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According to a recent survey, 40 percent of consumers plan to spend less this year on holiday gifts. Homemade gifts offer a solution to shrinking your budget without shrinking your gift list, and baked goods continue to be a popular choice.
Here are a few tricks and techniques from The Pampered Chef® Test Kitchen experts to ensure sweet success this baking season.
Pies are the hot trend this year, and it all comes down to having the perfect crust.
For sweet success:
•Keep it cold. The secret to pie crust is very cold ingredients. Refrigerate all ingredients prior to making the dough – even the mixing bowl. Put butter in the freezer while preparing the other ingredients to ensure the fat is completely chilled.
•Skip the mixer. One of the biggest enemies of flaky pie crust is overworked dough. Use a pastry blender or two knives to cut in fat. Dough should still have some pea-size pieces.
•Get playful. Traditional pies have gone mini like this recipe for Caramel-Filled Cashew Cups, which are bite-size pies with a fun cashew crust.
For Santa-worthy cookies:
•Be perfectly sweet. Too much sugar makes baked goods spread too much and overbrown. Not enough gives you pale results, and cookies won’t spread enough. To measure granulated sugar, dip the cup into the sugar container and level the top. For brown sugar, pack the sugar and level. For powdered sugar, spoon into the measuring cup and level.
•Check your temperatures. Ovens should preheat at least 15 minutes before baking for best results. Room temperature eggs, when beaten, give baked goods the best volume. Let eggs stand at room temperature for 15-30 minutes or soak in warm water while preparing other ingredients.
•Get out the candy. Who says pies get to have all the fun this season? Sandwich creamy peppermint candies between two brownie cookies to create Peppermint Fudge Cookie Sandwiches.
Peppermint Fudge Cookie Sandwiches
Sandwiching a creamy peppermint candy between warm brownie cookies creates an irresistible sweet treat.
3/4cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1/4cup butter (½ stick)
3/4cup all-purpose flour
2candy canes or 8-10 peppermint hard candies (about 1/4 cup crushed)
1/4cup white or semi-sweet chocolate morsels
10 to 12 mini foil-wrapped peppermint patty candies, unwrapped
Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a large sheet pan with a 10-inch sheet of parchment paper. Combine chocolate morsels and butter in a bowl. Microwave on high 40 to 60 seconds or until mostly melted, stirring after each 20-second interval using a scraper. Add sugar and egg to batter bowl; mix until well blended. Add flour; mix just until flour is incorporated. Using a scooper, drop 20 level scoops of batter, 1 inch apart, onto pan. Bake 9 to 11 minutes or until edges are set. Do not overbake.
Meanwhile, place candy canes into resealable plastic bag; crush using flat side of a meat tenderizer and set aside. Place white chocolate morsels into a microwave safe bowl, and cook uncovered on high 30 to 60 seconds or until melted, stirring once. Set aside.
Remove sheet pan from oven to a cooling rack. Immediately turn over half of the cookies using a spatula; top with peppermint patties and remaining cookies to form 10 sandwiches. Drizzle chocolate over cookies and immediately sprinkle with crushed candies. Transfer to serving platter.
Line pan with another sheet of parchment paper and scoop remaining batter onto parchment. Bake
9 to 10 minutes or until edges are set. Assemble sandwiches as directed above. Yield: 10-12 cookie sandwiches
U.S. Nutrients per serving (1 cookie sandwich): Calories 230, Total Fat 9 g, Saturated Fat 6 g, Cholesterol 25 mg, Sodium 40 mg, Carbohydrate 37 g, Fiber 1 g, Protein 3 g
Cook’s Tips: If you do not have parchment paper, lightly brush pan with vegetable oil. Bake cookies and fill with peppermint patties. Transfer sandwiches to cooling rack and decorate as directed above. Repeat with remaining batter.
If using a large sheet pan, line pan with parchment paper or brush with vegetable oil. Prepare batter as directed above; bake 14 to 16 minutes or until edges are set. Proceed as recipe directs, baking second batch for 14 to 15 minutes.
Buttery Pastry Crust
1 1⁄4cups all-purpose flour
4tbsp cold butter
1/4cup butter-flavor solid vegetable shortening
1/2tsp cider vinegar
2 to 4 tbsp ice cold water, divided
Combine flour and salt in large bowl; mix well. Cut butter and shortening into flour mixture using a pastry blender until butter and shortening resemble the size of small peas. Add vinegar and sprinkle 1 tbsp water over flour mixture; gently toss with a fork. Repeat with remaining water until dough is moist enough to form into a ball.
Gather dough into a ball; flatten to 1/2-inch thickness. Cover; refrigerate dough 30 minutes. Roll out dough on lightly floured surface and use as desired.
Yield: 1 single pie or tart crust
U.S. Nutrients per serving (1/8 crust): Calories 180, Total Fat 12 g, Saturated Fat 5 g, Cholesterol 15 mg, Carbohydrate 15 g, Protein 2 g, Sodium 115 mg, Fiber less than 1 g
Cook’s Tips: This recipe can be easily doubled for a double-crust pie.