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.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Shortbread Bars

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It’s officially Christmas cookie season. That means, for the next couple of weeks (probably through New Year’s) it will be all Christmas cookies all the time. This year, I’m going the slightly nontraditional route with my tins, including some new recipes and experiments, but if you’re looking for some classics, here’s last year’s selection:

Anyways, this week’s recipe was definitely an experiment. I had seen it on Pinterest and thought they looked amazing. Also, I needed to make something that would keep for a week since I’ll be making the rest of my cookies in a bit of a cookie making binge next weekend.

Side note: when I told my mom my plans of baking for the entirety of next weekend, she immediately recommended I invite friends over to help. I had to explain to her that I actually love listening to Christmas music and spending the day alone in my kitchen making cookies. If that makes me an introvert I’m totally OK with that.

So, it starts off pretty straight forward. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl and set aside.

 

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Then, combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium speed for about 2 minutes, or until fluffy.

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Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat on low speed until just combined. It will be in smallish pieces.

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Press the dough into the bottom of a 9×13 inch pan lined with parchment paper. You don’t want to skip the parchment paper on this one – it’s going to come in very handy when you go to cut the bars later.

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Bake at 325°F for about 15 minutes or until edges are golden. Put on wire rack to cool completely.

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At this point, I was cruising along, feeling totally fine about my decision with this recipe. My shortbread layer looked great, life was good.

Then, I came to the caramel layer. Now, I think I’ve discussed my fear of caramel before, but I couldn’t find the post to reference, so I’ll say it again: I am always afraid that I will burn the sugar. And burnt sugar is possibly the worst smell ever. It’s amazing that something so sweet and innocent can turn so vile and disgusting in about 5 seconds flat.

To add to this fear, this particular recipe called for a different combination of things to make the caramel than I was used to. I’ve made caramel using actual caramels and melting them with sweetened condensed milk. I’ve made it with just sugar and butter. But this called for a weird combination of the two: butter, sugar, karo syrup, and sweetened condensed milk.

However, the shortbread had gone beautifully, so I had no reason to doubt the recipe yet. I went ahead and trusted it. I combined the four ingredients in a medium saucepan, heating it over medium heat until the butter melted, stirring frequently.

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Then, I increased the heat to medium high, hoping to bring it to a boil while stirring constantly, after which I would reduce the heat to a simmer and continue to stir constantly until it turned amber in color. Alas, it was not to be. I began to notice little flecks of amber in my supposed caramel. I was pretty sure that wasn’t how it was supposed to work, but I pushed on.

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Turns out, my sugar found its way into the corners (round pans don’t have corners, but you know what I mean) of my saucepan and begin to do that terrible thing where it burns. Even my constant stirring didn’t prevent it. When I realized what was happening, I turned the heat down to simmer and just stirred until it turned less bright whitish-yellow than sweetened condensed milk, and called it a caramel, which I then poured over the shortbread layer.

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Now, it may be that I was just overconfident and got lazy, and your caramel layer may turn a beautiful amber. But I think if I were to make these again, I would use the caramel from my Peanut Butter Samoa Bars recipe instead of the one they had here. Fortunately, the end result, though maybe not as caramel-y as it was supposed to be, is still 100% delicious.

After letting the caramel cool for a bit, I put it in the freezer to chill overnight. You definitely don’t have to let it chill that long, I just didn’t feel like finishing it last night.

For the chocolate layer, I did decide to stray from the recipe’s suggestion of a double boiler and used the microwave method instead.

Combine the butter, chocolate, and karo syrup in a microwaveable bowl. Heat in 15 second intervals at 50% power, stirring after each interval, until smooth.

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Pour the chocolate layer over the caramel layer and sprinkle with sea salt. Chill until ready to cut and serve.

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These will keep in the freezer (and taste better out of the freezer), for as long as you want. I cut them into bars and wrapped them individually in plastic wrap, but that’s more because they’ll be going in tins later. End product: a slightly less caramel-flavored Twix bar.

Enjoy!

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Salted Caramel Chocolate Shortbread Bars

Shortbread Ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar

Caramel Ingredients:

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoons Karo syrup
  • 2 (14 ounce) cans sweetened condensed milk

Chocolate Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon Karo syrup
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • sea salt, for sprinkling

Shortbread Directions:

  1. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl and set aside.
  2. In a stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar using the paddle attachment on medium speed for 2 minutes.
  3. Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until just combined.
  4. Press the dough into the bottom of a 9×13 inch pan lined with parchment paper.
  5. Bake at 325°F for 15 minutes or until edges are golden. Allow to cool completely on wire rack.

Caramel Directions:

  1. Combine butter, sugar, Karo syrup, and sweetened condensed milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Stir frequently until butter is melted.
  3. Increase heat to medium high and bring to a boil, stirring constantly (including in the corners).
  4. Reduce heat to simmer and continue to stir constantly until caramel turns amber in color.
  5. Pour over shortbread layer and chill.

Chocolate Directions:

  1. Combine butter, chocolate, and Karo syrup in a microwaveable bowl.
  2. Microwave in 15 second intervals at 50% power, stirring after each interval, until smooth.
  3. Pour over caramel layer and sprinkle with sea salt.
  4. Chill until ready to cut into bars.

Butter Cookies

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Last Christmas recipe, I promise.  And these also aren’t really a Christmas-exclusive recipe, so I don’t feel bad about it.  Imagine them in shapes other than Christmas trees if it bothers you.

This is also another one of those you-kind-of-need-a-special-tool-to-make-me recipe, which is fine for me because I have that tool.  And I highly recommend you get one because of it’s unbelievable convenience.  That tool is a cookie press, and my mom got it for me for Christmas this year.  It let’s you make all of those super cute shape cookies you probably thought only mass-cookie-producing factories could make.  But alas, you can do it at home!  With this:

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Now, mine came with 12 different discs I could use to make different shapes.  I chose to make trees, wreaths, and snowflakes for Christmas (and teddy bears because my boyfriend insisted).  I also have the option to make hearts, buttercups, shells, sunflowers, daisies, fleur de lis, leaves, and butterflies.  So you can assume this is not the last you see of my cookie press.  For my first go with it, however, I had to go with butter cookies.  Because, really, I appreciate a cookie that doesn’t try to be something its not.  It knows that people like it for its butter, so it owns it.

Also, realistically, if you don’t have a cookie press, don’t worry.  You could roll out this dough and use a cookie cutter, too.  Cookie dough is pretty forgiving with how you want to use it.

First up, cream together the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl.

 

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If you have a handy assistant around, you can get them to do it while you take awesome action shots.  Thanks Andy!

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Next, add the vanilla and egg and continue to beat it with the hand mixer.  The recipe says to make sure the egg is at room temperature – this is to ensure that the dough is easy to handle when you put it in the press.

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Add the flour little by little, beating until its well combined.

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Now comes the fun part.  Since I had never used a cookie press before, I did make a couple mistakes the first time through, but I eventually found my groove.  In case you’re wondering, this is what a disc looks like to make a wreath:

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I have no idea who figured out that would work, but I am very impressed with them.  On the first try, I filled the press all the way up with cookie dough.

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This is not something you want to do.  The press will refuse to press cookies until you remove some of the dough.  In later attempts I realized it’s probably better to go with about half-full (or half-empty if you’re a pessimist) to get the smoothest working pump.  Then you just put the handle on, put the press right on the cookie sheet, push down on the handle, and pull away.  In less than a minute, you’ve got a cookie sheet full of wreaths!

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From a purely time-saving point of view, these are probably the most impressive looking cookies you can make in under an hour.  Sprinkle them with some sanding sugar, cook them for 8 to 10 minutes at 400°F, and you’re good to go.

Also, make sure to rotate the pan about halfway through the baking time.  This will make sure all the cookies get equal heat, so you don’t have 12 burnt cookies and 12 doughy cookies.  It helps, I swear.

Let them cool for a minute on the cookie sheet before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.  Fill up the press and repeat!

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The other awesome part about butter cookies (other than their simplicity – only 5 ingredients!) is that they go with anything.  Everyone likes them, they’re small (which I generally believe means they don’t have calories), and when you aren’t in the mood to make anything super fancy, the cookie press makes them look fancy enough on their own.

Enjoy!

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Butter Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

Directions:

  1. Cream together butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl using a hand mixer.
  2. Add vanilla and egg, continuing to beat until smooth.
  3. Add flour little by little, beating until well combined.
  4. Insert desired disc in cookie press, fill tube half full of dough, and press dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet.
  5. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes at 400°F, rotating the baking sheet after 5 minutes.  Remove when cookies are golden brown around edges.
  6. Allow to cool on cookie sheet for 1 minute before transferring to wire rack to cool completely.