Red Pen Recipes: Countdown items bring holiday flavors to the table |

Red Pen Recipes: Countdown items bring holiday flavors to the table

Trisha Leonard
Gingerbread cupcakes bring warm winter flavors to the table.
Trisha Leonard / Red Pen Recipes |

The last two items in my baking countdown to Christmas are a gingerbread cupcake and window cookies.

Gingerbread has never been a seasonal flavor I get excited about. The flavor always tends to be either too harsh or not quite right — at least in cookie form.

A few years ago, I saw this recipe for Gingerbread Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting. I went into it expecting to be disappointed, but was surprised at how much I enjoyed them. Putting the gingerbread flavor into a cupcake resulted in a lighter version of the flavor, one that wasn’t overwhelming. The frosting was really good, too. Together, they made a wonderful pair. If cookies aren’t your thing, I recommend this cupcake recipe for the holidays.


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (add 2 tablespoons flour at high altitude)

2 tablespoons ground ginger

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (3 sticks), room temperature (Only use 1 1/4 cups at high altitude)

1 1/2 cups sugar

3 tablespoons unsulphured molasses

4 large eggs, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line muffin pan with baking cup liners.

In a large bowl, sift together flour and spices; set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light, about 3 minutes. Beat in the molasses until incorporated. Beat in eggs one at a time. Beat in vanilla. Add flour and mix on low speed until just combined.

Fill the cupcake papers three-quarters full, making sure that the batter is divided evenly. Bake cupcakes until a toothpick inserted in the center of them comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Let cupcakes cool on a wire rack 10 minutes, then transfer cupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely.


8 ounces cream cheese, softened

3 cups powdered sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 teaspoons cinnamon

To make the cinnamon cream frosting: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese and powdered sugar until smooth. Add cinnamon and vanilla extract and beat until combined.

Place frosting into a large decorating bag fitted with a decorating tip and approximately 1/4-inch above cupcake top at a 90-degree angle to cupcake surface, pipe a spiral of icing, beginning at the outer edge and working inward.

If you’re a fan of jam in your cookies, this one is for you. Window cookies are the last item in my cookie countdown to Christmas. They require a bit of time and effort, but they’re beautiful. They’re worth it.

I found the recipe on the Better Homes and Gardens website. They’re a sandwich cookie, so be conscious of the thickness of the cookies when you roll out the dough. The recipe calls for 1/4-inch thickness, but I found that to be a little too thick once I made the sandwich. At high altitude, it is also helpful to freeze the cookies for about 10 minutes before baking. It helps prevent the dough from spreading too much.

You can make them your own by adding chopped nuts to the batter or using a different kind of jam. You can use any cookie cutter shape to make the design in the top cookie, too. I used a snowflake cutter and really liked how they looked. The jam and nuts complemented each other well, and I dusted mine with a bit of powdered sugar to finish them.

Make it fun, make them yours and have a Merry Christmas.

window cookies

1 cup blanched almonds, toasted and chopped

1 tablespoon sugar

1 cup butter, softened (use about 3/4 cup butter at high altitude)

2/3 cup sugar

1 egg

1 egg yolk

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup chopped hazelnuts or almonds (optional)

3/4 cup apricot jam

In a food processor, combine almonds and the 1 tablespoon sugar. Cover and process until nuts are finely ground. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add the 2/3 cup sugar. Beat until combined, scraping bowl occasionally. Add the ground almonds, the egg, egg yolk, salt, vanilla, almond extract, and nutmeg, beating on low speed until combined. Beat in flour until combined. If adding nuts, combine them into the dough.

Divide dough into four portions. Cover and chill about 2 hours or until dough is easy to handle.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Between waxed paper or parchment paper, roll out one of the dough portions to about a 1/4-inch thickness. Peel off top sheet of paper. Using a fluted 2- to 3-inch cookie cutter, cut out dough. Place dough cutouts 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Using a fluted 1-inch cookie cutter, cut out centers from half of the dough cutouts.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until tops are a pale golden brown. Cool on cookie sheet for 2 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack and let cool. Repeat with the remaining dough portions.

Spread 1 slightly rounded teaspoon of the jam in the center of each whole cookie. Top with the cutout cookies, flat sides down, pressing lightly together.

— Trisha Leonard is the editor of the Tahoe Daily Tribune. Check out her blog at or like it on Facebook at

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