Saturday, December 31, 2011

Project: Easy Calendar

I got this cute little calendar for Christmas from one of my students,
I couldn't resist putting it up on the blog because it was cute and simple.

It's a picture frame &
4x6 inch calendars that this cutie mom designed!

Just strap a bow around it and you are done!

So cute!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Project: Cinnamon Ornaments

One of my kids favorite decorations are the Cinnamon Ornaments.  They are super easy and they smell SOOO yummy!  Especially when the warm lights heat them up a bit......ahhhh.  I like to put them on some little trees right by my front door.  Its a great way to enter the house!
I first made them about 5 years ago, and they were starting to lose their smell a little.  They, themselves always smell good - but they don't radiate quite as much anymore.  So my girls and I decided it was time to make more!  They really are as easy as rolling out sugar cookies.  Probably easier, and they take less time.  So here's your how to:
1 cup ground cinnamon
1/4 cup applesauce
1/2 cup white glue

Mix cinnamon and applesauce together.  The mixture will be very crumbly.  Using a rubber spatula is easiest.  Slowly add glue and mix until consistent.  *My recipe says to let it sit one hour - if you do make sure it is covered.  It will dry out!*
This is a double batch

The ornaments shrink a bit as they dry, so I use my big cookie cutters.  Roll out the dough just like you would a sugar cookie, but without the mess.  It won't really stick to anything.  If it does you can sprinkle the surface with some extra cinnamon.  If the dough starts to get too dry you can spritz it with water.  I always make sure to knead each section really well with my hands before I roll it out, just to spread the moisture around.  Make sure you don't get the ornaments too thin.  Especially if kids are handling them - you don't want them to be too fragile!
 Once you've cut the shapes, use a straw to cut out the hole for the ribbon.

Air dry the ornaments on a wire rack lined with paper towels for 24-48 hours, turning them every few hours to keep them flat.  (As they dry they will start to curl upward around the edges).  You can also heat them in an oven at 200 degrees for 2 hours to dry them.  I think it takes a bit of the smell away - but you have less chance of curling ornaments.  Just flip them once halfway through.

At this point you can do all kinds of fun stuff.  I like to leave mine plain jane, but I've seen some really cute ones decorated with glitter and paint.  You can pretty much treat them like a wooden ornament in that way.  Then just string the ribbon through - tie a bow and you have your ornament!  These also make really cute embellishments for gifts and neighbor goodies.  And they are really inexpensive.  The biggest expense is the cinnamon.

Such a fun activity for the kids - and a nice welcome home for me.

And these cookies are the perfect treat for your activity!  I dislike ginger snaps.  But I love homemade ginger cookies!  And these gingerbread men are very close.  So yum!


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Project: How to Snickerdoodle

As I was baking some Snickerdoodles for my hubby this afternoon (they are one of his favorites!)  I started thinking of all the times I hear people complain about how their cookies never come out right.  Now "right" is definitely up for interpretation.  My father-in-law always said "Its called a "cook"ie - that means it should be COOKED!"  He liked crunchy cookies - I don't.  So if my cookies ever "didn't turn out"  I knew I could always send them his way.

The recipe may play some part in the softness of a cookie, but the trick, really, is when to pull them out.  I say trick because all ovens are different, and cookie sizes vary.  I've had ovens I had to set 25 degrees lower than the recipe said and everything still cooked too quickly!  The recipe may say 8 minutes - but it is ALWAYS an approximation.  I very rarely even time my cookies.  And if I do, I make sure the timer will go off early so that I'm there when the cookies are actually done.  If I want good cookies - I don't multi-task.  :0)

So, I'll use my Snickerdoodles as an example, partially because I love them, and partially because of all cookies they are one of the trickier ones.  And don't worry, the recipe is at the end.  Believe me its a good one!

 So there are a few things I learned from my mother.  One is how to get a "baker's dozen".  If you stagger the cookies (row of 3, row of 2, row of 3 etc) you get one extra cookie on the sheet.  It works.  The other is to rotate the cookie sheets to cut down cooking time.  Place both racks in the center and put in a sheet for half the time, then rotate another one in for the second half.  For example: if the recipe says bake for 10 minutes. Put the first sheet on the bottom rack for 5 minutes then move it to the top and put another on the bottom for the next 5 minutes and just keep it going till all of them have cooked 10 minutes each.  Instead of taking 30 minutes to bake 3 sheets it will take 20.  It works great if you are in a time crunch.  But if you need to leave the top one in because it isn't done, that cooks the bottom one for longer and you have to juggle times a lot more.  And you end up with more not perfectly done cookies.  If I have the time I bake the sheets one at a time.

When you are baking sugar cookies (which is essentially what a snickerdoodle is) you can kind of think about it like flipping pancakes.  These pictures don't illustrate as well as I'd like, but if you'll notice in the top picture the cookies are shiny and uncracked.  In the bottom one they are cracking and turning dull.  (not all cookies crack - but snickerdoodles do)  A shiny cookie is a 'not done' cookie.  Just like a shiny pancake is not ready to flip (if you have it at the right temp anyway).  Here is where it gets tricky.  You want it un-shiny for just long enough that it is done, but isn't browning.  If the cookie starts to brown on the bottom it is over-cooked and, unless eaten right out of the oven, will be crunchy.

The top cookie is *perfect* - the bottom cookie was all crunch within the hour.  See that fine line of golden brown on the bottom?  Sugar cookies - and snickerdoodles - and golden brown don't mix.

From the top you barely notice a difference.  But flip them over.....duh duh duh.  A crunchy cookie!

Keep in mind also that the cookies continue to cook after you pull them out of the oven.  If you leave them on the cookie sheet to cool they will cook more than they will if you transfer them to a cooling rack.....and they'll get stuck to the sheet.  I usually leave them on the cookie sheet for about a minute.  They cool just enough not to fall apart when you transfer them to the cooling rack.  Sometimes if you open up your cookie right then the middle will seem slightly dough-y.  Wait a couple of minutes.  If you pulled it out at the right time that dough-y will turn to absolute perfection!

And don't forget to store them in an airtight container!

Again - if you are like my father-in-law - throw everything I just said out the window.  But if you like a good soft those cook times!


1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. shortening
1 1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs
2 3/4 c. flour
2 t. cream of tartar (its important!)
1 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt

2 T. sugar
2 t. cinnamon

Cream together butter, shortening, and sugar.  Add eggs, mix well.  Add flour, tartar, soda, and salt.  In a separate bowl, mix cinnamon and sugar.  Shape dough into balls and roll in sugar and cinnamon mixture.  Place on greased cookie sheet (I never grease mine - but don't let the cookies cool on the sheet - thats when they stick).  Bake at 400 degrees for 6-8 minutes.

*I always wondered why this recipe called for cream of tartar.  The ONLY other thing I had ever used it in was merengue.  Well, that should have given me my clue.  I made them without it once.....there is one thing merengue and these snickerdoodles have in common.  They are light and airy :0)  And I think the tartar is what makes them crack.

Enjoy your soft cinnamon-y goodness!