Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmas Cookie and Candy gifts (the best kind)

I love making food for gifts.  There is something so awesome in working really hard to make something delicious for another person to enjoy.  Tie in the Christmas season with my love of baking and giving food and you get this amazing cookbook that I bought last year for super cheap.

Click to buy it here!

I can't remember how much I bought it for (around $10) and it has been worth every penny.  I LOVE that it provides recipes for classic cookies (like sugar and peanut butter), and that it also has fancier cookies.  But mostly I love that each recipe is designed to feed a crowd.  I like to make big batches of cookies and with this cookbook I don't have to multiple the recipes, it is already done for me!

I knew that I wanted to send Matt a box of cookies and wanted to have enough left over to share with the neighbors (while leaving us some to each at home) and so I settled on two cookie recipes - the drop sugar cookie recipe and peanut butter kiss cookies.
GF drop sugar cookies
I loved the easiness of the drop sugar cookies compared to the roll out frosting kind.  Those are all well and good, but I usually make gingerbread cookies to roll out and decorate.  This time I was making cookies in a rush, so the drop part worked out much better.  All I changed to make this recipe GF was my Namaste Foods all purpose flour and 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum per cup of flour.  They turned out super delicious, lighter than a regular sugar cookie but still retain the buttery sugary goodness.

GF Drop Sugar Cookies (recipe originally from The Great Christmas Cookie Swap book)
makes approx. 126 cookies

6 cups GF all purpose flour
3 tsp xanthan gum
3 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups butter (4 1/2 sticks) softened (not melted)
3 cups sugar
3 eggs
9 tbsp milk
6 tbsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Whisk flour, xanthan gum, baking powder and salt until blended and set aside.  In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar until creamy.  Add eggs, milk and vanilla; beat until well blended.  Add in flour mixture until just blended.

Measure out dough in tablespoons and drop them on the greased cookie sheet about 2 inches apart.  I actually ended up rolling them into balls in my hands and pressed them flat on the sheet.  They don't spread as much as I though, so you don't have to worry about them getting too close together and making one giant misshapen cookie.  I sprinkled colored sugar on them and put them in the oven to bake for 14 minutes.  Remove them when they turn golden brown and set them aside to cool.

I was surprised that the dough didn't soften up too much with all the butter, so you shouldn't have to refrigerate them before baking.

GF Peanut Butter Kiss cookies
I LOVE peanut butter.  A little too much.  Not everyone loves it just plain and simple like me, so I decided to make the peanut butter kiss (get it, a chocolate Hershey's kiss) cookies.  Again, to alter this recipe and make it GF I changed out the flours and added 1/2 tsp of xanthan gum to it.

GF Peanut Butter Kiss cookies (original recipe from my step-mom)
I doubled this recipe and made about 40 cookies

1 1/4 cup GF
1 tsp xanthan gum
1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup shortening (I used butter)
1/2 cup peanut butter (creamy works best, even though I prefer crunchy)
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 bag Hershey kisses

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Whisk together the flour, xanthan gum, baking soda and powder and salt to make the dry mixture and set aside.  Cream together your butter/shortening with sugars.  Add in the egg and peanut butter until blended.  Slowly blend the dry mixture into the wet until fully incorporated.  

Refrigerate for 20 minutes to regain firmness of dough.

(I forgot this step originally and they turned out fine - the cookies just spread a little more because of the temperature of the butter.  If you forget or are on a time crunch, no worries.  Go ahead and make the cookies.)

Get out a plate or bowl and pour some white sugar or decorative sugar to roll the cookies in.  Also start unwrapping the kisses so you are ready to press them in the middle of the cookie when you pull them out of the oven.

Measure out one tablespoon of dough and roll it into a ball between your hands.  Roll the dough in the sugar until it is completely covered.  Fill up your pan and bake for 10-12 minutes.  Once the cookies are browned, remove them from the pan and press the Hershey's kiss in the middle of the cookie and let it cool.

I found these cute decorative ziploc bags in the Dollar Spot at Target and they came with cardboard to staple over the zipper part (dresses it up a little).  I included a couple of each kind on a small plate my Grandma had given me (to start a cookie exchange) and put them all in a larger ziploc bag.  We made four of these and enjoyed passing them out to our neighbors!

I didn't forget about Matt and set aside about two dozen of the sugar cookies and a dozen and a half of the peanut butter kisses for him.  I wanted to add more to fill his box up as much as possible.  Also, I am always nervous about sending something as perishable as cookies, especially now with the chaotic process that is the US postal system during Christmas.  I had a couple 'pins' set aside that I wanted to try out, so I decided Matt would be my guinea pig (love you babe).  

Cinnamon Sugar Nuts
I originally saw this post from Eat Good 4 Life (Cinnamon Sugared Walnuts) and decided to go for it.  I have never really candied anything but I have burned sugar trying to make caramel a couple times, so I was a little hesitant.  I had almonds, walnuts and cashews on hand and measured out two pounds to make a double batch.

Over all the recipe was very easy.  I was extremely nervous about burning the sugar while trying to bring it up to the soft ball temperature (235 degrees) so I had it on lower heat than I probably should have.  Also, my candy thermometer's battery died (awesome timing) so I used my meat thermometer and it worked just fine.  It did eventually reach that temperature and I added the vanilla and nuts as soon as it did.  I couldn't get the mixture to spread out enough for me to break into individual nuts (like she has pictured), so mine is in chunks kind of like brittle.

Let me just tell you that it is amazing.  It reminds me a lot of the booths at malls and amusement parks that sell the candied almonds in the pastry bags.  I will definitely make it again and I am excited about giving it as gifts or bringing it as a dessert to pass.  

I also got these little boxes at Target's Dollar Spot.  I can't handle the cuteness!

Lastly, I made chocolate covered pretzels to add in there.  I have a surplus of pretzels and chocolate chips, so I figured why not.

I will not even try to say that these works of art are mine - I forgot to take a picture.  If you are looking at making something fast and easy, these are the way to go!  I hand dipped half of each pretzel into milk chocolate and then dipped the chocolate part into sprinkles to set the chocolate.  I love how versatile they can be.  You can use any shape of pretzel, any kind of chocolate and any extra topping you want.  

Dark chocolate covered pretzels in candy cane chunks.
Milk chocolate covered pretzels with sea salt.
Semi sweet chocolate covered pretzels with nuts.

I love the possibilities.  I love that it seems fancy and in all reality - it's just a pretzel.

Kind of like these gifts.  

They are just cookies and candies, but they are dressed up as gifts of goodwill and community.  

If you are looking for more Holiday candy ideas, as well as ideas for how to dress up packaging them, check out my Pinterest page!  

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