Of all the things that bring me great joy, giving something I've made is right up there.
The Christmas cookies have been a good example. Time spent baking is almost always fun, but planning the collection for these tins and then making them, storing them, and...at last...packing them up to ship has kept me in the Christmas spirit for weeks.
Never let something relatively simple stay that way, right? So these tins of cookies also included a cardstock insert printed with a photo of the filled interior of one of the tins, with cookie names on top of the appropropriate part of the photo. Mostly I wanted to do it to help distinguish between the persimmon cookies and the applesauce cookies. They sure looked alike to me. Then, to further gild the lilly, I printed out sets of recipe cards for each kind of cookie, punched a hole in the corner of the set and tied it up with ribbon, then placed it into the cookie tin. On top of each set of recipe cards was a blank card on which I wrote the date and a message for each family getting the cookies. It took a little more time, but I'm hoping that some of the cards will be saved and used to bake more cookies later. Maybe the joy will continue that way long past this Christmas.
A frenzy of packing followed and then a trip to the Post Office to mail 'em all off! Thanks to Sweetie (above) we were able to do it in only two trips from the car. It's great to be part of a large family.
A commentary in the paper today also made me grateful for the continuity (so far) of some simple things for the holidays. The person writing the article was complaining that the hand knit sweater from the aunt was now totally replaced by the high tech item for all ages. Just yesterday I saw that handmade is still appreciated. I attended a holiday potluck lunch with a group of fellow watercolorists. A few weeks earlier we all agreed to bring something that we had made, wrapped, to exchange as gifts. The delightful thing is that each of us picked an item that was hand made and beautiful and appreciated. I was particularly pleased with my luck in picking a small handmade box which contained morning glory seeds. Most years I grow morning glories and save the seeds, but this year there wasn't time to garden, so no flowers this year and no seeds for next year. Morning glories are also a flower I've shared with my daughter when she was living near by. Now that she has moved to Seattle, into a tiny urban condo with no balcony, I'll have to grow the morning glory flowers for both of us. Thank you Rhoda! You could not have created a more appreciated gift. Better yet, it doesn't require batteries.
Wishing each of you who read this a very happy holiday season, full of peace and joy, fun with friends and family, and lots of goodies to eat. I'll be away and not able to post for a week or more, but will have lots to blog about then.
(This edit is taking place in 2008 in order to keep track of the beginnings of the group that became the Daring Bakers)
Now the baking group, which still went by various names like 'The Little Baking Group That Could', 'Bakers in Crime' and 'Team Tasty' has increased by three more. For December 2006 they baked Chocolate Biscotti.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 TBSP instant espresso powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3/4 stick unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup chopped nuts
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
White Chocolate for dipping
Preheat oven to 350F.
Sift together the flour, cocoa, espresso powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
Working together with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed until pale, about 2 minutes; the mixture may be crumbly.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl , add the eggs and vanilla and beat for another 2 minutes; don’t worry if the mixture looks curdled.
Reduce the mixer speed to low and mix in the dry ingredients in 3 additions, mixing only until dough forms. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Mix in the chopped nuts and chocolate, then turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead un any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.
Divide the dough in half. Working with one half at a time, roll the dough into a 12 inch long logs.
Flatten both logs with the palm of your hand, so that they are 1/2 to 1 inch high, about 2 inches across and sort of rectangular, then carefully lift the logs onto the baking sheet. Sprinkle each log with a little sugar.
Bake the logs for about 25 minutes, or until they are just slightly firm. The logs will spread and crack-and that’s fine. Remove the baking sheet from the oven, put it on a cooling rack and cool the logs for about 20 minutes.(Leave oven on)
Working with one log at a time, using a long serrated knife, cut each log into slices between 1/2 and 3/4 inch thick. Stand the slices up on the baking sheet-you’ll have an army of biscotti-and bake the cookies again, this time for just 10 minutes.
Transfer the biscotti to a rack to cool.
If you want you can melt some white chocolate in a double boiler. Pour it into a shallow baking dish. Take the biscotti and dip which ever part you would like to be covered in chocolate. Set on a rack to harden.
Source: Adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan, Houghton Mifflin Company, Nov 2006