are awesome!!) and friends (where brunch turns into dinner because you all don’t want to say goodbye). Nearly all of those traditions involve food- food to enjoy yourselves, food to share or serve to others.
I’d love to share two holiday baking projects that are a family tradition in December…
Eric grew up with this fun tradition of sculpting sweet bread into Christmas shapes and he was excited to establish this with our own family. We’ve been doing it since the kids were little but old enough to help with this project.
I gotta say, it has become one of our favorite family traditions. We’ve done everything from a wreath, elf, candy cane, and Santa, to an angel, reindeer, and Christmas owl!!
We used to use Eric’s mom’s recipe for years until last year. We took a Day of the Dead cooking class and learned about a very similar sweet dough that is traditional in Mexican cuisine, but it had this wonderful orange zest studded throughout the dough and we decided to try that for our sculpture bread tradition. It was a huge hit! The key is to start the dough early- we usually start ours the morning of Christmas Eve and sculpt it just before we leave for our church service in the late afternoon. We let it rise while we are gone and bake it while we get ready for the reindeer- let it cool and wrap it up really well. We love to eat this bread with salted butter and apricot jam- perfect to enjoy while opening presents on Christmas morning.
Christmas Sugar Cookies
This recipe comes from my family recipe book. I’ve made these cookies for as long as I can remember. Whenever we share these cookies with others- the recipe is always requested! I’m not totally sure what makes them so unique, but most sugar cookies are too floury, undercooked or just lack flavor. Not these- they are full of flavor, roll out perfectly and are delicious frosted or simply sprinkled with sugar crystals or sprinkles.
Sugar Cookie Cut Outs
This recipe comes from my family cookbook growing up and it's been a family tradition in my own home since my kids were little. The recipe makes two disks of dough, so if you're planning cookie plates to give away, make and bake the entire recipe. Alternatively, plan to freeze one of the disks of dough for a fun project at a later date – snowflakes in January or hearts in February.
- 3 ¾ cups flour
- 2 ½ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 ½ cups sugar
- ⅔ cups butter room temperature
- 2 eggs room temperature
- 2 tbsp milk
- 1 tsp almond extract can use vanilla
- 1 ½ cups confectioners' sugar
- 3 tbsp butter room temperature
- ¼-½ tsp almond extract can use vanilla
- 1 tbsp milk
- pinch of kosher salt
- food coloring
In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar. Beat at medium speed until light and fluffy, scraping the bowl as needed.
Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
Add milk and almond extract and mix until combined.
With the mixer on low, add dry ingredients to wet ingredients.
Shape dough into two disks and wrap each in plastic wrap.
Refrigerate for 2-3 hours until easy to handle.
To make cookies:
Preheat oven to 400°
Lightly grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.
On floured surface, roll one of the disks till ⅛” to ¼” thick. Keep extra dough in the refrigerator until ready to use.
With floured cookie cutters, cut into various shapes. Gather scraps and re-roll dough to cut out more cookies.
Place them on cookie sheets, ½” apart.
Bake for 6-8 minutes, or until very lightly browned.
Move cookies to baking rack and cool completely before frosting.
Combine confectioners' sugar, butter, extract and milk, beating until creamy.
If necessary, add a few more drops of milk to reach desired spreading consistency.
Divide frosting into as many bowls as you want colors. Mix in food coloring as desired.
Spread frosting over cooled cookies and add any additional sprinkles or decorations when frosting is still wet.