Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The dessert room

For the past 15 years (!!!) we have hosted a holiday open house for friends and family. Some years, Santa has made an appearance. Other years, a talent show. Once, mini doughnuts cooked to order*, another with video games projected on my son's bedroom ceiling. People bring babies, grandparents, brothers-in-law, demo systems**, gingersnaps, scented candles, flowers, ornaments, snowman soap, cupcakes, candy canes and wine. It rains probably every five years or so. But no matter how things have changed over the years, there are always three constants to the party***:

1. Brian's award-winning chili
2. Michael's famous mulled wine
3. An assortment of homemade cookies

I say constant, but even these mainstays have evolved. I prepared the following table to illustrate:

Yes, an entire room full of nothing but dessert. And the dessert room this year was, I have to say, the best ever.

My mom, my sister and I begin baking days before the party. There are old standby's that return every year, like the Mini Pecan Tarts and the Cranberry Coconut Chews. Something for the chocoholics, represented this time by Kahlua Bars and the Mom's Brownie Cookies. A tangy double lemon shortbread. A cookie full of Christmas spices: the luscious Ginger Hermit Bars with Brown Sugar Icing. My sister's latest find, and crowd favorite: Million Dollar Peanut Butter Cookies.

Then the show stopper: A Cream Cheese Pound Cake, baked just before the party and served warm from the oven.

Perhaps we'll need an entire dessert wing next year...

Million Dollar Peanut Butter Cookies

My sister: Did you ever see the cookies that won the Pillsbury Bake Off? This lady won $1 million for them. I couldn't believe that any cookie could be worth that much money, so I made them for my students**** as a test. And you know, they were really good. Maybe not a million bucks good, but seriously tasty. We should make them for the party.

She did.

You should make them, too. This is her modified version of the winning recipe:

1/4 cup honey roasted peanuts, finely chopped
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt, divided
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 package Pillsbury® Simply® peanut butter refrigerated cookies, well chilled.  NOTE:  You must keep dough very cold until you use it.

Heat oven to 375° F.

In small bowl, mix chopped peanuts, granulated sugar, cinnamon and 1/4 tsp. salt; set aside. In another small bowl, stir peanut butter, powdered sugar and 1/4 tsp. salt until completely blended. Shape mixture into 24 (1-inch) balls.

Cut each piece of cookie dough into two pieces, making 24 pieces total; flatten slightly into small discs. Shape 1 cookie dough piece around 1 peanut butter ball, covering completely. Repeat with remaining dough and balls. Roll each covered ball in peanut mixture; gently pat mixture completely onto balls.
NOTE: My sister likes big cookies, so she formed 18 balls and made 18 pieces of dough instead of 24.

On ungreased large cookie sheets, place balls 2 inches apart. Spray bottom of drinking glass with cooking spray; press into remaining peanut mixture.

Flatten each ball to 1/4-inch thickness with bottom of glass. Sprinkle any remaining peanut mixture evenly on tops of cookies; gently press into dough.

Bake 8 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Cool 1 minute; remove from cookie sheets to cooling rack. Store tightly covered. People will love these so much they will chase you through a crowded house and give you dinner invitations in exchange for the promise of the recipe.

Cream Cheese Pound Cake

So easy that it was featured in my Clueless Dad's Cooking Class. But so good I've kept it a secret until this post. Merry Christmas!

1 1/2 c. butter, softened
1 8 oz. package of cream cheese, softened
3 c. sugar
1 Tbs. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract
6 eggs
2 c. cake flour
1 c. all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 325. Grease one bundt pan and set aside. With an electric mixer, cream together the butter, cream cheese and sugar until light. Stir in the vanilla and almond extracts. Add the flour and eggs alternately, beginning and ending with the flour (first add one cup cake flour, then three eggs, then 1 cup cake flour, then three eggs, then one cup of all purpose flour) mixing well after each addition. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or just until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Try not to overbake. Cool for a bit, then slice and watch people roll their eyes with pleasure.

If you want any of the other cookie recipes, leave a comment! I will post the recipe for the cookie that gets the most requests by the end of the year.

* Yes, I am lucky enough to have a friend who owns and operates a mini-doughnut store in Venice, and she brought her mobile cart to the party one year. Piping hot, cinnamon sugar covered heaven in my house! Tough to top that.
** One year, two guys I had never met showed up at my house with a PC in the trunk of their car that they wanted to show me. I tottered out with my mulled wine in hand, listened, mystified, to a few songs in the front seat, then invited them in for a bowl of chili. We wound up building and running a company together for the next six years.
*** Actually, there are four constants. The fourth is that I will be suspended precariously from an extension ladder somewhere in the yard hanging Christmas lights as the first guest arrives. Said guest, horrified but too polite to refuse, will then be pressed into service completing my crazed perfectionist decorating scheme even though they really just wanted to get a drink and relax.
**** Wouldn't you like to have her as your psych professor?

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