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DECK THE HOLIDAY'S: 01/22/16

Friday, January 22, 2016

VANILLA SUGAR ANIMAL COOKIES WITH ROYAL ICING!



   This recipe comes from www.dessertfirstgirl.com .  I remember eating these as a kid will a tall glass of ice cold milk.  I guess the company that had made them for so many years is closing up.  So at least someone has a recipe so we can pass them down to our own children.  Good luck and happy baking!

Goodbye, Mother's Cookies

 




Many of you have already heard that the venerable Mother's Cookies has closed down. I found out about this last week just as I was leaving for a trip; therefore I spent much of the weekend mourning the end of this beloved institution and wondering if all the circus animal cookies would be gone from the stores by the time I returned. Judging from the many articles written urging cookie fans to stock up on their favorites, not an unfounded fear.
As the first photo shows, I was fortunately able to get my hands on a bag after my return, and I've been slowly enjoying them this week. I know – perhaps I should have kept it hermetically sealed away and let its value appreciate; surely like Twinkies, they would have an inordinately robust shelf life?
Well, I'm keeping my eyes open for any remaining bags, but I guess the rampant nostalgia that overcame me upon hearing of Mother's demise made it impossible to resist enjoying these cookies one more time. Besides, I needed to open the bag so I could take some pictures of the little frosted animals in all their pink and white glory – so at that point not eating a few would have been unfathomable.
It was tricky for me to write this post: after all, as a baker I'm supposed to be making all my goodies from scratch, and in the health-obsessed, organic-sustainable-local ground zero that is the Bay Area, it's more than a little unfashionable to be mooning over the heavily processed packaged items at the your local store. What would people think to see me walking around with Chip Ahoys or Entenmann's in my grocery basket, when I should be pulling batches of cookies out of my ever-ready oven?
While my mother kept the family on a fairly healthy diet as we were growing up, it's not to say she never allowed us the occasional indulgence of junk food, and I had my fair share of Ho-Hos and Twinkies and yes, Mother's cookies. However, kids grow up, tastes change, and once I discovered the benefits of eating healthy and cooking from scratch, it was quite easy to leave all that junk food behind on the grocery shelves. While I know that baking cakes and tarts and other sweets isn't exactly extolling the healthiest lifestyle, I firmly believe that eating any dessert that's made fresh with ingredients you know and understand, is always superior, and healthier, to eating something from a package with thirty plus ingredients, only two of which actually sound like food, even if the label says "fat free" or "low calorie" or "tastes just like real chocolate". Also, please note the name of my blog is Dessert First, not Only Dessert All The Time:)
So why, if my blog is dedicated to the best of all that is sweet, and to the joys of baking at home, would I be so distraught over the end of a commercial cookie manufacturer? Chalk it up to the power of nostalgia. Going to the grocery store with my mother when I was young, the cookie aisle was always my favorite (Does it surprise no one here that I've always had a sweet tooth?) When we went down the aisle lined with cookies, crackers, and cakes, I would always scan eagerly over the offerings, wondering if this time my mother would relent and buy us a treat. Of all the different brands, Mother's cookies always stood out, with their striped purple and red packaging and the icon showing a happy mom in the corner. The products also seemed seemed so much more distinctive and interesting than the rest: the striped shortbread, the chocolate chip angels, and, of course, the circus animal cookies.













From all the mournful posts I've seen, circus animal cookies hold a special place in the memories of many. They are like animal crackers all gussied up, with a coat of shockingly sweet frosting in snowy white or neon pink, and a confetti sprinkling of rainbow sugar balls. All of these elements were important to the singular experience of eating one of these cookies: your tongue ran over the nubbiness of the sprinkles, as your teeth bit through the soft waxiness of the frosting, and crunched through the center. The sweetness of the frosting pretty much filled your mouth, so the cookie inside really provided little more than a texture contrast. I was always convinced that there was a difference between the pink and white ones, and always made sure to eat them alternating between the two colors.
Thanks to the miracles of science and commercial food production, it is practically impossible to replicate the sugary taste of circus animal cookies at home. I'm sure that's why I was sad to hear about the end of these cookies; when I eat one, I am immediately transported back to my childhood, and the occasions when I got to have a cookie. A rare occasion indeed, for circus animal cookies in particular, as my mother disliked anything with artificial colorings, for which these cookie qualified in spades. It was only with concerted begging could we get her to buy us a bag of these, and once the Christmas circus animals came out in red and green, there was nothing for it but we had to persuade her to let us try those as well, to see if they tasted any different.
It was probably for the best that I didn't get to gorge on these cookies, and for that I thank my mom. It also kept these cookies in the realm of special treat, so even after I grew older and went shopping on my own, I would always look on these cookies fondly. I like to think these cookies played a role in developing my interest in baking: after all, they were so prettily decorated, so my liking them must have indicated that I wanted to make things as equally eye-catching and tasty.
As I noted, I haven't been able to replicate these cookies at home taste-wise, but in looks at least it was not too difficult. I used the rolled sugar cookie recipe from my Field Guide to Cookies book, and covered them in a simple royal icing. While they don't taste like the store version, I think they taste pretty good on their own, and as a bonus I got to pick up some pretty cute circus animal cookie cutters from Williams-Sonoma.









So, with this post I bid adieu to Mother's cookies, to English tea and iced oatmeal and striped shortbread and circus animal cookies. Thanks for making my childhood a little sweeter, and for being a stepping stone on my path to making my own baked goods. You'll always have a special place on my kitchen shelf.







Vanilla Sugar Animal Cookies with Royal Icing


About 3 dozen 2 1/2 inch cookies
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup softened unsalted butter
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 egg at room temperature, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Royal icing (recipe follows) and colored sugars if decorating

1. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and set aside.
2. In stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed for several minutes until light and fluffy.
3. With mixer on low speed, gradually add the egg and vanilla and mix until well combined. Add the flour mixture gradually. Mix until fully incorporated and the dough is smooth and uniform.
4. Divide dough into 2 pieces and flatten into 1/2 inch thick discs.
5. Wrap dough and refrigerate for 2 hours. At this point the dough can be double wrapped and frozen for up to 2 weeks.
6. When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat oven to 325°F. Grease several cookie sheets or line them with parchment paper.
7. Place dough on a lightly floured surface and dust with more flour. Gently roll the dough 1/8 inch thick.
8. Using a cookie cutter, cut out cookies and place on sheets about 1 inch apart.
9. Bake for 14–16 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through, until edges are golden brown. Transfer cookies to wire racks with a metal spatula to cool completely.
10. Once cookies are cooled, decorate them with icing and colored sugars.


Royal Icing

2 egg whites
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 cups powdered sugar
Food coloring in desired colors



1. Using a mixer with the whisk attachment, combine all the ingredients and whisk for several minutes on high speed until the mixture is thick and shiny opaque white. It should have the consistency of glue. If it is too thin, add more powdered sugar by teaspoonfuls as needed. If it is too thick, add water by teaspoonfuls as needed.
2. Divide icing into bowls for coloring. Keep the bowls covered or the icing will dry and harden. Add food color to icing to achieve desired hues.

6 NEW YEARS TRADITIONS FROM AROUND THE WORLD!





   New Year traditions that all Americans are familiar with include the ball drop in Times Square, the Tournament of Roses Parade, fireworks, year-end lists, New Year resolutions, a toast and/or a kiss at midnight, Auld Lang Syne, and predictions for the year ahead. Here are some other customs you might not be as familiar with.


1. Años Viejos



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   In Ecuador, December 31st is time to ceremonially burn an effigy named Años Viejos, or Years Old. The dummies are made of old clothes and sticks or sawdust for stuffing, and often made to look like someone who has made a negative impact during the year, such as a politician. See pictures of many different os Viejos here.'




2. First-Footer



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   Scotland marks Hogmanay on December 31st, although the celebration lasts several days, with customs varying by locality. One of the customs associated with the new year is that of the first-footer, or the first person to visit your home after midnight on New Years Day. It is good luck if your first-footer is a tall handsome man with dark hair, preferably bringing a small gift. Remnants of this custom are found in America, too -I have a relative who gets very upset if the first person who calls her in the new year is a woman.




3. Twelve Grapes



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   New Years Eve is called Nochevieja, or the Old Night in Spain. The tradition is to eat twelve grapes at midnight, as the twelve chimes ring in the new year. Try stuffing twelve grapes in your mouth in twelve seconds, and you’ll see how funny this can be! The twelve grapes are also eaten at midnight in other countries that have a Spanish influence. In Spain, wearing red underwear for the new year brings good luck; in other countries, the underwear should be yellow. No doubt, clothing vendors cater to these traditions.




4. Olie Bollen


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   In the Netherlands, New Years Eve is a relaxed family holiday until midnight, then it’s party time in the streets with fireworks and revelry! The Dutch serve doughnuts or fritters called Olie Bollen, traditionally served for breakfast or snacks on New Years Eve and New Years Day. Make your own Olie Bollen with this recipe.



5. Black-Eyed Peas and Hog Jowls



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   In the American South, you must eat a meal of pork (originally hog jowl), black-eyed peas, and greens on New Years Day to ensure a good year ahead. Hog jowl symbolizes health (believe it or not), black-eyed peas represent good luck, and greens (originally cabbage, but mustard or collard greens are used also) symbolize money. Local variations include ham hocks, ham, or bacon for hog jowl, saurkraut, cabbage rolls, Hoppin’ John, or other soups or casseroles that contain these items.





6. Dinner for One



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   In Germany and Scandinavia, TV stations broadcast Dinner For One, a British comedy sketch about a woman celebrating her 90th birthday. The sketch has nothing to do with the New Year holiday, but has become such a tradition that it landed in The Guiness Book of World Records as the most repeated TV show ever! In the routine, Miss Sophie has outlived her friends, so her butler plays the part of each at the birthday dinner, which means he must drink multiple toasts. The most popular 18 minute version with a German introduction can be found at Google Video. YouTube has a 10 minute version of the same sketch, seen here.

THE HISTORY OF THE WATERFORD CRYSTAL NEW YEAR'S EVE BALL!!!









    The most famous ball in America will make it's decent into Times Square this December, ringing in more than just another "Happy New Year"! among fellow Americans. While it may be the largest New Year's Eve Ball ever to grace New York City. It may also be the most eco-friendly ball as well. The new ball is 20% more energy efficient than the previous one, which will make it a sure crowd pleaser for the many Americans who are becoming more eco-conscious. At 12 feet across and 11,875 pounds, the ball will be the largest ball to drop in Times Square since the beginning of the tradition. It also contains 2,668 Waterford Crystals and 32,256 LED's, which make the ball capable of producing more than 16 million colors and several billion patterns. It will be the most beautiful and breathtaking New Year's Eve Ball to date. But where did the idea for the ball come from? Who started this tradition, and when was the Waterford Crystal introduced into this famous past time?






the ball from 1978



The History of the New Year's Eve Ball and the Waterford Crystal

    In 1907, Jacob Starr created a giant ball combining wood, iron, and one hundred 25 watt light bulbs. The New Year's Eve Ball would become known as one of the most famous tributes tot he New Year in American history. Weighing in at 700 pounds and stretching 5 feet across, the new tradition was born. The first ball was used every year until 1920, when it was replaced with a 400 pound wrought iron ball. From the twenties to the mid fifties the ball remained unchanged.
    Unfortunately, during World War II, the New Year's Eve Ball did not make its usual descent to earth. In 1942 and 1943, the ball remained unlit in fear of war time enemies attacking. However, in 1944, the famous New Yorker returned to it's beloved place high atop Times Square.




2000-2007 ball



    In 1955, the ball was replaced yet again for a third time to a smaller, 200 pound aluminum ball. While the ball was lighter in weight, it was no less famous and no less elegant, and this ball reigned until the 1980's.
    1981 brought a new decade for the ball, while the original ball itself was not actually replaced, the light bulbs, were replaced with red ones. The pole from which the famous ball dropped was painted green-all of this was done to simulate a "Big Apple". This was being done to promote the "I Love New York" campaign-more famously known today as the "I heart NY T-shirts, coffee mugs and so forth that we see today. The ball was returned to its famous bright white bulbs in 1989, at the end of the campaign.









   Aside from a few colored light bulbs and a new paint job, the New Year's Eve Ball remained the same for 40 years. In 1995, the ball was all but brought into the new century. It was updated to an aluminum skin with strobe lights, rhinestone gems and more-all generated by computers. This was also the beginning of the true Waterford Crystal that we know and love today.
    For the millennium, the ball was completely designed. Aside from the ball that will grace New York's Time Square this December, the ball form weighed in at over 1,000 pounds-making it the largest in both weight and width (at 6 feet across). It contained a mixture of 168 halogen bulbs and 432 light bulbs of red, green, blue, yellow and white-which were all used in different "Hope" campaign themes.
    This famous New Yorker has been around for over 100 years and will be making its drop from 475 feet above Times Square.