Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas 2011: Part 1

Because I am short on time but long on baking and crafting updates during this hectic week before Christmas, I’m going to do my best (and probably fail miserably, anyway, despite my best intentions) to be brief. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m giving away my felt ornaments, cookies, and other treats as gifts this year, and I also made some treats for holiday social gatherings. I have a few pictures to share so that you can see what I’ve been talking about and working on.

Felt cupcakes and gingerbread houses, which I packaged in my handmade paper bags.

Felt Christmas ornaments
Felt cupcake ornament

I designed the templates for the cupcakes myself. I used a gingerbread house pattern from the book Fa La La La Felt but modified it slightly to make peaked roofs on some houses.

Shortbread cookies. I made classic rounds and fingers, little Scottie dogs, and some chocolate chip shortbread bites.

Shortbread cookies

Shortbread cookie dough is really hard to work with, mainly because the classic recipe that I used called for just flour, sugar, butter and a pinch of salt, so there wasn’t much to bind it all together. Maybe I need to play with the proportions a bit the next time or add a drop of cold water so that everything stays together when the dough is rolled out.

Cookies decorated with royal icing. I made chocolate sugar cookies (Christmas trees and blue snowflakes), sugar cookies flavoured with fresh orange zest (mittens and doves), and gingerbread snowflakes (the pink ones).

Christmas 2011 Sugar Cookies
Snowflake Cookies

Some cookies have a shimmery look from the Wilton Pearl Dust that I brushed on after the royal icing dried and hardened. Pearl Dust is one of my favourite decorating products ever, and I now have the colours white, green and pink among my baking supplies.

I also used this cute Wilton Gingerbread Village Cookie Pan to make houses from the orange sugar cookie dough and the gingerbread cookie dough.

Gingerbread House Cookies

You just press the dough into the cavities in the pan and when the cookies are baked, the outlines of the house features are baked in to the cookies, which makes them easy to decorate. I decorated the houses with royal icing, sprinkles and small candies.

In total, I made about 5 dozen decorated cookies, and about 2 dozen shortbread cookies. Most of the cookies that I made were given away but I reserved some for Christmas. It’s so easy to put a bunch on a holiday-themed paper plate, curl a bit of ribbon, and make it into a pretty gift.

Cookie Gift

Rather than use the cellophane on the roll to wrap up the cookies, I used a plastic gift basket bag. I bought a pack of the right-sized bags for my paper plate at Michaels in the gift wrapping section, put the plate in the bottom of a bag, filled it with cookies, and then cinched it closed with the ribbon. Easy peasy, especially when you’re tired and covered in royal icing and cookie crumbs and so not in the mood to wrestle with a roll of clingy, stubborn cellophane.

I also made snack mix, which consists of spiced pecan and walnut halves (I doubled this amazing recipe that I found on AllRecipes); 1 bag of Ocean Spray Craisins, or you can substitute an equivalent amount of some other sweetened dried cranberries or even cherries, or any other dried fruit that you like. I bet candied orange peel dipped in chocolate would be nice, too, but then you’d have to make the candied orange peel ahead of time. Here's a photo of the nuts and cranberries mixed together.

Spiced nuts and cranberries

I packaged a small amount of snack mix in individual serving-sized plastic bags and made the tags from the same paper from the pad that I used to make the ornament gift bags. I put about a ¼ cup of the nut/cranberry mixture into each bag and threw in a few mini reindeer, gingerbread man, and star cookies that were made using a teeny cookie cutters when I made my bigger cookies. I finished each bag with a few store-bought milk chocolate-covered pretzels. Then I came up with the clever name “Heather’s Snack Mix” to write on the label.

Snack Mix Treats
Snack Mix Bag Labels

Yeah, the muses did a great job of inspiring my original snack mix creation but they really let me down in the snack mix-naming department. Oh well.

Cookies and Cream fudge made from this Eagle Brand recipe.

Cookies and Cream Fudge - 1
Cookies and Cream Fudge - 2

I only made a third of the recipe due to its serious habit-forming properties. The combination of white chocolate and Oreos is extremely addictive. This pan of fudge, seen uncut in the first photo above, was made for a work Christmas party.

Chocolate and Butterscotch fudge made from another Eagle Brand recipe.

Chocolate and Butterscotch fudge - 1

I made half the recipe and added crunchy toffee bits to the top as the butterscotch chips were kind of clumpy and wouldn’t melt completely smooth, so I wanted to camouflage that a bit. Toasting the walnuts before chopping them and adding them to the melted chocolate base gives what would normally be a simple sweet fudge a more complex flavour. It’s kind of a boring looking two-layer fudge when it’s just on a regular plate but it looks much more impressive in this snazzy green snowflake tin, which I filled with two layers of the fudge and then gave away as a gift.

Chocolate and Butterscotch fudge - 2

My Christmas tree cake, which was also made for the aforementioned work Christmas party.

Christmas Tree Cake - 1
Christmas Tree Cake - 2
Christmas Tree Cake - 3
Christmas Tree Cake - 4
Christmas Tree Cake - 5

It’s a two-layer vanilla cake with chocolate buttercream filling and is decorated with vanilla buttercream. I used Smarties, mini gingerbread man cookies, silver dragrees, and snowflake and star quins as tree “ornaments.” The star on top is actually a mini gingerbread cookie that I covered in gold buttercream. I added a few yellow star quins as an afterthought because the icing made the star look too lumpy.

And here is the link to see my gallery of my Christmas tree and festive living room decorations. Before you go and watch the slideshow, I want to draw your attention to one thing in particular:

Chip and Dale ornament

It's my Chip and Dale ornament that I bought in Walt Disney World when I was there last December. When I was little, I loved the Disney Christmas cartoon where Pluto chases Chip and Dale around Mickey's living room as Mickey is busy decorating for the holidays. The two chipmunks get into the Christmas tree and walk awestruck around the branches amidst the bright lights and shiny bulbs, admiring the colourful view. I can still vividly remember watching that and longingly wishing to be small enough to walk around inside the branches of a lit Chrsitmas tree. I'd give anything to be able to walk around inside my tree this year, which, in addition to all of my sparkly, funky, and sentimental decorations from Ye Olden Tymes, looks especially pretty with the new "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" tree skirt that my mother made for me.

I am nearing the end of my 2011 holiday treat and gift making/packaging frenzy. If you’re feeling exhausted just reading about the amount of things I’ve made this year, you’re not alone. The thing is, I enjoy making things so much that it doesn’t feel like work while I’m engrossed in it. It’s not until after I'm finished when I am completely wiped out that I realize how much work I put into everything. But the results are worth it.

Now I only have one cake left to make for Christmas Eve dinner and then I am imposing a moratorium on baking for at least a month. Actually, I sort of already promised someone a St. Patrick’s Day cake. Do you think I can hold off until March? Yeah, me neither.

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