Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Houses And Cookies!

Just finished up last night my version of the candy cottage from " No bake gingerbread houses for kids book".Here's me explaining how it all came together.

I started out with the simplest house to see how I would do. At first it was kind of difficult since I didn't seem to have the right crackers, but graham wafers still worked well and just needed to have a longer drying point to keep everything together :). 

A couple days later with lots of time for  the house to become solid I bought a few small packages of candy from our nearest convenient store. I used whoppers, nibs and Swedish juice berries which definitely  bought the house more color and became my very own candy cottage. I even had candy on the house from previous of chocolate chips, marshmallows and caramels :).

For icing I used the egg white recipe from the book and a leftover store bought  green gel icing. The icing was wonderful for building houses and was really strong to keep together even pieces that may of broke. The green gel brought some great color and detail to the house and the lawn. For added touches I used some store bought German spice cookies for the lawn and Christmas style plastic ornaments of Santa, Frosty and reindeer.

The only negative In my opinion is I always liked the look of actual gingerbread for these houses. Just seem to have a better color and is sturdier then graham crackers. There perfectly fine though if you don't like gingerbread or really have a tough time building them. I just saw some great houses/ villages on the news and I thought that is a whole lot of work,wonder if they eat any of it when its done:).

That day I also made homemade speculass( Dutch spice cookies) :). These cookies are traditionally moulded into carved wooden boards and unmoulded. Then there placed in the fridge overnight to help keep there shape and print when there ready to bake. There are also wooden rolling pins out there with the carved molds in them which is easily rolled into the dough for the shapes.

For these dutch delights they are a little easier by being a rolled out version involving your own cookie cutters such as squares, rectangles or more seasonal shapes. For me I chose to go with small Christmas trees since I thought the almonds would pair well with a decorative trees :P.If you have moulds specifically for these cookies then go right ahead and try it with this recipe. I wish I had one of them because there such a unique baking item to have in your kitchen.

This recipe did need some little changes done do it for it to work for me. Mostly it was spice changes and elimination only do to not having them and being expensive. I kicked  cardamon out of the recipe since its expensive for alot and it most likely wont be used for anything here and then I automatically kicked out pepper.

Cardamon is actually a main ingredient in the dutch version of spice cookies since a lot of Indonesiaspices cross over into dutch food. For me I have only ever tasted store brought German spice cookie which are little less rich then the dutch ones. Also I can imagine the dutch spice cookie would be richer if I let the other spice in and maybe one day Ill try with all of them.

This is the first time I have ever made a recipe for these so I was a little nervous that everything would come out alright.The recipe was pretty basic with creaming your butter and sugar and then adding all your dry ingredients. For me I chose to sift all my dry to evenly distribute all the spices and then adding it slowly to the butter mix.For this dough you have to chill it for a half hour but I let it chill for about an hour to get it quite firm.

Once I began to roll the dough out I made it pretty thin and didn't really measure how thick. I know 1/4 inch width is pretty thin and these cookies do puff up during baking as well. I chose to go with a simple Christmas tree cookie cutter and proceeded to make about over 28 cookies. For decorating I do recommend using very little milk when brushing the cookies since to much can make it way to wet.Also always remember to brush and decorative with almond slice prior to baking because If you don't the almonds wont stay and the cookies will be soggy.

I have a full cookie jar of these spice cookies now :P and they taste Delicious. They are a little richer in ginger then the store brought German spice cookies and taste way better in flavor. Homemade is always better anyways because its full of love, flavour and hard work. They have a great crunch and the almond are a great added notice for appearance and flavor. Speculass is all about the texture and strong aroma of spices.
Stay tune for more Christmas recipes/ new year recipes!

Speculass Christmas Trees ( Spice Cookies)
(Adapted from Speculass (Spice Cookies), Canadian Living Magazine Holiday Baking 1997)
Printable Version

Yield 30 cookies (Christmas trees)
1/2 cup butter, softened(cut into smaller pieces)
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp each of ground cinnamon and ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp each baking powder, baking soda and allspice
1/4 tsp  each ground cloves and nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp milk
1/2 cup sliced almonds

Use a non stick pan (or grease a cookie sheet)
Beat butter( cut into pieces prior) with sugar until fluffy in a large bowl.
In separate bowl, sift in all purpose and whole wheat flours, cinnamon ginger, baking powder, baking soda, all spice, cloves, nutmeg, and salt, stir with wooden spoon.
Stir dry gradually into butter mixture.
Lightly floured surface, bring dough into a large ball and knead 10 times, or until smooth/combined.Shape into disc and wrap into plastic wrap to chill for 30 minutes- 60 minutes until firm.
On the floured surface, roll dough into 1/4 thickness( or approximate)Use a Christmas tree cookie cutter,
(or other desired shapes)
Place on non stick cookie sheet and brush each lightly with milk and then place a few sliced almond a top
Bake at 350F oven for 8-10 minutes or until ledges are darkened and centers are firm.Let cool on pan and then transfer to rack to completely cool(store in air tight container at room temp for 4 days or frozen up to 2 weeks)

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