in the kitchen: holiday baking pt.2

What is life without a little excitement? A little racing against the clock and defying even your expectations about how much you can cram into one evening? Picture me, a couple nights ago, fervently hoping I could get my last-minute caramels done and in the pan before I tumbled into bed for the night. I usually don’t wait until late in the evening to make candy (especially since it tends to be so darn messy!), but this was the only time it’d work for my schedule and still give the caramels enough time to set before slicing them up. Let’s just say that boiling sugar and a half-asleep Casey is an interesting combination. Thankfully it didn’t result in disaster, either to myself or my kitchen. lol. However, the caramels themselves did not turn out as expected… I’m not sure if this was operator-error or just fate, but they had to be scrapped at the last moment, which was disappointing…

The boxes have been assembled and the tags finished. I decided to drop the peppermint meringues I wanted to make; those were my “if I have time/energy/inclination” goodies to make, so I’m not in the least bit dissapointed. Because frankly, the boxes are stuffed to the brim:

  • iced sugar cookies (using this cookie and this icing recipes)
  • cherry-chocolate cookies (so, so yummy and got two thumbs up from Sailor Husband! recipe here. I swapped out the cranberries for cherries.)
  • black and white cookies (recipe here.)

I think that should keep all the recipients happy and occupied for a bit, no? As usual, I probably made too many cookies, but at least this year I don’t think we’ll have cookies in the freezer until the summer… lol. I think my favorite were the sugar cookies–I just really enjoy icing and decorating them. Although my decorating is certainly not super fancy, it’s fun and I got to add sugar glitter to everything this year!

One thing that became woefully apparent with this year’s goody-making is that I lack several essential tools in my kitchen. If I had to do it all over again, I think I’d entirely overhaul what we added to our wedding gift registry several years ago… There are a lot of things I’ve found that I really would have used more than others. Gadgets like a cookie scoop–or several in various sizes. Scooping cookies the old fashioned way with two spoons makes for exciting results after they spread and bake. The black and white cookies ended up slightly mismatched and varying sizes, despite my valiant attempts to scoop out “standardized” bits of dough. I also need a candy thermometer. The first year I made candy (tasty marshmallows), I figured I could get away with just using the old ball method. However, considering I’ve continued to make candy–and not just at Christmastime–I think a thermometer would be a wise investment. Plus they don’t take up a lot of space! (My usual reason for not getting whatever kitchen gadget is currently tugging at my pocketbook.) Finally, more mixing bowls. The heavy, earthenware sort that don’t skitter across the counter top easily. I like the metal bowls that I got from my grandmother when she downsized–they are great for things that need to be chilled quickly or working as a double boiler–but they are lightweight. Which presents accident-prone me with some problems! lol.

So tell me: what are your favorite kitchen gadgets? Particularly for dessert and cookie making?

December 17, 2010 · 45 lovely thoughts
posted in holidays,in the kitchen · tags: , ,

Marmielu December 17, 2010 at 06:45

Uh…………..too bad I didn’t know about any of the “needs” before I bought all your Christmas presents! :( You know my favorites are the Pyrex mixing bowls we got as a wedding gift those many years ago. I was so sad the other night when I broke one. Well, there’s always finding a replacement when we are antiquing!

Bridget December 17, 2010 at 06:52

Sounds like someone needs to be introduced to the glory that is <Amazon's 4 for 3! kitchen deals! Buy four, get the cheapest free! It’s how I’ve set up my kitchen now that I’m in gradate school. :)

Gina December 17, 2010 at 07:31

My family loves having a spring-form pan around. We love to make cheesecakes from scratch. Our kitchen-aid mixer also has been a favorite tool in the kitchen, it doesn’t get used everyday but when I need it, it’s worth it’s weight in gold.

Miss P December 17, 2010 at 07:43

My ESSENTIAL for biscuits, is the humble palette knife. I’m making some salt dough decorations as we speak, using shapes cut with cookie cutters. I’ll be making some star shaped lemon and vanilla biscuits this evening too. (Shall be blogging all later) A palette knife is the only way to transfer my nice neat star shapes about without distorting them!
Loving the glitter icing by the way!
Portia (Miss P)xxx

Katherine December 17, 2010 at 07:47

Hi Casey!

I’ve just discovered your blog…and I thoroughly enjoy it! I find your musings to be both elegant AND entertaining!

My current favorite kitchen gadgets are a peanut butter mixer and a butter bell. The PB mixer screws onto the top of the jar and has a crank that stirs up the yummy peanut butter…easy-peasy and no more peanut oil all over the counter! The butter bell is a little earthenware crock with a bell-shaped insert inside the lid. You fill the bell with softened butter and turn it upside down into the crock that’s been filled with water. The butter stays fresh and spreadable on your counter-top.

Mixing bowls are on my list, as well. I’ve been lusting after a Fiestaware set for some time, but so far nobody’s noticed…sigh…

Shelley December 17, 2010 at 08:35

Favourite kitchen gadgets have to be my piping gun (for precision icing), my icing smoother-polisher with helps create perfect royal icing on birthday and wedding cakes and my ivy leaf press for creating perfectly crafted sugarpaste leaves. Needless to say any little gadget that helps me in my larger cake tasks.
That being said, i’m partial to using a plastic sandwich bag for piping out mini meringue nests as it is by far and away the easiest way. Though gadgets are the business, sometimes the simpler ways are the best :)
Oh, and my Mason Cash mixing bowl is my can’t-live-without item, no contest.

Anna Allen December 17, 2010 at 08:49

fun fun! i love cookie making day! i am thinking of doing that on saturday. but we also have to get groceries and i’m afraid of cramming two things in one day. haha. i procrastinate and then add too many things on my list! btw, are those the martha stewart packaging from jo-ann’s? i saw them the other night and was SO tempted to buy some, since they were 40% off and all. ;) i’m also planning to make some peppermint popcorn for friends/family, since it looks super easy to make (and also just in case i don’t have time to make many cookies!)


Heather December 17, 2010 at 08:51

I think you and I are on the same mission! I’ve been baking and freezing…;) and for the first time made some old fashioned iced sugar cookies that I remembered from when I was little. THank goodness for google, lol, I was like “how does one cream sugar?” ;)

Your icing looks so perfect! How did you get it to spread so even? Mine is sort of….folk art icing ;) I also made little brownie cup cakes with chocolate icing. Then I had my daughter ‘help’ me crush some candycanes and we sprinkled them on the top. It really adds a nice minty zing to the chocolately brownie. Plus it lets you get all your frustrations out by beating up a bag full of candy ;)

happy holidays!~

Heather December 17, 2010 at 08:54

Oops, I meant cream butter, not sugar ;) although I did learn that sugar was involved! hehe

Corinne December 17, 2010 at 09:20

Smiling here Casey! Some of us have been lamenting our burdensome collections of kitchen items. Can never have enough as far as I am concerned. Thrift and antique shops usually have nice collections at reasonable prices now. A few years Pyrex anything was very pricey, now, not so much. Sounds like a great January expedition!

Gordita December 17, 2010 at 09:24

Where did you get those adorable boxes? I love them, and I’ve been searching for the perfect box to put Christmas cookies in.

Also, I LOVED your post from yesterday with the adorable wrapping and decided to basically just copy your excellent idea of a star garland and starburst gift tag. You are such an inspiration.

Stephanie December 17, 2010 at 09:35

All of your cookies look positively darling! This year was the first year I made candy. I was at one of my girl friend’s house and she had all of the stuff. One thing she had that I really liked was mini spatulas. They were just the right size for getting stuff out of measuring cups and small mixing bowls.

Maria December 17, 2010 at 09:39

So glad you liked our cookie recipe. Your site is lovely!

Michelle M. December 17, 2010 at 09:50

I couldn’t live without my Rollpat pastry mat. I have tile countertops, so kneeding bread or rolling out cookies is impossible without it.

Your cookies look delicious, Casey! Thanks for sharing the recipe you used. :)

Em December 17, 2010 at 09:52

It almost feels like I can’t do a thing without my food processor. I do sometimes hand-cream butter for cookies, but the food processor has been a life-saver and a time-saver more than once. I agree on the heavy bowls–I use mine all the time.

Your cookies & packaging look like something out of a chic patisserie!

ann December 17, 2010 at 09:56

Oh Casey, you crazy girl! Staying up late making candy…lol…too bad they had to be scratched.

What I can’t live without in the baking department? Stoneware. It’s really the only thing to bake in or on. Oh, and parchment paper. Useful in so many ways.

As for the candy thermometer: I have one, and use it, but the ball method is most reliable. The thermometer is nice, because it gives you a ballpark idea of when the candy is ready, but you still have to double check with a drop in cold water.

Stephanie B December 17, 2010 at 10:12

Thank you SO MUCH for your blog! I thoroughly enjoy it! My favorite tool in the kitchen is my hand mixer! I have a Kitchen Aide mixer, too – and use it often, but love my hand mixer to pieces. I also have a cookie scoop – wonderful (small version of the ice cream scoop). AND – I can never have enough measuring cups, measuring spoons or cookie sheets! I love to bake for the holidays, but HATE sugar cookies. Seeing how beautiful yours turned out – I think I’m going to try your recipe and give it a go! Happy Holidays and THANK YOU again for a wonderful blog.

dangermom December 17, 2010 at 10:14

I do one thing at Christmas, and that is candy. I dip chocolates. So I’m here to tell you that when you look for a candy thermometer, a good one is hard to find. Many are now so cheaply made that they are nearly useless. (Luckily mine works OK, but my poor mom has 3, none of which work right, and she puts all 3 on and still has to guess!) So–look for the best one you can get, trust no one, and test it carefully.

Stephanie B December 17, 2010 at 10:15

P.S. – from the day after Christmas until New Years is the BEST time to stock up on Christmas decor, boxes, bags, etc…as they go on SALE! I do this and store them safely away in a Rubbermaid box until next year! Makes the holidays “lighter”…:)

Victoria / Justice Pirate December 17, 2010 at 10:16

What if I offered you money to make me some and send them? haha.

Little Black Car December 17, 2010 at 10:20

I’m boring: My all-time favorite kitchen doohickeys are (in no particular order) the rubber spatula; my angled wooden spatula (which I use to stir EVERYTHING); and the apple machine, which I don’t use enough because I just can’t eat that much apple pie or applesauce. Although homemade applesauce is addictive.

I’ll second votes for Pyrex mixing bowls, though, and KitchenAid mixers. My mother has used hers (both bowls and mixer) for decades and swears by them. Her only regret is that she got the light-duty KitchenAid instead of holding out for the more powerful one (an error that I plan not to repeat when I finally need one of my own).

I didn’t know about Amazon 4-for-3! I’m bookmarking that!!

We haven’t done many cookies the past couple of years. Mom likes her sugar cookies, and we often do gingerbread houses. When we have extra family members around we break out Grandma’s Moravian molasses cookie (<–not Grandma's, but similar) recipe, which is terrific but is too labor-intensive to attempt without back-up.

Sam December 17, 2010 at 10:36

Your cookies are so beautiful! I hope someday I can properly ice cookies, hehe. The sugar glitter adds a wonderful touch!

My absolute favorite mixing bowl is a white, thick plastic one from Williams-Sonoma (the outlet in leesburg is one of my favorite places!)… it has a handle and a pour spout and a great rubber ring on the bottom that keeps it from sliding around. It is so useful for everything!

I also have a mini “spoonula” (also from W-S) that I end up using for everything… it’s tiny, and works for most spatula jobs, but it’s also got more heft to it so it can be used to scoop more than a spatula can. A great little tool. :)

Julie December 17, 2010 at 10:52

If you want to buy a cookie scoop that will last a lifetime, get a Zeroll from King Arthur Flour. I broke several until I just bit the bullet and ordered both the cookie and muffin scoops from them. They are definitely pricey, but so worth it. The quality is unmatched and they make your baking so much less stressful.
Oh, and professional parchment that comes in half-sheet pan size. You can get that at a restaurant supply place. You can tear it to whatever size you need.
Merry Christmas!

Julie December 17, 2010 at 10:54

I just checked Amazon and it looks like they have Zeroll products, too. Maybe they’re less expensive there.

Maegan December 17, 2010 at 11:52

I REALLY want a kitchenaide mixer. In Tangerine. :) I used to live 5 houses away from my mom…and she had an old mixer from the 70s. If I was doing a big project, I just used her big kitchen!! Since we’ve moved across the country I have found my hand mixer isn’t beating it (haha!).

I have 1 heavy glass bowl…I would like more, too. I have lots of little plastic ones, but I hate that some of them have been discolored from various projects & experiments, they’re not very appetizing to look at. I’d like some HEAVY DUTY non-melting rubber scrapers/spatulas.

And it’s not a baking tool exactly, but I LOVE my Keurig in my kitchen. I got one this past summer…making the kids eat hotdogs, beans, & pasta for a few weeks so I could save up for it (hey, I was right there, eating cheap stuff, too!). It’s SO NICE to make a single fresh cup of coffee, put in a fancy creamer (right now I like Mint Chocolate Truffle & Peppermint Mocha), and I’ve got a cup of coffee to keep me company while I bake & dazzle late into the night…and then early in the morning. :) LOOOOOVE it. If I could, I’d be Mrs. Maegan Keurig.

Laura December 17, 2010 at 12:37

My favorite kitchen gadget for desserts would definitely be my scoops. I have 3- one for mini muffins/profiterole puffs, one for cookies, and one for muffins/cupcakes. They are perfect! You should definitely get some.

Maria December 17, 2010 at 12:59

hi casey!
the trick to making even sized black and white cookies (i make them often, but the very big ones!) is to use those stackable measuring cups that way you don’t have to buy scoops you don’t’ need, and you’ll get even sized cookies every time which is imperative when making black and whites. for the big ones i use a 1/4 cup and they come out perfect. you can always size down a little.
your sugar cookies look wonderful. so nice and thick! mine always come up flat!

Jiji December 17, 2010 at 13:01

My favorite kitchen items are my pastel colored nesting mixing bowls. There are three in the set and since they nest, storing is a breeze in my teensy kitchen.

I know candy thermometers can be expensive, but Michael’s sells them in the cake section and they always have 40% off coupoons. It’s a pretty good investment.

Eunice December 17, 2010 at 13:04

I really like your in the Kitchen post! You should do it more often and not just for the holidays :)

Sarah Ann December 17, 2010 at 13:23

Oh I know what you mean! We hardly have any of the right tools in the kitchen. I finally bought a rolling pin, but it’s nothing fancy like my mother’s which is marble and SO much easier to work with than wood. Oh well, someday.

Emily F December 17, 2010 at 14:09

My best friend and I have a theory that girls should not get to register until they’ve been married for at least one year if not three. They know exactly what they want/need, and their friends know the marriage is going to stick. Everybody wins.

Summer December 17, 2010 at 15:26

Good metal measuring cups and spoons, a Kitchenaid if you bake often, and bowls and spoons/spatulas you like are a must, imo.
I thought the cookie scooper was frivolous until I got one–I love it! So much better than 2 spoons. A thermometer is very helpful, too.

Leslie December 17, 2010 at 16:53

Wow, Casey, your cookies are beautiful. You are always such an artist in everything you do–and I’m always amazed and in awe. Merry Christmas!

Heidi December 17, 2010 at 17:10

Hi Casey, I am also a Christmas cooking nut! Thanks for including your recipes. I thought I would share with you my method for always getting evenly sized biscuits – I use an ice cream scoop. I have a small one and a larger one. They are easy because you dip them in the batter, smooth off the top and then the scoop function releases them on to the pan. Merry Christmas and thanks for all your beautiful inspiration all year round. From Heidi.

A.J.A. December 17, 2010 at 19:19

Though not a gadget, for baking I have found that parchment helps produce really excellent results with less mess. My favorite baking kitchen tool would have to be my Kitchenaid mixer. It is pistachio, and I love it! I have several other attachments for making pasta, grinding, straining, etc., so it gets used for more than mixing. I am a kitchen gadget nut because I love to cook, and I love to make the job easier with practical, helpful tools. Though it is good to get some things new, I too have found lots of kitchen goodies at thrift stores.
Your cookies are too pretty! :)

Tina C. December 17, 2010 at 20:40

your cookies look divine! a couple questions: where did you find those boxes/tissue paper & how many of each type of cookie did you end up putting in each box?

Nicole December 17, 2010 at 23:31

I agree about the cookie scoop. I only have one because I bought some cookie dough that came with a scoop from a coworker’s daughter’s fundraiser years ago. The candy thermometer I have was just purchased from a grocery store. I’m fairly certain it cost me less than $5, but it comes in handy for more than just candy making. It has kept me from killing yeast (by showing me whether the milk was too warm) when making homemade rolls for Thanksgiving on more than one occasion. So, if the budget is an issue with buying any of the other gadgets, this is one you can easily save for. :)

The gadget that I wish we had is a waffle maker whose plates flip over to become a panini press. I know it’s not for baking, but it is for the kitchen.

Renee December 17, 2010 at 23:58

Your cookies look so good. You are like me-I start out with a list of what to make and thing start crossing off. And your mom is like me-I always try to get my daughter things for Christmas that she needs.

My fave things for baking my kitchen aid mixer, I asked for that for Christmas a couple years ago and my hubby got it for me. I love that thing. I have a couple cookie scoops but I can never get them to work, the dough just seems to stick to them. I wonder if its the type dough I’ve used them with or if I just can’t get the hand of it. I got a new cookie sheet the other day that is huge compared to the older ones and its so nice to be able to make more cookies at a time

I have a collection of Pyrex mixing bowls and little lidded refrigerator bowls. They used to be cheap at yard sales then someone else discovered just how cool they are. The ones I collect are in the pastel colors.

One of my favorite things tho is something quite simple a little woode spoon that is flattish and wide (not really spoon shaped). Its the one I always reach for when cooking.

Renee December 18, 2010 at 00:02

I got a candy thermometer at Walmart the other day, I think it was less than $5. My fav measuring spoons are metal on a little ring. I have one drawer that I keep them in, keep the spatulas in and the cookie cutters.

Another fave thing is a lemon and lime juicer from Pampered Chef.

Valerie Chapman-Stockwell December 18, 2010 at 12:08

Hi, Casey! Your cookies look . . . good enough to eat (LOL)! Seriously, they are lovely. My husband and I love to cook and bake and have learned the hard way that buying quality is just so much thriftier in the long run. I like making candy and caramels and bought a digital read-out candy/frying thermometer. The old kind steamed up the outside so badly I couldn’t tell when I hit 246 degrees (or whatever). Also, we bought a Viking stand mixer (800 watt) last year–and I LOVE it. It could mix concrete in a pinch. The old Kitchen-Aids were made by Maytag and were bullet-proof. The newer ones have plastic parts and balk at stiff doughs. As for cookies looking, uh, variable, well, that IS the charm of handmade treats–they are made by real people with loving hearts, not machines. The people you gift will only see the care, time and talent you put into their goodies and feel blessed. Merry Christmas!

Victoria Ellender December 18, 2010 at 22:29

If I want inspiration, I google you. I love your site.
I just bought a KitchenAid Mixer at an estate sale for $30!
I can’t believe what a difference it makes when I’m baking. I can actually truly multi-task and walk away while mixing.
Merry Christmas and keep up the inspirational work.

Tiffany @ Conor & Bella December 20, 2010 at 11:37

Your sugar cookies look so thick and perfect! Just the way I like them. :)

Gail December 21, 2010 at 01:38

I too am about to make caramels for my boxes (which happen to be just like the ones I see above!) I would say when buying a candy thermometer, (which I need to get out and buy a new one so I can make my caramels) do not go with one that is glass and hollow around the actual thermometer (the red) if any water gets into it, the moisture will fog it up and make it unreadable. Get one that is digital or metal rather than glass. All your goodies look just lovely! Have a very Merry Christmas!

Rachel December 21, 2010 at 05:17

um, YUM. also, your last post, on gift wrap, was just awesome. Love the little stars!

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