Monday, 12 November 2012

Christmas baking

This weekend marks the beginning of my month of Christmas baking.

The Toronto Santa Claus Parade is this Sunday - one of the biggest in North America and in its 108th consecutive year. We used to go down every year, bundled up in coats and hats and scarves and mittens and huddled under a blanket together on the curb, waiting with millions of other frozen Torontonians for the eventual appearance of Santa - but last year, with the arrival of Baby and our move further from the city to Pleasantville, we created a new tradition of watching the parade on TV.

We spend the morning baking Christmas goodies - the kids love to help. We turn on the Christmas music and pull out the Christmas decorations and put up everything but the tree and stockings (my old rule of decorating December the first has sort of gone out the window but I have to draw the line at the tree.) And we all sit down with steaming mugs of hot chocolate and marshmallows and a great big platter of freshly baked cookies to watch the parade together.

My Christmas baking has always been more or less the same batch of tried-and-true recipes - gingerbread men, candy cane cookies, drizzled chocolate mint bars, and shortbread cookies. I make the best shortbread cookies in the world - actually the best. Ask anyone.

This year, though, thanks to the world of Pinterest, I have a couple of baking ideas I'm excited to try out.

Santa hat brownies, Christmas baking, Christmas food
Christmas tree strawberry brownies, Christmas baking, Christmas food

I may cheat a bit with these adorable Santa hat and Christmas tree brownies -  I'm thinking I'll probably make a large slab brownie in a big pan and use round cookie cutters to make them the size I want. I'm not the most talented or the most patient ice-er in the world so I will probably only make a few of the trees for a pop of colour on the cookie platter.

We still go to the small, local little Santa Claus parade - that first glimpse of Santa every season is something we all look forward to every year. But I'm so glad we've replaced those long, cold afternoons on the curb downtown with a cozy afternoon in front of the television with cookies and hot chocolate.

Tried & True Christmas recipes:

Gingerbread Men
Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease baking sheet.
Sift together:                                  Cream together:                  Blend in:
2 1/2 cups pastry flour                 1 egg                                     1/4 cup hot water
1/2 tsp salt                                     2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda                    1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon                     1/2 cup molasses
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg 
Gradually stir dry ingredients into wet, combining well after each addition. Chill. 
Roll out 1/8 inch thick on a lightly floured surface. Cut with a floured gingerbread man cookie cutter.
Bake 10-12 minutes. Cool & decorate! Makes 2 dozen.

Candy Cane Cookies
Preheat oven to 350.
Mix together:                                  Mix together:
1 egg                                               2 1/2 cups flour
1 cup confectioners' sugar          1 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter                          
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
Stir dry ingredients into wet. Divide dough in half. 
Blend 1/2 tsp red food colouring into one half.
On lightly floured board, roll 1 tsp red dough and 1 tsp white dough into 4-inch strips. Place strips side by side, press lightly together and twist. Curve top down to make candy cane.
Bake 9 minutes. While still warm, sprinkle with confectioners' sugar. Makes 2 dozen.

Drizzled Chocolate Mint Bars
Base:                                             Icing:
1 egg                                             2 cups icing sugar
1 cup chocolate mint chips       1/4 cup margarine
1/4 cup margarine                      2 tbsp. milk
1/4 cup icing sugar                     green icing sugar
1 1/2 cups Oreo crumbs 
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Melt chocolate chips and 1/4 cup margarine over hot water. Reserve 1/4 cup for top drizzles. Add 1/4 cup icing sugar and egg to remaining melted mixture and beat well. Stir in Oreo crumbs and nuts. Press evenly on bottom of 8-inch square pan. Chill. Cream 1/4 cup margarine, 2 cups icing sugar and milk until fluffy. Add green food colouring. Spread evenly over base in pan. Drizzle reserved melted mixture over top. Chill until firm; cut into bars. Makes 3 dozen.

Shortbread Cookies
My secret recipe - can't share that one!

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