White Chocolate Peppermint Cookies

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Today is my last blog post of 2014, and what a year it has been. There have been a lot of changes, both good and bad, and, honestly, I’m kind of ready to leave it behind. A new year always holds such promise for fresh starts and trying new things, and I could use that right about now.

One resolution that affects you, my readers, is that SMiLes by Meg will have a new home sometime early in 2015! For Christmas, my brother got me a new domain name (website, for anyone who doesn’t do that stuff), and as soon as I have the time to figure it out, I’ll be building that new site and transferring to it full time. Don’t worry, I’ll let you know when that switch is going to happen!

Anyways, for my last post of the year, here’s one more cookie from my cookie tins that could realistically be made for the rest of the winter – and would also be great for New Year’s Eve: White Chocolate Peppermint Cookies!

Full disclosure: the reviews on this one have been that they are a grown-up cookie – kids were bigger fans of the gingerbread men and reindeer cookies I’ve made before.

First, chop eight ounces of white chocolate into chunks. Set four ounces aside for later use. I used Ghirardelli, but Lindt makes a good baking bar, too.

 

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Put the other four ounces in  a small saucepan and heat over low heat, stirring constantly, until melted.

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In a large bowl, beat butter with a hand mixer on medium-high speed for 30 seconds.

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Add the sugar and baking powder and beat until fluffy.

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Beat in the eggs and vanilla extract until combined.

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Add the melted white chocolate and beat until smooth.

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Add the flour and beat until combined, scraping down sides to ensure all is mixed in.

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Stir in the peppermint chunks and white chocolate chunks. I used candy cane pieces that I found at Michael’s, but you could also just crush up candy canes or use the Ande’s peppermint pieces as well.

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Drop the cookie dough by the rounded spoonful onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

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Bake at 375°F for 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly golden around the edges.

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Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container. I think these would be especially good with hot chocolate, but they are pretty delicious on their own.

Enjoy!

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White Chocolate Peppermint Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces white chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 3/4 cups flour
  • 2/3 cup chopped candy canes

Directions:

  1. Melt 4 ounces of white chocolate in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly.
  2. Beat butter on high speed in a large bowl using a hand mixer for 30 seconds.
  3. Add sugar and baking powder and beat until combined.
  4. Add eggs and vanilla extract and continue to beat.
  5. Add melted white chocolate and beat until smooth.
  6. Add flour and beat until incorporated.
  7. Stir in remaining white chocolate chunks and peppermint pieces.
  8. Drop by rounded spoonful on parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 375°F for 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly golden at edges. Cool completely on wire rack.

Christmas Roll Sugar Cookies

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Yesterday was my five year high school reunion, which is weird for me to think about. I got to see people that I actually haven’t seen since graduation, as well as others that I’ve kept in better touch with, and it was awesome to be able to hear about what everyone was up to. A lot has changed since high school (I definitely wasn’t as into baking back then), but in a lot of ways it was nice that some things stayed the same.

Also, I found out that some people have been reading my blog (Hi Michelle and Liz!). So in case you are looking for a last minute Christmas cookie that’s easy and cool looking, this week I’m posting my Christmas Roll Sugar Cookies. It’s the same base as my very first post, but instead of rolling and cutting shapes, you make a roll for slice and bake style cookies.

So first, combine the flour and baking powder in a small bowl.

 

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Then, in a large bowl, cream together the shortening and sugar until smooth using a hand mixer.

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Add the eggs and vanilla and beat to combine.

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Add the flour mixture and beat until fully incorporated. Separate the dough into 3 equal parts.

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Add red food coloring to one portion and green to a second. I used the Wilson gel food coloring so it wouldn’t mess with the consistency of the dough, but make sure you use a lot if you don’t want preppy pink and green cookies.

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Chill the dough, covered, in the refrigerator for about an hour to make it easier to roll. Then, roll each portion out into a rectangle of about the same size on pieces of wax paper.

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Stack the dough rectangles, one on top of the other, and trim the edges to make sure they line up. Obviously, color order is up to you.

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Starting on the long side, roll the dough into a log. Wrap the log in the wax paper and freeze for a couple of hours.

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Once the dough is frozen, it will be way easier to slice. Slice into cookies, rotating the log a quarter turn after each cut to prevent one side from flattening.

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Roll the dough in colored sprinkles and place two inches apart on a baking sheet. Bake at 375°F for about 10 minutes, or until slightly golden.

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Remove from cookie sheet and transfer to wire rack to cool completely. They kept well in an airtight container at room temperature for at least a week without getting stale, so they make a good addition to cookie tins!

Enjoy!

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Christmas Roll Sugar Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2/3 cup shortening
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • red and green food coloring
  • sprinkles

Directions:

  1. Combine the flour and baking powder in a small bowl and set aside.
  2. Cream together the shortening and sugar in a large bowl with a hand mixer.
  3. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until smooth.
  4. Add the flour mixture and beat until fully incorporated.
  5. Separate dough into 3 separate parts. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for an hour.
  6. Roll each portion into a rectangle on a separate sheet of wax paper. Stack the rectangles and trim edges to make even.
  7. Starting on a long edge, roll the dough into a log. Wrap in wax paper and freeze for at least 2 hours.
  8. Unwrap and slice dough into cookies, rotating the log a quarter turn between slices to prevent flattening.
  9. Roll cookies in sprinkles and place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 375°F for 10 minutes or until golden. Transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

Peanut Butter Reindeer Cookies

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As I mentioned last week, this weekend was cookie baking weekend. This year, I made cookie tins for 16 different people, so I made 5 full batches of treats in total. That is not an insignificant amount of cookies. In fact, I was in the kitchen so long that I went through my entire Christmas playlist. That’s a good 5 hours of Christmas music. As a side note, Straight No Chaser’s new album is excellent. I’m partial to “Text Me Merry Christmas” and “Nutcracker“. You should watch both of those videos before you keep reading.

Fortunately, last weekend I got a head start with salted caramel chocolate shortbread bars, so yesterday I was really only making 4 types of cookies, including Christmas roll sugar cookies, gingerbread men, peppermint white chocolate cookies, and, today’s feature, peanut butter reindeer cookies.

For this recipe, I took the peanut butter base that I usually use for peanut butter blossoms (those cookies with the hershey kiss on top), and just pressed in some different decorations to copy the pictures that are all over Pinterest. When you make peanut butter blossoms, you want the cookies to crack a bit, but for these reindeer, that’s not actually a good thing. Lucky for you, I tested a couple different methods to figure out what worked best, so you don’t have to.

Basically, the best strategy is to slightly underbake the cookies so they’re still soft, and to move quickly when putting on the decorations. You still might end up with a couple one-eyed reindeer when an m&m decides not to stick, but it’s better than a reindeer that crumbles to pieces when you try to attach an antler.

First, cream together the shortening and peanut butter in a large bowl.

 

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Then, add the sugar and brown sugar and beat until fluffy.

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Add the egg, milk, and vanilla and beat well.

 

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In a separate bowl, combine the flour and baking soda.

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Add it to the peanut butter mixture gradually and beat well until the dough comes together.

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Roll the dough in 1 inch balls. Roll the balls in sugar and place on an ungreased cookie sheet.  I found the best cookies were when I rolled them more into a flattened but fat disk, since that gave a little more surface area to press things later on.

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Bake the cookies at 375°F for about 6-8 minutes. You want them to still look a little soft – as soon as they look dry, you’re risking crumbly reindeer.

Remove from the oven and immediately press in the pretzel antlers and m&m faces. I first put antlers on all of them before going back to do faces since they were what I was more concerned about sticking.

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For the antlers, I used mini flips, which I could only find in little pouches on the way out of the grocery store. The eyes are brown mini m&ms, and the nose is a regular red m&m. Here’s a close up:

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Let the cookies cool for a couple minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. And I do mean completely here. The candies and such are attaching to the cookie by melting and re-hardening, so it’s really important that you let them go through that whole process before you move them anywhere else.

If you get through all of those nitpicky steps, the results are adorable!

Enjoy!

IMG_2033 Peanut Butter Reindeer Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • sugar, for rolling
  • m&m’s and mini chocolate pretzels for decorating

Directions:

  1. Cream together shortening and peanut butter in a large bowl with a hand mixer on medium speed.
  2. Add sugar and brown sugar and beat until fluffy.
  3. Add egg, milk, and vanilla and beat to combine.
  4. Combine flour and baking soda in a separate bowl. Add gradually to peanut butter mixture, beating until dough comes together.
  5. Roll dough in 1 inch balls, roll the balls in the extra sugar, and place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 375°F for 6-8 minutes, until slightly underbaked.
  6. Immediately press pretzels and m&m’s into cookies to make reindeer faces. Allow to cool slightly on baking pan before transferring to wire rack to cool completely.

Chocolate Cranberry Haystacks

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This was the first weekend that really felt like the holiday season. It was cold, curl-up-inside-with-a-book weather, and it took a significant amount of self control not to turn on Christmas music while I was baking (I have a rule with myself – no Christmas music until after Thanksgiving). So, when my aunt Anne texted me a picture of what she was baking, I immediately asked for the recipe.

You see, Anne is the one who introduced me to the gloriously easy, insanely addicting recipe for peanut butter haystacks, which I know a lot of you enjoyed. In a festive twist, this particular recipe uses dark chocolate and cranberries, making it perfect for the upcoming season, and just as addicting.

Also, this recipe is easy. Like, start-keeping-cornflakes-around-just-to-make-it easy. I mean, how can you not make them when this is all you need:

 

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So, without further ado, straight from the kitchen of Ina Garten via Anne Pickett: Chocolate Cranberry Haystacks!

First, melt about 3/4 of the chocolate in the microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring after each interval, until just melted.

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Add the remaining quarter of the chocolate, and stir until smooth.

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Combine cornflakes and chocolate in a medium bowl using a rubber spatula.

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Fold in the cranberries, trying not to overly crush the cornflakes (this may seem impossible, but some crushing is fine).

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Drop by the rounded spoonful onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Allow to harden at room temperature.

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Transfer to a platter and store in the refrigerator, covered, until ready to serve. Yupp, it really is that easy.

Enjoy!

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Chocolate Cranberry Haystacks

Ingredients:

  • 7 ounces milk chocolate, chopped
  • 5 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 3 cups cornflakes
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries

Directions:

  1. Melt 3/4 of the chocolate in the microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring after each addition, until just melted.
  2. Add the remaining 1/4 of the chocolate and stir until smooth.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the cornflakes and chocolate, stirring with a rubber spatula to coat.
  4. Fold in the cranberries.
  5. Drop by the rounded spoonful on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Allow to harden at room temperature.

Snickerdoodles

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Ahh, November as a teacher in New Jersey. After the mayhem that is the start of the school year, this month feels like a breeze. This past weekend was a long weekend for Teacher’s Convention, which I took advantage of to journey down south to DC and Baltimore to visit some friends from college. It was a short trip, but walking around inner harbor in Baltimore made me very nostalgic for a road trip my family had taken a long time ago.

In my nostalgia, I texted my mom for her snickerdoodle recipe, sure I remembered her making them when I was little. She responded that she didn’t have one, but I think she just didn’t want to dig through boxes to find it. So instead I found one in a cookbook I’ve been dying to use: Milk & Cookies. I’ve had this book for awhile, but because the recipes were all by weight, I hadn’t yet had a chance to try it. With my nifty kitchen scale, though, I was willing to give it a shot.

In the recipe, I’ll include both the weights and traditional measurements, just in case you haven’t jumped on the kitchen scale bandwagon yet, but trust me when I say that baking by weight is infinitely easier.

First, whisk together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl and set aside. Look how easy it is to measure 11 1/4 ounces!

 

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Then, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and shortening, starting on low speed and increasing to medium to beat for 3 minutes. It will be light and creamy when you’re ready to move on.

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Add 1 1/2 cups of sugar slowly while continuously beating for an additional two minutes.

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Add the eggs, one at a time, and reduce the speed to low, beating to incorporate after each addition.

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Add the vanilla extract and beat until blended.

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Add the flour mixture on low speed in two additions, beating until just mixed together. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, cover in plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

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Recipes that involve overnight components catch me by surprise every time. I had told my doorman that I would bring him cookies last night when I started making these. Then I got to the overnight step and realized he would not be getting cookies that evening. Fortunately, he was there this morning when I finally baked them, and determined that they were “off the chain”, which he also clarified meant they were delicious. Brian is my biggest fan.

Anyways, after the dough is sufficiently chilled, mix the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Roll the dough into 1 inch balls and then roll in the cinnamon sugar mixture.

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Place the balls about 2 inches apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350°F for 10 minutes or until lightly brown. When you touch the top of the cookie, the indent should remain.

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Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely, and store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week. These cookies are meant to be chewy, so to prevent them from getting too crisp, the airtight container is crucial.

Enjoy!

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Snickerdoodles

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups (11 1/4 ounces) flour
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) shortening
  • 1 3/4 cups (12 ounces) sugar, divided
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  •  2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon

Directions:

  1. Whisk together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl. Set aside.
  2. Cream together butter and shortening using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer, starting at low speed, and increasing to medium for about 3 minutes or until light and creamy.
  3. Add 1 1/2 cups sugar and continue beating for 2 minutes.
  4. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat after each addition.
  5. Beat in vanilla extract until smooth.
  6. Add flour mixture in two additions, beating on low speed until just incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight.
  7. Combine remaining 1/4 cup sugar and cinnamon in small bowl. Roll dough into 1 inch balls and roll in cinnamon sugar. Place about 2 inches apart on baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  8. Bake at 350°F for 10 minutes or until just golden brown. Remove from oven and transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

Cream Cheese Spritz Cookies

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“Cream Cheese Spritz Cookies” is possibly one of the most unappetizing names for a cookie I have ever heard. They sound like the dessert that would go with a dinner of liver and onions served with prune juice.  But the name is very deceptive – they should in fact be called creamy butter cookies with a hint of cinnamon sprinkled with colorful sugar. But that also would not be a great name for a cookie. However, they would go wonderfully with just about anything – they are pretty basic in flavor such that they could easily complement a variety of desserts with more powerful elements.

Regardless, when I was roped into a promise to bake cookies for my students (we were playing a game, I said the winner would get a prize, then they decided they should all be winners in my eyes), I had to turn to my trusty cookie press to find a suitable recipe. This cookie press has made an appearance before, when I made chocolate shortbread cookies for my students on Valentine’s Day and butter cookies for Pickett Christmas last year. I love it because the recipes yield TONS of cookies (and when you have 150 students, you need TONS of cookies) and you can easily make something for any occasion, since it comes with all sorts of cool shape options. But enough free advertising for OXO.

I ended up doubling the recipe because I have more students than I did last year, and got about 175-200 cookies out of it (I figured my teacher friends wouldn’t mind some leftovers). But halving it will yield about 8 dozen cookies according to the original.

First, cube the butter and cream it together with the cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. In case you’re wondering, this is what 4 sticks of butter cubed looks like. I promise there is some cream cheese underneath.

 

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Add the sugar and egg whites and beat until light and fluffy.

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Add the vanilla extract and beat to incorporate. The dough should be pretty smooth at this point.

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In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, and salt.

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Add gradually to the butter mixture and beat until well combined.  For me, a considerable amount of flour ended up on the counter instead of in the bowl. Also, I began to fear for my stand mixer because the dough was pretty thick, so you should probably switch to the dough hook at this point instead of the paddle. I switched to a wooden spoon because I’m overprotective of my little yellow mixer.

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Fill the cookie press and press cookies onto ungreased baking sheets and sprinkle with sugar. I used leaves because it was the most Fall shape I had, and red sugar because A&P’s baking decorations are anemic at best, but you could get pretty creative with this step if you felt so inclined.

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Bake at 350°F for about 8 minutes or until edges are golden. Allow to cool on cookie sheet about 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool further. Store in an airtight container.

Pro Tip: if you’re making TONS of cookies, like I did, you might find that the cookies don’t stick readily to a cookie sheet that has already been baked on.  I found that if you wipe it down with a paper towel to absorb some of the grease and then waited until the tray was cooled to room temperature, you have better luck. This makes the process take a little longer, but it’s wicked frustrating to try to press a cookie onto a warm baking sheet and not have it release properly, so it’s worth it.

Enjoy!

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Cream Cheese Spritz Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, cold
  • 6 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions:

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the cream cheese and cubed butter with the paddle attachment.
  2. Add the sugar and egg yolks, beating until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla extract to incorporate.
  3. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, and salt. Gradually add to the butter mixture, using the dough hook to beat until well blended.
  4. Fill cookie press fit with desired disk. Press cookies onto ungreased cookie sheet and decorate as desired.
  5. Bake at 350°F for 8 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Allow to cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to wire rack to cool completely.

Trail Mix Biscotti

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So I’m kind of obsessed with trail mix.  If it’s got dried fruit and nuts, I’m in.  Add some chocolate covered anything and I can’t stay away.  And the king of all trail mixes is the orchard blend trail mix from BJ’s.  It’s almonds, pistachios, raisins, dried cherries, and dried cranberries.  Salty, chewy, crunchy – the whole package.  So before I came back down to New Jersey for the school year, I made sure to pick some up on a trip to BJ’s with my dad – two whole bags.  For two weeks, I was good.  I kept them closed and on a high shelf.  Then school started, I opened a bag to bring some as a snack, and it was the beginning of the end.

Now, trail mix, you would assume, is not an unhealthy addiction to have.  What could be bad in a handful of nuts and fruit?  Nothing, to be sure, unless you eat it in much larger quantities than a handful.  So I came up with a solution – I’d bake with some of it.  That would keep the portions down to closer to what they should be.  And add a yummy sweetness.

But what baked good would best hold up to trail mix?  Cookies would probably be fine, but that’s kind of boring.  Instead I went with biscotti, which I consider classy cookies that can pass as breakfast.  The recipe I have says, “This classic biscotti recipe welcomes the addition of any type of nut or dried fruit that you want. It always works.”  It did not disappoint.  Feel free to add whatever mix ins you prefer, but this is pretty solid.

First, combine the flour and baking powder in a medium bowl.  I finally baked using my scale today, but I’ve included regular volume measurements for those of you who aren’t yet convinced of their awesomeness.

 

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Beat the butter at low speed in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment.

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Add the two sugars and beat on medium speed for about 4 minutes.

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Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.  I don’t think it’s vital to have them at room temperature, but its also not hard to pull them out when you’re letting the butter soften.

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Add the vanilla and almond extracts and beat to combine.

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Add the flour mixture and beating until mostly combined.  Then, add your mix ins and beat until just combined.

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Separate the dough in half and form two logs, about 10 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide.  Make sure to flour your hands – the dough is pretty sticky.  Put the logs on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and flatten on top until maybe an inch-ish thick.

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Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes or until golden brown and soft to the touch.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly and lower the oven temperature to 300°F.

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When cool enough to handle, cut the logs on the diagonal into about 1/2 inch wide strips.

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Place back on baking sheet, cut side down, and bake for an additional 15 minutes or until dry and golden.

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Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before storing in an airtight container.  As I said, trail mix makes determining the ratios of mix ins easy, but feel free to play with any variation you want.  I’ve made biscotti before, so if you want to see another variation, check it out here.

Enjoy!

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Trail Mix Biscotti

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound (4 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 4 1/2 ounces (2/3 cup) sugar
  • 4 1/2 ounces (2/3 cup) light brown sugar, packed
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 cup orchard blend trail mix

Directions:

  1. Combine flour and baking powder in a medium bowl.
  2. Beat butter in the bowl of a stand mixer at low speed with the paddle attachment.
  3. Add sugar and brown sugar and beat at medium speed for about 4 minutes.
  4. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.
  5. Add vanilla and almond extracts and beat until combined.
  6. Add flour mixture and beat until almost combined.  Add trail mix and beat until just combined.
  7. Separate dough in half and shape into two 10 inch by 1 1/2 inch logs.  Put logs on baking sheet lined with parchment paper and, with floured hands, flatten tops.
  8. Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes or until golden and soft to the touch.  Remove from baking sheet to wire rack to cool slightly.  Lower oven temperature to 300°F.
  9. When cooled enough to handle, cut logs on the diagonal into 1/2 inch strips.  Place cut-side down back on the baking sheet and bake an additional 15 minutes until golden brown and dry.  Transfer to wire rack to cool completely.