Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sunday Sweets - Three Christmas recipes from my family to yours

Christmas is a time for  baking.  Cooks who seldom venture into the kitchen in any other season will tie on an apron to bake or make candies or prepare other dishes.  In our family we have lots of special dishes and desserts we make at the holiday season.  Most are lifelong favorites and they've become tradition.  So today, I'll share three (maybe more later) that are special.

When I was about three, my mom and I began making these sugar cookies for my Pop (my Grandpa).  I think in the early years we made them for both of my grandfathers but it started because sometimes it's hard to know what to get older gentlemen who have, well, just about everything.  They both adored the cookies - my Pop especially because he had a real sweet tooth.   After they're baked and cooled, we frost them with colored frosting (greens, reds, yellows, etc) for the holidays and sometimes add sprinkles.

They're tasty and fairly easy to make - now I bake them with my kids.

Cookie Jar Sugar Cookies

 2/3 cup shortening
 3/4 cup sugar
 1 egg
 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 tsp grated orange peel
 2 cups sifted all purpose flour
 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
 1/4 teaspoon salt
  4 teaspoons milk

Cream shortening and sugar together well. Add egg and beat until mixture is fluffy.  Add vanilla and orange peel, mix.  Sift dry ingredients together and stir into creamed mixture with milk.  Stir until a soft dough forms.  Divide dough in half.  Chill at least one hour (in fridge). Roll out one half at a time, keeping second half chilled until ready to use.  Roll dough about 1/8 inch thick.  Cut with floured cookie cutters, bake on greased cookie sheet at 350 degrees (F) for about 12 minutes. Yield is two dozen.

Placek Swiateczny (Polish Christmas Bread)

5 egg
2 1/2 cups flour
2 cups icing sugar
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup walnuts or pecans; chopped fine
2/3 cup raisins
4 oz orange peel; chopped fine
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup butter
1 tbsp grated lemon peel
1 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp vodka or brandy

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Beat eggs with sugar using an electric mixer for 5 minutes at high speed.

Mix chopped nuts, raisins, and orange peel with 2 tablespoons of flour.

Mix remaining flour with baking powder and salt.

Cream together the butter, lemon peel, and vanilla extract until fluffy. Beat in vodka, then add egg mixture gradually, beating constantly. Add the flour mixture and beat for 5 minutes. Fold fruit-nut mixture into the batter.

Turn into a greased and floured 9 x 5 x 3-inch pan or a 1-1/2 quart ring mold.

Bake at 350 F. for 1 hour.

Yellow cake bread
(this has a very long Polish name but I always just called it yellow cake bread so it works for me)

10 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 pound unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
3 whole large eggs
1 cup half and half (about 110 degrees)
2 1/4 cups bread flour
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons active dry yeast
confectioners' sugar for dusting
Thoroughly combine the flours and yeast in a medium sized mixing bowl, and then set aside.

To mix the dough in a heavy-duty mixer, place the sugar, salt, butter, lemon and vanilla extracts, and grated zest in the mixer bowl, attach the paddle and mix on low speed for 1 minute to blend the ingredients. Add the eggs, one by one, until they are absorbed, then add the half and half and mix briefly.

Now slowly add all of the flour until the dough forms a mass around the paddle. Turn the machine off, remove the paddle and replace with the dough hook. Knead the dough on medium-low speed for about 5 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. If the dough is excessively soft and sticky, add 1 to 2 tablespoons more flour, one at a time, and knead a little longer.

Place the dough into a large bowl, then cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and allow the dough to rise in the refrigerator for at least 2 to 4 hours. (This chilling time is imperative so that the butter doesn't seep out of the dough.)

After a couple of hours or overnight, turn the risen dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, and gently punch it down. Using floured hands, roll the dough into a fat cigar shape about 12 to 14 inches long. Now form the dough into a small tire, and pinch together the open ends. Place the dough into a non-stick bundt pan, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let rise slowly in a warm place until doubled.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and when the babka is risen, place into the hot oven and cook for 35 to 45 minutes until golden brown. Remove the pan from the oven, and carefully remove the babka to a cooling rack. When completely cool, heavily dust with confectioners' sugar (powdered sugar).

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