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Sugar Cookie Christmas Tree

I know you’re all frantically trying to get everything done before Christmas, and may not have time to make this cookie Christmas tree, but you might want to tuck away this idea for next year, especially if there are kids in the family. This “Christmas tree” is composed of delicious sugar cookies, covered in royal icing, which acts as a sweet “glue” keeping the tower from toppling over.

I made a similar tree last year with the grandkids, cutting out templates for each size of the cookie layers with scissors and paper templates. Even though it was a little tedious to cut using a knife around pieces of paper instead of real cookie cutters, it all came together, and they were eager to dig into it, decorated with green frosting and red candies.

This year, however, I ordered cookie cutters online made just for such a project,  and it sure made things a whole lot easier. I decorated it only in white, using royal icing, and sparkly edible crystals to simulate the feeling of snow. I made the cookie cake in steps, so the job wasn’t so onerous, baking the cookies ahead of time and freezing them, then frosting and assembling the towering tree weeks later

Here’s a closer look at the layers, which you swivel to alternate the points, as you’re building the tree. The royal icing, made of egg whites and sugar, dries as hard as cement, but you might need to just steady each layer for a moment before moving to the next. Start by “glueing” the bottom layer to the plate so it doesn’t slip.

Before you know it, you’ll have a towering edible tree, that adults and kids alike will love. It may be hard to dig in and break up this beauty, but hey, you’ll be making a lot of people happy, and you can always make another one next year. 

I’m so fortunate to have so many family members sharing in the joy with me at Christmas time, including my 97-year-old father,  who still enjoys a good glass of wine (and still plays golf!),

and the newest and youngest member of our family – my two month old granddaughter, Aurelia. And we have another new granddaughter coming any day now, from my husband’s side of the family!! Our family has really grown in the last couple of years. I count my lucky stars every day!

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas holiday too, surrounded by good friends and family. Thank you to all my readers who followed me this year. I really appreciate your support. See you in 2019!

Buon Natale e felice anno nuovo!

Sorry for the formatting of this recipe, but WordPress updated and the icon for the “Easywrite” recipe (that allows you to print the recipe without printing the entire post) is missing. I’ll try to figure it out for the next post, but if any of my readers, who are also food bloggers and who also use WordPress, can clue me in, please drop me a line and let me know. 

Cookie Christmas Tree Recipe

5 cups flour

1 1/4 tsp. salt

3 sticks butter, softened

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 large eggs

2 tsps. vanilla

Beat the butter and sugar together at a medium high speed until pale and light, then beat in the eggs and vanilla. Reduce speed to low, then add the flour, mixing until well combined.

Form dough into four balls and flatten into disks. Keep each disk wrapped for about 1/2 hour or so.

Roll out a disk of dough onto a well-floured surface, about 1/4 inch thick. I found it easiest to roll onto parchment paper, especially for the large shapes, so I could easily transfer the parchment paper to the baking sheet without risk of ripping the dough. Cut the largest shapes first, and remove the excess dough from the parchment paper. Set that dough aside to reuse with other pieces later.

Keep cutting out the stars, using the largest shape cutters two or three times each, and some of the smaller shape cutters two or three times each, until you run out of fresh dough. Make more cookies, gathering the remaining scraps and reroll them, but try not to reroll more than once, or you’ll get a tougher cookie. 

Bake in a 350 degree oven about 10 to 12 minutes.

Royal Icing

3 egg whites

1 tsp. vanilla

4 cups confectioner’s sugar

Whip egg whites until frothy and add the vanilla, then the confectioner’s sugar, 1/2 cup at a time. Beat on high speed until the mixture is glossy and thick.

Pipe or spread some of the icing on the plate to secure the first star. Then pipe or frost some of the royal icing on the tips of each layer, sprinkling with decorations immediately. Once the icing dries, you won’t be able to sprinkle anything on top. Pivot the next cookie “star” so that the tips are in a different alignment than the layer below, frosting each tip and decorating with sprinkles. Continue doing the same until you reach the top, saving the smallest star for the top. You may have to hold the cookie tree at various levels for a few minutes if it feels like it’s going to topple, until the icing sets a bit. Once the royal icing sets, it is very secure.


A Valentine’s Day Love Story

A Valentine’s Day Love Story

They met in Austria during World War II – Frank, an Italian-American soldier and Maria, a young Italian woman trying to find her way home from Czechoslovakia with a group of other displaced persons.
It had been a harrowing time for both of them: He fought his way through Europe following D-day, including the brutal Battle of the Bulge in Belgium. She endured untold indignities and fear, after being snatched from an Italian factory and sent to work in a labor camp, sewing uniforms for the Nazis.

 

But they found each other after his unit entered Linz, Austria, shortly after the war ended in Europe in May 1945. The attraction was instant, and three months later on August 15, they married in Nussdorf-am-Attersee,  a beautiful lakeside town in Austria.
After reciting their vows, they thought the bells pealing throughout the town were in celebration of their nuptials, but in reality, it was to announce Emperor Hirohito’s surrender of the Japanese to the Allies. Either way, it added more joy to their already happy day.

 

Eventually, they made their way back to her hometown near Piacenza, Italy. Her father had long since died, but her mother was still alive and jubilant when her daughter returned in the arms of an American soldier who was now her husband.
Shortly afterwards, Frank returned to the U.S. to start the process of procuring documents to patriate his new Italian wife. During their separation, letters flowed back and forth across the Atlantic, with Frank writing in Italian, the language of his parents.
“Mi sono innamorato di te dal primo giorno che ti ho vista.”
“I fell in love with you from the first time I saw you,” he writes in one letter.
The letters contain many more romantic declarations, that will be left to the readers’ imagination to ponder. I wouldn’t want to infringe too much on Maria and Frank’s privacy since Maria was my mother and Frank is my father. This is my story as much as theirs and I will never know all the background because when my mother died in 1986, she took those wartime details with her. For her, those war years were too horrifying to describe to anyone, even to my father, who had seen his share of war time atrocities.
But after my mother died, my father let me keep those treasured letters that she saved. Letters that speak  not of war, but of love and longing and separation and being reunited in the future. When I read them, I feel as though I’m secretly peering backwards into the lives of two young lovers in a steamy novel, except that they were real and they were my parents.
I can only imagine how many countless stories exist similar to my theirs – including that of my father’s brother Sam, who met his wife Irene in a small village in France during World War II. Thankfully, a professor and researcher from L’Università degli Studi in Milan, Silvia Cassamagnaghi, has written a book called “Operation War Brides,” detailing the history of this fascinating subject, including a part about my parents. The book will be available in Italian bookstores at the end of February, and I can’t wait to read it. Especially since the book jacket features two people who are very near and dear to me – my mother and father as they appeared on their wedding day.

 

You may not have a story as dramatic and romantic as my mom and dad’s, but that doesn’t mean you can’t surprise the ones you care about, whether it’s your lover, your spouse, your parents or your neighbor down the street – with a special treat on Valentine’s Day.

 

Love is our true destiny.  We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another. – Thomas Merton
 
Who, being loved, is poor? – Oscar Wilde
 
To feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life. – Pablo Neruda
 
Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity – Henry Van Dyke
 
How did it happen that their lips came together? How does it happen that birds sing, that snow melts, that the rose unfolds, that the dawn whitens behind the stark shapes of trees on the quivering summit of the hill? A kiss, and all was said – Victor Hugo
 
Happy Valentine’s Day to all my readers.
Buttery Sugar Cookies (from lifesafeast.blogspot.com)

printable recipe here

2 sticks unsalted, softened to room temperature (1/2 lb., 225 g)
3/4 cup sugar (150 g)
2 large eggs
1 T. Amaretto, optional
1/2 t. vanilla, increase to 1 t. if omitting the Amaretto
3 1/2 cups flour (525 g)

To decorate:
1 lightly beaten egg
colored sugar crystals or sprinkles

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the softened butter and the sugar until light and fluffy.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating briefly after each addition just to incorporate.
Beat in the Amaretto and vanilla and then about a third of the flour until smooth. Gradually beat in as much of the remaining flour as possible using the electric beater, then stir in the rest with a wooden spoon or a spatula.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead quickly; if you haven’t stirred in all of the flour you can knead in the rest quite easily. Once you have a smooth, homogeneous dough, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and let it chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. (180 degrees c.)

Working with about half the dough at a time, roll it out to a thickness of not less than 1/8 inch (no less than .3 cm.), being careful that the dough is very evenly rolled out. Carefully cut out shapes with your cookie cutters. Gently transfer to a cookie sheet (I use unlined, ungreased cookie sheets with no problem at all). If you want to decorate, just gently lift the cookies one by one, brush around the edges with a beaten egg, then dip in the decorative sugar before placing on the cookie sheets.

Bake for about 10 minutes. They will be set and appear cooked but they will NOT brown. You’ll know they are done because they will slide right off the cookie sheet when just nudged with a spatula. Remove from the oven and gently lift each cookie off of the baking sheet and place on a cooling rack. Allow to cool completely.