Holiday Recap

Happy Sunday, everyone!! How was everyone’s holidays? Can you believe that New Year’s Eve is on Wednesday?! No? Good, me either!

My Christmas was really wonderful, surrounded by family and good food! This year, E had to work on Christmas… so my mom decided that we were going to have two separate dinners to celebrate!

Our first dinner (Christmas Dinner #1) was on Tuesday night, since we go to church on Christmas Eve and there really isn’t any time to have a sit down dinner. Our traditional Christmas dinner is filet mignon with all the trimmings!

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And my parents totally rocked out the roasted vegetables, onion relish, and mashed potatoes. Is there anything more holiday than mashed potatoes and roasted brussel sprouts? I think not!

The dessert of the night was the Buche de Noel.

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It was traditional Christmas Perfection!

Christmas dawned bright and crisp and fueled by bacon, eggs, and scones, E took off for her new apartment and work and a productive day.

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The Cat and I were equally productive… in nap time.

Later in the day (now that we were refreshed!), we sat down to our second holiday supper. Christmas Dinner #2 was just as spectacular as Christmas Dinner #1.

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Hello, Shrunk Chickens!!! Or Cornish Game Hens… whatever name floats your boat.

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Marinated broccoli and my grandmother’s Greek stuffing rounded out the perfect Christmas dinner.

And, of course, we had Buche de Noel for dessert.

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It tasted great and was the perfect festive end to our Christmas feasts!

 

So, how was your holiday? What did you do, eat, and see? I want to hear all about it!

Your Christmas food lovin’ friend,

C

Buche de Noel, Day 3

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It. Is. Finished.

Oh my goodness, everyone, I am so unbelievably happy today. Yesterday, with some help from my dad, I pulled together the famed holiday dessert – The Buche de Noel.

I have been documenting my progress the past two days, but yesterday was the day… cake baking and dessert assembly (and eating!).

 

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The cake is a standard sponge cake and starts with a combination of eggs, egg yolks, sugar, and a little salt that is whipped on a double boiler until the mixture reaches 100 degrees.

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Then the egg mixture is removed from the heat and whipped some more on high speed until the mixture becomes twice its original volume and has cooled.

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When the mixture has been cooled, then the dry ingredients (cake flour and corn starch) are sifted into the mixture and it is all folded together.

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The batter is poured into a high-sided cookie sheet (or jelly roll pan) and spread out with a spatula. Bake for about 13-15 minutes until the cake is just set in the middle.

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Then turn out the cake onto a work surface to cool and stand back and do a happy dance that you have successfully made almost all the elements for the Buche de Noel.

Then go run some errands and return home to realized that your cat has jumped upon the counter and eaten some of your cake…

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So, make another cake and then make sure you stand watch as it cools so that thieving cats don’t eat your second attempt.

Now, it’s all about the assembly!

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To make the mushrooms, dab a little room temperature ganache on the bottom of a mushroom cap.

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And gently push in the stem until it becomes anchored in the ganache.

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And viola! A meringue mushroom!

 

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For the Buche de Noel itself, brush the cake with a spiked simple syrup (equal parts water and sugar brought to a boil, cooled, and spiked with an equal part of rum!).

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To make spreading the ganache easier (and to ensure you spread it evenly), I put big blobs of ganache all over the cake and spread with an offset spatula.

I totally spaced and didn’t take pictures of how to roll a jelly roll, but here is a pretty good tutorial video from Martha Stewart. I rolled my cake along the long-side, which provides a better sized piece of cake (this dessert is very rich so a little goes a LONG way!).

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Tada!

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We wanted to make a branch sticking out of the middle of the cake, so my dad trimmed 3-4 inches off one end…

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… and placed it onto the middle of the log!

Then frost the log like you would a regular cake… or as my dad put it, like you spackle a wall. Whichever analogy works for you!

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Then artfully arrange some meringue mushrooms around your Buche de Noel.

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And stand back and admire your work!

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Oh so festive!

 

This was a great Christmas baking challenge and I am so pleased with how it all worked out. I can’t wait to try again next year!

Your Buche de Noel bakin’ friend,

C

 

PS – I used the Buche de Noel recipe from Chocolate: From Simple Cookies to Extravagant Showstoppers by Nick Malgieri.

Buche de Noel, Day 2

Another day, another step in the creation of the Buche de Noel!

Last night I whipped up the chocolate ganache that serves as the filling and icing for the Buche de Noel. Ganache is just a mixture of cream and chocolate and can be used in so many ways.

DIPPED COOKIE

I usually dip cookies in it, but you can drizzle it over ice cream, use it as a chocolate fondue, or eat it with a spoon! It’s a truly flexible chocolate concoction.

The chocolate ganache for this Buche de Noel starts with a medium-sized saucepan set over medium heat.

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And throw in some butter and some corn syrup.

Then we get serious.

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Pour in two cups (AKA a pint) of heavy cream.

And stir the mixture until it just comes to a simmer. Remove the milk mixture from the heat.

Grab some bittersweet chocolate.

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My wonderful mother traveled to two grocery stores in the search for bittersweet chocolate. Thank you, Mom, for helping me realize my Buche de Noel dreams and finding these amazing chocolate chips for me! (PS – they are delicious by themselves!)

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Dump said mythical bittersweet chocolate chips into the hot cream. Then wait the LONGEST five minutes of your life… the chocolate needs time to soften and begin to melt before you stir.

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After five minutes, use a whisk and vigorously combine all the ingredients until you get a beautiful, smooth chocolate ganache.

Of course, you would never want to serve sub-par ganache to your friends and family… so grab a spoon and dive in!

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Chocolate perfection!

The ganache needs to cool to room temperature before spreading onto the cake, so I popped mine into a Tupperware container and into the fridge! Now, all that is left is the cake… wish me luck!

 

Your chocolate lovin’ friend,

C

Buche de Noel, Day 1

Hey kiddos! How are you? I hope you are having a wonderful holiday season, whether you are in the midst of celebrating Hanukkah or prepping for your Christmas or Kwanza celebrations!!

It is four days until Christmas and I am not prepared at all.

My room is not clean.

My family’s gifts are not wrapped.

My outfit for church on Christmas Eve is not picked out.

My contribution to the family holiday dinners is not planned out.

Despite not having these tasks finished, I have accomplished some important things these first three days of my holiday break.

I have lounged on my couch for approximately 6 hours each day.

I have been able to wear my sweatpants and t-shirts whilst lounging on said couch.

I have watched approximately 8-10 made-for-TV holiday movies (so much holiday drama and wonderfulness!).

I have consumed this magnificent breakfast twice in two days…

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*burp*

Despite my absolute laziness this weekend, I actually started on my family’s Christmas dessert!

I decided to challenge myself this year and make a Buche de Noel, AKA a Yule Log! It is the first time that I will be attempting this creation, so I will be documenting my journey (success or failure) for all to see. I have never been so nervous and excited at the same time.

I started on the accessory component of the Buche de Noel yesterday… the meringue mushrooms. These little cookies are the accompaniment to the actual cake, but they also serve as a dessert for your guests who don’t like cake or want a mostly chocolate-free dessert.

Meringues begin with three egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat them on medium speed. You can use a hand mixer, but your arm will get tired!

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I didn’t take the photos of the sugar additions (my bad!), but it is pretty simple. When the egg whites reach the soft peaks stage (when the egg whites make a small peak that flops over onto itself), slowly begin adding in 6 tablespoons of sugar. Kick the mixer onto high speed and beat until the mixture becomes stiff but remains glossy.

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Like this!

Then add in an additional 6 tablespoons of sugar and carefully fold it into the egg whites.

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Look how perfect.

Now it’s time to pipe the mushrooms! You need 2 parchment-lined cookie sheets, one for the mushroom caps and one for the stems.

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Pile half the meringue into a piping bag with a #6 round tip… or in my case, a zip tip baggie with a #6 round tip. No mess to clean up!

The mushroom caps are simple to make. Pipe the meringue onto the cookie sheet until a circle 1½”-2” in diameter is formed. When you made your circle, pull the piping bag to the side to avoid making a little point on top of the mushroom caps. If you make a little point, just dip your finger in some water and pat it down. No harm, no foul.

The stems are a little more complicated.

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Pipe a little meringue on the parchment.

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Then with steady pressure on the piping bag, pull upwards to make the stem (about 2” high!).

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Tada! Make sure you keep the point on the stems… they will be needed when we assemble the mushrooms.

Since these are mushrooms that grow in the ground, they need a little dirt on them!

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Some cocoa powder sprinkled over the tops add a whimsical touch!

The meringues are baked at 250 degrees for about 45 minutes. Since I made them ahead of time, I popped them into a Tupperware container in a cool, dry place until I assemble them tomorrow!

I can’t wait to see how it all turns out.

 

So kiddos, what are you up to? Are you making a big fancy dish for your family and friends to enjoy? I would love to hear all about it!

Your meringue-makin’ friend,

C

My Grandfather

Happy New Year, everyone! Wishing everyone a healthy and happy new year full of love and good surprises! It will be an interesting year for sure – graduation is in May and new adventures await after that…

As much fun as New Year’s is, it is sad to see the holiday season come to a close. My mother cries every time we pass a Christmas tree on the side of the road – she doesn’t realize that our tree is destined for the same fate in a few days.

Since our tree is HUGE, we were able to stick approximately 534.5 ornaments on the tree… which means that 534.5 ornaments need to be taken off the tree and put away. Not awesome. But it gives us time to reminisce for the second time about the meaning behind many of the ornaments. Which leads me to my grandfather.

Here he is (with a vintage picture of my mother!).

My Papou (grandfather in Greek). Lover of Detroit-made cars, his family, friends, and all things sugar, my Papou was an awesome guy. My fondest memories are sitting on his lap and having him tell me story after story after story… Sadly, he passed away when I was five which leaves me with few concrete memories of my own (and many that have been formed from pictures, home movies, and my mother’s own memories). What I DO remember is his fierce love of the St. Louis cardinals (and the bird in general). His love of this team, who were considered underdogs at the time, defined him and we ultimately associated the vibrant bird with my vibrant grandfather.

Since he could not be with us for these many Christmases, we remember him by placing cardinals on our tree.

Like this delightful fabric cardinal!

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Or this delicate blown glass cardinal (my personal ornament)…

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And finally, a clip-on cardinal (not really an ornament, but still wonderful) perches majestically at the top of the tree, watching over all of the holiday festivities.

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They are small reminders of an amazing man who loved us, the holidays, and chocolate cake. As we dismantle our tree, we shall reminisce and place them back in their tissue paper wrappings and tuck them away for next year… but we always know that out of sight never means out of mind.

Wishing you and your family all the best this year.

Your cardinal lovin’, memory lane walkin’ friend,

C

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, blog readers! How was your day? Did you have everyone from your neighborhood over for a big potluck supper or a quiet, candle-lit dinner with your sweetie?

My Christmas is always perfect because it is a time that I can celebrate with my immediate family – Mom, Dad, The Sister (E), The Grandma, and The Cat. It is the perfect, quiet beginning to the other holiday festivities, like the huge family party in days to come. Throw in a perfectly sunny day and you have the makings of an absolutely wonderful day.

Like most families in the world, we wake up super early (except this year we slept late… 9:30AM!) and troop downstairs to take pictures, wrap The Cat in Christmas ribbon (to my mother’s chagrin), and OPENING PRESENTS! YAY!!

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And all those prettily wrapped boxes!

Between the clothing, Christmas ornaments, gadgets, and shoes, I received something so wonderful it brought me to tears. Want proof?

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Aren’t you glad we are such good friends that I can share unflattering, teary-faced pictures with you?

I got the fabulous new Ree Drummond (The Pioneer Woman) holiday cookbook, which was SIGNED. *shriek* As a big Pioneer Woman fan, it was a wonderful gift that I shall be using all throughout the year! Thank you, Santa!

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Here is a better picture of the cover (and my fabulous new apron in my school’s colors!).

After using up all one’s energy shredding wrapping paper and ribbon, it is time to refuel and relax. Christmas breakfast in this house is all about baked eggs (so decadent)…

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And colorful scones (so pretty)…

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And bacon, but I was too busy devouring it to take a picture.

I would also include pictures of our Christmas dinner, but again, I was too busy eating to snap photos.

Here is the table… you can see bits and pieces of what we had.

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If I did take a picture of my plate, this is what it would look like. It would be a beautiful white bone china plate. A plate filled with tender beef filet with sautéed, caramelized onions, perfectly steamed broccoli, to-die-for Greek stuffing, and light-as-air mashed potatoes. I promise I’ll snap pictures of it next year… if I remember.

All-in-all, it was the best Christmas to date! Being surrounded by my amazing family was the perfect breather during this crazy, busy season (and that cookbook really made my day!).

So, blog readers, enough about me – tell me about your holidays! I want to hear all about them!

Sending love this holiday season,

C

Sugar Rush

Happy Holidays, everyone! I hope all your days were merry and bright!

My personal holidays are always centered around family, friends, fun, and, of course, food. The holidays are the time when family recipes are dug out of the corners and crevices of the kitchen and displayed on the family table. Food traditions not only provide comfort and warmth during this time of year, it also allows the younger generations connect with their ancestors. It is almost like documenting a family history through food.

The family tradition that I have taken on is the tradition of family cookie decorating. All throughout the holiday season, I bake, frost, and share (and eat) cookies in all shapes and sizes. This year, my aunt came out for a visit so I decided to outsource my cookie frosting to my willing relatives. For the start of the holidays, I made a batch each of sugar and gingerbread cookies and used basic royal icing to decorate them.

Basic Sugar Cookies

Not-Your-Ordinary Gingerbread Cookies

Royal Icing

Cookie decorating parties are fun for many reasons. One, you can decorate a batch (or three) of cookies in a short period of time. Two, it is a great way to bring generations of family together. It was so nice to see my grandmother, my aunt, my parents, and my sister sitting together and decorating cookies. The cookies looked different, the color patterns were a little unorthodox, and the icing skill level was different, but overall they came out wonderfully. The one detraction of cookie decorating parties is that you (as the creative baker extraordinaire) give up complete control over your creations. Yet that lack of control can yield creations many times better than you can create (case in point: my father made Santa bears and my sister created multicolored snowflakes). My recommendation – make a couple of batches of cookies and have a party, saving a handful that you can decorate yourself the way you want to.

Decorating cookies with my family was a tradition that I love to help continue. It not only provides opportunities for my family and friends to come together during this holiday season, but also allows them to flex their creative muscles. And the results are always very sweet!

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Wishing you a very happy holiday and a healthy New Year!

C

PS…

What do you think of the new seasonal header?

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Royal Icing

This icing is simple to make and super versatile! This year I made one batch and divided into different bowls and added food coloring. I also do not bother with piping bags – they can be expensive and hard to get your hands on. An easier replacement is a zip-top baggie. I put the icing in the baggie, push it to one corner and snip the end. It is easy and if the bag accidently splits, it’s no big deal.

Super Simple Royal Icing

Ingredients:

1 pound of powdered sugar

3 tablespoons of meringue powder

6 tablespoons of warm water

Steps:

1. Combine all ingredients in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment.

2. Wisk on medium speed for 10-15 minutes until the frosting is smooth and shiny.

3. Place into zip-top baggies and frost away!

Here’s the handy dandy printable!

Super Simple Royal Icing

  • Servings: 2-3 cups of icing AKA enough for 1 batch of cookies
  • Difficulty: easy-medium
  • Print

Ingredients:

1 pound of powdered sugar

3 tablespoons of meringue powder

6 tablespoons of warm water

Steps:

1. Combine all ingredients in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment.

2. Wisk on medium speed for 10-15 minutes until the frosting is smooth and shiny.

3. Place into zip-top baggies and frost away!

Not-Your-Ordinary Gingerbread Cookies

My first concrete baking memories are helping my father bake gingerbread cookies around the holidays. Nothing filled the house with a wonderful baked confection smell like homemade gingerbread cookies. What added to their allure was the decorating; it was socially acceptable to pile on as much royal icing and candy on each cookie and then promptly devour it. It was never Christmas without gingerbread cookies.

Little did I know, the gingerbread cookies my family made were different than the ones traditionally made around this time of year. As a child, I remember biting into a store bought gingerbread cookie and was greeted to a strong, slightly bitter tasting morsel. My mother informed me that the gingerbread that I have been consuming my whole life lacked one ingredient – ginger. Which is why this recipe has been dubbed, “Not-Your-Ordinary Gingerbread Cookies”. And everyone I have come across who has eaten our cookies have said that they are better than normal gingerbread. So here is the secret family recipe for ginger-less gingerbread. Your holiday dessert table will never be the same again.

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Ingredients:

1 stick of margarine, softened

1 stick of butter, softened

1 cup of granulated sugar

1 egg

½ cup of molasses (any kind works here)

½ cup of dark corn syrup

2 tablespoons of white vinegar

5 cups of all-purpose flour

1½ teaspoons of baking soda

½ teaspoon of salt

1 teaspoon of ground nutmeg

2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon

Steps:

1. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Mix thoroughly.

2. In the work bowl of your stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together.

3. Add the egg and mix until combined.

4. Add the molasses, dark corn syrup, and vinegar. Mix until combined.

5. Put the bowl guards on the mixer and slowly add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Mix until a soft dough forms.

6. Refrigerate dough for at least one hour.

7. Cut into desired shapes and bake at 350° for about 12 minutes.

8. Cool cookies for an hour before frosting and/or devouring.

Enjoy!

Not-Your-Ordinary Gingerbread Cookie

  • Servings: 30 cookies
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

1 stick of margarine, softened

1 stick of butter, softened

1 cup of granulated sugar

1 egg

½ cup of molasses (any kind works here)

½ cup of dark corn syrup

2 tablespoons of white vinegar

5 cups of all-purpose flour

1½ teaspoons of baking soda

½ teaspoon of salt

1 teaspoon of ground nutmeg

2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon

Steps:

1. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Mix thoroughly.

2. In the work bowl of your stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together.

3. Add the egg and mix until combined.

4. Add the molasses, dark corn syrup, and vinegar. Mix until combined.

5. Put the bowl guards on the mixer and slowly add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Mix until a soft dough forms.

6. Refrigerate dough for at least one hour.

7. Cut into desired shapes and bake at 350° for about 12 minutes.

8. Cool cookies for an hour before frosting and/or devouring.

Basic Sugar Cookies

I used to think that sugar cookies were the worst cookies anyone could ever bake/receive as a gift/eat. But as I made, and subsequently eaten, the cookies that are the result of this recipe, I have gained a better appreciation of the “vanilla” cookie. They are soft and moist, crisp on the bottom, and have a tiny hint of nutmeg. This cookie is as far from bland as it can be. It also lends itself wonderfully to icing; this year I used colored icings for the sugar cookies, because the off-white background is the perfect canvas for cookie masterpieces.

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Just a side note – the yield for this recipe changes depending on the shape of cookie that you make. It can yield up to 40 cookies if you use one teaspoon of dough. I used bells, trees, and circles, which yielded about 35-38 cookies.

Ingredients:

1 stick of margarine, softened

1 ½ sticks of butter, softened

2 cups of granulated sugar

4 eggs (I use extra large)

4 tablespoons of Skim Plus milk (or whole milk, whatever you have)

2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

6 cups of all-purpose flour

5 teaspoons of baking powder

1 teaspoon of salt

¼ teaspoon of ground nutmeg

Steps:

1. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg. Mix until thoroughly combined.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream margarine and butter together and slowly add the sugar. Beat until combined.

3. Add eggs one at a time. Wait until the first egg is combined before adding in the next one.

4. Add milk and vanilla to the wet ingredients. Beat until combined.

5. Put mixer onto lowest setting and put on bowl guards. Slowly add in the dry ingredients.

6. Mix until soft dough forms.

7. Place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before rolling.

8. Bake cookies in the desired shape at 350° for a total of 12 and a half minutes until the edges are slightly golden brown.

9. Cool the cookies on a cooling rack for at least an hour before frosting/devouring.

Enjoy!

Basic Sugar Cookies

  • Servings: 48 cookies
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

1 stick of margarine, softened

1 ½ sticks of butter, softened

2 cups of granulated sugar

4 eggs (I use extra large)

4 tablespoons of Skim Plus milk (or whole milk, whatever you have)

2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

6 cups of all-purpose flour

5 teaspoons of baking powder

1 teaspoon of salt

¼ teaspoon of ground nutmeg

Steps:

1. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg. Mix until thoroughly combined.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream margarine and butter together and slowly add the sugar. Beat until combined.

3. Add eggs one at a time. Wait until the first egg is combined before adding in the next one.

4. Add milk and vanilla to the wet ingredients. Beat until combined.

5. Put mixer onto lowest setting and put on bowl guards. Slowly add in the dry ingredients.

6. Mix until soft dough forms.

7. Place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before rolling.

8. Bake cookies in the desired shape at 350° for a total of 12 and a half minutes until the edges are slightly golden brown.

9. Cool the cookies on a cooling rack for at least an hour before frosting/devouring.