Category Archives: bar cookies

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?

Austrian Raspberry Shortbread

I have a confession to make- I hate making shortbread, shortcrust pastry, pâte sucrée….anything with a high butter content that requires rolling out. The key is to chill the dough very well so that the butter will stay cold when you roll it out but I almost always end up handling it too much and getting most of it plastered to my board or counter. I’ve also tried the method of pressing the dough with my fingers into the baking dish, but that almost always results in uneven pastry. I mean, I can make pastry but it not my forte.

So imagine my utter delight when I came across this recipe for Austrian Raspberry Shortbread. At first glance it seemed that the recipe included some sort of grated cheese (?!?!) but upon closer inspection I realized that it was grated frozen shortbread dough. I read on and on and realized that this was the answer to all of my butter-based pastry problems. WHAT A BRILLIANT IDEA! Make the dough, freeze it and then run it through your food processor with the grater attachment and simply pour the grated dough into a pan. Whoever came up with this method should get a freakin’ James Beard Award.

So here’s the step by step:

Cut frozen dough into small enough chunks to fit through the feed tube of your food processor

Grate the frozen dough in food processor

Take half of the grated dough and sprinkle it evenly in a 9 x 13 baking pan lined with parchment or foil

Drizzle 1 cup of raspberry jam over the grated dough (I know I know it looks like ketchup!)

Sprinkle remaining grated dough over the jam and resist every urge to press down – leave it alone!

Golden brown fresh out of the oven…

Sift powdered sugar over the top immediately after taking out of the oven

After letting it cool completely, chill in the fridge for an hour or so which makes it easy to cut the shortbread into clean bars

Box them up and take them to work so you don’t end up eating all of the shortbread

This recipe has opened up a whole new world for me. Next time I need to make any shortbread crust or base I will use this method. Since you don’t pat down the grated dough, there is a lightness that you don’t find in other shortbread, although the pound of butter is definitely obvious. It’s one of the most addictive things I think I’ve ever made. Be warned!

Recipe is here.