Christmas Ornament Cookies

Baking date: December 8; Decorating dates: December 22 & 23

For a number of years now, I have baked cookies and decorated them for my oldest son’s baseball teammates and their families. 2018 was no exception…but it was a bit different. After 10 years, it was the year my son played his final organized baseball game. I think he handled it better than his parents, and I blogged about the experience of his last baseball game at our home field after 10 years.

I had purchased new cookie cutters in ornament shapes from Crate & Barrel that I planned to use for the 2018 Christmas goody bags. Here’s a photo, as I was unable to find a link to them currently on the C&B site – perhaps because they are seasonal.  Baker’s note: The top two shapes — especially that one on the top left — are more fragile than the others because of narrowing areas of the cut out. This is true for cutting them out, getting them out of the shape and onto the cookie sheet and after they bake. Those shapes are prone to breaking.  Overall, these shapes are large, so keep that in mind for quantity of cookies.

Cookie cutter

I made gingerbread cookies — my mom sent me her favorite version of a gingerbread cut out recipe. It makes a ton of cookies, even with large cookie cutters. I actually called my mom after she emailed me the recipe because I thought vinegar was a mistake.


I also made sugar cookies.  I had made them weeks earlier, and froze them until I was ready to start decorating, December 22 and 23. Here they are in the storage containers, ready to be decorated.


And here’s my personal “workshop”, ready for the cookie decorating.  In addition to the ornament cut outs, I also had candy canes and stars. You can see some of the ornament cookies that I had started, in the bottom right corner. Each ornament cookie had a unique decoration. I made one cookie for every member of each family – close to 125 cookies:


So big bummer here – the pictures I took of all the decorated cookies got deleted from my phone. The only one that saved was this one:IMG_2372

And a few friends who received the cookies posted photos (presented in slide show format):

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Here are links to some of the previous years’ cookies:

In addition to cookies, I also make mini-breads:  banana, snickerdoodle, and pumpkin (a Pillsbury mix topped with chocolate chips). Here you see my big mini-bread pan filled with pumpkin, before being topped with chocolate chips. In the background are the very ripe bananas I got at the store, that would soon be turned into banana bread.


So, while I don’t have photos of all the cookies, I do have this photo of my delivery “elf” along with my new “sleigh” filled with the goody bags. My elf has gone out with me  on Christmas Eve each year to drop off the bags of cookies, homemade breads and candies to all the baseball families we have spent our Summers with over the years.


I look forward to continuing this tradition as long as possible, even when high school is over.

Christmas Cookies and Mini-breads for Our Baseball Family

Baking dates: December 21, 22, and 23, 2017

Each year at Christmas, I bake goodies for our Summer rec baseball family and deliver them on Christmas Eve. Six of the players have gone on to play with elite teams, but we still see them for high school games. And some of them we see at football and basketball during the rest of the year.

These are the people who welcomed us into the community when we first moved here in 2004. They are the people I have spent many weeknights and weekends with as our boys practiced, played games and competed in tournaments. I have watched their sons grow into fine young men.

This year, there were 24 families with 110 family members to personalize cookies for. In addition, I make mini breads. Some are from scratch – snickerdoodlebanana and sour cream chocolate. Some are from a box mix gingerbread, pumpkin, and cranberry.

I use three vacation days prior to Christmas Eve to do all my baking for my baseball family (and my aunts and uncles who we visit on Christmas day). My kitchen typically looks like this for about 4 days:


Cookies – I make the cookies first, since the royal icing takes a while to dry. The cookies are a chocolate sugar cookie. This recipe makes a lot of cut outs, depending on how large your cookie cutter is. This is one batch – it’s a thick cookie batter and clumps around the paddle with lots more still in the bowl:


I made two batches this year. In the past, I have made Santa hats, and stockings, so this year I went with a long fancy plaque cookie cutter and a square plaque cookie cutter. Here they are:


This year, I tried pre-made cookie icing in white, red, green and blue. It worked fine, however once you snip off the tip for the icing, that’s the size that flows out, and you have less control over the squeeze than you do with an icing bag and tip. So I decided to make the opening medium size for the general decorating and made a small batch of royal icing in white, red and green so I could pipe on names using a #1 tip. Baker’s note: this royal icing recipe called for a flavored extract. For a larger batch recipe, I add 1 tablespoon of almond extract in place of one of the tablespoons of water. I find that royal icing with an extract flavor tastes much better than with only water.

Here are the cookies halfway decorated  – there are very few that are exactly the same:


And here are all the personalized cookies, by family (presented in slideshow format):

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Breads: for the pumpkin, I typically add milk chocolate chips on top before I bake the loaves. But this year, I emptied the one bag of milk chocolate chips I had into a batch of snickerdoodle bread and stirred once before realizing my mistake.

Baking Fail

Because of that mistake, I sprinkled white chocolate chips on the pumpkin bread. But those chips don’t hold up as well (they melt much more than the milk chocolate), so the loaves were not as pretty. I also used the white chocolate chips in the chocolate bread, instead of the chocolate chips. Because the chips were mixed into the batter and not sprinkled on top, they fared much better. (Baker’s note: a friend dropped off all the baking supplies she didn’t use this year because she got the flu and wasn’t able to bake. I think there were 4 bags of white chips!).

For the cranberry and gingerbread, I drizzled the leftover white royal icing (from the personalization of the cookies) on top.

Here are some of the banana breads. The bigger loaves are for some of the larger families. IMG_0964

And when it comes to baking mini-breads, I break out the big gun:IMG_0966

Here is the entire final production of baked goods:


Another element I put in the bags is Christmas-themed chocolate candy minis. There is one baseball player with allergies to many ingredients in my baked goods, so I get candies like Sour Patch kids, nerds and Twizzlers for his family’s bag.


For goodie delivery, this year I used plain white bags lined with a sheet of tissue paper, with the Christmas card for the family attached to the outside. I line the bags up for packaging in the order they will be delivered, with the last families we will visit in the front.


Then, I transfer the bags to the back of my car in the reverse order, with the first families we will visit in the front.


Then, my son Alex and I go about our business of delivering the goodies to the families on Christmas Eve. If people aren’t home, we have plastic grocery bags to place the goodies in (that pile of grey and white underneath all the paper bags). If they aren’t home, I text them to let them know we’ve made the delivery.

Everyone is so appreciative (presented in slide show format):

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I hope you were able to share a bit of the holiday spirit with family and friends.

College Freshman Care Packages

Editor’s note: It’s been awhile since I have posted. The Fall is always super busy with football for my kids, work projects and the start of the holiday season. Thanks for your patience as I try and catch up on sharing a bunch of baking I’ve been doing since September.

Baking date: September 4, 2017

Every year for the past 4 or so, I have been making cookies to send off to my friends’ kids as they leave for college. This year was no different. There were 5 kids who got care packages this year. They were big brothers of some of my oldest son’s friends, and others are my community friends’ kids.

Packages went to Frostburg University (MD), McDaniel College (MD), Shepherd University (WV), and Wake Forest University (NC). The inserts were simple enough – loaves of Snickerdoodle bread and pumpkin bread, as well as chocolate chip cookies. I sent them via 2-day delivery — please don’t tell the USPS I check the box that affirms there are no perishables in the package!

I had no bubble wrap this year, so to secure the baked goods in place, I added crumpled up plastic grocery bags. Oh yes, and I included this picture…

Clark Griswold

with this handwritten message…

Handwritten note

The best part is seeing the reaction/getting the thank yous…

Like this email, from one of the kids (a big brother of my son’s friend Nick) who shared his package with his roommate:

Joe TY

And this Facebook post (from the big brother of my son’s friends Matt and James):

Josh TY

And this text I got from my friend Kelley (recipient is the big brother of yet another of my son’s friends, Owen):

Ethan TY

And then there was the kid who returned home for a varsity football game and  delivered these to me in the stands while I was watching my kid play:

Noah TY

There’s nothing better than the feeling of community. And making the good young people you know feel loved and happy.

So, what are the ways you could pay it forward for others?

Christmas Eve Deliveries to My Other Family Members

Baking date: December 23, 2015

When my three sisters and I were little, mom and dad would pile us in the VW bus (the original minivan) with packages of homemade treats my mom had whipped up. The day after Christmas, we would visit all my mom’s aunts and uncles to deliver the goods and a little Christmas cheer to her elderly aunts and uncles – she had 6 aunts and uncles on her mom’s side alone!

We would end the visits by stopping by two family friends’ homes, who had children our age we could play with. It was our reward for being well-behaved at the homes of the family elders.

My husband and I live about 2.5 hours away from my parents. While some of my husband’s immediate family (two uncles) are close by, the closest family member to me is my uncle who is just over an hour away.

A few years ago, I decided to start my own Christmas tradition of making homemade goodie deliveries to family. In my case, the “family” is the group of people we spend the majority of our spring and summer with at baseball fields — some of them we see on the football field and basketball court as well. While not all the families still are part of the baseball team my son Alex plays on, I consider them family.

I bake lots of cookies to decorate and I make mini-breads. I stuff enough into each container for the family members, as well as chocolates (holiday themed stuff like Snickers, Kisses, KitKats, etc.).

This year’s cookies included sugar cookies with decorations baked in, and gingerbread cut out candy canes and stars decorated with royal frosting. Some stars were had yellow tinted royal frosting with gold sugar pearls and gold sugar sprinkles. The other stars had white royal frosting and a variety of Christmas-themed sprinkles on top. The candy canes were all outlined and had white stripes. Every other stripe was flooded with the white royal icing. Sprinkles in red, green, gold, or silver were then added on the icing and the excess was shaken off.

The mini-breads were Snickerdoodle, pumpkin with chocolate chips on top, and banana.

Here’s the whole batch, ready for packaging:


And a few up close photos of the cookies:

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No matter how you celebrate the holidays, it’s always important to include your family members. Even those that don’t share your DNA.

Breakfast Treats and Dessert Breads

Baking date: September 8 and 9, 2015

Each year, my organization does a mailing to about 2,400 individuals. The mailing is comprised of multiple pieces of various sizes and weights. In order to put the package together, we ask staff from a number of departments to help with the assembly line of collating the materials, stuffing them in padded envelopes, and labeling them in preparation for mailing. This takes two full days.

The reward for those that help is a pizza lunch each day, time away from your desk, and a chance to chat with colleagues you might not otherwise have the time to catch up with. And this year since the project moved to my group, I decided to add sweets to the mix.

For the first day, I made two pound cakes (box mix), cinnamon coffee cake (box mix), and banana bread. The one pound cake had a powdered sugar/milk glaze that was infused with orange extract, and another had a glaze infused with raspberry extract. The banana bread recipe is one I’ve used before. I would link to the brand I used for the pound cake mix (Betty Crocker), but the link on their page for the pound cake mix goes to a box mix for pineapple upside down cake instead.

Here are all the goodies on their way to the office with me on the Metro:


There were leftovers after the first day, but I made more treats for day two. This time it was another pound cake mix, but this one was topped with leftover Fireball icing from a previous baking effort. I piped the icing on in “roses”.  I figured this would be good at the end of the second day. I also made a blueberry bread (from a muffin mix), and a pumpkin bread mix. I topped the pumpkin bread with milk chocolate chips. Here are those goodies, getting ready to make the trek with me to work:


This was an easy way for me to add a bit of sweetness to a tedious task.

Random Acts of Kindness Week Goodies

February 9-15, 2015 was Random Acts of Kindness Week. I decided to participate in flooding social media with good news by sharing goodies throughout the week with others. Here’s how my #RAKWeek2015 took shape:

Monday:  On Sunday evening, I baked Rolo-stuffed snickerdoodle cookies. I was mailing them to a friend’s daughter who had just moved to the University of Maryland to continue her undergraduate education. For two years, I’ve been baking goodies for friends’ kids when they move to college for the first semester. On Monday, I shipped them out via priority mail. First random act of kindness done!

Tuesday: Over the weekend prior to Random Acts of Kindness Week, one of the local moms had asked if I could make lion paw cookies for an event at the high school. I was on business travel and wouldn’t have time to bake and decorate cookies by Tuesday — let alone find a lion paw cookie cutter! However, I do have lion paw candy molds (in small, pops, and large size) because our local grade, middle, high school, and recreation league sports are all blue and gold Lions.

I made about 36 candies of varying shapes using royal blue and yellow candy melts. My friend asked me how much and I said “it’s Random Acts of Kindness Week, so consider this my gift.” She was thrilled and here’s how the candies turned out:

Random sizes of lion paw candies

Random sizes of lion paw candies

She posted this collage of pictures to Facebook with a thank you to me. The candies ended up looking great with her other decorations.

Lion paw candies incorporated into the party decorations

Lion paw candies incorporated into the party decorations

Wednesday: On Wednesday, my colleagues and I had an all-day event taking place. It was a big event, bringing together teams from our department, as well as IT, communications, and an outside vendor. Since it was an all day event, I made gingerbread and pumpkin mini-breads for our “war room” so people had goodies to munch on.  I topped them with Sugar in the Raw before baking, to give them a sweet crunch on top.

Because I had made the breads on a week night, I used box mixes. On weekends, I’ll make breads from scratch, but during the week with limited time, I use box mixes.  The breads were gone by lunch.

Thursday: I telework on Fridays, so Thursday was my last day in the office at work for the week. I decided to make Valentine candy hearts. I have two molds for this, one is more rounded mini-hearts, and the other is a flat, larger heart mold. With the mini-heart mold, I made red, purple (discontinued – now available in lavender), and pink (discontinued – now available in bright pink) vanilla candies. I also made milk chocolate candies with the mini-heart mold:

Mini-heart candies

Mini-heart candies

I also made milk chocolate and peanut butter candies in the flat, larger heart mold:

Milk chocolate and peanut butter candy melt hearts

Milk chocolate and peanut butter candy melt hearts

I then created an image that I shared on social media with the hashtag #RAKWeek2015:

Heart my colleagues

Heart my colleagues

Friday: On Friday, I received this text from my friend’s daughter. Unfortunately, the mailroom hadn’t delivered her packages until Friday, even though they arrived on Tuesday.

Nice way to end the week.

Nice way to end the week.

It was a nice way to end a week of Random Acts of Kindness through baking.

Chocolate Kahlua Cake and Orange Dreamsicle Bread

Baking date: December 31, 2014

We attended a New Year’s gathering at my friend Rebecca’s house. It was a small party, so I only made three desserts.

For the kids, I made Rolo-stuffed snickerdoodles. I’ve made this recipe so many times and it is a fan favorite with the kids. I use mini-Rolos; regular size Rolos produce a HUGE cookie.

I also made Orange Dreamsicle bread. I had made this for Christmas in mini-bread format as part of my goodie baskets, and decided to make it in the recipe-recommended 8″x4″ loaf pans. A few notes about this recipe:

  • I have found that both times I made this recipe, I have more than enough of the cream cheese filling and don’t end up using it all.
  • The filling can be swirled around, but the batter is not very thick, so it tends to mix itself if you pour it around the pan instead of in just one spot.

Here’s how it turned out:


Finally, I made a liquor-infused goodie. It was Chocolate Kahlua Cake. A few notes about this recipe:

  • The chocolate chips in the batter may give the false impression of the cake not being done if you use a cake tester. Be sure it’s cake batter and not a melted chocolate chip on the tester.
  • When I pulled this out of the oven, the cake really condensed once it began to cool. Don’t freak if it starts to lose some height.
  • I used Pam baking spray with flour, and the cake slipped out of the pan very easily.
  • When I pulled the cake out of the oven, I brushed Kahlua on the base of the cake so it would soak into the warm cake. When I took it out of the pan and before I dusted it with powdered sugar, I brushed Kahlua on the top. Again, this was to get it to soak into the cake while it was still a bit warm and in case any of the Kahlua in the batter had baked off during the cooking phase.

Here’s how the cake turned out:


Chocolate Kahlua cake

The cake is rich and dense, and it was another winner!

Hope your New Year was spent enjoying time with family and/or good friends, as well as good eats!