Saturday, February 10, 2007

SWEET GIFTS

I didn’t bake as much over the holidays as I did last year. Last year was our first Christmas in Italy, and I was excited about it. When I’m excited, I cook. I also cook when I’m sad, depressed, nervous, or bored. Anyway, my baking frenzy last Christmas was the result of being excited, of trying to bring a bit of my familiar holiday traditions to Italy.

This past Christmas wasn’t quite as happy for me, since I kept thinking about how eight of us had gathered last year for what we declared would be the first annual Christmas dinner. Sadly, it was the first and last. The loss of friends, both literally and figuratively, was on my mind a lot.

I did bake cookies though….cut-out sugar cookies and chocolate chip cookies, and I made bourbon balls because they’d been such a hit last year. I also tried a new recipe for microwave caramel that was amazingly simply and amazingly good. I probably ate as much caramel as I gave away!

The main reason for making the treats was so I could give them as gifts. “Nothin’ says lovin’ like somethin’ from the oven”….remember that phrase from years ago? For me it still rings true, and I wanted to make cookie trays for several friends.

I also wanted to give my friends who don’t bake the opportunity to have something home-baked quickly and simply. For this reason I searched out recipes for cookies mixes.

If you’ve ever been to a church bazaar you’ve seen these mixes. They’re usually sold in a quart jar with a patch of gingham fabric on top, secured with a bit of twine or raffia.

Chocolate chip cookies were first on my list, since several ingredients aren’t found in Italy, therefore real, American-style chocolate chip cookies are a treat! I also decided to search for a recipe using the dried blueberries I’d been given, figuring I’d never use the blueberries myself.

I’m going to give the chocolate chip cookie recipe as written, but I’ll tell you about one variation I made. Because vanilla extract isn’t found in Italy, I used a powdered vanilla that I’d found in the states. It’s measured the same as the liquid vanilla extract, and seems to work fine. My friend Cristina says that one bustina of vanillina here in Italy will be the equivalent of one teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Here’s the recipe:

Chocolate Chip Cookies in a Jar

INGREDIENTS:

1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
dash baking soda
2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Mix salt, baking powder and soda with flour. Layer ingredients in a 1 quart jar in any order. Cover lid with a fabric circle and tie with a ribbon, if desired. To the ribbon attach a card with the following recipe and instructions:

Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 Cookie mix in a jar
1 cup butter (225 grams)
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat butter in a mixing bowl until fluffy. Beat in egg. With a wooden spoon, stir cookie mix into creamed mixture until well blended.

Drop by teaspoonfuls onto greased baking sheets. Bake in preheated 350°F (175ºC) oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Makes 3 to 4 dozen cookies.


With the dried blueberries I decided to make this blueberry scone recipe:

Blueberry Scones Mix in a Jar

These are delicious warm from the oven with butter and jam; a perfect breakfast food.

2 cups all purpose unbleached flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup nonfat dry milk powder
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp dried lemon peel
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup shortening
1 cup dried blueberries

Stir together flour, sugar, milk, baking powder, lemon peel, and salt. Cut in shortening using a pastry cutter or fork until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in berries.

Layer into a 1 quart canning jar, tapping gently on the counter between layers to settle before adding the next. Add additional dried blueberries to fill in small gaps if necessary. Stores at room temp for up to 6 weeks, or freeze for up to 6 months.

GIFT TAG DIRECTIONS:

Place jar contents in a large mixing bowl. Add 1 beaten egg, 1/4 tsp vanilla and 1/4 cup water; stir just until moistened.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and quickly knead gently for 12 to 15 strokes or until nearly smooth.

Pat to 1/2 inch thickness. Cut into desired shape and place 1 inch apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Brush with milk. Bake at 400ºF (200ºC) for 12-15 minutes or until golden. Transfer to a rack to cool slightly and serve warm.

NOTE!!!! I've changed the recipe from "1/2 cup vanilla sugar" to now read: "1/2 cup sugar". To make the scones I've changed the directions, adding 1/4 tsp vanilla to the other ingredients. I'd never heard of vanilla sugar before this recipe, and when a friend emailed me to ask about it, I decided to simplify things.

The friend, Marguerite, also asked about substituting raisins for the blueberries. Why not?! Personally I'd love to try this recipe with craisins! Marguerite was also kind enough to send a picture of the scones as the came out of the oven....
Of course you don’t have to give these mixes away! You could make them for yourself, either all at once, or you could prepare the mixes ahead of time and just pull them out of the pantry instead of grabbing a boxed mix. One nice advantage of these mixes, in addition to the convenience, is that they’re also great to use with kids, since much of the preparation has already been done.

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2 Comments :

At 2/10/2007 12:58:00 PM , Anonymous Jane said...

Casey (and I) can attest to the deliciousness of both these recipes. We can't wait to make them now that a friend brought real vanilla extract to us last week. Casey liked the already mixed ones that Barb made. Thanks Barb.

 
At 2/11/2007 02:27:00 AM , Anonymous Judith in Umbria said...

And the blueberry scones were prime.
Thank you, Barb.
Must I surmise that lard or butter shouldn't be used in the scone mix?

 

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