Cookie-Thon 2016

Can you believe this is the 7th year I’ve done Cookie-Thon? I guess it didn’t technically become a “Cookie-Thon” until about 5 years ago, but still… I was shooting for a number less insane than last year’s 3,454 cookies, but apparently less for me, was only by 10 cookies, bringing this year’s total to 3,444. Despite that, this year went a lot smoother thanks to a few things: taking Friday and Monday off to give me 4 full days, my friend Shawn lending me his mixer so I could run 4 bowls at the same time in equally powered machines, having my friends Aubrie and Ari helping on Saturday and my Maw Maw on Monday, cookie sheets as big as my oven that held 30-35 cookies, a giant spatula, and just overall better planning.

 

I filled over 60 packages this year and 6 platters, mostly to the usual friends and family members that receive them every year. But the most fulfilling part of Cookie-Thon continues to be the ability to give cookies to strangers. The surprise of the pizza delivery guy, touched by the offer to come inside and have a warm cookie before he takes the road again. The comfort in the face of a neighbor I don’t really know, but who lost her daughter 2 months ago and is understandably struggling to feel Christmas joy. This is what Cookie-Thon is really about, this token of love, to whoever is willing to receive it. Spreading Christmas cheer is my absolute favorite thing to do and I implore all of you to find a way to spread some too.

 

This year I had the opportunity to do something really worthwhile with the excess cookies and I am excited about being able to do it every year from here on out too. With about a bins worth of leftovers, I asked around for a good place to donate them, or for people who would like a small package themselves, and my old childhood friend Sasha suggested The Sharing Table. You remember, that humbling experience I had last year when I volunteered? She says they get well over 100 people for the Christmas dinner and now some of them will get to go home (or wherever they find shelter at night) with some of my cookies! I know it’s hardly enough to make their lives any better, but I hope it at least serves as a sweet treat in the name of Christmas that they would have otherwise not had.

 

I’ve got this idea about making Cookie-Thon a sort of movement, where I release my recipes online and people all over participate in the same event, same weekend, and then we all set out to get them into the hands of people who don’t expect it – who need it most. Be that homeless people, cops, delivery people, someone who’s been down on their luck, etc… If we could create a movement to spread Christmas Cheer…. gah! it’d be an amazing thing to be a part of. Anybody interested in possibly being a part of this next year?

 

For the most part I posted the progress of Cookie-Thon live on Instagram Stories and Snapchat this year, but I did manage to capture a few pictures with my good camera, too. If you’d like to see the process, click the image below! :)

 

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Blueberry Morning Cake

I’m writing this from my newly acquired laptop, gifted to me by my husband to encourage my getting back into writing by being able to remove myself from our shared office (which is full of distraction), and it’s snowing for the first time this winter. It’s been unseasonably warm here in Maryland, keeping germs alive in an awful way and making Christmas feel not much like Christmas for me, so I doubt it will stick or amount to much, but at least it’s finally happening. Hopefully it won’t be the only snowfall we get this winter.

 

Colder weather has always had a way of making my creative sides flourish. I’m not sure how or why they’re connected that way, but it’s always been the case. Where many people suffer from seasonal depression in the colder, darker months of the year, I find myself more productive and happier than I am all year. There used to be a time when that creativity presented itself in the form of baking, but in the past couple of years my treat baking has gone a similar direction as my photography – something I do on commission rather than for fun. But I miss the satisfaction of just baking something for fun, of taking an existing recipe and making it my own. And as I put my also newly acquired Kitchen Aid mixer (the most amazing wedding gift from my dear friend Akoss) to use this past week for a commissioned birthday cupcake order, I thought: I’m going to just bake for fun this weekend. It’s perfect that it decided to do my favorite thing of all, snow, when the free time to bake arrived.

 

So, what did I decide to create? Well, this year I jumped ship from my usual Joyce Meyer devotional and decided to give a stranger’s devotional a shot instead. It’s not that I don’t still love Joyce Meyer or that her devotional wasn’t useful to me, I’m just looking for something more in my spiritual walk and while this new devotional isn’t exactly getting me there either, I think it’s healthy to take chances on something different, otherwise, how would you ever find what you’re looking for? Anyway, the new devotional is called Savor and it’s by a woman named Shauna Niequist and I hadn’t bought it for this reason, but every so many pages it comes with the added bonus of some of her favorite recipes. The first one showed up in between last weeks devotionals and sounded super promising and also like something I could easily convert to gluten free.

 

I made a few adjustments to the recipe and directions (they’ll be shown in parenthesis and italics like this) and will likely make a few more the next time I make it, but overall I’m pleased with the end result and think it’s definitely something worth baking if you’re also looking to create in the kitchen just for fun.

 

Shauna’s original recipe calls for….

 

  • 1/2 cup butter (softened), plus more to spread in the pan
  • 1 cup sugar, plus 2 tbsp for the berries (I used 1 tbsp sugar, 1 tbsp brown sugar for the berries)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cup plain yogurt (I used Chobani Greek Yogurt)
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract (I added 1/4 tsp of vanilla extract as well, because almond can get overwhelming in flavor and balances better with the addition of vanilla)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Baking Flour)
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 cups blueberries (my 2 cups were overflowing)

 

*Shauna’s directions call for adding salt, but there was no measurement included in her ingredients. I added 1/4 tsp of sea salt to mine and it worked just fine. I also added 1/2 tsp of cinnamon (because I love the combo of cinnamon and blueberry) to my cake mix and also shook a bit onto the berries themselves while mixing them in sugar

 

Her instructions work like this…

 

  • Preheat the over to 350 degrees. Butter a 10″ springform pan and line it with buttered parchment paper. (I skipped the buttered parchment paper. Seemed like overkill to me, but perhaps if you have a tricky oven or a springform pan that tends to stick to things, the parchment paper might be a good idea. Also, while I liked being able to release the springform pan and have the cake standing there so prettily, I don’t see any reason this couldn’t have been baked in a glass dish if that’s all you have.)
  • In a large mixing bowl, combine butter, sugar, eggs, yogurt, and almond extract (and vanilla in my case 😉 ). Mix well. Add flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and mix by hand until combined and be careful to not over mix. (I didn’t mix mine by hand or find myself concerned with over mixing. In fact, mine still had a few lumps of butter and I think it worked out just fine. Also, I had added my cinnamon at this point.) Pour batter into the pan. Toss berries in remaining sugar (remember, this is where I split the sugar, part white sugar/part brown sugar) and then scatter them over the top of the batter.
  • Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (My oven normally cooks high so I initially shot for the 45 minute timeframe, but in the end, it took 65 minutes for the center to finally set for me. This could be a result of the gluten free flour swap; it’s my first time substituting so I’m not entirely sure.) Let cool for 10 minutes, then transfer to a cake plate.

 

I had my slice warm, with a swipe of butter on it, and a cup of tea, and it was delicious! In fact, I don’t think anyone who didn’t know it was gluten free would suspect so in eating it. It’s definitely a good comfort food for a cold, snowy day. :)

 

 

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Chocolate Chip Zucchini Cake

A friend at work gifted me some old baking supplies she didn’t need anymore, one of which was a bundt cake pan, and I was especially excited because I’d been dreaming about this cake I’d made when I was younger that required a bundt cake pan. Okay, maybe it didn’t actually require it, but it’s better that way. 😉

 

So, behold, Chocolate Chip Zucchini Cake! Rich and dense, but not too sweet. This is one super yummy cake!

 

 

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Ingredients:

 

  • cups + 2 tbsp flour
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3/4 cup greek yogurt
  • 2 1/2 cups grated zucchini (squeeze dry in a towel)
  • 2 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 5 tbsp corn syrup
  • 3 tsp water

 

Directions:

 

Mix 2 cups of flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and set aside.

 

In another bowl, beat sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla together. Add yogurt and beat until well blended. Add dry ingredients and beat until just combined.

 

Coat 1 1/4 cups chocolate chips with 2 tbsp flour and fold into batter with zucchini.

 

Grease and flour bundt pan before filling with batter. Bake at 350 for 50-60 minutes.

 

While cake is cooling on a wire rack, mix 1 1/4 cups chocolate chips, butter, and corn syrup in a small saucepan on low. Stir until melted, then add 1/2 tsp’s of water until the consistency is thin enough to drizzle over cake. You can spoon over the cake or fill a baggie and cut the tip to pipe it over the cake.

 

 

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Blueberry Mascarpone Chess Pie

Blueberry Mascarpone Chess Take 2(1)

 

So, yesterday I set out to bake a new pie. My oven has been out of commission for the past 3 weeks and the apartment complex finally fixed it this week. It seemed right that it’s first use be for treat baking.

 

In an effort to use some of the stranger things I had in my fridge (like mascarpone cheese) and some fruit, which was going to be bad soon, I stumbled upon a promising recipe for Blueberry Mascarpone Chess Pie.

 

My first attempt came out looking like THIS. It smelled nice, but when I cut into it, it was very thin – almost runny, as if it hadn’t cooked properly. I put it back in the oven and baked it some more, but this did nothing to thicken the texture.

 

Today, I gave it another shot, using a chess base similar to the one I use for my Berger Cookie Pies and constructed the pie differently. The pictures above are today’s results. It tastes delicious and definitely has the texture/firmness I’ve come to expect from a chess pie. And the blueberries and mascarpone pair together so well.

 

Recipe:

 

Start with your favorite pie crust recipe. Or just use Pillsbury. (The buttery the pie crust, the better!)

 

Ingredients:

 

  • 1 cup Sugar
  • 1/2 cup Brown Sugar
  • 5 Eggs
  • 1 tsp Vanilla
  • 1 tsp Cinnamon
  • 3 tbsp Flour
  • 1/2 cup Butter (melted)
  • 1 1/2 cup Blueberries
  • 1/2 cup Mascarpone

 

Directions:

 

Roll out dough and place into pie pan. Drop half the mascarpone by teaspoon along the bottom of the pan. Toss blueberries with 1 tbsp of flour and fill the bottom of the pie pan.

 

In a large bowl, mix sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, and remaining flour. Add in eggs, one at a time. Add butter and vanilla, stirring constantly. Pour mixture over blueberries. Dot top of mixture with the remaining mascarpone.

 

Bake at 350° for 45-55 minutes.

 

Let cool completely before serving. Store leftovers in the refrigerator.

 

 

Blueberry Mascarpone Chess Take 2(2)

Apple-Berry Pie

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I created this pie last summer for the 4th of July and now that the weather’s warmer, when I think fruit pies are the best, I figured it’d make a good Easter pie, too! This time, I took photos of the process so I could share the recipe with you guys (click through the slideshow at the bottom of this post!). Hope you enjoy it if you give it a try!

 

To start: Chose your favorite pie crust recipe or just use Pillsbury (Needs two crusts)

 

Filling:

 

  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • Dash of salt
  • 1/3 cup water
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1 cup strawberries, sliced
  • Approximately 10 blackberries & 10 raspberries
  • 4 different kinds of apples, peeled and diced
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons butter

 

Directions:

 

In a large saucepan, whisk sugar, cornstarch, salt, water, and cinnamon until smooth. Add blueberries. Bring to a boil, cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Cool slightly.

 

Gently fold apples, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, and lemon juice into blueberry mixture. Add filling to pie and dot with butter. Cover with decorative crust.

 

Bake at 400° for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350° and bake an additional 45-50 minutes.

 

 

Gingerdoodle-Snickersnaps!

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This year I introduced this awesome cookie to my Christmas cookie collection and it has become a new favorite to a bunch of the people I gifted them to. Because they’re more involved than all the other cookies in my Christmas collection, I photographed the steps and figured I’d share the recipe (click through the picture slideshow at the bottom). Enjoy!

 

Snickerdoodle Dough

 

  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon + 3 tablespoons granulated sugar for rolling cookies in

 

~Cream together shortening and sugar. Add egg and vanilla and mix well, until creamy. Add flour, baking soda, salt, and cream of tartar and mix until combined.~

 

(Note: This dough is smaller than the gingersnap dough. If you’d like to make sure you aren’t left with excess gingersnap dough, I’d increase this dough by half.)

 

Gingersnap Dough

 

  • 3/4 cup shortening
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar for rolling cookies in

 

~Cream together shortening and sugar. Add molasses and egg and mix well. Add flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger and mix until combined. Put 1/4 cup sugar in a small bowl and set aside for rolling dough in.~

 

Bringing the dough’s together:

 

I find it’s best to make these dough’s the night before so they have time to firm up in the refrigerator. It’s not necessary, though.

 

To start, set aside two bowls with the sugar and sugar/cinnamon mixtures in them for dipping the cookies in.

 

Then, using a pizza cutter, slice 1-2” strips of each dough and press them together, pushing and squeezing until you have a long rope of dough. The dough’s will crumble if you try to roll them into this strip.

 

Slice the strip into 1-2” squares and roll each square into a ball. I suggest preparing all of the dough like this before dipping them into the sugar. (The original recipe I found for this suggested rolling two separate balls in their appropriate sugars and then pressing them together, however the sugar makes it difficult for them to stick to each other properly.)

 

Once you’ve got all the dough rolled into balls, dip the ginger side into the sugar and the snickerdoodle side into the cinnamon sugar mixture. When placing them on the cookie sheet, position them so the split in color is turned upward if you want your cookies to have that half in half or ying yang look.

 

Bake at 350° for 8-10 minutes.

 

(Note: My oven cooks high and I often only leave them in for 7.5 minutes by the last few trays. Use your best judgment. The cookies should have a bit of crunch on the ginger side and a chewy texture on the snickerdoodle side.)

 

Berger Cookie Pie

Christmas Pie-CR

 

I’ve made this pie for various occasions, with different decorative toppers, but this Christmas pie has been the prettiest and it was one of 5 Berger Cookie Pies I made this Christmas (some of which people even paid for!).

 

If you’re not from Baltimore, Maryland or somewhere near Maryland, you’ve probably never even heard of Berger Cookies. They are a delicacy specific to our area, characterized by their chocolate fudge-like topping on a shortbread cookie. So rich, you can only eat one or two at a time.

 

Berger Cookies

 

I’ve never tried to make a Berger Cookie, because I live near them so why try, but I have seen people online come up with cookies that look similar. You could try that or you can actually order Berger Cookies online. And if you ever travel through Baltimore, I’d encourage you to pick some up. They freeze well, so they’ll last, and even if you don’t give this pie a try, they’re a cookie you want to taste in your lifetime. Believe me.

 

 

Recipe: 

 

Start with your favorite pie crust recipe. Or just use Pillsbury.

 

Ingredients:

 

  • 1 cup Sugar
  • 1/2 cup Brown Sugar
  • 5 Eggs
  • 1 tsp Vanilla
  • 2 tbsp Flour
  • 1/2 cup Butter (melted)
  • 6-7 Berger Cookies (chopped)

 

Directions:

 

Roll out dough and place into pie pan. Fill pie pan with cookie chunks.

 

Mix sugar, brown sugar, and flour in a bowl. Add in eggs, one at a time. Add butter and vanilla, stirring constantly. Pour mixture over cookies chunks.

 

Bake at 350° for 45-55 minutes.

 

*Best served after cooling completely and being stored in the fridge overnight. Let sit at room temperature about 1 hour prior to serving.

 

Note: This pie was inspired by Dangerously Delicious‘s Baltimore Bomb