Tag Archives: Christmas Activities

Three Great Christmas Cookies

Heading somewhere for the holidays and in need of a dessert or hostess gift? Or simply haven’t gotten your fill of your holiday baking? These three relatively simple, festive and classic holiday cookie recipes should help you in either case.

Spritz Cookies

I grew up making Spritz cookies every holiday season. A certain whiff from an electric beater takes me right back to childhood winters.

Spritz cookies are made by pressing the soft dough through a cookie press and through various plates with interchangeable shapes. I love the efficiency and fun of pressing out lots of little cookies. Once pressed onto a cookie sheet, you can decorate them with the sprinkles of your choice. I think one of the keys to good Spritz cookies is: Be sure your recipe includes almond flavoring (or add 1/2 tsp. per 4-5 cups of dry ingredients, or half as much as your vanilla flavoring). The other is: Have fun decorating. This can be a very festive and delicious cookie. If you do color the cookies (which I recommend!) you might want to try professional paste frosting colors, which, with a little patience, produce a nice deep color. (You can get a box of 8 small color jars from ChefMaster, available at specialty baking stores, for around $7).

It also takes a little practice to learn to press the right amount of dough out per cookie. (Most presses have adjustable settings.) The good news is you can just scoop dough that didn’t work out back into the press and try again.

This site, from Wilton, offers the classic Spritz recipe, plus links for buying a cookie press. I recommend the reasonably priced Cookie Max.

Butterballs

You may know them as Mexican Wedding Balls, or Russian Tea Cookies. Butterballs are mine (and a lot of people’s) favorite cookie — They’re tasty, melt-in-your-mouth buttery, sugar-coated, and just all-around great, any time of year. I find the ones in The Silver Palate Cookbook to be the best of the best, perhaps because they’re largely sweetened with honey, which provides a great taste and crunch.

Here is a copy of the recipe, from The Silver Palate Cookbook.

Sugarplums


One more from the Silver Palate team — This one is in The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook: Sugarplums. Mythical, festive, evocative Sugarplums. (Blame it on The Nutcracker and The Night Before Christmas.) They are certainly as much fun to pop into one’s mouth as they are to contemplate. The original recipe calls for corn syrup and cognac. I substituted agave syrup, a mild and more natural sweetener for half the corn syrup, and all of the cognac (using a little under 1/3 c. for the cognac portion.) And I did away with the cherry on top, the better to enjoy the pure, undiluted Sugarplum experience.

Here’s hoping you have a warm and yummy holiday!


Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Build Your Dream Gingerbread House Part Two

Creating and designing gingerbread houses is a fun and classic holiday activity. It can also — let’s face it — be messy and time-consuming, what with baking the pieces for and constructing the house, gathering all the needed supplies, and having an area in your home that you don’t mind getting a little frosting-spackled.

The clever solution for would-be gingerbread architects who are a little short on time and materials? Find a spot that supplies all the needed ingredients and merely requires you to show up, be creative and pay for what you use.

One such spot is Mill Valley, CA’s Gingerbread Builders, which offers standard and custom houses and everything you need to create stunning ones, including catalogs for inspiration, staff assistance, plenty of time and all manner of frosting and candy decorations. And best? It’s open every day on a drop-in basis.

Other Bay Area spots offer gingerbread house workshops at specific times. These include the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito, Cake Art in San Rafael, Autumn Express in San Francisco, and Spun Sugar in Berkeley.

Across the country, in Lexington, MA, Wilson Farm offers a gingerbread house workshop on a historic farm that features lots of other fun activities. In Newton, MA, Create a Cook has a two-part gingerbread house workshop, in addition to other kids’ cooking classes.

New York City’s Taste Buds offers lots of gingerbread house and holiday cookie workshops.

Chicago’s Emerald City Theater features gingerbread house making in conjunction with other theater activities.

The Creative Discovery Museum in Chatanooga, TN, has lots of gingerbread house workshops.

In Camano Island, WA, you can decorate a gingerbread house outdoors at the Cama Beach Nature Preserve with Gingerbread Lady Alice Blandin. (Register by Dec. 6.)

In Toronto, the very special-sounding Madeleines, Cherry Pie and Ice Cream offers drop-in gingerbread house creating, along with owner/ baker/cake decorator Kyla Eaglesham.

Seeking a larger project? This person in my town transforms their house into a lifesize gingerbread house each year!

So, whatever your taste, time allotment, budget and desire, there’s a gingerbread house project for you, and a place to create it!

For more ideas and how-tos, see my earlier post about Constructing and Decorating a Gingerbread House. Have fun!

Photos: Top Three – Gingerbread Builders, Kyla Eaglesham, Susan Sachs Lipman

Build Your Dream Gingerbread House Part One

It’s the rare person whose imagination isn’t captured by the delight in creating a gingerbread house. There’s the architecture aspect, as the house’s pieces are baked and fitted — and icing-caulked — together in a variety of ways. There’s the decorating, which can be done with all manner of bright candies and objects and patterns that can recall familiar items — or not! And there’s the very satisfying, whimsical, one-of-a-kind structure that results.

Here are some tips and ideas from around the web for creating gingerbread and other candied houses.

From Wilton, comes this extremely informative and creative guide to decorating with icing and candies that covers everything from creating icicles to fireplaces to shutters to stained-glass windows.

Celebrating Christmas offers recipes, ideas, and enough blueprints for homes and landscaping (from ponds to flower-lined paths) to satisfy your inner general contractor.

Gingerbread House Heaven is another site with lots of ideas and beautiful pictures for inspiration. Think you can’t light a gingerbread house with real lights, for instance? Think again. This site shares how, in addition to offering instructions for melted-candy windows that will make the light glow realistically through. Roofing textures and various recipes for edible clay are among the many other things covered.

If you’re still seeking good gingerbread recipes and building how-tos, Simply Recipes has plenty.

Rather skip the headaches of building and just move in? Here are lots of turn-key house ideas, like using milk cartons or other bases, as a way of getting right to the decorating fun.

With small children, especially, the easiest and most pleasing thing to do is cover a short milk carton with frosting and let them stick on candies and other foods to decorate. The milk carton (or a village of them) can sit atop a piece of foil-covered cardboard that can also be frosted. And, of course, you can buy a pre-assembled gingerbread house and get right to the decorating.

Some decorating ideas include:

Gumdrops, cut in half – edging or decorations
Jelly beans – edging or decorations
M&Ms – ornaments or decorations
Fruit loops – decorations
Nilla wafers, crushed or whole – walkways
Ritz crackers – walkways, shingles or siding
Gummi bears – decorations
Chocolate soldiers – decorations
Chocolate kisses – bells or decorations
Chocolate nonpareils – shingles or decorations
Candy canes – gates or decorations
Licorice, small pieces – edging or bricks
Necco wafers, whole or broken – shingles, walkways, decorations
Pretzel sticks – fences and logs
Shredded wheat cereal – thatched roofs
Graham crackers, halved, and candy canes – sleds
Graham crackers – shingles
Upside down ice-cream cones, frosted and dipped in green sprinkles – trees
Brown sugar – dirt
Confectioners sugar – snow

And, for the modern home, orange-half barbecues and ice-cream cone satellite dishes!

Here’s hoping you enjoy a fun and creative holiday!

Photos: Public Domain, Wilton, Susan Sachs Lipman

Stay tuned for Part Two: Gingerbread Workshops

12 Days of Green Holiday Gifts: Homemade Cookies

Cookies might be the ultimate green and well-received gift — They’re delightful, yummy and fun. They come from the heart. They’re economical. Making and exchanging them can be a fun holiday tradition. And you can always make a few extra for yourself.

This week I had the pleasure of attending a cookie exchange! Lucky me (and my family.) Each year the women who volunteer to help with my local Girl Scout group have an exchange in which attendees bring 4 dozen cookies and an empty container. The cookies all go out on a table, and we line up (Girl Scout volunteers are orderly) and go around the table, socializing and taking a cookie from each plate until they are all distributed. (A photo from the exchange is above.)

There are several cookies that have become part of our holiday baking traditions. I usually manage to make a couple of types each year. They happen to be easy to make. Here are the favorites.

Spritz Cookies


I grew up making these. In fact, my mom really enjoyed making Spritz cookies and Halloween cupcakes. A certain whiff from an electric beater (she had a great, big Hamilton Beach one that was permanently on the counter) takes me right back to childhood winters and falls.

Spritz cookies are made by pressing the soft dough through a cookie press and through various plates with interchangeable shapes. I love the efficiency and fun of pressing out lots of little cookies. Once pressed onto a cookie sheet, you can decorate them with the sprinkles of your choice. I think one of the keys to good Spritz cookies is: Be sure your recipe includes almond flavoring (or add 1/2 tsp. per 4-5 cups of dry ingredients, or half as much as your vanilla flavoring). The other is: Have fun decorating. This can be a very festive and delicious cookie. If you do color the cookies (which I recommend!) you might want to try professional paste frosting colors, which, with a little patience, produce a nice deep color. (You can get a box of 8 small color jars from ChefMaster, available at specialty baking stores, for around $7).

It also takes a little practice to learn to press the right amount of dough out per cookie. (Most presses have adjustable settings.) The good news is you can just scoop dough that didn’t work out back into the press and try again.

This site, from Wilton, offers the classic Spritz recipe, plus links for buying a cookie press. I recommend the reasonably priced Cookie Max.

Butterballs

You may know them as Mexican Wedding Balls, or Russian Tea Cookies. Butterballs are mine (and a lot of people’s) favorite cookie — They’re tasty, melt-in-your-mouth buttery, sugar-coated, and just all-around great, any time of year. I find the ones in The Silver Palate Cookbook to be the best of the best, perhaps because they’re largely sweetened with honey, which provides a great taste and crunch.

Here is a copy of the recipe, from The Silver Palate Cookbook.

Sugarplums


One more from the Silver Palate team — This one is in The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook: Sugarplums. Mythical, festive, evocative Sugarplums. (Blame it on The Nutcracker and The Night Before Christmas.) They are certainly as much fun to pop into one’s mouth as they are to contemplate. The original recipe calls for corn syrup and cognac. I substituted agave syrup, a mild and more natural sweetener for half the corn syrup, and all of the cognac (using a little under 1/3 c. for the cognac portion.) And I did away with the cherry on top, the better to enjoy the pure, undiluted Sugarplum experience.

Enjoy!

My criteria for a green holiday gift? Items meet all or most of the following: Promotes nature play or care of the earth, Uses all or mostly natural ingredients, Fosters hours of open-ended creative play,  Doesn’t use extraneous plastic or other wrapping, Doesn’t break the bank to buy it.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Celebrate Christmas at CA’s Columbia State Park

Columbia State Historical Park, part of the California State Park system was the place to be during the California Gold Rush and it is the place to be more than 150 years later, perhaps especially at holiday time. That’s when this living historic town, just three hours from San Francisco in the Sierra Nevada foothills, puts on its lights and decorations, hosts a passel of events, and perhaps even provides a little snow, as it already has this season.

This special town, in which you literally step into history, offers costumed docents year-round, along with shops and activities, such as tours, mining cabins, gold panning, a working blacksmith, and stagecoach rides.

Holiday events this year include:

Miners’ Christmas, Sat and Sun., December 12th, 13th, 19th and 20th, from 1-4pm each day.

Miners will roast chestnuts, make coffee and cider, and tell stories around a campfire. Participants can partake in classic Christmas crafts and a visit by Father Christmas.

Merry Merchants, Fri. and Sat., Dec. 11th and 12th, 5-8 p.m.

Shops are open late in what is a complete antidote to the modern mall. Free carriage rides are offered on Main Street. Carolers sing and storytellers perform. Guests can warm themselves with roasted chestnuts, gingerbread and other specialties, and enjoy a visit by Father Christmas.

Equestrian Parade, Sun., Dec. 13th, 11 a.m.

Las Posadas Nativity Procession, Sun., Dec. 13, 5 p.m.

Enjoy this Spanish tradition that re-enacts the Biblical story of Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. The procession is a 25-year Columbia tradition which features many costumed townspeople, from Bibilical as well as mining-camp times. Luminaria and candles light the way for the special evening parade and performance.

For more information, visit the Columbia State Historical Park web site.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman