Pistachio Brittle

I started off my holiday baking escapades this week with a new twist on a favorite recipe.  I have always liked peanut brittle, even though I will confess that I am really not a fan of the peanuts, per se.  The buttery and sweet brittle is what I love the most.  As I have dieted over the past year, one food that I have enjoyed almost daily for a little snack is pistachio nuts.  Costco sells a big bag of the shelled nuts at a good price, and I have been so grateful to keep a bag of these healthy nuts on my kitchen counter over the past year when a snack attack hits me.

Hubby and I discussed some of the sweets that we would like to have and give this year during the holidays, and we both agreed that substituting pistachios for the peanuts might be worth a try, as we both love to eat them.  I have also had a slightly spicy pistachio brittle in the past (similar to the recipe at that link), and it was very good.  However, for this first attempt, I opted to use a more traditional recipe and substitute the nuts as the only change.

Pistachio Brittle
Lovely Pistachio Brittle!

This was definitely a successful modification, and I seriously doubt that I will ever make regular peanut brittle again, unless I make it for someone who prefers it over this kind.  The wonderful green color from the pistachios even makes the brittle more festive for the holidays, too.

I used a recipe from Land O Lakes, with only two slight changes, in addition to substituting the nuts in equal amounts.  After adding the baking soda, I also added one teaspoon of Watkins vanilla extract, and I also turned the entire recipe out into just one buttered pan instead of dividing it between two pans.  In my opinion, it came out great!  Using a candy thermometer makes this a simple recipe to prepare, too.

Candy Thermometer
This candy thermometer belonged to my mother-in-law, and I treasure using it every year when preparing holiday treats. What a story it could tell over the decades!
Pistachio Brittle 2
Brittle in a buttered pan

I buttered the baking pan well, turned out the hot brittle mixture into the pan, spread it to the edges with a buttered spatula, then let it sit for about an hour until it was completely cooled.  Once it was cooled, I then turned the pan upside down over a large cookie sheet and gently tapped the bottom of the pan with a hammer (that I only use in the kitchen) until the brittle fell loose.  While the brittle was upside down on the cookie sheet, I used the clean hammer to gently break the pieces apart, using only the edge of the hammer when tapping.  There is no need to line the pan with foil or parchment, as the brittle slides out quite easily after it is allowed to completely cool in the well-buttered pan.

I also experimented with another new recipe that has pistachios, too.

Cranberry Pistachio Bark
Cranberry Pistachio White Chocolate Bark

I found this simple recipe for Cranberry Pistachio White Chocolate Bark online from Brown-Eyed Baker.  This took about five minutes to make, using the microwave to melt the white chocolate morsels, and it will be a regular holiday sweet treat for us.  What a pretty addition it will be to my Christmas food gifts this year!  (12/13/14 Update: Just saw where Ina Garten also adds some diced dried apricots to hers, too!)

After the holidays, I will go back to just snacking on my lovely pistachio nuts, sans all the extra calories, but I will certainly have fond memories of these tasty treats!

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National Cookie Day

As today is National Cookie Day, I wanted to share some of my own adventures in cookie baking over the past two years.  My own Christmas cookie adventures began in earnest when our long-time bakery shut its doors forever and left many of us in dire straits for decorated Christmas cookies.  This had been a tradition for me for a number of years, and I was not ready to give it up.  So, I embarked on making my own decorated cookies for the first time with some success the first year and even better success last year.

I have not worked on further honing my cookie skills since last Christmas, due to my weight loss effort.  It was a necessary sacrifice and one that I was more than willing to make this year.  But, it’s time to once again start baking cookies for gifts, and I am so ready to get going once again!  Last year, hubby and I embarked on a cookie decorating day where he helped me “blitz” the decorated cookies mostly in one day, and we had a lot of fun together.  As it turns out, he has a great artistic flare for decorating cookies, too.

I have linked to my cookie posts at the bottom of this post, as there are links to many of the recipes I used in those posts, in case you are also ready to embark on your own Christmas cookie adventures soon!

Christmas Cookies 4
Decorated Christmas Cookies
Christmas Cookies 3
Decorated Christmas Cookies
Christmas Cookies 2
Decorated Christmas Cookies
Christmas Cookies 1
Decorated Christmas Cookies
Christmas Snickerdoodle Cookies
Christmas Snickerdoodles
Tangy Lemon Glazed Cookies
Tangy Lemon Glazed Cookies – a new family favorite
Oatmeal Lace Cookies
Oatmeal Lace Cookies
Savory Breakfast Cookies
Savory Breakfast Cookies
Ultimate Double Chocolate Cookies
Ultimate Double Chocolate Cookies – Ghirardelli recipe
Stained Glass Cookies
Stained Glass Cookies
Ginger Crinkle Cookies
Ginger Crinkle Cookies
Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies
Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies
Linzer Sandwich Cookies
Linzer Sandwich Cookies
Candy Cane Cookies
Candy Cane Cookies
Peppermint Almond Cookies
Peppermint “Snowballs” – made from Candy Cane Cookie recipe
Decorated Christmas Cookies
Decorated Christmas Cookies
My Christmas Cookie Trays for Gifts
My Christmas cookie gift trays – 2012

See my note below about the pretty cross cookies, please! 😉  Also, the reindeer cookies were made from my peanut butter cookie recipe.

Christmas Cookies 7
My Christmas cookie and candy gift trays – 2013
Christmas Cookies 5
My Christmas cookie and candy gift trays – 2013
Christmas Cookies 6
My Christmas cookie and candy gift trays – 2013

One note – I love baking the pretty decorated cross cookies (pictured in the 2012 trays).  A word of caution, though.  They tend to break easily when included in a tray of other cookies, it seems, so I wrap them individually now with a cardboard backing when giving them with the gift trays.  After going to all the effort to make these pretty cookies, I want the recipient to get them in one piece.  I allow one cross cookie per person, and I include a handwritten note that this is a “special” cookie for them and include the verse, John 3:16, in my note.  They can certainly freeze their special cookie to eat at Easter, if they prefer, as long as it is properly wrapped, but so far, I think everyone has eaten their cross cookies for Christmas.

My previous posts on Christmas Cookies:

Christmas Cookies
Christmas Cookies – 2013

Happy National Cookie Day!  I’m ready to start baking again!

D Reindeer_sm

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Christmas Cookies 2013

I am finally done with my Christmas cookie baking escapades, thanks to a last-minute “push” to bake and decorate almost 80 cookies on Saturday night, in addition to all of the others I baked last week.  Since Thanksgiving was a week later than normal this year, I knew that I was going to be behind in my baking, and that proved to be true, unfortunately.  I would liked to have baked about three more types of cookies, but it just didn’t happen this year unless I decide to bake a batch or two after Christmas for our upcoming RV trip next week.

I also included homemade fudge, homemade peanut butter Rice Krispie bars, assorted chocolate and hard candies, Bob’s Candy Canes, homemade instant spiced tea mix and some flavored popcorn with most of the cookie trays, and I liked those additions this year for these gifts.  I haven’t had the spiced tea mix in years, and I made sure that I kept some of the mix for us to enjoy for Christmas, too.

I have delivered most of the cookie gift trays, and it has “blessed my socks off” to deliver them to my elderly friends and some family members.  Our next door neighbor, who is a sweet elderly widow, loved hers so much that I thought she was going to cry right there at the front door.  She has already written me the sweetest thank you note, and she just went on and on in great detail about how she was going to enjoy each and every cookie on that tray.  It was priceless, and I will keep it forever.  I took a gift tray to our son last night just as he got off from work, and he was so grateful to receive it, too.

If you want a blessing during the holidays, I highly recommend taking a plateful of baked goodies to elderly friends and family members, especially if you can surprise them with it.  I hope that I can continue to do this for many years to come.  After my experience this year, I would love to be able to give many more cookie trays away, too.

Here are the cookies that I baked this year.  Hubby volunteered to help with decorating the sugar cookies all on his own, and he did a great job.  Of course he did.  He has that artist’s touch, much more than I do, for sure.  I told him that he is officially hired for future decorating needs.  That will teach him to volunteer!  Seriously, we had a fun time decorating cookies, although in the fifth hour of decorating about 11:30 pm on Saturday night, we were both getting a little slap happy.  Hence, you may see a few decorated cookies that are a bit “different.”  How about a stocking covered in dots as just one example?

I will let the photos tell the rest of the story.  My personal favorites are the “psychedelic snowflakes,” and they are actually quite easy to do.  I came up with that design, and they really are so pretty and bright!

Christmas Cookies 1
Decorated Almond Sugar Cookies (trees)
Christmas Cookies 2
Decorated Almond Sugar Cookies (snowflakes)
Christmas Cookies 4
Decorated Almond Sugar Cookies (stars)
Christmas Cookies 3
Decorated Almond Sugar Cookies (stockings)
Christmas Cookie Gift Tray
Christmas Cookie Gift Tray
Christmas Cookie Gift Trays
Christmas Cookie Gift Trays
Christmas Cookie Gift Tray
Christmas Cookie Gift Tray
Christmas Snickerdoodle Cookies
Christmas Snickerdoodle Cookies
Tangy Lemon Glazed Cookies
Tangy Lemon Glazed Cookies
Oatmeal Lace Cookies
Oatmeal Lace Cookies
Peppermint Almond Snowballs
Peppermint Almond Snowballs
Meltaway Sugar Cookies
Meltaway Sugar Cookies – My Mother’s Recipe
Harry and David Pears
And… a surprise gift for me! Harry and David Pears – yum!

D Reindeer_sm

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Wordless Wednesday – Baking Cookies

Oatmeal Lace Cookies

Tangy Lemon Glazed Cookies

Christmas Snickerdoodle Cookies

D Reindeer_sm

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Christmas Cookies

I am in love with Christmas cookies and have been for many years.  There is just something about a sweet treat with that special holiday touch that just puts me in a particularly festive mood each December.  In past years, I have always purchased our Christmas cookies from a wonderful bakery here that has been open since before I was born.  But, a few months ago, the bakery shut its doors, and the owner said it would not be reopening, which has been a sad development for our community indeed.

Given the loss of the bakery, I vowed that I would do my best to learn to bake our treasured decorated Christmas cookies on my own.  I’ve spent hours and days researching cookies and recipes and decorating techniques.  I have bought many supplies, and after baking an initial small test batch, I have now completed my first big batch of decorated Christmas cookies.  Thankfully, this is something that I can do, at least well enough to make my family (and even some friends) quite happy.  And as a result of all my cookie research, I even chose to make several different kinds of cookies this year to see if we can find a few more favorite holiday cookies, too.

In an effort to make some of my Christmas gifts a little more personal this year, I just completed eight big assorted cookie platters and gave them away to some friends and family members this past weekend, calling it a “Twelve Days of Christmas” gift, and five of the eight platters went to elderly friends and family members.

My Christmas Cookie Trays for Gifts
My Christmas Cookie Trays for Gifts

I opted to give them well before Christmas for some good reasons.  The main reasons in giving them early were to get them done ahead of my Christmas cooking rush, give them while they are freshest, and free up the week prior to Christmas for me to finish up shopping, wrapping, cooking and house cleaning.  Another good reason for giving them early was to keep everyone from just having yet more sweets to eat on Christmas Eve/Day.  I think most people will enjoy having a cookie or two each day leading up to Christmas, and everyone just loved them when I delivered them.

Here is the list of cookies that I baked, with links to the recipes.  I tried to have a variety of cookies on the platters, and I also chose to avoid cookies with nuts in them, as I was not sure if a couple of people might have nut allergies.  Also, as you can see from the list below, I chose to add a few non-cookie treats to the platters for variety and to get the count up to twelve items for the “Twelve Days of Christmas” theme.

Vanilla Almond Decorated Sugar Cookies
(Wilton recipe, various cutout shapes)

Decorated Christmas Cookies
Decorated Christmas Cookies

And from this same cookie recipe, I also made a few
Stained Glass Christmas Tree Cookies with Red Hot Berries.
Easy, easy, easy to do! 😉

Stained Glass Cookies
Stained Glass Cookies

Chocolate Pepper*Mint* Cookies
(The Idea Room)

Candy Cane Cookies
(This Betty Crocker recipe is similar to our family recipe.)

Candy Cane Cookies
Candy Cane Cookies

Snickerdoodles with Red/Green Holiday Sugars
(Betty Crocker recipe)

Holiday Snickerdoodles
Holiday Snickerdoodles

Apricot Linzer Sandwich Cookies
(Wilton recipe)

Linzer Sandwich Cookies
Linzer Sandwich Cookies

And, I just could not resist baking the tiny little snowman cutout centers!

Centers of Linzer Sandwich Cookies Baked
Centers of Linzer Sandwich Cookies Baked

Oatmeal Cranberry Cookies
(Food Network – I used fresh chopped cranberries)

Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies
Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies

Peanut Butter Cookies, some with Reindeer Faces
(Jif Recipe – I used Rold Gold Mini Pretzels)

Ginger Crinkle Cookies
(Jamie Deen, Food Network)

Ginger Crinkle Cookies
Ginger Crinkle Cookies

Ultimate Double Chocolate Cookies
(Ghirardelli recipe)

Ultimate Double Chocolate Cookies
Ultimate Double Chocolate Cookies

Holiday Shaped Pretzels
(found at World Market, a salty option to offset the sweets)

Bob’s Candy Canes
(a long-time family tradition)

Hershey’s Chocolate/Caramel Kisses
(a tasty variation to the traditional kisses)

For the record, the following blog posts were invaluable to me in coming up with a special decorated sugar cookie that I know we will love this year and many years to follow.  This was my primary goal in learning to bake our traditional Christmas cookies, and I’m thrilled to know now that I can continue that tradition for my family.  I actually think these cookies may rival or best the bakery cookies, too.

The Pioneer Woman – Decorated Christmas Cookies
As always, her detailed posts answer so many questions and the pictures are wonderful!

Bake At 350: Vanilla Almond Sugar Cookie Recipe
I am not using this exact recipe, but it’s very close to the Wilton recipe that I used.  The recipe is down the page a bit, and her detailed information here and at Pioneer Woman’s post above is very helpful.

Bake At 350: Royal Icing Tutorial
This is probably the best tutorial on Royal Icing that I’ve found and helped me get it right the very first time, especially with the additional information from The Pioneer Woman’s post on making and working with the flow/flood icing.

Happy holiday baking!  Christmas Day is just a week away!

D
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