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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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A Very Special Snow Globe Cookie

Baking date: December 22, 2017

Two years ago, two different friends who have never met posted the exact same tutorial for how to decorate the snow globe cookie to my Facebook page.

I purchased a snow globe cookie cutter and had plans to make the cookie in 2016. But that holiday, I ended up suffering a bulging disc and didn’t get to do the amount of baking I was hoping to.

So this year, I busted out that cookie cutter and was determined to replicate the cookie. One thing I did differently was make the gingerbread man out of light cocoa candy melts. In hind sight, the royal icing would have been a better choice. The candy melts start to set quickly…more quickly than royal icing does. I found it difficult to shape and smooth the gingerbread man once I had piped the shape and filling onto the wax paper.

The base cookie was a chocolate sugar cookie. The cookie cutter was perfect and unlike the inspiration cookie, there were no parts to cut specially and push together:

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Here’s the cookie through the first stages of decoration:

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And here’s the finished product:

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This was a very special cookie and it was going to be part of a package for the family of a dear friend of ours who passed away after a massive heart attack in November. He was a coach to my son in both baseball and basketball for many years. He was also an organ donor, whose liver and kidneys are now helping others.

Like the scene in the snow globe, I remember our dear friend…a sweet, kind soul…suspended in time and living on in a unique way.

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Our son Alex and his coach Steve

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RIP Steve.

Christmas Goodies for Co-Workers

Baking date: December 17, 2017

Each year, I make goodie bags for my immediate team (6 individuals, including my supervisor). In addition, I make a variety of cookies (small cut outs of gingerbread and sugar) to share with the people on my floor.

This year, the base cookie was a gingerbread cookie. I decorated one for each team member with their name, and then filled the boxes with some mini-breads, other generically decorated gingerbread and sugar cookies and a $10 Starbucks gift card.

Here are the personalized cookies, along with some of the generically decorated cookies, mini-breads and gingersnaps:

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Here are more of the sugar and gingerbread cookies:

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Here’s the assembly line of cookies and boxed treats for my team:

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As one person commented: “Thoughtful, personal, and edible – I like it! Great job.”

 

Christmas Cookies and Other Goodies

Baking date: December 22 & 23, 2016

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted an update. I was dealing with a bulging disc, sciatica and terrible pain. I’ve been in PT to right my back issue, as well as on medication for pain. Thanks for your patience as I had to keep focused on work, family, and recovery.

I’m much better now and happy to share some of the baking a did before and after this bout with back issues. This Christmas I did the baking while hopped up on some serious pain medications, so if you see any errors, I’m going to blame it on that!

Each year I bake for the kids on my oldest son Alex’s baseball team. This includes kids he plays with now, and those we played with for many years, but have moved on to more competitive teams that pull from a larger talent pool.

I make goody bags for each family that include candies (bite size things like Snickers, KitKats, Kisses, etc.) and mini-breads (pumpkin, snickerdoodle, gingerbread, and banana). I also made sugar cookies with royal frosting, chocolate sugar cookies, and gingerbread cut out cookies. Bakers note: I substitute 1 tablespoon of almond extract for one of the tablespoons of water when making my royal icing. I think it gives the icing a much better taste.

This is a big effort, so I take vacation days to do this. The recipe I use for the sugar cookies and chocolate sugar cookies both involve extra steps/time of refrigerating the dough before rolling out (sugar), rolling out and refrigerating (chocolate sugar) and refrigerating again once cookies have been cut (sugar), before baking.

This was my kitchen island before everything got underway. My supplies include my favorite apron from a job years ago, the mega mini-bread pan, recipes, and cookie cutters:

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This year, I decided to personal Santa cap cookies. In a previous years, I used the stocking shape when personalizing.

There’s lots of prep work that goes into getting decorating ready. You can see the mini breads in the bucket and more cut out cookies in the containers with red tops. As I captioned this when I posted it to Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook: “Santa has his workshop, I have mine”.

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I used red (no taste) and leaf green to color a portion of the royal icing. I also had a wide variety of sugar pearls, sugar sprinkles, and other edible decorations. Each Santa cap had a unique design. And I started with a #1 Wilton tip to pipe on the names, but I found that the royal icing would clog this very narrow tip.

So I moved to a #2 tip, but found that it was too wide. I had to move from full first names to initials. Baker’s note: I asked Wilton via their Facebook page about how to make the icing more “pipeable” and clog less. They suggested I sift the powdered sugar before mixing with meringue powder and water. I did that the next time — in addition to adding a tad more water when using a #1 tip — and it worked much better for the next personalization project I did. Also, holding the piping bag straight up was an improvement, so recipe tweaks plus technique tweaks helped do the trick.

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You can see the first few I piped on names using the #1 tip. I quickly moved to the #2 tip, but the names were too runny to continue with that…

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So, on to initials it was. For some families with multiple same initials, I added a number at the end. The JK family are big Ravens fans, so I put purple and black jimmies on their hats. The one pink hat is for a friend who is a breast cancer survivor.

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Here’s where I moved from full names with the #2 tip to initials

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Of course, there was a special hat for my friend Brian, who is the biggest fan of the movie Christmas Vacation that I know.

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There were also some extra generic Santa hats and lots of star cut out cookies.

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And finally, there was a Fireball fudge that I put in the goody bags of my closest baseball mom pals!

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I cut it into small pieces so no one would over indulge.

On Christmas Eve, I take my son Alex with me and we make deliveries of the goody bags to everyone. We have plastic bags to put the red or gold paper bags in (should have taken a picture of the goody bags, shouldn’t I?!) for folks who may not be home.

He asked me recently, “mom, why is this such a big deal to you.”  So I shared a story with him and decided I would put a note with the story in each of the bags:

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Thanksgiving Turkey and Acorn Sugar Cookies

Baking date: November 19, 2016

Each year, I try and let my colleagues know how thankful I am for them by making sweet treats to share. This year was no different. In order to save myself some time, I used refrigerated sugar cookie dough, that I rolled to make cut-out cookies.

This shortcut does come with some compromises. The scratch sugar cookie recipe I usually make includes a step that allows the cookies to set and hold their shape. You can probably add the step of refrigerating the cookies for 30 minutes once they are cut out to help them set with any recipe or prepared dough, but I skipped that step in the interest of time. And here’s what some of the “round shapes” looked like once they cooked. To be honest, I didn’t leave much room between each on the cookie sheet:

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Some would say “what’s wrong with a giant cookie?”, and to them I respond “absolutely nothing because it still tastes great!”

I used round cut outs in two sizes to make turkey cookies. They were decorated using royal icing dyed brown for the main body of the turkey, golden yellow for the beak and legs, and black for the dots of eyeballs. Candy corns were added for the feathers, M&Ms were added for the eyes (although in the future, I won’t use the brown ones because you can’t see the dots for eyes piped on), and multi-colored jimmies were sprinkled on. Here’s how the turkeys turned out:

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For the acorns, they didn’t hold their cut-out shape well either. So I used the brown icing for the top and then dipped the still wet icing in chocolate jimmies for texture. Once that dried, I darkened the brown, piped an outline of the rest of the acorn to give it more shape, and filled that in with the remaining brown icing.

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With shapes that need more definition, I’ll definitely add in the 30 minute refrigeration before cooking in the future (regardless of the recipe or any shortcut I use). For the rounds that became turkeys, its not as important that they are perfectly round.

It’s always nice to remind those you work with how thankful you are to have them as colleagues!

Football Playoff Sugar Cookies

Baking date: October 28, 2016

My son Nick’s 8th grade football team made it to the playoffs this year. As has been my custom with football playoff games for my boys throughout the years, I make treats for the players, coaches, cheerleaders, and fans.  There would be three rounds of playoffs, quarterfinals, semi-finals, and the SuperBowl.

Originally, I was inspired by these cookies:

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but decided that those would be the cookies I would make if the team got all the way to the SuperBowl.

For this first round of playoffs, I decided to make sugar cookies in the shape of footballs that were personalized. I use a recipe for the sugar cookies that I found on Food Network. For the royal icing, I always substitute one of the tablespoons of water with a tablespoon of almond extract. I think it improves the taste of the royal icing.

Here are all the footballs with the brown tinted royal icing. I left a portion white for the football laces:

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I also tinted some of the icing golden yellow and royal blue, which are the team colors. I used these colors for piping on names, numbers and other decorations.

The players’ cookies had their name and number:

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The coaches’ cookies had their names:

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The cheerleaders and their coaches had their name and a blue “pom” (tip #233) on each end of the football. Not easy to do with royal icing that is more flooding consistency, so my poms looked more like blobs.

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There were also cookies for the water crew — younger brothers and sisters of players on the team. On the extra cookies, I piped on Lions:

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And last (but certainly not least!), I hand shaped a large football cookie for the team mom:

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Our team was up against the top ranked team…and I’ll spare you the suspense. Our boys did lose and our playoff run was over after only one game.

But the important thing is…even when it was very clear the game was out of hand, our boys continued to play hard until the end. And the other important thing? We had cookies to celebrate what great kids, coaches, and fans we have!

Good luck in high school, fellas!

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2016 GVAA Walkersville Varsity Lions

 

 

Retirement Shortbread Cookies

Baking date: July 31, 2016

One of my co-workers who happened to have the office next to mine retired last week after 27 years with the organization. We had a lovely party for him at work. He’s always been a terrific taste-tester for my creations that I bring into work, so I wanted to create something special for him.

I had red, white, black, and golden yellow royal icing left over from another baking project. After googling “retirement cookies”, I saw one in the shape of a yield sign that said ‘No Work Zone’. Using that as inspiration, I went about creating the treats.

I like the recipe I’ve used for shortbread, but they never had tasted as “shortbready” as I thought they should. I googled shortbread cookie and Ina Garten’s version came up. It’s hard to go wrong with an Ina Garten recipe! While this recipe is a bit more labor intensive than the recipe I’ve used for shortbread, I found that it tastes more like shortbread.

I cut out an octagon shape and a square shape. The square shape was flooded in golden yellow royal icing. Using the black royal icing, I outlined the shape and wrote ‘NO WORK ZONE’ in black royal icing on top of the semi-dry golden yellow:

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Because the royal icing was a little too runny, I had to go back and cover up some of the black that ran and made the letters hard to read.

For the octagon, I flooded it in red, and added STOP WORKING in white royal icing, along with a white border. Just as I finished piping the letters on, I dropped the bag/tip, leaving a few imperfections in the red and letter in WORKING:

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I placed each cookie in a treat box, removing the inserts to fit the oversize cookies.

Thanks Al, for all your wisdom in the three years we worked together. May each day of your retirement be more fulfilling than the last!