Mom’s Mint Surprise Cookies

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I don’t know where my mother got this recipe, or if she invented it herself, but it’s a cookie I always associate with her and with holiday baking. When I baked up a batch and brought them as a gift to each child at her 75th birthday party, all of us children nodding a knowing smile.

As a child I loved them warm, right out of the oven, or set in the sun on cooler day to warm the mint chocolate surprise waiting inside the spiced cookie.  I liked nibbling the edges of the cookie, freeing me to separate the two halves like those sandwich cookies, and lick off the chocolatey goodness before finishing up the cookie.  However you choose to eat them, they are a winner.

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You’ll need these: Trader Joe’s UFO’s Mint Chocolate Wafers.  Better get two bags because the wafers seem to disappear quickly.

UPDATE: I went in to Trader Joe’s yesterday (December 2013), and they no longer make, nor carry these.  I’m leaving this post up anyway, as it is a good childhood recipe, and maybe someone, somewhere, will make these again!

UPDATE, APRIL 2014: I found some Dark Chocolate Mint Wafers at Kitchen Krafts.  I’ll try them out and see if they work okay.

Barbara Sessions’ Mint Surprise Cookies

2/3 cup shortening
2/3 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 eggs
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3  1/2 to 4 cups white flour
2 tsp. each: salt, soda, cinnamon, cloves, ginger
12 oz. bag Trader Joe’s UFO’s Mint Chocolate Wafers

Cream shortening, butter, sugars and honey.  Add eggs, beating well after addition.  Mix together whole wheat flour, 1/2 cup white flour and spices.  Blend and add to creamy mixture.  Add the rest of the flour, depening on the size of eggs you used. Chill.

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Wrap one Tablspoon dough around one chocolate mint wafer.

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Bake 375 degrees F for 10-12 minutes.  Let cool on rack, if you can stand to wait.  They freeze well.

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Sugar Cookies

Sugar Cookies

This recipe is for plain old sugar cookies.  The kind that you roll out and cut with shapes, while your granddaughters (and you) try to sneak the dough.  I first made this recipe about 40 years ago while in high school, when we had to bake giant football-shaped cookies for the football players, a fund-raiser hosted by Girls for Gunn.  I was in leadership that year, so took over my mother’s kitchen making 8″ cookie footballs, decorating them with icing, cutting cardboard to fit and stretching plastic wrap over them to deliver on the morning of Homecoming. I have made it multiples of times since, first with my own children and now with my grandchildren.

You can make it ahead and store it in the refridgerator; it may need a few minutes to warm up a bit before you can roll and shape them.  These cookies are good with a shake of sugar over them just before putting them into the oven, or, if you leave them plain, decorated with frosting and sparkles/candycorn/M&Ms, or what have you.  These granddaughters were fascinated by the physics of placing candy corn on the uncooked cookies, then watching the corn melt into strange and unusual formations while in the oven.

Elizabeth Eastmond’s Sugar Cookies           

3 cups sifted (or stirred) flour
1 cup sugar
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup soft butter (don’t use margarine)
1 egg, slightly beaten
3 Tablespoons cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

400° F oven  Yield: approximately 72 cookies

Sift flour, sugar baking powder, salt into mixing bowl.  Using electric mixer (or pastry blender) cut in butter until particles are fine.  Add egg, cream and vanilla extract.  Blend thoroughly.  Gather dough into ball.  Chill, if desired, for easier handling.

Roll out on floured surface 1/2 at a time to a thickness of 1/8 to 1/4 inch.  (The thinner the cookie, the crispier.  The thicker the cookies, the softer they will be.)  Cut into desired shapes; place on ungreased cookie sheet. {If you don’t plan to frost them, sprinkle them with granulated sugar before baking.} Bake 400°F for 5-8 minutes or until golden.

Lime Sugar Cookies

Lime Sugar Cookies

It’s been unbearably hot here this past couple of weeks, and it came time to make a treat for the ladies at church and all I could think about was cool things: icy drinks, ice cream, and lime, because for some reason I associate lime with cool summery things.  And I usually make the ladies a cookie, so I went hunting for a recipe.  What I present below is a variation of a recipe found on Epicurious (first published in Gourmet Magazine in July of 2000), incorporating a few of the reviews.

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While I don’t usually like cookies that take too many steps (I believe you’re just supposed to throw stuff into a mixing bowl, then onto the cookie sheet, then pop the resulting warm baked treat into your mouth), this extra step of making lime sugar is a good step to add, for these cookies are pretty tender, and getting the lime-infused sweetness into them and onto them adds to their appeal.

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If you don’t have a food processor, I suppose you could use a rasp to grate the lime peel, then blend into the sugar WELL, and it will probably work.  This batch made about 55 cookies.  Last caveat: the dough is really soft and must be chilled for easier handling, so while these are easy to whip up, be sure to chill them at least four hours.  As far as shaping goes, I used a small cookie dough scoop to get them uniform; alternatively you could roll the dough into the size of a golf ball with your hands.

First make your Lime Sugar
9 limes
2  1/2 cups sugar

Preparation
Remove zest from limes in strips with a vegetable peeler being careful not to strip off the white pith along with the zest (a little won’t matter, but pith imparts a bitter flavor). Unchopped, the zest measures a healthy one cup (see photos above).  Place sugar in the food processor, add lime peels and grind until mixture is pale green with bits of zest still visible. Lime sugar may be made 3 days ahead and kept, chilled, in an airtight container, but could also be frozen for longer storage.  NOTE: The sugar becomes aerated in the food processor; do not pack when measuring.

Now make the Cookies
2 and 1/4 sticks (18 tablespoons) butter, softened
6 tablespoons cold vegetable shortening
3 cups lime sugar
3 large eggs
3 teaspoons vanilla
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt

Preparation

Beat together butter, shortening, and lime sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt together then add gradually to the egg mixture; beat on low speed until just combined.

Cover and chill dough until firm, at least 4 hours.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Mix 1 cup granulated sugar with 1/2 cup lime sugar in a bowl.  Using a small cookie scoop about the size of a golf ball, scoop balls of dough into the sugar mixture, then roll to cover well. (At our house, we put the sugar mixture in a ziploc bag, add the dough balls to that and shake gently to cover them in sugar.)

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PROPERLY PLACED COOKIES

Shake off excess, then place 2-3 inches apart on parchment-lined cookie sheet.  Press lightly with bottom of a drinking glass to flatten slightly.

Bake cookies in batches in middle of oven 11 to 12 minutes, or until pale golden with slightly dark golden edges. (Don’t overbake.)  Immediately transfer with a metal spatula to a rack set. Cool cookies.  Dough can be made 2 days ahead and chilled, wrapped well in plastic wrap.  Cookies keep in an airtight container at cool room temperature 2 days.

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FAIL.

This is why you shouldn’t crowd the cookies.  They were still good, but required 13 minutes to cook and were slightly square. Confession: I still packaged them up and gave them out, but put the prettier ones on top.

Quick and Easy Pie Crust

Strawberry Rhubard Pie

Based on the old-fashioned taste test, this is a winner pie crust recipe, and it’s easy, too.  And it tastes WAAAAAY better than those things you buy in the store, although if you have broken your hand or something, you’ll just have to buy those instead.  This recipe makes a one-crust pie shell.  For a two-crust pie, please double.

In a medium bowl, place:
1  1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

Blend together, then cut in 1/2 cup shortening until the pieces look like little peas.  Here’s a video, with an annoying beep, with the cook using a pastry blender, OR, here’s a video, with narration, of the cook using two knives.

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I’ve done both (the pastry blender is easier).  Pictured above is my favorite kind.  If the dough stuff gets caught in the loops, just run a knife over it to get it out.  You’ll know what I mean when you use it.

Toss in 3-4 Tablespoons of really cold water, about 1 Tablespoon at a time, fluffing and tossing with a regular dinner fork, until the dough starts to hold together in clumps, and when you try to gather it together in a ball with your hands. . . you can.  The less you work your pie crust, the more tender it will be.  And the least amount of water you can put in keeps it from being soggy.

getting dough into pie plate

Roll it out to the desired size, usually about 11″ round for a regular pie, then roll it back onto your rolling pin, and lift it onto your pie plate.  This website has some pretty good pictures of the process, including the cutting in business (it’s where the picture above was taken from).

Crust

Follow the directions in your recipe for baking and filling, but generally, if you are going to cook an unfilled pie crust, you’ll need to weight it down with a square of tin foil, on which you’ve placed uncooked rice or beans.  Bake for about 10 minutes at 425 degrees.

Above you see my Foley Pastry Frame, which is a square of canvas stretched between two bars and held in place by wire thingies.  I also have a stockinette for my rolling pin.  I wash this only when it becomes heavily spattered with food, and believe it or not, I store it in the freezer to make sure the cupboard moths don’t find it.

And one last detail: I think a rolling pin with ball bearings makes life easier, but you get to choose.

Reindeer Christmas Cookies

My daughter informed me that these are all over Pinterest, but I found them by following a series of links to *this* page, where I swear this cook has photoshopped her cookies to look that good.  Or maybe she’s just a better baker than I am, or maybe it’s because I substituted a cube of butter for some of that shortening — thinking it would taste better — but forgot how soft it makes cookies.  So note to self: don’t swap out the shortening.  Now, prep your stuff.

I couldn’t find baby chocolate-dipped pretzels, so if you think I was going to dip them all, you don’t know me very well.  Spend your time where it counts, and improvise the rest.  So I cut all my sort-of-mini pretzels in half.  Antlers are kind of hoary looking, aren’t they?

I purchased minty white chocolate M&Ms for the nose.  They come in a package with red and white.  We ate all the white ones, while saving the red ones for this project.  I had also purchased mini M&Ms for the eyes.  We decided we liked brown and blue, and that the reindeer with the green eyes looked like Zombie Reindeer (so that would be for a different holiday).

Make up a double batch of the dough in the Christmas Kiss cookies. Roll them into 1-inch balls, but I have to admit that I used my cookie scooper, which I think is 1 and 1/2 inches. Place a couple of scoops of sugar in a large plastic baggie, drop in the balls of cookie dough, and shake lightly to coat them with sugar (so much easier than rolling them around in a dish).

Flatten them slightly with the bottom of a glass, then pinch their “nose” slightly, to get that elongated shape.  Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, then remove from the oven.  QUICKLY set in a matching pair of antlers, then do the nose, then the eyes last.  Or get someone to help you: my husband did all the antlers while I was throwing on noses and eyeballs.

Let cool on the cookie sheet.  When mostly cool, transfer to a rack.

NOTE: you can see I used parchment paper on this batch.  You can buy it in rolls from the grocery store or (now) from Costco.  If you don’t use parchment paper, the world won’t end.  However, you may want to transfer your cookies to the cooling rack when they are still sort of warm, instead waiting until they are really cool.

Christmas Kiss Cookies

Cream together:

1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar.

Add:

1 egg
2 Tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (not flavoring, use extract!).

Mix together then add to creamed mixture:

1 3/4 cup flour  (I use 3/4 cup whole wheat flour, and 1 cup white flour)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Form into balls about 1 inch in diameter, roll in granulated (white) sugar.  Bake in 350 oven for about 8-10 minutes or until set.  Take out of oven and immediately press a chocolate kiss into center.  Remove to wire rack  to cool.  Kisses will get soft as they take on the heat of the cookies, but will firm up again as the cookies cool.

Cranberry, White Chocolate Chip and Oatmeal Cookies

I found this on the web, and decided to try it out for my monthly treat for the ladies at church.  That’s usually never a good idea, but it turned out fine.  I do think, though, that these could benefit from a little something or other to make them pop: maybe a touch of cinnamon?  nutmeg?  If you figure it out, leave a comment and let me know.

I had just purchased a huge bag of fresh cranberries and wanted to bake something using them.  I found scads of recipes on the web using dried cranberries, but few with fresh cranberries.  I adapted one to make these cookies.

I think these bake up best when the dough is cold, so if you are going to have everything at room temperature, please leave time to chill the dough before baking.

1 cup cold butter, or barely softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
rind of one orange, grated (about 1 Tablespoon)
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups white flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 bag (12 oz) white (or vanilla) chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries, washed & picked over, then coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degree F.

Measure out cranberries, then place in a wire mesh strainer and rinse, picking out the wrinkled or barely ripe berries.  Place in a food processor and pulse one or two times, or until coarsely chopped.  If you don’t have a food processor, it can be done by using a heavy knife, but it is tricky.  Be of good courage.

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until it is light, about 5 minutes.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add in vanilla extract and orange rind.  Mix well, then add in oatmeal.  In a separate bowl, stir together the flours, baking powder, salt and baking soda.  Add to the butter mixture until blended, but don’t overbeat.  Add chopped fresh cranberries, walnuts, and white chocolate chips, stirring well to incorporate throughout.

Drop by large tablespoonfuls onto parchment-covered cookie sheet about 2 inches apart; cookies will be about the size of a small plum.  (I put the cookie sheet in the refrigerator at this point to chill before baking, but if you chilled the dough after mixing, you should be fine.)

Bake for 19 minutes, or until edges are lightly brown.  Let set 1 minute outside of the oven, then drag the parchment sheet with cookies on it, onto a rack to let them cool.  Yield: about 24 large (3″) cookies.

Cook’s Note:  Parchment paper can be purchased at any grocery store. I noticed that Costco carried it last time I was there.  One recipe said you could just grease the pan, but be vigilant during baking so the cookies don’t burn.

Lemon-Poppyseed Sugar Cookies

It’s baking time again, not only because I’m completely thrashed from grading papers and need a break, but also because this Sunday I teach the women in my church.  The lesson is on Faith and we have a saying that Faith is like a seed (that needs to be nourished and fed).  And there’s also that connection between faith and mustard seed which we all know about, but I wasn’t going to make mustard.  So poppyseed it had to be.  I got the base recipe from a Cooks Illustrated book, but sometimes they can over-analyze a recipe, so I tried to be easy with this one, and just enjoy the making of it. My changes are incorporated into the recipe below.

How much flour you use may be a bit of a guesstimate.  The dough should be soft, but not sticky. The overall yield was about 54 cookies, but those first warm ones go fast.  This is a light, delicately flavored cookie.

1 pound butter, or 4 sticks, softened by sitting them out on the counter (resist the temptation to use margarine!) If you microwave the butter, it may get too runny, so be careful.
2 cups white sugar
2 Tablespoons light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Tablespoon lemon rind (one medium lemon)
4-5 cups flour (I used all five)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon poppy seeds

1/2 cup sugar for outside of cookies

Prepare your oven by adjusting the oven racks to the upper- and lower-middle positions, then preheating your oven to 375 degrees.  Prepare the sheets by lining them with parchment paper (now sold at Costco!).

Cream the butter and sugars together on medium speed, scraping as needed, until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

Add the eggs, extract, lemon juice, lemon rind.  Beat at medium speed until well combined, less than a minute.

Stir together the 4 cups flour, salt, baking powder and poppyseeds.  Add to creamed mixture and mix until just blended together.  A light hand will yield a tender cookie. Test for stickiness.  I ended up adding about another 3/4-1 cup flour.  You don’t want them so stiff they turn out to be cardboard, but you do have to shape them for baking.

Place the 1/2 cup sugar in a large bag.  Using a 1 1/2″ cookie scoop, scrape them out of the bowl and dump into the bag of sugar.  Shake gently, then reach in and with your hand, shake the extra sugar off and put the rounded mounds onto the parchment-covered cookie sheet.  (They say that if you don’t have parchment, you can use a nonstick cooking spray, but be aware that the bottoms of your cookies will be darker.)

Using one of those papers from your butter cube, butter up the bottom of a drinking glass that’s about 2″ across, then dip the glass into the sugar.

Flatten the cookies just until they reach the edge of the glass. (They will be about 5/8″ thick.)

Bake for 16 minutes, switching the cookie sheets mid-way through baking, as well as turning them around, so the cookies bake evenly.

Bake until the edges are golden brown and the middles are just set and very lightly colored.  The range the book gave was 15-18 minutes, but 16 was about right for us.

If you are using parchment paper, slide the entire sheet — cookies and all — onto a wire rack for cooking.  If you are not using parchment paper, let them cool on the sheets for about 3 minutes, then move them to the wire rack.

Note: the original recipe called for 2 Tablespoons poppyseed, so if you really like it, you can add some more.  I was happy with the amount we had.

Snickerdoodles

These are best made if a couple of grandchildren can be around to help you douse the balls of dough with some cinnamon-sugar and put them on the cookie sheet.  Barring that, you can always place the cinnamon-sugar mixture in a bag, drop the balls of dough in that way, then put them on the cookie sheet.  Shown here is a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper.  If you don’t have that, just lightly grease the pan for the first batch, then keep cooking along.

Snickerdoodles!

from the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion book

1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1 1/2 cups sugar
scant 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 large egg
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 3/4 cups flour

Coating:
1/2 to 1 cup sugar
1-2 teaspoons cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.

In a mixer bowl cream together the shortening, butter, sugar, vanilla and baking powder, beating until smooth. Add the eggs, again beating until smooth. Add the nutmeg, salt and flour (mixed together), scraping the bowl occasionally.

Mix together the sugar and cinnamon in a separate bowl (or a large plastic bag).

Roll the dough (about 1 Tbls each cookie for regular size, double that for larger cookies) into balls, then roll it in the cinnamon-sugar (or toss it lightly in the bag, very gently). Place on prepared cookie sheets and bake for 8 minutes (10 minutes for the large), or until golden brown around the edges. Cool on rack and store in air-tight containers.

Yield: about 7 dozen cookies.

Double-chocolate Brownies

So, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with these.  I love the flavor, so rich and chocolatey I could dive into the batter and be happy for days.  But I also like the ease of opening the Betty Crocker Brownie mix from the store and stirring it altogether.  These brownies are also known as Outrageous Brownies, and they come from Ina Garten of Barefoot Contessa fame.  But I’ve adapted them slightly.

These are the kind of brownies that make a TON–perfect for giving to the ladies on Mother’s Day at church, or for taking to a picnic.  I’ve read about them online and many cooks are simply cutting the amounts in half and baking it in a 9 x 13 inch pan, adjusting the cooking time.  But me–I’m going with the original. If you don’t feel like baking, head to her website, where you can order a mix for her Outrageous Brownies as well.

What did I change from her recipe?  I’m not a fan of mocha anything.  No way, no how, and hers called for some coffee granules to cut the sweetness of the brownie and deepen the chocolate flavor.  I like the sweetness just fine and the chocolate flavor’s pretty deep as it is, so I axed the granules.  Here’s the recipe, but promise me you’ll use real butter and the full amount of chocolate.  Be sure to let the batter cool down so you don’t lose the texture of the added chocolate chips.

Ingredients

1 pound unsalted butter
1 pound plus 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips, about 5 cups–or use a scale
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate
6 extra-large eggs
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups chopped walnuts

 Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Butter and flour a 12 x 18 x 1-inch baking sheet.  I just use one of the cubes of butter, then throw it in to melt.  After you grease it everywhere, throw a handful of flour on the sheet, then tap it around with your hands until the butter is well-covered.  Then tip it upside-down over your sink and give a small tap.  The excess flour will fall off. Set it aside.

 

Melt together the butter, 1 pound of chocolate chips (about three cups), and the unsweetened chocolate in a medium bowl over simmering water. However, if you have a heavy pan (and I mean HEAVY) and you promise to stand there and babysit it, stirring stirring stirring, while it melts over a low flame, I’ll let you do it in a pan without all the water bath business.  NEVER let it come anywhere near a boil.  Just a low, soft heat until everything melts.  And stir constantly.  (Did I mention this?) Allow to cool slightly. In a large bowl, stir (do not beat) together the eggs, vanilla, and sugar. Stir the warm chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and allow to cool to room temperature.  She’s not kidding about this step.

In a medium bowl, sift together 1 cup of flour, the baking powder, and salt. [NOTE: Who sifts anymore?  I don’t even OWN a sifter.  Just put the dry ingredients in a bowl, and using a kitchen whisk, stir several times to blend the ingredients evenly.] Add to the cooled chocolate mixture.

Toss the walnuts and 12 ounces of chocolate chips in a medium bowl with 1/4 cup of flour, then add them to the chocolate batter. Pour the whole conglomerate into the baking sheet.

Bake for 20 minutes, then rap the baking sheet against the oven shelf to force the air to escape from between the pan and the brownie dough. Bake for about 15 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Do not overbake! Allow to cool thoroughly, refrigerate, and cut into 20 large squares.

To serve a crowd and to cut the calories down to where I wasn’t gasping when I read the amount (I know what the amount is because I figured it out), if you cut them about 1-inch square, you can feed the five thousand. Or eighty-eight.