Thursday, December 19, 2013

'Tis the Season?

People are telling me Christmas is coming. The days are getting longer and temperatures (slowly) getting hotter, but those around me insist that yuletide time is around the corner. I guess technically good ole' xmas day is next week, but for me, in Australia, the holiday couldn't seem more foreign or distant.
Not only am I not with my friends or family this Christmas time, I'm also in a place where there's not the faintest chance of snow, I haven't seen one live xmas tree for sale on the streets and there won't be a crackling fireplace to heat up the house (I'm more into AC at the moment, but don't have that either.) Even if I did see a lot full of trees for sale, there certainly wouldn't be a trashcan fire there, either. That's a v. important criterion in the annual Velten Xmas Tree Evaluation. As is an annual spontaneous combustion test performed by Emeline under the watchful gaze of some poor soul from Canada who's just trying to sell us a damn tree. It's not easy.
Thus, I've turned my attentions to trying to let the day pass without consequence. My initial plan was to skip Christmas altogether. My brain travelled to Fiji and Vanuatu. Anywhere with palm trees, turquoise water and not a pine or santa hat in sight. But, no. Travel on this side of the world and during Christmas just doesn't come cheap.

Next came trying to think about other things–trying to put off Christmas shopping and skip decorating. At a certain point, however, this became impossible. I started getting the Christmas party invitations. The secret santa assignment. The Christmas song cravings and the pine smell longings came shortly after. That's when I whipped up a batch of some of my favorite holiday cookies–a go-to recipe from the Denise Velten household.
Luckily, Christmas isn't my favorite holiday–that'd be Thanksgiving. But I think I took for granted up until now how nice it is to spend the day with loved ones. This year I'll be lucky enough to be joined last-minute in Melbz by my sister, and I'll also be spending my first Christmas with Charlie. We have a vase full of pine boughs adorned with gold tinsel and one (1) koala ornament that I consistently overflow with water in hopes it will last until the big day. We'll be joining in on a day of xmas eating and drinking for friendly orphans like ourselves and for that I'm grateful, but simultaneously worried that it just won't be the same.
These cookies were a good start, though. Jolly Ranchers (one of the best candies) aren't a thing in Australia and I had to go to a special, overwhelming candy store to get these suckers. $7.95 a bag, and I bought two. Needless to say, two bags was too many, so I'll prob be making these cookies again. 
Clearly I got a little bit too excited about the Jolly Rancher pieces in some of these, thus the overflow. This is a Martha Stewart recipe that we found like 8 million years ago in her magazine and have made every year since, but when I looked it up online it became clear that Martha has updated the dough recipe. To judge whether I should go with the old and proven dough or the supposedly updated recipe, I remembered that Martha has now spent time in jail, and decided to stick with the pre-incarceration rendition. From the good ole days, right, Marth? Anyway, these impressed the crap out of some Aussies and they're pretty, so, go for it.

Recipe (adapted from Martha Stewart Magazine)

2 cups of sifted flower 
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (who buys this? just use salted and skip the added salt)
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla 
About 50 jolly ranchers or similar hard candy, crushed into 1/4 inch pieces

In a bowl, sift together flour, salt and baking powder.

In a separate bowl, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until fluffy. I don't have an electric mixer, but softened butter and whisk work just as well. Add egg, beat until smooth. 

Add dry ingredients mixture and mix until combined. Stir in vanilla. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 45 minutes. 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line a baking sheet or two with parchment paper.

On a floured surface, roll out chilled dough to 1/8 inch thick. Use cookie cutters to shape cookies, and a sharp knife to make a cutout in the center of each. Transfer to the lined baking sheet and place a few pieces of crushed jolly rancher in center cutout. Don't overfill, or your cookies will look messy like some of mine.

Place cookies in the oven and bake for 6-8 minutes until candy has melted. Remove from oven before cookie dough browns. Candy center may look bubbly upon removal from oven, but will settle when cooled and hardened.

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