Cream Cheese Thumbprints

I fully intended to have a week-long cookie marathon before/during/after Christmas, but with everything going on it sort of got pushed to the back burner. But, at least in my book, you don’t need an excuse like the holidays to make cookies.

Pretty much for as long as we’ve been together, Billy and I have always baked something a little special for our families around the holidays. For the past two years, we’ve done an array of cookies and made little goodie bags to distribute after dinner. This year, these cream cheese and jam thumbprints were on the top of my list. I think thumbprints are a must-have cookie around the holidays, and this recipe seemed like something a little more special…perfect for that special time of year (or, for all 365 days of the year).

Cream Cheese Thumbprints

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Here’s what you’ll need:
Makes: 5 dozen
– 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
– 3 oz. cream cheese
– 1 cup sugar
– 1 egg yolk
– 3 tsp vanilla extract
– 2 1/2 cups flour
– jam (any flavor you prefer)

Instructions:
In a large mixing bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer), cream together the butter, cream cheese and sugar until light and fluffy, about two minutes. Beat in the egg yolk and vanilla until well combined. Finally, mix in the flour a little at a time until thoroughly combined. Cover the mixture and refrigerate for about an hour, or until it’s easy to handle.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

When the dough is ready, begin shaping into 1-inch balls and place about two inches apart on an (ungreased) baking sheet. After all the dough has been formed into balls, begin creating the thumbprints and filling with jam. (The recipe suggested using the end of a wooden spoon, but I found it easier to use a knuckle or my thumb). Be careful when making the indention not to reach the bottom of the dough, otherwise the jam will leak out. Fill the thumbprint with about 1/4 teaspoon jam, or as much as will fit. Bake the filled cookies at 350 for 14 to 16 minutes, or until set and golden on the bottom. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool and store in an air-tight container.

Of all the cookies we made this holiday season, these were easily my favorite. The cookie was soft and chewy with a perfectly golden, crisp bottom. They had a delicious buttery, creamy texture that paired perfect with the jam filling. I literally could eat these all day long. We used strawberry and raspberry jam, and both were delicious (though, the strawberry were better in my opinion). I imagine these would be good with pretty much any flavor jam under the sun.

If there’s one of our Christmas cookies you try, this should definetly be the one — I promise you won’t be disappointed. And, since it’s not really a Christmasy cookie, you have no reason not to make these right now. Yes…they’re that good.

This recipe was featured in a 2009 holiday cookie magazine from Taste of Home, but you can also find it on the Taste of Home website.

Honey Rolls

Last year Billy and I hosted our first holiday. I was determined to find the perfect bread/roll recipe since it’s such an important part of every holiday table (especially with a bunch of hungry Italians). I can’t even remember where I found the recipe for these honey rolls, but we won’t ever go another holiday without them.

Here’s what you’ll need: (for three dozen rolls)
– 3 packages active dry yeast
– 2 cups warm water (between 100 and 110 degrees)
– 1/4 cup honey
– 2 tbsp canola oil
– 1 tbsp salt
– 2 eggs, plus 1 egg, separated
– about 8 cups bread flour
– 1/2 tsp cold water

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl if using a hand mixer), dissolve yeast in warm water. Once all the yeast has dissolved and the mixture has become frothy, about two minutes, add the honey, oil, salt, two eggs, the yolk of the separated egg, and five cups of the bread flour. Mix on low to medium speed until smooth. The dough will still be pretty sticky at this point, but you’re just trying to get everything combined. Begin adding the remainder of the flour, one half-cup at a time, until a stiff dough is formed. You may not end up using the entire eight cups of flour, but just base it on how the dough looks and feels. When you poke it, it should hold the form of your finger but shouldn’t be sticky enough to stick to your fingers.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about six to eight minutes. You’ll know when the dough is ready based on the way it looks and feels — you’ll also notice a difference from the time you took it out of the mixing bowl and the time you started kneading. Form the dough into a ball and place it into a large greased bowl, turning once to cover the entire surface of the dough with grease. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about one hour.

Punch the dough down (it’s perfectly normal to picture someone’s head while doing this :)) and begin dividing and forming the dough into desired sizes and shapes — we usually form 2-inch balls since the dough will rise again before baking. Place on a greased baking sheet, one to two inches apart, and cover. Let the divided pieces rise until doubled, about 40 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Beat the white of the separated egg with the 1/2 teaspoon of cold water and brush over dough. Bake at 350 for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the baking sheet immediately and let cool on a wire rack.

Sorry for the horrible picture…but it’s the best I could get in the midst of all the Thanksgiving madness. Regardless, I guarantee these will be some of the best rolls you’ve ever had. They’re perfectly fluffy (yet substantial) on the inside and have a nice firm crust. The hint of honey really makes these rolls stand out in comparison to a regular bread dough, but it definitely doesn’t give them an overwhelmingly sweetness. They’re full of flavor, with or without butter, and they make a great Thanksgiving leftovers sandwich. This is most definitely our go-to recipe for rolls, any time of the year (and it should be yours, too!).

Pumpkin-Chocolate Cheesecake Bars

This is the first holiday season that I’ve actually been excited about baking. I’ve never been much of a baker, and for the most part I still leave most of the baking up to Billy, but the results are always so darn tasty that it’s hard to resist. And what better time to bake and try new recipes than the holidays, right?

I’ve never been a huge fan of pumpkin pie (I know what you’re thinking…who doesn’t love pumpkin pie?) and Billy doesn’t eat it at all. So this year I decided I’d find a new pumpkin-related dessert and give it a shot. Turns out it only took one try to find a success — Better Homes and Garden’s pumpkin-chocolate cheesecake bars were a huge hit at both families Thanksgivings. They’re definitely worth the time they take, so I encourage you to give them a try for Christmas or keep them in mind for next year!

Here’s what you’ll need:
Crust
– 1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
– 1/4 cup sugar
– 1/3 cup butter, melted
Pumpkin
– 2 (8 oz.) packs cream cheese
– 1 3/4 cups sugar
– 3 eggs
– 1 cup canned pumpkin
– 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or a mix of cinnamon, cloves and ginger)
– 1/2 tsp vanilla
– 1/4 tsp salt
Chocolate
– 1 cup semisweet chocolate pieces
– 2 tbsp butter
Topping
– 1 1/4 cup sour cream
– 1/4 sugar
– chocolate pieces and nutmeg (for garnish)

This recipe is done in phases, so at first glance it seems like its going to be a beast. In actuality it’s really pretty easy, it just takes time and there’s a lot of waiting in between steps. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

The first step in the process is to make the “crust.” In a small bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs and the first 1/4 cup of sugar. Stir in the 1/2 cup melted butter and press evenly into a greased 13×9 pan. Set aside.

Next, combine the cream cheese and 1 3/4 cups sugar in a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat on low speed until completely combined before adding the next egg. Once combined, add the pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice, vanilla and salt. Beat on low speed until completely combined. Remove 1 1/4 cups of the mixture and set aside.

Meanwhile, combine the chocolate and 2 tablespoons of butter in a medium saucepan. Over low heat, stir constantly until completely melted. Whisk the 1 1/4 cups of the pumpkin mixture into the melted chocolate and butter. Once combined, pour over the graham cracker crust and spread evenly across. Bake at 325 for 15 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and pour the remainder of the pumpkin mixture over the baked chocolate layer. Return to the oven and bake (still at 325) for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the pumpkin has puffed up and the center has set. Remove from the oven and cool, in the pan, on a wire rack for 30 minutes.

Finally, combine the sour cream and the remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a small bowl. Carefully spread over the pumpkin layer and continue to cool. Once the bars are completely cool, cover and refrigerate for at least three hours before serving. Cut into bars (24 to 36, depending on size) and garnish with chocolate pieces and ground nutmeg.

I will probably get yelled at by some people for saying this, but these bars were way better than pumpkin pie. Every single day since Thanksgiving I’ve been craving these stupid bars. They’ve got so many different layers of flavor and texture, but they all work together to form an overall great dessert. The texture of the pumpkin and cream cheese layer is so smooth and creamy and the graham cracker and chocolate layers give it a little crunch. Pumpkin is definitely the star of the show here, but each layer really adds to the flavor of the bars. These bars will most definitely be a Martin family tradition from now on!

I got this recipe from the 2009 Holiday Recipe Collection edition of Better Homes and Gardens magazine. I couldn’t find the recipe anywhere online. Hopefully you can trust my rendition enough to try them anyway. 🙂