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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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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Christmas Cookies for Co-workers

Baking date: December 18, 2016

Each year, I bake goodies for my co-workers during the Christmas holidays. This year, I focused on cut-out cookies in a variety of shapes – snowmen, Christmas lights, mittens, stars and snowflakes.

The cookies were chocolate sugar cookies and regular sugar cookies. These cookies take some extra time to set in the frig (the regular sugar cookies are refrigerated twice), so make sure you have planned out your day of baking to include time for it.

I used colored sugars and sugar pearls to decorate the cookies rather than royal icing (don’t worry, I will post about another batch of Christmas cookies where I did use royal icing). Here are the cookies, which my co-workers were grateful to snack on throughout the day.

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You can see a missing star cookie from this sheet – my son always offers to taste-test cookies for me.

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As you can see, not every cookie will accept sprinkles

Christmas – Take 2

Baking Date: January 18, 2014

My husband’s dad lives about 5 hours away from us. Each year, it’s our tradition to get together with him and his wife, along with my husband’s brothers and their families at some point in January to celebrate Christmas.

This year, I offered to make desserts (shocker!).  I made sugar cookies and decorated them in Christmas colors. Each one was unique — here they are:

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Christmas-themed cookies

More Christmas-themed cookies

More Christmas-themed cookies

I also made a pie, based on a recipe I saw in Food Network magazine.  It’s cinnamon roll apple pie.  One note about this recipe — it calls for the juice of one lemon. I found that to be a bit too tart, and overwhelmed the apple flavor somewhat. I would recommend the juice of half a lemon to cut the tart flavor and let the apple flavor come through.

Here’s the pie after it came out of the oven and the icing was applied:

Cinnamon bun apple pie with icing

Cinnamon bun apple pie with icing

Here’s hoping your holiday traditions hit the “sweet” spot!