Peppermint Cookies and Our Last Christmas as a Twosome

Hello! I hope you all had a beautiful holiday season, filled with lots of time with friends and family. We spent the past few days relishing all of the traditions as the last time we would enjoy them as a family of two before our little one arrives in February. Most importantly, we spent Christmas morning sleeping in!

While it’s always hard for me to live eight hours away from my family in Chicago, the benefit to splitting up our holidays (usually doing Thanksgiving with my family and Christmas with my husband’s family) means that we are never rushing between multiple places. We have unlimited time on those special days to focus on the people who we are with, and every year I’m grateful that we get to savor that slower pace.

We spent most of the day with my husband’s extended family on Christmas Eve. Most of them live in Kansas City, which makes that very easy. We started in the afternoon by going to the children’s mass at our parish downtown, which featured Christmas carols from the youngest children’s choir to start the service. The children were between the ages of five and ten, and as we are expecting, it was really heartwarming to see and to think about our child participating in that in a few years.

After mass, we went to my husband’s parents’ home for a big Christmas Eve celebration. My mother in law loves Christmas and hosting Christmas dinner more than anyone I know. Each year she throws a big party for her side of the family. While we see those relatives often living so close by, it’s rare that everyone is in one room at once together, and it’s an event that my husband looks forward to all year. My mother in law and each of her siblings only had two children each, so my husband really relied on his cousins as much as he would have relied on extra siblings growing up. I love seeing him so happy to be surrounded by them on that night. We ate delicious comfort food and had a gift exchange that went late into the night. I don’t think we left until after midnight. We were so busy enjoying time with family that I didn’t even take this picture until the end of the night before we left!

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I absolutely loved the dress I wore for Christmas. Now that I’m in the third trimester, it’s getting more and more challenging to find things that work for my bump, but just sizing up in this non-maternity option worked great.

For the past two years, I have brought these peppermint sugar cookies to the party. They are so, so easy to make, but the icing technique I use makes them look incredibly fancy. I know how much thought and time my mother in law puts into hosting and I always want to show up with something impressive to contribute to what she has put together. I’m all about things that give you some serious visual impact for a small amount of labor and these definitely achieve that. I use two different size piping tips of the same shape and simply layer dots of frosting in different sizes. This variety makes the icing job look labor intensive, but it’s really just making dots over and over, so it’s a great technique if, like me, you struggle with perfectly piping frosting. This is the frosting kit I use and I absolutely love it.

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In terms of the flavor, the cookies have a very subtle flavor of peppermint from the crushed candy canes. While you could use any type of icing on these, I find that the peppermint buttercream gives a stronger impact to that flavor. If you love mint flavors as much as I do, you are sure to love the buttercream. I could eat it by the spoonful, it’s that delicious.

Candy Cane Sugar Cookies with Peppermint Buttercream

Yields about 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients for the Cookies:

  • 1 cup finely ground candy canes (I grind mine using a blender)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups butter
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 whole eggs and 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 4 1/2 cups of all purpose flour

Ingredients for the Buttercream:

  • 4 cups of powdered sugar
  • 1 cup of butter
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of peppermint extract
  • Red food coloring

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Instructions for the cookies:

  1. Grind your candy canes in a blender or food processor until they are a fine sugar. The blender will smell amazing when you first open it!
  2. Cream the butter, candy canes, and sugar until fluffy.
  3. Add the eggs, egg yolk, and vanilla. Mix well.
  4. Mix in the salt and the flour, adding the flour slowly while mixing.
  5. Chill the dough before cutting everything out, for at least one hour, but longer is fine too.
  6. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  7. Roll the dough evenly on a floured surface and use cookie cutters to cut out the dough. For these, I used a seasonal pine tree shaped cookie cutter. Transfer the dough to parchment lined baking sheets. I find that a chopstick can be helpful for tracing around edges if the dough starts to soften while you are working and that a thin metal spatula can be most helpful for transferring the cut out dough to a cookie sheet while keeping especially delicate shapes, like the scalloped tree branches on these cookies, intact.
  8. Bake for 10 minutes.
  9. Transfer to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely before decorating with icing.

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Instructions for the frosting:

  1. Cream the butter and powdered sugar. The mix will be a bit thick to start with. Keep in mind that you will be adding more liquid and mix thoroughly until it has a doughy texture.
  2. Add the milk and mix well.
  3. Add the peppermint extract bit by bit. Mix well and taste test the frosting during the process. I’ve found that for me, 1 1/2 teaspoons is perfect, but you do want to check the flavor as you’re adding it to determine if you need more or less for your tastes.
  4. Add a few drops of red food coloring to give the frosting a light pink color.
  5. While you can frost these however you like, what I have used here are two different sizes of starburst frosting tips. Put the frosting into your frosting gun or piping bag and use the larger of the two tips first. Pipe the frosting in dots evenly spaced dots, pulling up as you release to give each dot a small peak.
  6. Once you have evenly covered all of the cookies with the large dots, switch to the smaller to the two tips and fill in any spaces with smaller dots. Again, pull up as you release pressure from the frosting gun or piping bag to give each dot a peak.
  7. Just as a little extra, I also like sprinkling these with some white pearl sprinkles. I used these.
  8. If you are taking these to an event and will be stacking them on a platter, it can be helpful to let the frosted cookies chill in the fridge for at least an hour for the frosting to harden. This prevents the cookies from sticking together on your platter.

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The end result of the frosting technique is that the cookies are covered with frosting in shapes resembling snowflakes or frost on window during winter. Very seasonal and a really easy technique that creates a beautiful result!

If you try this recipe or technique out, be sure to let me know how they turned out for you!

A Sweet Apartment Christmas

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Christmas is almost here! I’m so relieved that our shopping and decorating are all done and we have moved on to enjoying holiday traditions with our family and friends in Kansas City. My mother in law hosts a massive family gathering each Christmas Eve, and I’m looking forward to that tomorrow! I’ll be posting about that next week, along with a recipe for my favorite cookies that I bring each year, and of course some photos.

First, though, I wanted to give you a brief glimpse into our home at Christmas. I get so inspired by grand Christmas trees on Pinterest and other blogs, but many of these are put up in large houses with high ceilings and grand rooms. While those trees inspire me, they aren’t very realistic for my one bedroom apartment. Over the years of apartment living and trial and error, though, I’ve learned that you absolutely can have a beautiful, elegant tree on a smaller scale. You just have to be discerning with your choices and keep things simple.

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Our tree is a pretty standard faux tree from Target that we purchased years ago. I love real trees, but we have two dogs who get into everything, and I’ve heard that the needles from pine trees can be poisonous to dogs. Once we got our first dog, Wick, five years ago, we parted ways with real trees for good and opted instead for this six foot option. It does assemble pretty easily, in three parts, and lights up once it is plugged in.

While I love cute holiday ornaments and often gift ones from Anthropologie or Target along with a larger present, for my own tree, I really prefer to keep things simple. Each year, I have bought a bit more of these mercury glass ball ornaments, sticking in the theme of metallics and warm colors. They are so inexpensive, even if you are buying them at full price in December, but once you start to layer them, I think they really make the tree look timeless and sophisticated.

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Our tree skirt is simple as well, it’s just a piece of faux fur fabric I found on sale as a remnant at Jo Ann fabrics a few years ago. I don’t think I paid more than $20 for it; it was a lucky find! I use it year round as a throw to add some texture to our couch, but at Christmas, I simply wrap it loosely around the base of our tree to add a luxurious touch that’s harmonious with the warm-toned ornaments.

Similarly, I often like to incorporate those warm neutrals in my wrapping as well. I keep several rolls of kraft paper on hand throughout the year, since it works for any occasion and that simplifies my life. For Christmas in particular, I love to pair its utilitarian look with more luxurious touches, like a wide satin ribbon or this red and white grosgrain ribbon I picked up from Sugar Paper’s collection at Target.

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I feel like those small touches- a faux fur wrap for the base of our tree, metallic gold dotting the branches, and a higher end ribbon tying up a simple brown paper package- really go a long way to providing a sense of elegant luxury, without being over the top. They’re all very attainable as well. Almost everything I’ve used can be gathered from Target, Michael’s, or Jo-Ann Fabrics. What’s more important to me, though, is that when I keep things simple, it gives me more time to enjoy holiday traditions with my friends and family.

I’d love to hear from you as well! How are you getting into the holiday spirit?