Friday, February 11, 2011

Share the Love

Last year we started a Valentine's Day tradition of making cut-out cookies and taking them to friends and neighbors. The idea started from assembling a Valentine themed care package that we were sending to some friends in North Africa. Although we would have loved to send them some of these pretty little cookies I didn't think they would taste quite as scrumptious after their two week+ journey. And Valentine cookie care packages are a fond memory from my own mother in college and whenever I was away from home. This year we made the cookies a bit early as we were going to be out of town for Valentine's Day. Come to think of it we did it early or late last year as well since we were also out of town. This year the kids and I made the dough the night before and the kids were able to roll out, cut, bake and frost the cookies with their Oma (my mom). Aviella and I put the finishing touches on the cookies and we all took them to share with our neighbors together. The kids had a lot of fun wishing others a Happy Valentine's Day.

Several years ago I picked up the King Arthur Whole Grain Baking Cookbook as I wanted to incorporate more whole grains into our menu. Although I do enjoy many recipes from the book, it isn't exactly what I would be looking for today. The recipes aren't necessarily lowfat and/or healthy, but it is a good start to adding whole grains to your everyday food repretoire as well as trying out new whole grains - such as spelt, barley, whole wheat, etc. I do have a few favorite recipes from the book and this is one of them. The recipe below is adapted from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking: Delicious Recipes Using Nutritious Whole Grains.

Chewy Oatmeal Decorating Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks, 8 ounces) unsalted butter
3/4 cup packed brown sugar (or make your own)*
1 large egg
2 tsps vanilla extract
3/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup traditional whole wheat flour*
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour*

Combine butter and sugar, then add the egg, vanilla, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and ginger, beat until smooth. After scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl beat in the oats and flours. The mixture may look dry, but it will work just fine. Divide the dough in half, wrap each piece in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for about 30 minutes. If you are using your own brown sugar made with turbinado sugar I recommend letting the dough sit overnight or for about 6-8 hours for the sugar to "meld" with the other ingredients otherwise it may be a bit granular. If you choose to refrigerate the dough longer or overnight you will need to allow the dough to warm up a bit before rolling out - it can get quite hard.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper (or a silpat - gotta love these things) or lightly grease two baking sheets.

Take one piece of dough at a time and roll out to about 1/4 thick. Use your
favorite cookie cutters to cut out desired shapes, you can re-roll and cut the scraps. Place the cookies on the baking sheets; as they don't spread you can place them close together. If you have extra cookie sheets you can start the next batch right away otherwise I would recommend waiting until the first cookie sheets cool down.

Bake the cookies, rotating the pans halfway through cooking (moving top to bottom and bottom to top - and I like to turn them 180 degrees as well), 12 to 15 minutes - depending on desired crispness. Remove cookies from the oven and allow to cool on cooling rack. You can top these cookies with a simple cinnamon and sugar mixture right after they come out of the oven or as I prefer a simple powdered sugar icing.

My notes: You could likely reduce the brown sugar to 1/2 cup and still have enough sweetness - I think I will try this next time. Also, you could use sucanat in place of the brown sugar and add a bit of molasses. My most recent batch of these cookies I used 1/2 cup oat flour, 1 cup white wheat flour and 1 cup all-purpose flour and they tasted great! Don't be afraid to experiment with the flour options - but I typically start with about half the amount of all-purpose flour and adapting the other half to a mixture of flours or white wheat. If it works well and you want to try with more whole grain flour - make your changes in small amounts (1/4 cup) at a time as it can change the dynamics of a recipe drastically.

Powdered Sugar
Almond Extract (or vanilla)
Food coloring (preferably all natural)

Sorry, no exact measurements here. I typically pour some powdered sugar into a bowl, add a tiny bit of almond extract (a drop or so), a small splash of milk and a drop or two of food coloring and stir. You will want it fairly thick (add more powdered sugar to achieve desired thickness). It should be spreadable, but not too runny. I like to have it a bit less thick so that I can "drizzle" it on cookies and/or make designs. But if it is too thin it is hard to make designs that actually look like something. With my kids being so young it is also hard for them to spread the frosting, so drizzling can be easier for them. If you want some to look nice, set a few aside to do yourself and let the kids help with as many as they enjoy helping with. And of course let them enjoy their work too:).

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