Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Holiday Baking and a Confession

Christmas is right around the corner, and although I don't go bananas over every holiday tradition, I do love holiday baking.  One of the my favorite things about cooking is being able to feed the ones you care about, so distributing Christmas cookies is a great way to cover a LOT of people at once.

I made my first batch of goodies the other day, and although none were traditional Christmas cookies, I figure if you put them in a holiday container, they're automatically transformed into Christmas cookies!  Magic!  I knew I wanted to bake three different varieties but didn't want to end up cursing the pastry gods hours later with flour in my hair and butter under my fingernails (hm, not a great visual!) so I decided to do something I'd never done before.  Ok, here it goes: I bought pre-made pie dough (insert loud dramatic organ chord here)!!!!!!!  I have nothing against pre-made anything but have always tried  making everything from scratch.  Maybe Sandra Lee scared me off with some of her crazy "Semi-Homeade" ideas (Campbell's Cream of Mushroom can't be the basis of 60% of your recipes, ok?), but I felt a small tinge of guilt as I purchased two packages of Pillsbury pie crust.  I've crossed over to the dark side.  The Sandra Lee side.

Ok, ok...I know I am being dramatic- I did it because I really wanted to make apple hand pies which would involve making, chilling, rolling out and cutting the dough before filling, pinching, crimping, egg-washing and sugar-sprinking ALL before they went into the oven (heck- I'm tired just typing that all out!).  Toss in the preparation of two additional kinds of cookies and I figured I'd probably end up on the ledge of my kitchen window, ready to jump.  Take it from someone who has bitten off way more than she can chew- buying that pie dough not only saved my sanity but it also made the entire experience of baking that day really fun and relaxing.  So thanks, Pillsbury Doughboy.  We will be meeting again soon.

I started off with shortbread and jam bars- I used this recipe from Smitten Kitchen and substituted the blueberries for an entire jar of my favorite Trader Joe's Cherry Preserves (oh shoot- another store bought element, I AM Sandra Lee!  Argghghggh!).  These come together so quickly but require a long baking time, so once I got those in the oven I started working on the apple hand pies.

My dad recently made the best apple pie ever, so I got the recipe from him and used the filling for these hand pies.  It's really a simple mixture of peeled, chopped apples; sugar, flour and a touch of cinnamon. The secret (well, now it isn't!) is to use Pippin apples, not the Granny Smith that is most common in apple pie recipes.  The Pippin apples melt down to a sweet, soft filling and isn't as tart as their  counterparts, and I love the fresh, apple flavor.  I rolled out the pie dough, cut out 3 inch circles and filled each with about 2 teaspoons of the apples.  I have to say...this pie dough was SO easy to work with!  I guess when you're making something that involves as many steps as these hand pies, getting a little extra help is 100% OK!

While those were baking I made a batch of white-whole-wheat-chocolate-chip-dough, tossed in some pecans I had in the pantry and spread the dough into a 13 x 9 pan.  Bar cookies are great for large groups since the whole thing bakes at once, then you slice them into a million pieces so you have enough for eveyrone.  Ok, maybe not a million but you get the idea. Dropping teaspoons of dough onto a baking sheet over and over and over gets pretty tiring if you're trying to bake enough cookies to feed 30 + people.  Another lesson learned from taking on too much in the past.

Everything came out really well, and I have to admit- those apple hand pies were so delicious and the crust was perfect!  I'm looking forward to making different varieties of hand pies using the same dough.

What's on your holiday baking list this year?


Douglas E. Welch said...

Nice to see someone else diving into the holiday baking. Your presentation is much nicer than mine, though. For our annual open house, I lay out the cookies on reindeer plates I picked up from Pottery Barn years ago, but nothing like your ordered perfection. (SMILE)

Keep baking and have a great holiday!

allison said...

Those pies are so adorable! Making them in individual sizes somehow seems like it would be so much more fun too... :)

I guess I'm going to have to add those to my holiday baking list!

I actually just made a cranberry apple crisp today though and that was delicious! Don't you just love this time of year? :)

eastside food bites said...

ooh! those pies area great idea. I think i'll make some for x-mas eve. Thanks for the inspiration.

Anne said...

Doug: i'm sure your cookies are fantastic. Actually, I'm pretty sure people are happy with any homemade baked goods! Happy holidays, and thanks for reading.

Allison: I guess if you eat mini pies, you don't feel as guilty, haha. Your crisp sounds amazing- I should buy some fresh cranberries myself!

EFB: I hope you'll make these- they are pretty easy, and I think people THINK you slaved all day....and hey- your secret is safe with me so go ahead and make them think that!

Anonymous said...

hi - those look delish! i made Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pies (my aunt grows pecans in TX) and used a store bought pie crust since i'm terrible at that part. also made Pecan Sandies. Have a great holiday! Stefanie

Diana said...

I have my own holiday baking confession. The caramels I made for Eat My Blog contained an entire bottle of evil corn syrup. I am responsible for spreading cavities across the city!