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Baking & Banter

The four bakers -- (from left) Mary, Amy, Carla and Beth -- show off some of the products created during their holiday baking marathon.1 / 2
Some of the finished baking products2 / 2

Four giggling schoolgirls gathered in a Windom kitchen on an unseasonably warm November day. Their mission? To bake enough cookies and other treats to satisfy their family and friends throughout the upcoming holiday season.

Those "giggling schoolgirls," however, are now all approaching 50, and I am one of them.

Last year, my close group of friends from high school (we've been friends since seventh grade -- 36 years!) scheduled a cookie bake event at one of their Twin Cities homes. Due to other obligations, I wasn't able to make it that weekend. When some of us got together earlier this fall, we set a date for the second annual Holiday Cookie Bake. It wasn't easy finding one that would work for everyone, but we finally settled on an early November Saturday.

In the end, four out of six of us were able to avoid scheduling conflicts. Amy Reker Lynch, Carla Bowyer Sweeney and I showed up at the home of Mary Ormberg Theesfeld in Windom, and spent all day mixing, baking, frosting and dipping enough treats to make the holiday workload a little lighter. To make it even easier, we had all done some homework, preparing in advance one or two offerings and prebaking sugar cookies so only the decorations were left. The following day, we returned to our respective homes, our cars filled to the brim with plastic containers full of cookies and candies.

Since it was close to 70 degrees that day, we had to rely on Christmas music to put us in proper holiday mood and even air conditioning to keep the kitchen bearable. We also shared some laughs, memories and a few glasses of wine along the way. One of the biggest giggles of the day came when Amy misread the abbreviated title on Mary's frosting recipe. "What's Pud Sug?" she queried.

With a bit of email pestering, I got each of the "schoolgirls" to share one of their recipes, including the infamous "Pud Sug" frosting.

"I got this recipe from my mom in 1986," explains hostess Mary. "It is a family favorite. Mom especially likes when I bake and bring them to her house."

Mary's Mom's Rolled Sugar Cookies

Mix together like pie crust: 3 cups sifted flour, 2 teaspoons cream of tartar, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 cup butter.

Beat 2 eggs, 1 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon almond flavoring (can use vanilla, but I prefer the almond). Add to the flour mixture. Stir. Chill thoroughly.

Roll and cut with cookie cutters. Bake at 350 degrees for 6 to 8 minutes.

Frost with Pud Sug Frosting!!

Pud Sug: Mix together 3Zc cups powdered sugar, ½ cup shortening, ¼ cup water, ½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon almond flavoring. Can also add 1 teaspoon vanilla if desired. Beat, beat, beat until smooth, creamy and fluffy.

"The Melting Moments recipe is one my sister got from a college friend in Chicago, and it has been a staple of our Christmas baking since -- early '80s," said Amy about the delicate cookies she made in advance to share. "Mary, my sister, makes them even smaller than I do, but I lose patience after a while. They are supposed to fit in your mouth. They break easily when warm -- I have been letting them cool on the pan. Frosting is easier and quicker since I use a small zip lock bag with a tiny hole on the corner. Frosting is supposed to swirl."

Amy's Melting Moments

Mix ½ pound unsalted butter, softened, Zc cup powdered sugar, ¾ cup cornstarch, 1 cup flour, pinch of salt and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Chill about 2 hours. Roll into small balls. Bake for 20 minutes at 300 degrees. Frost with Vanilla Butter Frosting.

Vanilla Butter Frosting: Combine 3 cups powdered sugar and Zc cup butter with mixer on low speed. Stir in 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla and 1 tablespoon of milk. Gradually beat in another ½ to 1 tablespoon milk to make frosting smooth and spreadable.

Carla's Buckeyes (aka Peanut Butter Balls)

Cream 2 pounds peanut butter with 1 pound butter. Add 3 pounds powdered sugar, a little at a time, making sure all is combined well.

Roll mixture into approximately 400 one-inch balls. Insert a toothpick into each ball. Refrigerate.

Melt two 12-ounce packages semisweet chocolate chips or equivalent amount of chocolate almond bark with ½ bar paraffin wax. Dip the balls into chocolate so as to almost cover the entire ball. Let cool on waxed paper. Store in a cool place.

My make-ahead contribution to the baking bonanza was Forgotten Kisses, a favorite since childhood, both because of the recipe's ease and melt-in-the-mouth mintiness. I often put a sign on the oven door to remind myself not to open it during leave-it-alone baking process. Instead of plain mint chips, I used peppermint candy ones; I also like the green mint chips.

Beth's Forgotten Kisses

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Beat 2 egg whites until fluffy. Gradually add 2/3 cup sugar, continuing to beat until very stiff, about 15 minutes. Fold in 6 ounces mint chocolate chips.

Drop mixture by teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet. Place in oven, turn off heat, shut door and DON'T PEEK for at least 5 hours or overnight.

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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