Up until this past weekend, I was not feeling the Christmas spirit. At. All. Even after we got our tree on Saturday and got all the decorations up, I was still feeling sort of "meh," and a little bit overwhelmed by my long, long holiday-related to-do list. But then on Sunday we got a whole bunch of snow and suddenly... "Its the most wonderful time of the year!!!"
Maybe we’re in the minority but our family loves snow, especially in December, and this year it really did the trick to get me in the mood.
I'm still feeling a little bit overwhelmed by my to-do list. We've got all the decorating done but that’s about it. I don't have a single gift and have absolutely no clue what we're going to do for Christmas cards. Our elf rarely moves to a new shelf (or any other creative location).
Even so, I'm trying to give myself a break this year. After all I am pregnant (and still in need of an occasional nap), Lillian is at an age when almost everything is new and wonderful without me having to orchestrate much (snowflakes! holiday music! STRANDS OF LIGHTS!!!), so if ever there was a year to cut myself some slack and enjoy the season, this is it.
Instead of freaking out about my to-do list, Lilly and I having been playing in the snow, sipping cocoa and mulled cider and whipping up a big batch of sugar cookie dough to make these fun melted snowman cookies (we really like snow).
I got the idea for these from an article in Parents magazine and they were so much fun to make (and super easy too!) They suggested using store-bought dough but we made our own and I used my favorite icing recipe. From there it was just a matter of assembling using marshmallows, fruit leather and chocolate chips. I didn’t even pipe the icing. Just dabbed it on using a spatula and toothpicks. Even so, I think they’re super cute and a little bit different from your average Christmas cookie.
Playing around with sugar cookies, while fun, was actually part of a new freelance project I've been working on (pregnant lady dream job, I know). A few weeks ago, a friend of mine reached out to see if I'd be interested in developing some simple tips for smoother holiday baking and create an easy-to-make holiday recipe using PAM Baking Spray. Since I'm all about making things easier this year, it seemed like a perfect fit.
Although I'm familiar with regular PAM, this was the first time I've really worked with PAM Baking (which blends non-stick and flour in one spray). I've been experimenting with it for a week or so now and pretty impressed with the results so far. When using cooking sprays in the past, I'd been turned off by the sticky residue they left on my cookware. PAM has three products that leave up to 99% less residue (Original, Butter and Baking). I've not experienced any residue on my pans at all since using it.
Beyond spraying my bakeware, I’ve been playing around with a few other novel uses for PAM too. These snowman cookies call for slice-and-bake so I sprayed my knife with PAM before slicing the cookies and the knife didn’t get nearly as sticky and gummy with cookie dough as it normally does. Although I don't usually post without a recipe, there are so many great little tips that can really make baking easier and during the holidays every second counts, so hopefully one of these will help you too:
- Clever Cookies: For me, nothing is more annoying than getting my cookie dough perfectly rolled out, pressing a cookie cutter into it, then pulling it back up and having half the dough tear off with the cutter. Its not so much a problem with simple shapes but cookie cutters that have intricate designs and stamped-on details can be a real problem. I found that if I lightly spray my cookie cutters with PAM Baking before pressing them into my cookie dough, the cookies come out cleaner and the cutters themselves don't end up covered in sticky dough.
- Pie with an Edge: I've always found traditional fluted pie crusts to be a bit if a pain to create. I don't like when my fingernails dig into the pastry dough and I can never get the flutes to be a uniform size. I've found its far easier (and much more unique) to give my single-crust pies a tabbed edge. Use kitchen scissors to snip 1/2 inch slits along the pastry edge at 1/2 inch intervals all around the crust.
- Quicker Cleanup: According to a survey the PAM folks sent me, people spend an average of 45+ minutes washing dishes during/after holiday meals. I have the dishpan hands to prove it. To reduce cleanup time after baking they suggest spraying pie plates, muffin tins, bundt pans and cookies sheets with PAM Baking before. The combination of flour and PAM's reformulated non-stick spray is designed to reach every nook and cranny of bakeware to prevent sticking for faster cleanup. As I said before, I was skeptical about this going in, but tonight I made the stickiest recipe I could think of in a fluted baking pan. I sprayed it with PAM beforehand and the bread literally slid right out and the pan washed up in less than a minute. So, I think I'm sold on this one.
- Savvy Storage: This is a good tip to keep in mind if you'll be traveling this holiday season and volunteered to bring a dessert. Its actually a conundrum I run into every Thanksgiving when we visit my in-laws in Ohio. I'm always in charge of pies but because we drive out on Wednesday, I have to make my pies the day before. So, for the record: baked, whole fruit pies (such as apple) can be stored at room temperature for up to 48 hours. Sliced pies should be covered loosely with foil or plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator. If you need a longer shelf-life, most baked holiday cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to two weeks.
- A Sprinkle of Cheer: Whether you're kid's school requires that all snacks and treats be store-bought or you just don't have the time to make a homemade pie this week, you can still add a festive, homemade look. All you need is some confectioner's sugar or unsweetened cocoa. Trace holiday cookie cutters onto pieces of paper, cut out the shapes and arrange on top of baked goods. Next, scoop confectioners sugar or cocoa into a fine mesh sieve and gently dust over the top. Remove paper to reveal festive shapes.
What are your favorite tips for getting through the holidays without losing your mind? I'm all ears (especially if you have some ideas for our Christmas cards...ugh)!
Note: PAM Baking is a freelance client. I receive compensation from them as a consultant but all of the thoughts and opinions included in this post are my own.