Christmas

Friday 6: Christmas Cookies

The tree is up, (most) of the presents are wrapped, and the cookies are baked. It's finally time to slow down and enjoy the holiday season with a cup of tea and some Christmas movies. 

Today's Friday 6 is all about cookies. Believe me, I thought of making 10 types of cookies for the sake of having an even Friday 10, but common sense got the better of me. 

Going dairy-free meant that I had to overhaul my Christmas cookie lineup this year. I thought it would be hard to find recipes that were as delicious as my favorites, but I'm learning that there are a lot of wonderful vegan recipes out there. The only downside to vegan baking is that the "raw" dough is edible since they don't use eggs, either. No I have no way of shaming myself into not eating it.  Let's just say that a lot of extremely tasty cookie dough was consumed over the past week. No regrets! 


Without further ado, my 2014 Christmas Cookies.

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Click the headings for links to the recipes!

Vegan Nanaimo Bars 

These Nanaimos were the only troublemaker of the bunch--they were finicky to cut and the filling is a little goopier than I normally like it. I wasn't able to find Bird's Custard Powder, which is the gold standard here so I had to sub in a no-name versionI also can't blame the recipe since I went off track and played around with proportions and ingredients. 

They ended up being delicious anyway. Frankly, I would eat Nanaimos with a spoon if I had to. I love them that much. 

Here's what I changed:

For the base

  • I used 2 cups chocolate cookie crumbs (think crushed Oreo cookies) and 1/2 cup of Earth Balance and 1/2 cup coconut oil.
  • I omitted the cocoa powder and nuts.
  • I used one 200 g bag of unsweetened shredded coconut. It was nowhere near the conversion of 3 1/2 cups in the recipe, which I think would be far, far too much.
  • My base turned out great, so I would do this again.

For the filling

  • I used 2/3 cup coconut oil and 1/3 cup Earth Balance.
  • I omitted the shortening.
  • I used 3 cups of icing sugar, 5 tbsp of vanilla custard powder, and 4 tips of unsweetened vanilla almond milk.
  • My filling is slightly softer than I usually like it to be, but it tastes great. I will be playing around it with this recipe, but a bit more icing sugar would probably help.

For the topping

  • I used 1 tbsp of coconut oil and 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

I think I will try this recipe again in a few months to see if I can get it the way I like it. It's so close and I think it would be nice to have my very own recipe to pass down. 

Ovenly's Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies  

I made my cookies smaller and more bite-sized, but otherwise didn't change a thing on this recipe. As far as I'm concerned, it's a pretty perfect chocolate chip cookie. 

Molasses Ginger Cookies

These ginger cookies are not for the faint of heart. They strong and spicy and warm, which is exactly how I like them. I didn't change the recipe at all, but I did use 1/2 cup of molasses, which was the max recommended. 

Peanut Butter Mousse Cups

These peanut butter cups are a nice break from the heavier cookies since the mousse lightens things up a bit. I've become a huge fan of Minimalist Baker over the past couple of months. Their recipes are easy, don't require a lot of ingredients, and have been consistently delicious (like this no-bake pumpkin pie and these 5 ingredient no-bake granola bars). 

Chocolate Mint Crinkle Cookies

A pretty little cookie made with my favourite flavour combination--cooling mint and decadent chocolate. Since no one else in my family likes mint and chocolate, so these are mine all mine! 

Walnut and Fig Biscotti

I make biscotti every year. Luckily, traditional Italian biscotti are made without dairy. I had leftover walnuts and figs in the fridge and thought that sounded like a good combination, so I did some googling, took some inspiration from a couple of recipes, and made something of my own. My version is adapted from Susan Russo's Traditional Almond Biscotti and Smitten Kitchen's Fig and Walnut Biscotti.

Ingredients 

  • 1 c walnut pieces 
  • 1 c chopped dried Turkish figs (softened in some hot water for a few minutes, if necessary)  
  • 1 c granulated sugar
  • 1 c light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 1/2 c all-purpose flour
  • 4 large eggs (plus 1 to beat and brush on top of dough)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 large orange, zested (mine yielded a little over 2 tbsp)

Instructions

  1. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment, move your oven racks to the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F).
  2. In a large bowl, stir together walnuts, figs, sugars, spices, baking powder, and flour until everything is well-mixed.
  3. In a small bowl, beat eggs, vanilla, and orange zest together with a wisk until everything is well-blended.
  4. Fold the egg mixture into the dry ingredients with a wooden spoon until the dough starts to get sticky. Switch to your hands and work the dough gently until a ball starts to form. Divide the dough into 4 pieces.
  5. On a lightly floured surface, roll the balls of dough into loaves that are about 9 inches long and 1 inch high. I usually squeeze the ball of dough into a tube shape with floured hands. Then I put it on a lightly floured counter and press it down so it forms something like a flat loaf. 
  6. Transfer loaves to baking sheets (2 per sheet). Beat 1 large egg with a bit of water and brush the tops of the loaves. 
  7. Bake for 20 minutes. Check the pans, rotate them from upper to lower (and vice versa). Let them bake for another 10-20 minutes. The loaves should start to turn a nice golden brown color, but be sure to watch that the bottoms don't start to burn. Our oven runs hot, so mine only took about 30 minutes total. 
  8. When your logs are golden brown, but still a little soft, pull them out of the oven. Let them cool for 15-20 minutes. You want to loaves to cool enough that they won't crumble when you start to cut them, but you don't want them to get too hard or cold.
  9. Once the loaves have cooled enough to be cut, use a serrated knife to saw them into that famous biscotti shape. You can do this on an angle (which is how I do it) or vertically. 
  10. Arrange the biscotti back on the baking sheet, cut side down, and put the sheets back into the oven. Turn the heat off, keep the door closed, and let the the biscotti "bake" for another 30 - 60 minutes. They will get crunchier the longer they stay in in there, so pull them out based on your preference. 
  11. Remove pans from the oven, let the biscotti cool, and enjoy! These cookies are pretty long-lasting when stored in a good airtight container. I've seen suggestions of two weeks to a month, but they don't seem to last that long around these parts!

The true test of these cookies has been whether or not anyone guesses they are dairy-free. So far, so great. Not only do I love them, but everyone who has tried them raves about them. Even S, who is not a sweets person, has been eating the salted chocolate chip cookies at an impressive rate. I'll probably have to make another batch for our give-away tins. They are just that good!

That's it for this week and, maybe for the end of the year. I'm going to take some time to unwind, do a bit of behind the scenes work, and spend a lot of time with family. I will see you in the new year!

I hope you have a very happy holiday season and a happy, healthy, peaceful start to 2015. 

PS: I'd love to hear about your favourite Christmas cookies and traditions! 

Friday 10: Christmas Markets

Somewhere around this time of year I start to daydream about going to one of the great Christmas markets in Europe. I love the idea of wandering a historic squares and alleys between little chalets full of goodies with a warm cup of mulled wine in my hand. The markets look so beautiful and festive that even I've started thinking a river cruise would be fun thanks to Viking's marketing department. . .and I'm not a cruise person (or a cold-weather person, if I'm honest).

So for today's Friday 10, I thought I'd do a list of my Christmas Market Daydream Destinations in US, Canada, and Europe. Sit back, get cozy, and grab a hot drink. Here's one of my current favourite Christmas playlists to set the mood (link for email subscribers). I'm listening to it as I type!

Before I start, I have to say there are so many Christmas markets out there that I would probably be able to do an annual Christmas Market Daydream Destination list for a few years. 

Colmar's Place Jeanne d'Arc market via  OT-Colmar

Colmar's Place Jeanne d'Arc market via OT-Colmar

#1 Colmar, France

Tradition and illumination are the cornerstone of Colmar's Christmas markets. There are 5 markets tucked throughout the old town, each with a different focus. Place Jeanne d'Arc, for example, is full of local Alsatian products and delicacies from charcuterie to gingerbread.

I really chose Colmar partly as a representative of Alsace because it seemed cozier and more intimate than the famed markets of Strasbourg. It would be a lovely trip to stay in Colmar and travel to the other beautiful markets nearby. (video link for email subscribers)

Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market via  www.koelnerweihnachtsmarkt.com

Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market via www.koelnerweihnachtsmarkt.com

#2 Cologne, Germany

It would have been silly not to include a German market. Cologne seemingly has it all. There are 7 different markets throughout the city, each with their own personality. The Alter Markt sounds the loveliest to me. It's located in the old town directly in front of city hall and is known as being more intimate, nostalgic, and picturesque than the others. The Cathedral Market, however, has the largest tree in the Rhineland, the dramatic backdrop of the cathedral and 150 chalets to visit. 

#3 Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen, Denmark

This is the market that inspired this post. Each year Tivoli Gardens transforms itself into an Alpine Wonderland with rides, market stalls, food, beautiful lighting, ballet and more. . .it's the complete Christmas package. 

Spittelberg Christmas Market   Ph  oto credit: Lind

Spittelberg Christmas Market Photo credit: Lind

#4 Vienna, Austria

I had a hard time deciding between including Salzburg or Vienna this year. Both are gorgeous places that I would visit again in a heartbeat. In the end, Vienna won for its size, the beauty of Schönbrunn Palace as a backdrop, and variety of its markets held in squares throughout the city. The Spittelberg Market, just a short walk from the centre of Vienna, feels more like a village with historic buildings and narrow, romantic cobblestone streets that provide a cozier market atmosphere. 

#5 Prague, Czech Republic 

Like most of the larger cities Prague has a number of Christmas markets, but the one in the Old Town Square is the most picturesque. The Old Town Square dates back to the 10th century. The giant Christmas tree and Gothic, Baroque and Romanesque buildings serve as an enchanting setting for the chalets full of traditional Czech food and crafts. (video link for email subscribers)

#6 Valkenburg, Netherlands 

Looking for something unique? Valkenburg's Christmas markets are held underground in heated caves. Caves! With murals and sculptures and an 18th century cathedral. Sign me up now, please! (video link for email subscribers)

#7 Skansen Christmas Market, Stockholm, Sweden

Skansen, an open-air history museum on Djurgärden Island in Stockholm, was founded in 1891 by Artur Hazelius. It brings historic rural Sweden to life with exhibits that include cultivated gardens and wild animals. Each Christmas, it also hosts a market celebrating Scandinavian traditions, food, drink, and crafts. (video link for email subscribers)

#8 Georgetown, Colorado

The small, historic town of Georgetown is known as the "Silver Queen of the Rockies." For just  2 weekends each December, the Christmas market arrives. What I love about this market is that it seems like a mix of everything: Victorian Carolers, procession of St. Lucia, St. Nicholas, a horse drawn wagon, roasted chestnuts, and, of course, shopping. It's a little bit Western, a little Scandinavia, a little German, and a little British. I think that probably makes it uniquely its own. For another special treat, the Historic Hamill House hosts two classic Christmas dinners.  

Four authentic English pubs - and the Bohemian Absinthe Bar - serve up hearty Christmas cheer at the Great Dickens Christmas Fair.    Photo credit: Rich Yee

Four authentic English pubs - and the Bohemian Absinthe Bar - serve up hearty Christmas cheer at the Great Dickens Christmas Fair. Photo credit: Rich Yee

#9 Great Christmas Dickens Fair, San Fransisco, California

A Victorian London Christmas in San Fransisco. A cast of 700 characters roam around merrymaking. You may, for instance, bump into Dickens or Queen Victoria or Scrooge or Dr. Livingston (I presume)! Meanwhile, the Cow Palace has been transformed into the London streets full of boutiques and pubs. There's dancing and stage shows for young and old. Visitors are encouraged to dress up and immerse themselves. 

#10 The Distillery, Toronto, Canada

A local favorite. The Distillery is a pretty little section of Toronto of historic brewery buildings that has been turned into a pedestrian market area. The cobblestone streets and old brick buildings make you feel like you're stepping back into old Toronto, but the boutiques and restaurants keep things interesting.

Every year the Christmas market rolls around and we get our own version of the Bavarian chalets selling crafts, gifts, and treats. You can even get some mulled wine and listen to carollers dressed in Victorian garb. Visit one of the beer gardens to warm up with some mulled wine or a local brew (Mill Street Brewery still has a location in the Distillery). I personally love getting a coffee at Balzac's, a local coffee roaster and cafe, before milling about. Parking is a nightmare, but it's worth going to every few years just to get into the spirit of Christmas in the city.


That's it for this week. I hope you have a warm, wonderful weekend. I'm off to bake cookies!

Holiday Gift Guide

Instead of the usual Friday 10 today is a Friday 15 full of gifts ideas. In the spirit of the site, there are simple luxuries and fancy splurges alike for food lovers, readers, and travellers. 

What I did not add, however, is one of my favourite gifts: an experience. This can be something as simple as a lunch with a loved one, a pass to their favourite place (a park? a museum?), or a weekend getaway. Sometimes making memories is far better than collecting things. 

histoiretravelgiftguide2014
  1. My Paris Kitchen Recipes and Stories by David Lebovitz ($25.71 CAD hardcover) | A collection of beautiful recipes, stories, and photos from David Lebovitz's Paris. 
  2. Blood Orange Oolong by Sloane Teas ($17.00 CAD for 100g of loose tea) | Flavourful, fancy and festive tea packed in a tin that's pretty enough to display. I love their Heavenly Cream, too! 
  3. Twelve Assorted Macaron Happy Holidays Travel Box from Nadège Patisserie ($27.50 CAD) | Indulgent flavours perfect for celebrating the holidays: candy cane, whisky chocolate, champagne, chocolate, salted caramel, blackberry chocolate, cherry chocolate, vanilla, pistachio, cotton candy, cappucino, and matcha green tea. 
  4. Cashmere Blend Reading Socks from Indigo ($39.50 CAD) | Warm and cozy socks to make winter reading that much more indulgent. Would pair perfectly with a great book or a tea and mug. 
  5. Personalized Passport Holder by Tagsmith ($60 USD) | I love the natural leather color and the subtle initial stamping. If monogramming isn't your thing, they have a plain one as well. Also available in Bridle and Dark Brown.
  6. Terrain Mug glazed in Alabaster by Sam Nichols Pottery ($32.00 USD) | A classic hand thrown mug thats perfect for coffee or tea any time of day and any time of year.
  7. RazorPlus from myCharge ($49.99 USD) |  A thin, lightweight portable smartphone charger with USB port. Great for travel since it can give you up to 13 hours of talk time.
  8. National Park Blanket (shown in Rocky Mountain) from Pendleton ($199 - $239 USD) | Heirloom quality, beautiful historical patterns, and perfect for the outdoorsy among us. 
  9. iPad Mini Leather and Wool Case by cinnamon cocoon ($45.00 USD) | A blend of function and beauty. I bought one of these for my dad last year. Not only did he love it, but my mom loved it so much that she bought herself a laptop case. Lovely sellers and quick shipping (although it took awhile to make it halfway around the world) when I dealt with them. 
  10. Monarch Desk Calendar by Rifle Paper Co.  ($16.00 USD) | I used the 2014 Cities version this year and fell in love with it. I snapped up the 2015 Monarch version up as quickly as I could. The illustrations are so lovely and whimsical that it always brightens my day.
  11. GorillaPod Hybrid from Joby ($38.00 CAD) | A small go anywhere, wrap around anything flexible tripod. Grab the GripTight Mount (18.00 CAD) to use with iPhone and Android smartphones, too. 
  12. Kobo Aura H2O from Kobo ($179.99 CAD) | The first waterproof* and dustproof eReader. No need to "seal" your reader in two big ziplock bags at the beach or during a bath. (Everyone does that right?) *Up to 30 min in 1M of water with the port closed (Who is even reading underwater at all, let alone for 30 minutes?)
  13. Kenyatta Shaving Case from WANT Les Essentiels de la Vie ($295) | A definite splurge. But it’s so elegant—I would be happy to own one!—and it has a removable interior lining that makes clean-up easy. 
  14. Emile Henry Artisan Ruffled Pie Dish by Emile Henry ($49.95) | Perfect for the baker in your life. Not only is it hand-glazed, but each piece is cast, inspected and signed by hand. Plus, it's the prettiest pie plate I’ve ever seen.
  15. Fujifilm X-TI from Fujifilm ($1598.95 USD) | A major upgrade from the typical point-and-shoot. This mirrorless camera has the image quality but not the bulk of a DSLR. The most expensive gift, by far, but it's fantastic for amateur photographers and travellers who are serious about taking their photos to a new level. Want other recommendations in different price ranges? Check out the Wirecutter’s reviews of digital cameras

As always, have a happy weekend!