Christmas is coming, and I've been good this year. Well, it depends on how you define good and your frame of reference. Let's just say that I've been relatively good for me. It's been a year without visits from North Pole Security or any other Santa-related agency, which means that either I've behaved or that Julian Assange took up most of the Santa's attention.
There is no such thing as being too good, greasing the sled's runners, so to speak. After all, I did make a rather long list for Santa this year; I asked for computer books (I'm working up to the Necronomicon), a tactical simulator (Overlord 2 for the Xbox 360), and a tutorial on dealing with uncooperative minions (The Prisoner on DVD). So, with this in mind, it's time for me to go to the King Arthur Flour website, play some appropriate holiday music, and do the holiday baking. These are three King Arthur recipes I plan to attempt. (For more baking ideas, read Holiday recipes for mad scientist geeks.)
Everyone knows that every mad scientist needs minions. Unfortunately, good minions are hard to find when I'm baking or doing any other project about the castle. Without minions, who is going to fly the kites, obtain the brains, or put up the decorations?
The fine people at King Arthur Flour must have had mad scientists in mind when they created this recipe for Gingerbread Minions, whoops, I mean Gingerbread Henchmen, er, make that Gingerbread Cookies.Ingredients
3/4 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup molasses
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon allspice or cloves
1 large egg
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose FlourDirections
1. In a saucepan set over low heat, or in the microwave, melt butter, then stir in the brown sugar, molasses, salt, and spices.
2. Transfer the mixture to a medium-sized mixing bowl, let it cool to lukewarm, and beat in the egg.
3. Whisk the baking powder and soda into the flour, and then stir these dry ingredients into the molasses mixture.
4. Divide the dough in half, and wrap well. Refrigerate for 1 hour or longer.
5. Preheat your oven to 350°F. Get out several baking sheets; there's no need to grease them, though lining with parchment saves effort on cleanup.
6. Once the dough has chilled, take one piece of dough out of the refrigerator, and flour a clean work surface, and the dough. Roll it out as thin or thick as you like; for slightly less crisp cookies, roll it out more thickly.
7. Use flour under and on top of the dough to keep it from sticking to the table or rolling pin. Alternatively, place the dough on parchment, and put a sheet of plastic wrap over it as you roll, pulling the plastic to eliminate wrinkles as necessary when rolling; this will keep dough from sticking without the need for additional flour. For soft dough, or dough to be rolled extra-thin, you may choose to roll right onto the ungreased back of a baking sheet.
8. Cut out shapes with a cookie cutter, cutting them as close to one another as possible to minimize waste.
9. Transfer the cookies to ungreased cookie sheets (or, if you've rolled right onto the parchment, remove the dough scraps between the cookies). Bake the cookies just until they're slightly brown around the edges 8 to 12 minutes, or until they feel firm. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for several minutes, or until they're set. Transfer them to a rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough.
10. Decorate the cookies with Royal Icing or Simple Cookie Glaze and food safe markers.My tip: I suggest using either Royal Icing or tubes of colored frosting to decorate the minions. Sadly, I've been informed by my family that decorating ginger minions with scars or as zombies or cyclopes isn't very festive.
By now you're probably aware that my idea of Christmas is more like Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas than Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life. That's probably why I like the alien looking Chocolate Crinkles. No, really, Chocolate Crinkles look more like Europa than any other cookie that I've ever eaten. If I can't have zombie Gingerbread minions, then I'm going to have alien world cookies!Ingredients
1 1/3 cups (8 ounces) chopped bittersweet chocolate or chocolate chips
1/2 cup (4 ounces, 1 stick) unsalted butter
2/3 cup (4 3/4 ounces) sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons espresso powder (optional)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 2/3 cups (7 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
confectioners' sugar (for coating)Directions Dough: Place the chocolate and butter in a small saucepan or microwave-safe bowl, and heat or microwave till the butter melts. Remove it from the heat, and stir until the chocolate melts and the mixture is smooth.
In a separate bowl, beat together the sugar, eggs, vanilla, and espresso powder. Stir in the chocolate mixture, baking powder and salt, then the flour. Chill the dough for 2 to 3 hours, or overnight; it'll firm up considerably.Shaping: Put about a cup of confectioners' sugar into a shallow bowl. Using a teaspoon-sized cookie scoop, a spoon, or your fingers, scoop out heaping teaspoon-sized portions of the dough; they should be roughly 1 1/4 inches in diameter. Drop the dough balls into the confectioners' sugar as you go. Once about five or six are in the bowl, shake and toss the bowl to coat the balls with the sugar. (If you try to do this with too many balls at a time, they'll just stick together.) Baking: Place the coated dough balls on a lightly greased or parchment-lined cookie sheet, leaving about 1 1/2 inches between them. Bake the cookies in a preheated 325°F oven for 10 to 12 minutes, switching the position of the pans (top to bottom, and front to back) midway through the baking time. As the cookies bake, they'll flatten out and acquire their distinctive "streaked" appearance. Remove the cookies from the oven, and allow them to cool on a wire rack. Yield: about 5 dozen 2 1/2-inch cookies.
A Cinnamon Rolls recipe might not seem like my idea of baking fun -- there are no weird ingredients or strange results -- but there is a technique involved that I find really neat. Here's a hint: It involves dental floss. (Thank goodness it wasn't a plastic knife. My family constantly reminds me of the time that I severely injured myself with one.)Ingredients Dough
1 packet "highly active" active dry yeast; or 2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast; or 2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
7/8 to 1 1/8 cups lukewarm water*
3 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup nonfat dry milk
1/2 cup instant mashed potato flakes
*Use the lesser amount in summer (or in a humid environment), the greater amount in winter (or in a dry climate), and somewhere in between the rest of the year, or if your house is climate controlled.Cinnamon Filling
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2 teaspoons milk, to brush on doughVanilla Glaze
1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 to 5 tablespoons heavy cream or 2 to 3 tablespoons milk, enough to make a soft, spreadable icingDirections
1. First, make the dough. If you're using active dry yeast, dissolve it with a pinch of sugar in 2 tablespoons in the lukewarm water. Let the yeast and water sit at room temperature for 15 minutes, until the mixture has bubbled and expanded. If you're using instant yeast, you can skip this step.
2. Combine the dissolved yeast (or instant yeast) with the remainder of the dough ingredients. Mix and knead everything together -- by hand, mixer or bread machine set on the dough cycle -- till you've made a smooth dough. If you're kneading in a stand mixer, it should take about 7 minutes at second speed, and the dough should barely clean the sides of the bowl, perhaps sticking a bit at the bottom. In a bread machine (or by hand), it should form a smooth ball.
3. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl. Cover the bowl, and allow the dough to rise, at room temperature, till it's nearly doubled in bulk, about 1 to 2 hours. Rising may take longer, especially if you've kneaded by hand. Give it enough time to become quite puffy.
4. While the dough is rising, lightly grease two 9" round cake pans.
5. Transfer the risen dough to a lightly greased work surface, and pat or roll it into a 16" x 12" rectangle. It's a nice, soft dough, and pats out easily.
6. To make the filling, whisk together the sugar, cinnamon, and flour.
7. Brush the dough lightly with milk.
8. Sprinkle the filling evenly over the dough, covering the entire surface.
9. Roll the dough into a log the long way; it'll stretch to about 20" long as you roll.
10. Using a serrated knife, slice the log into 16 slices. In order to cut down on drag, it helps to rinse the blade in hot water, and wipe it off, between slices.
11. Space eight rolls in each of the prepared pans. Flatten them gently.
12. Cover the pans, and let the rolls rise till they're noticeably puffy, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours; they should spread out and start to crowd one another.
13. While the rolls are rising, preheat the oven to 375°F.
14. Bake the rolls till they're brown around the edges and beginning to turn golden brown across the center, about 20 minutes.
15. If you're going to serve the rolls immediately, make the icing while the rolls are baking. Combine the sugar, vanilla, and enough cream or milk to make a spreadable icing. If you're not serving the rolls immediately, don't make the icing yet.
16. Remove the rolls from the oven, and loosen their edges with a knife. Turn them out of the pan onto a rack. To enjoy right away, spread with the icing and serve.
17. To serve the rolls later, allow them to cool completely, then wrap in plastic wrap and store at room temperature for up to 3 days. Fifteen minutes before you're ready to serve, preheat the oven to 350°F. Unwrap the rolls, place them on an ungreased baking sheet, and tent lightly with aluminum foil. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until they're nicely warmed.
18. While the rolls are reheating, make the icing.
19. Remove the rolls from the oven, and spread with the icing. Serve immediately.My tip: After I complete step 12, I put the cinnamon rolls in the fridge; then, on Christmas morning, I sneak downstairs about 30 minutes before the kids get up and continue with steps 13 - 19. At least that's what I tell my wife. I leave out the part about shaking the boxes with my name on them and checking out the contents of my stocking.
Thanks to the fine folks at King Arthur Flour for their permission to republish their recipes on TechRepublic and to have some fun with them. I really need to get back to Vermont and visit their retail store again.
Getting into the holiday spirit
It's the simple things that make the holidays fun, like food (when you're making mashed potatoes, use the red potatoes -- it's more colorful), friends, family, and frosted minions. Eggnog, mulled cider, and robots are good, too. What recipes are you making this year, or are you strictly quality control?
To all our Geekend readers, I hope you have a good holiday.