Monday, December 15, 2014

Cookie Party 2014 and My All-Time FAVORITE Cookie!

Preparations for this year's Padula Cookie Party began rather disastrously. Because of last week's snow storm, we had to have a makeup day for finals on Saturday (UGH!!), so I was busy at school all day. Thus, I had precious little time to get my cookies ready for the exchange yesterday.

I had decided to make my all-time favorite cookie, Chocolate-Glazed Pecan Toffee Bars, from a special Christmas cookie volume by The Joy of Cooking. However, the snow storm screwed me over in another way. As you can see in the picture, the snow from the roof dumped into a big mountain just inside the fence and porch railing, giving my youngest dog, Dollop, the opportunity to scale said mountain and access the shortbread dough that I (stupidly) had chilling on the porch rail.

It also gave her a possible means to escape, so at one point, we panicked and thought she had run away (and possibly been hit on the busy road in front of the house). That about gave me a heart attack, but when we realized that she was safe on the other side of the house--thank God--I found the base of my quadruple batch of cookies looking like this (which made me want to kill that little b*tch with my own bare hands):

So I had to make another half batch of dough to repair the damage, which set me even further behind. When I finally left the house, I was extremely late and in a panic, and I didn't realize that my roommate had parked her car directly behind me, which she never does. Unfortunately, I came to realize this fact when I smashed into her car and dented it. I was running short on Christmas miracles today, that's for sure! But when I arrived at the lovely luncheon and saw my friends and all of the delicious German food that Janice and Domenica had lovingly and painstakingly prepared, from that point on, my troubles began to seem miles away. Here's a short photo essay of the grand affair:

The place setting, complete with the traditional German pickle ornament.
The beautiful Weihnachten tablescape.
Christmas dolls that Janice and Domenica made. Their bodies are figs, and their heads are walnuts. So cute!

The delicious German meal! Clockwise from the bottom: There was smoked ham from the German butcher in Lacolle, QC, sweet and sour red cabbage (rotkohl), potato pancakes with homemade applesauce and sour cream, cheesy spaetzle, and (in the middle), these ginourmous, fluffy, lemon-scented dumplings with butter.
A sampling of desserts, including German cookies, and this amazing cake called a Schichttorte that Domenica made that had 20 layers then was covered in chocolate and garnished with almonds. WOW!
This year's cookies ready to be swapped! (I put mine in the cute little Santa and Rudolph bags in the middle of the table.)

I made EIGHT batches of the toffee bars (=128 pieces), which was plenty for the cookie party, for another Christmas gathering with different group of friends that evening, and I still had a lot left over. Today was an extremely difficult day at school, not only because I needed to get all my final grades done (seven classes' worth), but because the president had informed us that we would be facing layoffs and would be informed today. So we all got to sit at our desks most of the day, waiting for the phone to ring to find out if we still had a job or not. JUST TERRIBLE! Thus, I decided to bring the remainder of the cookies in to share with my colleagues to cheer us all up a little. Here's what was left by this afternoon. I think people liked them. (Tee hee.)

Chocolate-Glazed Toffee Bars
(Source: adapted from The Joy of Christmas Cookies)

Grease an 8 x 8-inch baking pan (double for 9x13, quadruple for a half sheet pan)

Whisk together thoroughly:
2/3 cups AP flour
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
Sprinkle over the top: 4 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces

Using a pastry blender, two knives, or your fingertips, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Sprinkle over the top and stir in to blend two teaspoons milk. Knead until the milk is distributed and the particles begin to hold together. If necessary, add a teaspoon or two more milk, until the mixture holds together but is not wet. (Alternatively, in a food processor, process the dry ingredients and butter in on/off pulses until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs; be careful not to overprocess. A bit at a time, add the milk, and process in on/off pulses until the particles begin to hold together; if necessary, add just enough additional milk so the mixture holds together but is not wet.) Firmly press the dough into the pan to form a smooth, even layer. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, position a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake the chilled dough for 10 minutes; set aside to cool slightly. Toast, stirring occasionally in a baking pan, until very lightly browned, 5 to 8 minutes: 1 1/2 cups chopped pecans (I do this in a dry skillet on the stove top.) Set aside to cool.

Combine in a medium, heavy saucepan and, stirring frequently, bring to a boil over medium heat:
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons clover honey
1 tablespoon milk
1/8 teaspoon salt

Boil the mixture, uncovered, for 3 minutes; remove from the heat. Stir in the toasted pecans along with one teaspoon vanilla. Spread the mixture evenly over the baked layer. Bake until the crumb mixture is bubbly, golden brown, and just slightly darker at the edges, 17 to 20 minutes. Remove the pan to a rack to cool slightly.

Sprinkle over the top: 1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips. Let stand for several minutes until the chocolate chips partially melt, then smooth across the surface with a table knife to partially spread the chocolate. (The surface should not be completely covered with chocolate. I prefer it to be evenly covered, so I use another couple/few tablespoons of chocolate chips.) Sprinkle over the top two tablespoons finely chopped pecans.

Let the chocolate cool until thickened but still slightly soft, then cut into bars; let cool completely before lifting the bars from the pan. Retrace the cuts to separate the bars, if necessary.

Yield: Twenty-four 2-2/3 x 1-inch bars (I prefer to cut 16.)


Randi said...

are you sure the bodies are dates? They look like figs. When I lived in Canada, I had squirrels get into baked goods that I left on the deck. Never my own fur faces though. : )

Joy Bugaloo said...

OOPS! Yes, I meant figs. Thanks for catching that. I fixed it.