Twenty-five Days of Christmas Cheer: December 22nd (Oh, Fudge!)

It has arrived. Christmas weekend. Many of you will perhaps be celebrating with your families today and tomorrow, saving Christmas Eve and Day for your smaller celebrations at home. That’s what we are doing this year. Nothing today, but tomorrow we will be visiting my grandma’s house. I still have a few gifts to get before then…eek! Good thing the driveway is finally plowed. Also, it is barely 10 degrees outside. Brrr.

Anyway, it’s Christmas weekend. You’re hoping to be off to Auntie Bertha’s house in a few hours, but you don’t have a dish to pass or anything to share. Cookies usually take too long, but you really don’t want to go back to the store. Well, how about fudge? With just a few ingredients that you probably have in your pantry from other baking endeavours, you can make some of the creamiest chocolate fudge ever. And did I mention it takes less than an hour? And doesn’t have that nasty marshmallow creme???

Quick & Easy Fudge

4 cups confectioners’ sugar (also known as powdered sugar)

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 cup milk

1/2 cup butter (1 stick)

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Grease a 9-inch pan or line with foil or wax paper. In a microwave safe bowl, stir together confectioners’ sugar and cocoa. Pour milk over mixture and place butter in bowl. Do not mix. Microwave until butter is melted, approximately 2 minutes. (NOTE: this took longer in my microwave, but I think that’s because it is only 700 watts.) Stir in vanilla and stir vigorously until smooth. Pour into prepared dish. Chill in freezer for 10 minutes before cutting into 1-inch squares.

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Ta-da! You have fudge. And nobody at Auntie Bertha’s has to know you made it in the microwave and freezer! Unless, of course, some favorite cousins simply must have the recipe. 😉

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to have some fudge…

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Twenty-five Days of Christmas Cheer: December 19th (The One About Snow)

There are many reasons I love living in Wisconsin. One of them is that we get blizzards. I know, that sounds really weird. But I’m one of those rare people that would rather be enjoying snow than sitting on a beach. I hate sand. And the sun is never good to me. And beaches are so rarely quiet. The silence of a snow-covered forest gets me every time. Snow makes everything beautiful. Yes, it’s hard to drive in. sometimes impossible, and with the blizzard moving into the area tonight and tomorrow, I will be praying hard for anyone on the road, especially my husband, his dad, and the other milk truck drivers who have to pick up that milk no matter what.

But we still love snow here in Wisconsin. Most of us do, anyway. Because now it is certain that we will have a white Christmas, and we can always hope that the snow that blows in tomorrow will stay all winter long. (And that we get more!) Last year we missed out on the winter recreation. There wasn’t enough snow at any one time to do anything. Our snowmobiles sat in the garage, and the ski hill (which we’ve never used, but still) had to make snow in order to operate. I wanted to cross-country ski, but not even that could happen last winter!

So, with the blizzard on the way, with the possibility of nearly TWO FEET of snow, I’m doing some Christmas shopping today and hopefully going to be baking tomorrow. Though that may have to wait…if it’s as windy as they say it’s going to be, we may lose electricity. Good thing I have a huge supply of candles. Maybe I’ll make tomorrow into a Little House on the Prairie kind of Christmas. For that, I have the perfect recipe. (These are amazing, by the way. And because there’s no egg, you can eat the dough!)

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Heart-Shaped Christmas Cakes

“Mary and Laura pulled out two small packages. They unwrapped them, and each found a little heart-shaped cake. Over their delicate brown tops was sprinkled white sugar.”
Little House on the Prairie

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You will need:
½ cup (1 stick) butter or margarine, softened
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
Flour for sprinkling
Granulated sugar for sprinkling

Measuring cup and spoons
Large mixing bowl
Mixing spoon
Floured board
Heart-shaped cookie cutter, about 2 or 3″ across
Cookie sheet
Pot holder
Wide spatula
Wire rack

Heat the oven to 325%.

Beat the butter, sugar, and vanilla together until they are light and fluffy. Stir in the flour.

On a floured board, pat the dough out in a circle about 1/3″ thick. Cut out shapes with the cookie cutter. Sprinkle the tops with granulated sugar. Put the heart shapes on the cookie sheet and bake them for about 15-20 minutes, until they are lightly browned. Take them out of the oven and sprinkle more granulated sugar on the tops. Carefully remove the cakes from the cookie sheet with the spatula and put them on the wire rack to cool.

Makes about 12 cakes.

Recipe taken from The Little House Treasury by Carolyn Strom Collins and Christina Wyss Erikson.

Twenty-five Days of Christmas Cheer: December 15th (The World’s Best Toffee Recipe)

I would like to express my sadness and grief about the school shooting in Connecticut yesterday. I cannot imagine how those families feel now, so close to Christmas. I am praying for them, so hard. We all should. Our world is sinful, and it seems that this fact becomes more and more obvious each and every day.

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Today, I am going to share with you what I think is the World’s Best Toffee Recipe EVER.  My mom has been making this at Christmastime for years, and the anticipation of this sweet treat is always wonderful. Seriously. I’m not kidding. This stuff is amazing. It’s called English Toffee, and it comes from the cookbook called Mystic Seaport’s Moveable Feasts.

English Toffee (makes 4 lbs of candy)

2 cups butter (4 sticks)

2 cups sugar

3 cups slivered almonds

6 tablespoons water

12 ounces chocolate chips, melted

1 cup walnuts, chopped

 

1. Grease 11 1/2 x 17 1/2 inch jellyroll pan.

2. In large saucepan, cook butter, sugar, almonds, and water on high heat to boiling.

3. Lower heat to medium high, stirring constantly. Continue to boil until mixture becomes a caramel color. (About 15 to 20 minutes.) (Note: Pay close attention…it is all too easy to burn this.)

4. Immediately pour mixture onto greased pan and spread evenly with spoon or spatula. Mixture will harden.

5. Spread melted chocolate on top of caramel.

6. Let chocolate harden slightly. Sprinkle with walnuts and press nuts into chocolate with hands.

7. When cooled and hardened, break into bite sized pieces.

8. Store in airtight container. (If you don’t eat it all right away!)

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This is a recipe that takes time and patience. If you don’t get it right the first time, try again. Maybe not immediately, but give yourself a chance. I made it on my own for the first time last year, and it wasn’t perfect, but people still told me it was delicious. I hope to make it again in the next week, once I pick up some more butter. That’s the one downside to this recipe…SO MUCH BUTTER! Not that it isn’t yummy or anything…that’s just a lot of butter in one recipe, haha. Especially if you plan on making more than one batch.

Twenty-five Days of Christmas Cheer: December 13th (St. Lucia Day)

Last week I talked about a saint’s day that everyone knows about; St. Nicholas is quite popular the world over. This week, however, the saint’s day that I am going to talk about is not so well known. St. Lucia (or St. Lucy as she is sometimes called) is celebrated mainly in Scandinavia, even though she was probably Sicilian. The tradition of her day became combined with many other Yule traditions which then pretty much led to the celebration there is today. If you read the Wikipedia article you can see all the different traditions. I have never fully celebrated the day, though there are many times when I wish we had when I was a child. This is partly due to the fact that I am the oldest child, so I would have been the one to wear the white gown and the wreath on my head and bring coffee and buns, and maybe gingersnaps (which, by the way, I love), etc. Of course, a scuffle might have ensued, since my sister who is two years younger than me had the American Girl doll Kirsten Larsen who was Swedish and would have celebrated the day. (I had Samantha Parkinson, the Victorian one. Both dolls are retired now…stupid Mattel.)

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Anyway, my parents didn’t drink coffee, nor are we sufficiently Scandinavian for it to have been a family tradition already (we’re more German Lutheran than Scandinavian Lutheran), so my attempt to celebrate it at 10 years old was half-hearted at best. But, I will share with you a recipe for St. Lucia Buns from Kirsten’s Cookbook anyway. I’ve never been able to make these myself, not having access to saffron (any recommendations where to purchase it?), but I’ve eaten some elsewhere and I really like them. Minus the raisins. Yuck. (By the way, this recipe is written so young kids have an easier time understanding it, so it may sound a bit clunky and repetitive.)

St. Lucia Buns (makes 6 buns)

Ingredients:

1/3 cup milk

1/4 cup butter

1/4 cup lukewarm water

1 package dry yeast

1/4 cup sugar

2 eggs (one for the mix, one to mix with 1 tablespoon of water and brush on top of buns before baking)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon saffron

2 3/4 cups flour

1 tablespoon cooking oil

24 raisins

Directions:

1. Warm the milk in a small saucepan over low heat. Cut the butter into small pieces. Add the butter pieces to the warm milk and stir, then turn off the heat.

2. Measure the lukewarm water into a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle the yeast over the water and stir well. Set the bowl aside for 5 minutes.

3. Add the warm milk and melted butter to the yeast. Stir in the sugar, one egg, salt, and saffron. Then add 1 1/2 cups flour and stir until smooth.

4. Add enough of the remaining flour so that you can shape the dough into a ball. Save some of the flour for kneading the dough.

5. Put the dough on a floured cutting board. Dust your hands with flour and knead the dough. Add flour when the dough gets sticky.

6. After 5 to 10 minutes of kneading, you will have a smooth ball of dough. It should spring back when you poke it with your finger. Cover the dough with the towel and let it rest while you wash and dry the mixing bowl. (Note: you could use a different bowl, but why make more dirty dishes???)

7. Spread cooking oil in the large bowl. Roll the dough in the oil until it is coated. Cover the bowl with the towel and set it in a warm place to rise. After 45 minutes, the dough should be twice as large. If not, check it again in 15 minutes.

8. Punch down the dough. Then divide it into 6 sections. Take 1 section and divide it in half. Roll each half into an 8-inch rope. Cross the 2 ropes in the middle. Then coil the ends in tight circles. Shape 5 more buns in the same way.

9. Place the buns 2 inches apart on a greased cookie sheet. Cover with the towel. Let the buns rise for 30 to 45 minutes until they double in size. Preheat the oven to 350 while they are rising.

10. Mix the other egg and water with a fork in a small bowl. Brush this mixture lightly over the top of each bun. Decorate the buns with raisins.

11. Bake the buns for 15 to 20 minutes. When the buns are golden brown, move them to a wire rack to cool. (Note: original recipe says to have an adult move them to the wire rack, but I figured that didn’t need to be said!)

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If you make these buns and enjoy them, please let me know! And again, if you know of a good place/website to purchase saffron, let me know that as well!

One last thing on this St. Lucia Day: It’s American Girl related, again. There is a CD entitled The American Girls Christmas: Music of Christmas Past, which was released in 1999, that has some Swedish Christmas songs on it. This was one of the first CDs I ever personally owned, and I still absolutely adore it.

 

The American Girls Christmas - Music of Christmas Past

 

Twenty-five Days of Christmas Cheer: December 12th

12/12/12

It’s the last time any of us alive today will see a repetitive date quite like this. Kind of weird, actually. Here in Wisconsin (and wherever there are Packers fans, I suppose!), it’s being celebrated as Aaron Rodgers Day, in honor of the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers. I absolutely love it! I’m wearing my jersey and a number of other Packers accessories.

The temperature outside is slowly but steadily climbing above freezing. I’m not happy about this; the snow will melt and then there is supposed to be rain. Not fun. At all. The snow is so beautiful. Hopefully it will snow again before Christmas.

Not much to speak of on the Christmas front today. If you actually visit my blog, you’ll notice that I have a new theme, though. It’s not really anything to do with the true meaning of Christmas, but it is festive! I like festive. Other than that, I don’t have much to report. Things have been slow here. Well, for me. Nate works as usual.

Today I intend to work on my Christmas apron, go to the library, and maybe go to a resale shop and look for some old Christmas sweaters. And maybe actually bake those gingerbread men I’ve been thinking about for a week now…

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