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November 21, 2012
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Get ready for holiday baking

Thanksgiving is over and I'm already thinking about what to bake for the Christmas Eve cookie platter. For the past few years, I've been the designated baker for the annual holiday get-together at my grandma's house. Every year on Christmas Eve, my mom's side of the family gathers and exchanges gifts. There are typically about 30 people, so each person draws a name and buys something for that person. It keeps it manageable. Everyone gets a gift and no one feels bad for not getting something for everyone.

Each year I've spent weeks testing new recipes I'm considering before deciding what will make the tray. I like to change what I make each year, with the exception of the sugar cookies. Over the years, thin mints, ginger snaps, window cookies, cranberry layer cookies, coal cookies, cinnamon swirls and others have found a place next to staples such as sugar cookies and peanut butter blossoms.

I've had several people ask me for my recipe for peanut butter blossoms. I use the recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook because it has the best flavor and holds together better than other recipes I've tried. The key is not to cook them too long. Take the cookies out when they're puffy and lightly browned so they're flexible enough to accommodate the kisses without crumbling. Let them sit long enough for the kisses to soften and the cookies to cool. It's worth the wait.

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup peanut butter

1/8 teaspoon baking soda

1 egg

1-3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons milk

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup butter or shortening

54 milk chocolate kisses

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine butter (or shortening) and peanut butter. Beat with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add the 1/2 cup granulated sugar, brown sugar, baking powder and baking soda. Beat until combined, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally. Beat in egg, milk and vanilla until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Using a wooden spoon, stir in any remaining flour.

Place the 1/4 cup granulated sugar in a small bowl. Shape dough into 1-inch balls; roll balls in sugar to coat. Place 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Immediately press a chocolate kiss into the center of each cookie.

Transfer cookies to a wire rack; cool.

If you're the type who likes to curl up with a hot drink, consider making your own marshmallows. This recipe comes from The Joy of Cooking and most of the work is done by the stand mixer. I've found I can kill two birds with one stone by heating the gelatin over the boiling sugar mixture instead of over a pot of water. Make sure to watch the sugar mixture when it's close to 244 degrees because it heats up fast, and you don't want your marshmallows to be too dense. I've made that mistake before, but they still melt well in cocoa. Also be careful not to overmix. If mixed too much, a lot of marshmallow will get stuck in the whisk and it will be too thick to pour into the pan to cool. Let them cool completely and use scissors to cut them - don't use a knife, it fails every time.

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/4 cup confectioners' sugar

1/2 cup water

4 envelopes (3 tablespoons) unflavored gelatin

2 cups sugar

3/4 cup light corn syrup

1/2 cup water

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons vanilla

Cornstarch

Mix cornstarch and confectioners' sugar and dust a lightly oiled 9-inch-by-13-inch baking pan with some of the mixture.

Pour 1/2 cup water into the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the gelatin over the water. Let stand for 5 minutes. Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water for two to three minute, or until the gelatin dissolves. Set aside on the stand mixer.

Bring sugar, light corn syrup, water and salt to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring with a long-handled wooden spoon until the sugar is dissolved, if necessary. Place a candy thermometer in the pan and raise the heat to medium-high and cook, without stirring, to 244 to 246 degrees, the firm-ball stage. Remove from heat.

With the whisk attachment on the mixer and the bowl of liquid gelatin secured, turn the mixer to medium speed and slowly pour the sugar mixture in a thin, steady stream. Be careful to avoid the whisk, because the sugar mixture will stick to it and harden quickly. Beat for about 10-15 minutes, or until the mixture is thick and fluffy, but still warm and thin enough to pour. Add vanilla.

Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan. Cool completely, then cover very loosely with aluminum foil and let dry for four to six hours, or until firm enough to cut. Remove the marshmallows from the pan and, using scissors dusted with cornstarch, cut into 1-inch squares. Put the rest of the cornstarch/confectioner's sugar mixture into a large Ziploc bag and add half of the marshmallows. Shake, then take out the marshmallows and repeat with the remaining marshmallows.

Store between layers of wax paper in an airtight container at room temperature.

- Trisha Leonard is the editor of the Tahoe Daily Tribune. Check out her food blog at www.redpenrecipes.wordpress.com.


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Nov 21, 2012 02:26PM Published Nov 21, 2012 02:21PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.