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Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Baking Mayhem. . .Russian Tea Cakes and English Toffee!

I have four kids.  The youngest two are 12 and newly-turned-7 year old boys.  You kind of expect Christmas wonder and excitement out of those two.  For the most part, they don't disappoint.

But they aren't out of control, either. . .they don't get over stimulated and hyper or crabby.  They don't hunt for presents or try to sneak peeks.  They largely are just fun and happy and a joy to be around.

My girls, on the other hand, are a hoot at this time of year.  Almost-18 and almost-16 year old young 'ladies', they are.  But you would NEVER know it at Christmas time.  The oldest, in particular, who happens to be my most mature (both in age and in personality) positively VIBRATES with excitement at this time of year.  It's downright adorable.


Take our annual cookie baking extravaganza. . .we only really managed to finish the English Toffee without incident.  The Russian Teacakes were iffy.  By the time we got to the sugar cookies, it was all out chaos. And we're not even half way done.

Don't get me wrong, I LOVE how fun my girls are.  I am enjoying these memories even more as they edge ever closer to venturing out into the world.  I know how precious these moments are.

So laughing tonight with my girls was so, so wonderful.  To see them enjoying each other and, for the moment at least, still thinking I'm cool to be with was just awesome.  We probably could have made less mess and more cookies tonight.  But I doubt we could have had more fun.

Here are a couple of recipes from our family to yours:

Russian Teacakes

Ingredients:
  • 1 Cup softened Butter
  • 1 1/2 Teaspoons real Vanilla
  • 1/2 Cup Powdered Sugar, plus at least another cup to roll the cookies in at the end
  • 2 1/4 Cups All Purpose Flour 
  • 3/4 to 1 Cup chopped Walnuts or Pecans

Method:
  • Pre-heat your oven to 400º F.
  • Cream the butter, the vanilla, and the first 1/2 cup of powdered sugar together in large mixing
    We tossed more sugar on top for fun!
    bowl. 
  • Add in the flour, the nuts and salt, a little at a time, working it only until dough just holds together.Don't overwork the dough.
  • Roll pieces of dough into balls that are one inch in diameter. 
  • Space cookies about an inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.
  • Bake about 10 minutes or until the cookies are set but not brown.  Check at 10 minutes and if they aren't done, keep checking in 30 second increments. 
  • When done, transfer to a wire rack.
  • While still warm, roll in powdered sugar and return to wire rack.
  • When the cookies are completely cool, roll again in powdered sugar.
  • Keep in a container with a very tight lid. 
Makes about four dozen cookies. 

English Toffee

Ingredients:
  • 1 1/4 cup Butter (unsalted preferably, but if you use salted, cut down the salt by 1/4 teaspoon)
  • 1 cup White Sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt (or 1/4 if you use salted)
  • 1/4 cup of Water
  • 2 cups finely chopped almonds
  • 10-12 ounces good quality melting/eating chocolate
  • Vegetable Oil (unflavored, like safflower)

Method:

If you have a marble cutting board, or a marble counter top, clean it well with food safe cleaners and coat with a VERY light coating of oil, about the size of a cookie sheet.  If you don't have either of those, clean and coat the back of a heavy cookie sheet.  Set aside, but don't forget to do this first.  When the candy is ready, you don't have time to be sorting it out!!
  • Cut butter into several pieces and place in a heavy-bottomed pot (about 3 quarts in size).  
  • Melt gently over low heat (don't let it brown).
  • Add sugar, water, and salt and increase the heat to medium.
  • Stir constantly, making sure to keep scraping the bottom and sides so the sugar does not burn.
  • When the temperature hits 260 degrees F on a candy thermometer, add 1/2 cup of the nuts.  It should take about 8-10 minutes, but start checking at 5 to be sure you don't miss it.
  • Keeping cooking and stirring until the mixture is a lovely golden brown and the temperature hits about 300 degrees F.  This should take about another 5-8 minutes, but keep the thermometer in to make sure.
  • The moment the temperature hits 300 F, pour onto oiled surface or sheet, quickly spreading to about 1/8-1/4 thickness.  You will have to work quickly before the candy gets too hard to spread.
  • Let cool slightly then score deeply with a lightly oiled knife or pizza cutter into the size pieces you want.  I usually go for about 1-2 inches square, but other people prefer rectangles or even just random broken pieces.
  • Let cool completely, then break along scored lines.
  • Melt chocolate in a bowl over a pan of hot water, stirring until completely melted and smooth
  • Dip pieces of toffee into the chocolate, scraping off any excess on the edge of the bowl and dredge in the remaining nuts, shaking off any excess.
  • Lay candy on parchment or waxed paper and let cool until set.
  • Store in an airtight container in the fridge, between layers of parchment or waxed paper.
The number of pieces depends on the size of them!!




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