Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The 2013 Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap

Cookies, I have decided, are NOT my forte.  While I love me a good chocolate chip with milk, my cookie baking karma isn't quite up to snuff.  I'm not sure if my oven isn't properly calibrated (it's possible) or it's just too warm/dry here in Arizona (also possible), but my cookie-making prowess isn't even a tenth of what I'd like it to be.
Even in the face of my cookineptitude (I also love me a good portmanteau), I boldly signed up for this year's Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap (this is its third year).  Why did I do it?  Because I'm crazy each year, the cookie swap raises and donates money to Cookies for Kids Cancer, an amazing organization that raises money for research and new treatments for pediatric cancer.  You may know that different cancers require different treatments, but what you may not know is that many oncology treatments are not considered appropriate or safe for children.  Testing is "iffy" (I think that's the technical term), since medical testing on children is, well, horrifying to some and considered unethical by just about everyone.  As such, developing appropriate treatments is difficult and often more expensive.  And while I rage against the colon cancer that took my dad, I'm often brought to my knees at how pediatric cancer has affected my life, even if not as dramatically.  My dear friend Kirsten lost her sister to cancer; Lily, my friend Alicia's daughter, lost her battle last December, and my husband's baby brother fought (and has won, so far) two rounds of non-Hodgkins lymphoma.  Losing a parent to cancer is awful, heinous, and vile.  Losing a child to cancer, well, I haven't found any words that could bring justice to it.
And being armed as such, with no words to comfort those who have lost their children and siblings and friends to pediatric cancers, I happily tied my apron and failed gloriously at my first attempt at the cookies I was to send out for this year's cookie swap.
So I went to the store, bought more butter, and failed again at a completely. different. recipe.
Good cause or not, at that point, I was ready to break things.  And yes, I cried.  I was actually this close:  | |  to running back to the store for some pre-made, preservative-filled slice and bake... things.
But instead, I took a deep breath, double checked the recipe, made some modifications, and managed a cookie that was tasty and (sort of) pretty.
And then I shipped them off, swearing I'd never make cookies ever again.

So here's the deal.  The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap is kind of a round robin, pay it forward, secret Santa situation.  Each participant is given the names and addresses of three other participants, but everyone is sworn to secrecy as to who sends to whom (while this wasn't a big deal for me, since I have never known the people to whom I send my cookies, it's possible in food blogging circles that the participants know each other).  But the three people to whom I sent my cookies were not the same people from whom I received cookies.
Am I making sense?
I didn't think so.
Really, the only thing you need to know is that you reap what you sow - send three packages of cookies out (a dozen each), and you shall receive three packages in return.

We won't discuss the first recipe I attempted.  But that's OK.  The cookie I finally ended up with was, I think, a much better idea at the end of the day anyway.
Now that I've made mustard, ice cream, and pie with beer, it was time to move on to the cookie.  Beer is great with cookies.  In fact, the brewery whose beer I used for this recipe serves its seasonal Winter Warmer with gingersnaps.  So what better ingredient to add to a cookie recipe?  Using a winter seasonal offers a taste of the holiday season without being smacked in the face with it (I'm looking at you, craft stores selling cinnamon-scented pine cones).  For the flavor to really come through, don't worry about adding any additional spices.  You'll still be able to taste them all.  Trust me.
But just in case, you'd better pour yourself a beer.

Winter Spiced Ale and Brown Sugar Cookies
Adapted from The Beeroness

  • 12 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened (but not too soft)
  • 1 1/2 c dark brown sugar (you can use light, but I prefer the darker, mostly for color)
  • 1 large egg yolk, room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/3 c winter seasonal spiced ale (I used San Tan Brewing Company's Rail Slide Imperial Spiced Ale; if you can't get Rail Slide near you, I'm really sorry, but I'm sure your local craft beer place has a great winter seasonal as well)
  • 1 1/4 c all purpose flour
  • 1 c bread flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp corn starch

**The original recipe calls for baking powder as well.  I tried with and without the baking powder, and it made a huge difference in my cookies not spreading and turning into one super-cookie during the baking process, so if you have an unpredictable oven or, like me, bad baking karma, I recommend that you also omit it.

In a large, non-reactive bowl, combine flours, baking soda, salt, and cornstarch.  Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and brown sugar on low speed until just combined. Add the egg yolk and vanilla.  Add the beer and beat until just combined.
Add the flour mixture to the beer mixture and combine, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.  Do not over-mix.
Using a cookie scoop, a melon baller, or a spoon, scoop out balls of dough (smaller than a golf ball but larger than a marble) and place onto parchment paper-covered cookies sheets (or, if you're all fancy, use Sil-Pat; I am not fancy).
Chill at least a half hour.
Preheat the oven to 325°.  Take cookies from the refrigerator directly to the oven and back for 7-8 minutes, or until the edges just start to brown.
Place the cookies on a cooling rack immediately to cool.

And off they, went, to their new homes!

Just kidding - I did actually pack them in pretty tins.
These ale cookies went to:
Guten Appetit, ladies - I hope you enjoyed them, with or without a pint!  Check out their blogs, too, to see where their goodies ended up going!

Of course, while I do subscribe to the "it's better to give than to receive" policy, it was exciting to check the mailbox this month, knowing that I'd be having a snack shortly thereafter (HRH was pretty excited about that, too, and she was crushed when I told her that it would happen a mere three times).

Thanks to Melissa at Treats with a Twist for her white chocolate-dipped cranberry walnut macaroons, Zainab at Blahnik Baker for her soft and chewy butterscotch gingersnaps (or as Husband says, buttah-scotch), and Monique at Ambitious Kitchen for her white chocolate, cherry, and macadamia nut oatmeal cookies.  All three Philistines devoured them, and HRH even found a new love for coconut (in cookie form, at least), while Husband was thrilled to have a chewy gingersnap ("I just don't like crunchy cookies").  And even though HRH is sad that the cookies in the mail have come to an end, it's probably a good thing for my waistline that they did, for who can resist freshly baked cookies, delivered to your door (not me, that's certain)???

A big shout out goes to all of the participants (and even some who couldn't participate but who donated anyway) in this year's Great Food Blogger Cookies Swap; together, we have raised $13,778.40 for Cookies for Kids Cancer.  My heart is full that so many people wanted to not only share their delicious cookies but also make a difference for those who are engaged in a battle that they, unlike me, do not have the luxury of failing.  If you have ever doubted that people are truly kind in nature, just take this into consideration.
Thank you, too, to this year's sponsors, OXO, Dixie Crystals, Gold Medal Flour, and Grandma's Molasses, and to Lyndsay of Love and Olive Oil and Julie of The Little Kitchen for once again planning this incredible event.
If you'd like the chance to sign up for the next cookie swap, you can add you name to the list here.
A link that gives a list of all the participants and their recipes will be added soon.

Full disclosure: I did receive some awesome OXO spatulas as a gift for my participation in the cookie swap, but as this little blog is a mere hobby of mine, I wasn't asked to give my opinion on any of the aforementioned brands or of the spatulas.  I didn't specifically use the brands (I've actually NEVER used molasses), and aside from OXO, I can't personally vouch for their quality (I have several OXO products, and so I was pretty stoked to receive the spatulas; also, I love the word spatula and wanted to see how many times I could use it in a blog post).  However, I thank them all of my own accord for not shirking their corporate and civic responsibilities and for using their brands to make a positive difference in the lives of children.

One more thing - if you also love the word spatula, this is for you:

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