Thursday, December 16, 2010

RECIPE: Henrietta's Peanut Butter Balls

Waiting to be chilled before being rolled in icing and coconut.
I'll tell you a little secret about Henrietta, one of her greatest weaknesses is anything containing peanut butter. It follows that every Christmas, she makes sheets and sheets of these wonderful little morsels, often doubling the recipe. She's had great fun trying endless variations (a few of which are below), and many friends of the witches love to get a small tin full of nothing but these scrumptious treats as a holiday gift.

The only real secret in making the rolled darlings is to keep your ingredients cool once they are mixed to avoid sticky situations, and to keep the wet to dry ingredient ration in balance. You don't want a dry ball that cracks, nor do you want a wet ball that looses its shape.

Try them for yourself and do let Henrietta know if you come up with any fun variations. She'll use any excuse to make another batch and none of us here at Creepstone cottage mind one bit!

What you will need for the basic cookies:
  • One cup of smooth peanut butter
  • Two tablespoons of butter at room temperature
  • One half a cup of finely chopped dates
  • One cup of icing sugar (some people call this confectioners sugar) 

How to make the cookies:
  1. In a trustworthy medium-sized bowl, stir the peanut butter and butter together with a sturdy wooden spoon until well blended.
  2. Add in your icing sugar a little at a time until it is completely mixed.
  3. Carefully stir in dates until incorporated.
  4. Grease your hands with a bit of butter and use them to form the mixture into bite-size balls.*
  5. Place the dear little things on a baking sheet lined with wax paper or tin foil.
  6. Chill the trays in your refrigerator until they are firm and well set (about an hour).
  7. Coat the balls as desired
The traditional coating is to roll the chilled balls in a thin icing made of milk and icing sugar, and then in sweetened flaked coconut. Let these set again on the wax paper covered baking sheet in fridge.

Another fun coating is chocolate or butterscotch. Instead of chilling the balls in your refrigerator, place them in the freezer until quite hard. Then roll them in gently melted semi-sweet chocolate or butterscotch chips, turning them to coat evenly. Let set on wax paper covered baking sheet in fridge.

Some of Henriettas other variations include:
  • Substituting mini chocolate chips, crispy rice cereal or raisins for the dates
  • Rolling in toasted, crumbled peanuts
  • Rolling in holiday coloured sprinkles
  • Rolling in white sprinkles for a snowball look
  • Rolling in melted white chocolate
  • Rolling in crushed corn flake or crispy rice cereal
Henrietta is also fond of putting each peanut butter ball in a little paper baking cup for a nice presentation. These come in many festive looks including plain white, berry red, holly green, sparkling gold or with joyful, printed Christmas designs.

HENRIETTA HINT: If you find the mixture is sticking to your hands but you are certain you have the right dry/wet ingredient ratio, it may be you are too warm yourself. Wash your hands off and then cool them under the coolest tap or well water you can get, or in a bowl of ice water. Re-grease them with butter and carry on.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

RECIPE: Auntie Patricia’s Christmas Shortbread

These old fashioned cookies are an absolute favorite at the cottage! A melt in your mouth buttery treat with a hint of maple flavoring, what sets this simple recipe apart from other shortbread is the use of brown sugar and no cornstarch. We’ve read where these are sometimes known as Cornish Shortbread, but we’ve not seen any evidence the recipe originated in Cornwall. The taste is so satisfying and hearty, It’s best not to over do the decorations with heavy icings so use candied cherries, glace fruits or a sprinkle of colored sugar instead.

What you’ll need for the cookies:
·         One pound of butter at room temperature
·         One cup of golden brown sugar (lump free if you please)
·         Four cups of flour
·         Red and green candied cherries cut into halves
·         Colored decorative sugar

Instructions for the cookies:
1.       First thing to do is to preheat your oven to 275 degrees. Then get out a good sized mixing bowl and place your butter in it.
2.       Next, cream your butter using a nice. Flat wooden spoon or if your new fangled, your electric mixer. Mind that you just cream it – don’t liquefy!
3.       Once that is done, add your brown sugar and cream it into the butter.
4.       Then slowly add the flour a bit at a time until everything is combined. (Be careful not to over work the dough or your cookies won’t be quite right.) By this time you should have a soft dough, but if you find it is too sticky, add a bit more flour. If it is a bit too soft o work, gently lay a dam tea towel over the dough and chill it for a while in your icebox or fridge.
5.       Lightly flour a large board and your most faithful rolling pin so that you can roll out your dough to an even ½ inch thickness.
6.       Cut the dough into shapes with either your best cookie cutters or the bottom of a juice glass. (Henrietta finds circle and round flower shapes work best though diamonds and stars do well too.) Gather the unused portions of dough form around the cut cookies and save them for another batch.*
7.       Cut a rectangle of parchment paper to the size of your most beloved baking sheet and fit it to lie flat. Transfer the dough cut outs to the parchment paper carefully using a thin, flat spatula. Space them about 1” apart.
8.       Gently press half a candied cherry into the center of each cookie or decorate with colored sugar as you fancy.
9.       If you find your kitchen is very warm and the dough is very soft, you can always place the tray of cookies in your freezer for a few minutes at this point, or even set them outside on a garden table (or other surface where the animals wont get to them) for a few minutes before baking them.
10.   Place the cookie tray in your preheated oven, but not for very long! They should bake until the bottoms are just ever so slightly browned on the bottom but still a bit soft and ivory white on the top. It is very easy to burn or over cook them so watch them very carefully.
11.   Remove them from the oven and let them sit still on the cookie sheet on a cool counter. After a few minutes, transfer the cookies from the sheet onto wire cooling racks and let it until completely cool.

Keep stored in a sealed, airtight container, or freeze them until you need them.

*HENRIETTA HINT: Always try to cut as many cookies at once as possible because every time you roll out the leftover dough scraps, the resulting cookie gets tougher. If you use more than one cookie sheet, you can have one being filled, one in the oven, and one cooling.

We're back!

It's been a long time since we've posted, but we are back at last! For those of you who are unfamiliar with our witchy ways, we generally sleep through most of November and this year was no exception.

October was a splendid month but busy, busy, busy. So many parties and events, so much to do and see. Priscilla and Henrietta made a visit to Toronto on their way to the annual All Hallows Eve Party and met lots of lovely people including a charming couple dressed as Alice and the Hatter from Wonderland.

The party itself was a smashing success and we danced around the bonfire until dawn munching on baked apples, candy corn, roasted pumpkin slices and lots of other goodies. Well done, sisters! We were so sleepy and contented by the time we arrived back at Creepstone Cottage, we barely had the strength to change into our night clothes, sip on some warm milk, and put ourselves to bed for a good, long sleep.

As we slept, the cottage and gardens did too. We had finished harvesting what was left of our fruits and vegetables before Halloween, and hung all the herbs we had left in the pantry to dry out for winter so the garden was ready for its long winter slumber. The nettlewart flowers have long since fallen away leaving their crisp brown vines woven over the outside walls and the pumpkin patch gave up the last of her golden fruits some time ago. Lord Oak and Lady Elm threw off their colorful fall robes piece by piece to ready for their wintry naps while Scotty, Fraser and Douglas (who stay awake and green all seasons) watch over them quietly.

We had the presence of mind to put up the storm windows and latch all he shutters tightly before we went to bed and Hyacinth made a lovely charm for the stove and fireplace that kept them lit and slowly burning so that the cottage wouldn't get too cold while we were in dreaming upstairs. Imagine our delight when we awoke to find it was December already and the cottage and marsh were covered in a sparkling blanket of fluffy, white snow! Even the spare pumpkins we left on the back porch now have jolly white caps on.

With December of course comes Christmas and after a good hearty breakfast (three days long, mind you) we are now bustling about getting ready for you know who to visit on the eve of December 24. We can't wait!
 In the following days we'll post some of Henrietta's favorite Christmas cookie recipes as well as some lovely poems, crafts, cards and other fun holiday thingamabobs.

Happy December and keep checking back!