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Baking A Holiday Tradition Or Two

holidaycookiesTick, tick, tick, tick, two days till Christmas eve and I'm still cleaning. My son arrives from the East Coast tomorrow and I'm having about 20 people for Christmas dinner on Friday.  My husband, daughter and I just finished a show at the local theater that kept us busy and out of the house for the last four weeks. It's a miracle we decorated. If it hadn't been for a friend with a pickup truck, we wouldn't have a tree.

 

Who has time to bake?

There were years when I had racks and racks of different tasty treats that would be parsed out on holiday plates or festive bags. Plastic containers layered with various cookies or salty-sweet bites used to be stacked high. That was then, this is now. But holiday guilt is strong and urge to feed friends lots of sugar is punching my common sense to the side.

Sounds like I'm doing an all-nighter with my oven tonight.

I asked the staff here at KHTS for their holiday baking stories - and to recollect family favorites and treats that bring back their childhood. I also asked what treat they missed that someone else made and I think a few got misty in the recollection.

My personal favorite holiday cookie are Spritz cookies. They melt in your mouth and nobody makes them any other time of the year. Plus they're really easy to make and you get to use the cookie gun. Fun times!

One that I miss dearly (and makes me feel 8 years old faster than sniffing crayons) are my Auntie Helen's candy cane cookies. She made them every year. They're a basic sugar cookie dough, but you have to color half of it red and add peppermint extract and I never, ever get the twisty parts right.
My favorite cookie made by someone else are April Harnish's peanut butter kiss cookies. I'm going to try to make them this year, but I have been kinda busy. Maybe she'll feel sorry for me if she reads this story. Just sayin.'

When I set out to write this story about baking, I thought I'd be imparting my years of culinary wisdom - or at least what I saw on Food Network. So I'm going to let my colleages tell you their stories.

Yeah, it's a Tom Sawyer approach to writing a story, but you'll be delighted with what follows.

Here's some really good stuff from Connie Jones, who pretty much runs the office. And she feeds us occasionally, too.

"My holiday recipes are like my Christmas tree ornaments:  each holds a memory and a story or two.  My favorite cookies are Italian Pizzales that I make only at Christmas.  I got the recipe from my Italian friend of many years, Gina. We were both new to the Washington, D.C. area.  We cooked and baked our way to friendship while telling each other stories of our background and families.  These wafer type cookie are made in a Pizzale Iron which is like a shallow waffle maker.  Today I've found a new tradition in giving Pizzales to a special new friend because they remind her of her beloved Italian grandmother.

"My favorite that I've missed is pie baked by my mother who has been gone too many Christmases.  She was born on Christmas Eve, so this season was always special.  She made the very best pies with superb crusts.  In my mind's eye I can still see her fingers working the edges for a finished look.  My favorites were Pumpkin Chiffon and Cherry.  I've loved cherry dating back to when my sisters and I were young.  Mom would vent the top of each pie with the letter C.  I told my sisters the C stood for Connie.  My little sister didn't care because my mom would make her a special little pie in the lid of a Folger's Instant Coffee jar.

"Another favorite I've missed is the sweet bread made by my husband's Polish grandmother.  Baba, a nickname for grandmother, would make all sizes of bread.  Some, baked in coffee tins, would bear the tin's rings.  In return, I could make her happy by making Swedish Rosettes that she said made her think of a Polish crisp called Chrusciki.  So here was a Polish woman of 80 that liked a Swedish recipe made by her half Filipino daughter-in-law.

"My favorite Christmas goodie made by someone else is Judi's Caramels.  I would eat a few then put the rest in the freezer to savor all through the new year.  How she fits this time consuming treat into a busy season is beyond me.  But I am so ever grateful that she does!  Nothing takes the edge off a stressful time than biting into a frozen caramel.

"What I'm known for is a recipe I received from a good friend and neighbor, Donna.  We all moved into our little cul-de-sac of new townhouses at the same time.  Those years in Virginia saw the birth of five baby girls within nine months.  Those times bonded us all.  Donna loved the summer heat over the winter's dreary cold.  She would say, much to her Baptist mother-in-law's chagrin, that she worshipped the sun god.  Nothing pleased Donna more than to while away under the hot sun on the beaches of Nags Head.  Her cookies are appropriately called Sandies.  And now, almost 30 years later, I still make Sandies.

"Even my guilty pleasure has a memory.  When my kids were young and we moved into a new house here in the Santa Clarita Valley we ordered custom built cabinet/bookshelves.  To cut costs, I finished them myself in our garage.  The kids would come out to talk and play in our van while I worked.  We would take a break and snack on Pepperidge Farm Milanos.  To this day we still call them Garage Cookies.

"The one cookie I can make all year long is the Chocolate Chip cookie - and even these have a story.  My husband's stepmother made the best crispy Chocolate Chip cookies - just the way he likes them.  When we were first married my first foray into baking was sugar cookies.  I asked how he liked them.  He answered that they were good but not as good as Pauline's Chocolate Chip Cookies.  I didn't bake cookies for him again for two years.  Since then I let Pauline get all the accolades for her crispy cookies because I only make chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies - the way the rest of the family likes them."

Pizzelles -

7 eggs, 6 if extra large
1-3/4 C sugar
1 C oil
1-1 oz bottle anise extract or vanilla extract
3 C flour
1/8 tsp salt

Mix together with mixer until smooth.  Brush Pizzelle iron with oil and pre-heat 15 minutes.  Place heaping tablespoon of batter on iron and cook for 45-55 seconds each.  Discard first several since they will absorb the majority of super heated oil.  Cool on cookie racks before storing.

Rosettes/Chrusciki-
1 C flour
1 C milk
2 eggs
1 T vanilla extract
2 tsp sugar
¼ tsp salt

In small, deep bowl, beat all ingredients until smooth.  Heat 1 inch of oil in a large skillet on medium to medium-high heat.  Heat Rosette iron in oil, then drain.  Dip hot iron into batter to cover ¾ of way up side of iron.  Return to hot oil and fry until light golden brown.  Remove with slotted spoon.  Cool and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Sandies-
1 C butter
1/3C sugar
2 tsp water
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 C flour
1 C pecans, finely chopped

Cream together butter and sugar.  Add water and vanilla extract.  Blend in flour and pecans.  Shape on plastic wrap into a 6 inch by 6 inch square.  Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for at least four hours.  Cut into one inch squares and shape into balls or logs.  Place on ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 325 degrees for 20 minutes.  Remove, cool slightly, roll in powdered sugar.

Janice Murray, our "Nonprofit Spotlight" host, Community Relations manager for the station and all-around cool mom, jumps in here with not only recipes, but a unique outlook on treats.

"Favorite holiday baked good? My girlfriend's pecan pie bites.

"Favorite cookie that you miss? My Mom's Pralines from Louisiana (OK, not so much a "cookie" as it is a ton of butter, a gallon of pure sugar and a few pecans thrown in so you don't feel so bad as it hits your hips).  And what's a few cavities at our age???!!!

"Favorite cookie made by someone else? Karena Lineback's Pecan Dreamies (if she reads this do you think she'll make us some)?  I dunno, let's see if April brings peanut butter kisses to the station.....

"Baked treat I'm known for - my German Chocolate cake.

"And if I could only make one thing: Sweet Potato Souffle."
Here's the recipe:
Use a 9x13 pan
3 cups cooked & mashed sweet potatoes
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 stick butter (softened)

Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.

Topping:

1 cup crushed corn flakes
1/2 cup nuts
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 stick butter (melted)

Remove souffle from oven and sprinkle with topping. Return to oven for 10 minutes.  Can be served with Cool whip or Whipped creme.

Station Manager Jon Dell handed the culinary challenge to his lovely wife, Melissa, a dining room diva in her own right.

"Favorite holiday baked good? Sugar cookies with sprinkles on them - using holiday cut-outs.

"Cookie or treat you remember from your childhood that you miss? - my Grandmother's German Kipferl's - we called them "kiefels"

"Favorite cookie you like that you don't bake but someone else does? My mom makes these chocolate cookies topped with powder sugar. They have little cracks on the top and the sugar gets in all the nooks and crannies. They're especially tasty when warm.

"Is there a baked treat that you are known for making? I'm the cupcake girl. I always like to try new recipes. I made a pumpkin-chocolate chip with cream cheese frosting for Thanksgiving (they were AWESOME), and then at this year's cupcake exchange with girlfriends I made a java-chip one. It was delish, but only enjoyed by coffee lovers!

"If you could only make one thing, what would it be? Kiefels! Just have to work on mastering them. They're crescent shaped, and everyone in our family that has tried to duplicate Grandma's ends up with broken ones - resembling J's."

Here's the Kipferl/Kiefel recipe:

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup confectioners sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 cup finely ground almonds (can use almond meal from TJs)
2 1/4 cup all purpose flour
confectioners sugar for sprinkling

Directions:
1. Mix softened butter and sugar until fluffy and creamy.
2. Add extracts, ground almond, and mix until combined. Then add flour. Roll out pieces of dough into crescent moon shapes.
3. Preheat oven at 350 F; bake time 8-12 minutes, or when tops are light brown.
4. Use confectioners sugar for sprinkling.

Sharon Bronson said her mom started a holiday tradition that her kids - all grownups now - keep alive.

"It's not Christmas until the package from my mother arrives.  It is my son Nathan that keeps us on track when it comes to traditions.  Since he was a baby, he has had one request of his Grandmother - 'GRANDMA FRAN COOKIES.'

"Each year she sends an ample supply of them, making sure there is a container full with Nathan's name on it.  (the rest of us have to share, but he gets his own)  Also in that holiday package is of course her Fudge, Wedding Cookies, Sugar Cookies, Divinity and Date Balls (the last to disappear)  As it gets closer to the holiday, Nathan starts asking..."has the box from Grandma come yet?"  I've attempted to duplicate those cookies, but for some reason they taste better when she makes them.  Mine come out flatter.  I blame it on the altitude.....Grandma Fran lives in Montana.  She's much closer to heaven then we are here in California.

"When I was in Girl Scouts, we learned a simple recipe that I still make to this day.  It's great for the holiday because you can make them the color of the season."

POPCORN BALLS

Pop your corn; on the stove bring to a boil: one cup Karo's Light Syrup and 1/2 cup sugar, cook to soft ball stage. Add 1/2 small package (or to taste) of Jello to the mixture (choose whatever flavor you like) bring to a boil (soft ball stage).
Pour the mixture over the popcorn, toss and stir to coat the popcorn let cool. Put butter on your clean hands and mold the popcorn into balls, place on wax paper.
YUM!

One of our sports guys, Tim Haddock, is as much at home in the kitchen as he is on the playing field and shared some of his memories and a recipe he and his son enjoy making together.

"My aunts, my tias on my mom's side, made pan dulce for Christmas. It's Mexican sweet bread. They also used to make sweet tamales, filled with pineapples, dates and raisins.
"Now that most of those aunts are dead, the recipes and traditions have died with them.
"However, one of my grandmas knows I love pumpkin empenadas. She knows a bakery in San Fernando that makes them.
Now, Eric and I have a favorite cookie recipe we tried out this year. It's essentially gingerbread, but made with molasses to make the cookie soft and chewy instead of crunchy and stiff."
Molasses cookies
12 tablespoons of sweet butter (1 1/2 sticks)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1 egg
1 1/2 cups flour unbleached all purpose
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Melt butter and add sugar and molasses. Mix thoroughly. Lightly beat egg and add to butter mixture. Blend well.
Sift in flour with spices, salt and baking soda. Add to mixture. Batter will be wet.
Lay a sheet of foil on a cookie sheet. Drop a tablespoon of cookie batter on foil. Leave 3 inches between cookies.
Bake 8 to 10 minutes. Makes 24 large cookies.

"Eric and I use gingerbread men and houses cookie pans for this. We also decorate them afterward. We used our Halloween decorations for one batch, kind of a Nightmare Before Christmas theme."

There you have it. If you're in East Valencia Heights tonight and smell something baking, it's only this itinerant journalist, trying to keep up with the calories of Christmas.