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 at my grandma’s house 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 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 & 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.

For the next few weeks, I’ll be posting some of my go-to Christmas cookie recipes. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

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.

Cookies to satisfy any craving


When I was a kid, peanut butter cookies were my favorite treat. My mom used to make them by rolling the dough into balls and flattening them by making criss-cross fork imprints on the top. I used to love eating them warm shortly after they came out of the oven.

Around the same time, my grandmother in Wisconsin sent me a couple books from the “World Famous Muriel” series. In each book the heroine, Muriel, would solve mysteries as long as the person seeking her help provided her with peanut butter cookies. My grandmother must have seen that we had that in common.

Even now, I still enjoy peanut butter cookies; but I now use a recipe that incorporates chocolate. When I’m craving something sweet, I often turn to Curtis Stone’s Peanut Butter Cookies With Chocolate Chunks. The best part is how quickly they can be made. I had seen him make these cookies on an episode of “Take Home Chef,” and was delighted when the recipe was included in his most recent cookbook, “Relaxed Cooking With Curtis Stone.”

The original recipe calls for 5 ounces of semisweet chocolate. The first time I made them, all I had was a 4-ounce semisweet chocolate bar, and that turned out to be plenty. I once used chocolate chips, but I prefer chunks of chocolate for this recipe. When it comes to breaking up the chocolate, I’ve found the best way to do it is to smack the wrapped 4-ounce bar of chocolate on the edge of the counter until it feels broken up enough. The different size chunks add a homemade charm to the cookies. If using a stand mixer, just throw the whole bar into the bowl and let the stand mixer break it up into chunks.

The recipe says to remove the cookies from the oven when they’ve puffed up and begin to brown on top. At first, it might seem like you’re taking them out prematurely, but really, follow the recipe. The cookies continue to cook because of the residual heat. If you follow the recipe, you’ll have large, soft cookies to satisfy your sweet tooth.

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup natural chunky peanut butter
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated / caster sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ½ tablespoons honey
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Mix the flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.

Using an electric mixer, beat the peanut butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, butter, honey, egg, and vanilla in a large bowl until well blended.

Stir the dry ingredients into the peanut butter mixture in 2 additions. Stir in the chopped chocolate.

Scoop about 3 tablespoonfuls of dough for each cookie onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing them 2 1/2 inches apart.

Bake for about 12 minutes, or until the cookies puff and begin to brown on top but are still very soft to the touch.

Cool the cookies on the baking sheets for 5 minutes.

Using a metal spatula, transfer the cookies to a rack and eat warm or cool completely.