Dec 5, 2011

Chanukah Prep

This has been a long time in coming but after much encouragement from our friends--that is, our customers--we've decided to join the world of blogging. After all, we spend a major portion of our days in the store talking about cooking, baking and decorating; much as you would on a blog. Every purchase comes along with advice, instructions and ideas, so why not continue with that out in the cyberworld.

We're excited to begin at this time of year because there is so much to talk about when it comes to preparing for Chanukah parties and get-togethers. From menus to recipes to decorating to tablesetting, Chanukah is the perfect time for experimenting and having fun in the kitchen.

Chanukah parties often take the form of buffets, making it easier for the hosts to enjoy. Buffets dinners also allow much of the preparation to take place in advance, so now would be a good time to begin. When preparing meals for lots of people it's a good idea to work backward. That is, start with dessert! Many desserts can be frozen so it's convenient to make those a couple of weeks in advance.

We'll begin with Chanukah cookies. Always a nice touch on your table, chanukah cookies can also hang from branches placed in a vase as your centerpiece. Making dreidel and menorah cookies are easy with our favorite cookie dough. This recipe comes from Toba Garrett, a well known cake and cookie artist who has taught classes in our store.

Toba's Sugar Cookies
1 cup (2 sticks) margarine
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon baking powder, optional
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 

Cream margarine and sugar in your mixer bowl, scraping the sides of the bowl, if necessary. Beat in the egg and vanilla until well combined. Add the flour and optional baking powder one cup at a time, mixing after each addition. Dough will be stiff. 

Some cookie recipes suggest letting the dough rest in the refrigerator to allow the gluten to relax making it easier to stretch and roll. This particular recipe does not require refrigeration before rolling. However, it can be refrigerated for up to two weeks and frozen for two months. If you put your cookie dough in the fridge, allow it to come back to room temperature before working with it.

Sometimes cookie dough can be sticky when you begin rolling it out. Working on a floured surface will keep the dough from sticking, but a Silpat silicone baking mat is a better solution. This non-stick mat is a true time- and work-saver. Made of food grade silicone, a Silpat is smooth on one side and lightly textured on the other. The textured side keeps it from moving around on the countertop. As for the smooth side; nothing sticks! And I mean—NOTHING! Roll out the softest cookie dough and it will lift right off. 
Roll out the dough, cut the cookies with Chanukah cookie cutters and lift only the scraps off the silpat. Never move the cookies; cookies that are lifted and moved to a pan will inevitably be misshapen. Rolling out dough on the Silpat will prevent this. Slide the Silpat right onto a sheet pan and pop it in the preheated oven. This method is particularly helpful when making sandwich cookies because the tops and bottoms will match up perfectly.  Continue removing the dough from around the cookies until all the scraps are gone.
Bake the cookies 6 to 8 minutes or until they are lightly browned at the edges. Remove from the oven and allow to cool 10 minutes. Place the cookies on a rack to continue cooling. A cooling rack is a large metal grid that allows air to circulate preventing baked goods from “sweating” as they cool. Wait for cookies to be completely cooled before decorating.


Decorating cookies brings us to endless possibilities--let's start with royal icing.

Royal Icing
4 cups confectioners' sugar
3 tablespoons meringue powder
1/2 - 3/4 cup warm water

In the bowl of your electric mixer beat the confectioners' sugar and meringue powder with the flat beater until combined. Add the water and beat on medium to high speed until very glossy and stiff peaks form (5 to 7 minutes)

Color the icing with food coloring, if you like. Choose colors that will complement your dishes or d├ęcor. Place the icing in small piping bags fitted with #2 tips and outline the menorahs or draw a nun, hay, gimmel or shin in the dreidels. Sprinkle wet icing with colored sugar, if you like. Allow icing to dry.

More decorating ideas to come...

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