pumpkin ginger muffins

copy-of-img_9794

I am not done with pumpkin. Everyone has moved onto cranberries and is all blasé about pumpkin now. “Pumpkin is so November.” Well, I for one am not done.

copy-of-img_9708

I’ve been looking for a good pumpkin muffin recipe for a while. What has been holding me back is the add-ins – dried cranberries, raisins, and nuts are all fine, but they aren’t the perfect match for pumpkin that I was looking for. I finally figured it out when my friend mentioned that she had a great recipe for pumpkin muffins that included a lot of ginger. Of course – crystallized ginger has just the texture and flavor that I wanted.

copy-of-img_9720

My friend’s recipe uses powdered ginger, which I eliminated in favor of adding the crystallized ginger. It also didn’t include salt, which I thought was weird, so I added some. I also changed the order that the ingredients were mixed, adding the sugar with the liquid ingredients instead of the dry. Also, the original recipe called for half of the flour to be added at the end, after everything else had been mixed. I didn’t understand the point of that, so I just added all of the flour to the dry ingredients.

These are the pumpkin muffins I’ve been looking for – pumpkiny and moist and tender with spicy ginger bits. The only thing I would change is adding the powdered ginger back in – without it, the muffins are too sweet, and the crystallized ginger doesn’t provide as much spiciness as I thought it would. And with the addition of molasses, these resemble gingerbread, so they could actually be perfect for everyone who’s ready to move onto December-specific treats.

Ginger Pumpkin Muffins

Makes 8 muffins

1 cup (5 ounces) unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ cup (2.5 ounces) minced crystallized ginger (optional; or add your preferred mix-in)
1 egg
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) packed light brown sugar
½ cup canned pumpkin
¼ cup molasses
3 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons milk

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350F. Spray standard muffin tin with nonstick vegetable cooking spray.

2. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl.In a separate mixing bowl, whisk egg until broken up.Add sugar and whisk until combined. Whisk in pumpkin, molasses, butter, and milk.

3. Add crystallized ginger to dry ingredients and stir to combine. Add pumpkin mixture and fold with rubber spatula until batter comes together and ginger is evenly distributed. Do not overmix.

4. Divide batter among 8 muffin cups.Bake until toothpick inserted into center of muffin comes out clean, 20-25 minutes.Cool in pan 5 minutes, then remove from pan and serve.

copy-of-img_9870

decorated sugar cookies

copy-2-of-img_8949

Decorated sugar cookies are a basic recipe that every established baker needs in their arsenal. I’ve got the frosting down, but I’ve haven’t quite found the right cookie.

It’s a tall order. I want a sugar cookie that’s super tender with only, maybe, if absolutely necessary, the smallest bit of crispness to it, just on the edges. I want it to be flavorful enough to eat on its own, but made that much better by frosting. I want it to be easy to roll out. And I want it to use butter and no shortening.

copy-of-img_8910

These cookies were described as soft and chewy with great butter flavor, so it seemed like a good recipe to try. Except that they weren’t soft. Damn it. The recipe specifically says bake for 6-9 minutes or they’ll be crisp, and it’s possible that I, um, didn’t bother to set a timer. In my defense, I took them out of the oven when they were just showing a bit of browning on the bottom edge; the bottom of each cookie is a nice light gold.

copy-of-img_8923Whether they’re overcooked or not, I have a feeling this isn’t my ideal sugar cookie recipe. My problem is actually that the dough doesn’t need to be refrigerated before being rolled out. For the dough to be unsticky enough to be rolled without chilling, it has to have quite a bit of flour in it. I think the flour contributes to the crispness of the cookie, and of course it detracts from the butter and sugar flavors that cookies are all about.

copy-of-img_8932

If you have the perfect sugar cookie recipe, please let me know! In the meantime, I’ll be making this one with a half cup less flour. And then trying not to eat frosting by the spoonful.

copy-of-img_8939

Update 11.4.08: I still had dough in the fridge after I posted this entry.  After reading bakingblonde’s comment below, I tried rolling it thicker and was careful to bake the cookies for only 6 minutes.  They were so much better – soft and tender.  I do think next time I’ll reduce the flour just a bit, and I’ll add some lemon zest.  I also plan on going through all of the recipes everyone recommended below (which, from my initial glance at each, are quite similar to this one) and taking my favorite aspects of each.

Famous Sugar Cookies (adapted from bakingblonde)

2¾ cups (13.75 ounces) flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) butter, very soft
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 375F. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and baking powder.

2. Beat butter until smooth, about 1 minute. Add sugar and continue beating until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg and vanilla and beat until combined, about 30 seconds. Add dry ingredients and beat at low speed until just combined, about 30 seconds, scraping down bowl as needed.

3. Place dough on floured work surface and roll to ⅓-inch thickness. Use cookie cutter to cut desired shapes.

4. Place cookies on baking sheets and bake for 6-9 minutes, until cookies are beginning to brown on bottom and around edges. Don’t overbake or they will be crisp.

5. Transfer to wire racks to cool. Cool completely before frosting.

I decorated the cookies with Easy Vanilla Buttercream.

copy-of-img_8953

daring bakers jan 2008: lemon meringue pie

copy-of-dscn2807.jpg

I saw so excited to see that this month’s Daring Baker challenge was lemon meringue pie! Not only do I love lemon, but the one lemon meringue pie I’ve made was several years ago and was only partially successful. It seemed to me like this had to potential to be a fairly difficult challenge – pie crust, lemon curd, meringue. But when Jen of The Canadian Baker revealed this recipe to us, she expressed some concern that it might not be challenging enough for everyone.

She needn’t have worried. As one person after another wrote in to the DB private blog that they had followed the recipe exactly and had lemon meringue soup to show for their efforts, I started to get worried. And it seemed that for every disaster, there was another DBer chiming in that they had followed the recipe exactly and had perfect results. It goes without saying that I was hoping to be in the latter group.

I was not. I, however, cannot claim that I followed the recipe exactly. Because I screwed up.

copy-of-dscn2861.jpg

It was all going swimmingly until I baked the pie at the end. The crust was a bit thicker than I’m used to, and the filling overflowed the crust a bit after I added the meringue, but these are minor qualms. (Ah – I see now that the recipe is developed for a 10-inch pan, and I only have 9-inch pans. That explains it.) The problem arose when I opened the oven to bake the pie and realized that I needed to adjust the racks and add a sheet pan below to catch drips. As I fumbled around with these corrections, I cranked the oven thermometer up to make sure the heater stayed on.

About five minutes after I put the pie in, a smell reminiscent of marshmallows roasting on a campfire reminded me that I hadn’t turned the oven back down. At this point the meringue was a beautiful mix of almost black, tan, and white. Afraid of it turning entirely black, I took the pie out far earlier than the recipe instructed.

And like many DBers, my filling did not set. Is it because I baked the pie at 450 degrees for 5 minutes instead of 375 degrees for 20 minutes? I don’t know. The next day, however, the filling was nice and solid, although the meringue was insufficiently cooked.

copy-of-dscn2868.jpg

I do know that this unsatisfactory pie did not satisfy the desire for lemon meringue pie that I had by now developed. I also knew that I wasn’t taking any chances with the same recipe. Instead, I tried a Cooks Illustrated recipe. Unsurprisingly, it went off without a hitch. Gotta love Cooks Illustrated.

Check to see how the rest of the Daring Bakers pie experiences went!

copy-of-dscn3246.jpg

Lemon Meringue Pie (from Wanda Beaver’s Wanda’s Pie in the Sky)

Makes one 10-inch (25 cm) pie

For the Crust:
¾ cup (180 mL) cold butter; cut into ½-inch (1.2 cm) pieces
2 cups (475 mL) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (60 mL) granulated sugar
¼ tsp (1.2 mL) salt
⅓ cup (80 mL) ice water

For the Filling:
2 cups (475 mL) water
1 cup (240 mL) granulated sugar
½ cup (120 mL) cornstarch

5 egg yolks, beaten
¼ cup (60 mL) butter
¾ cup (180 mL) fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon zest
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract

For the Meringue:
5 egg whites, room temperature
½ tsp (2.5 mL) cream of tartar
¼ tsp (1.2 mL) salt
½ tsp (2.5 mL) vanilla extract
¾ cup (180 mL) granulated sugar

For the Crust: Make sure all ingredients are as cold as possible. Using a food processor or pastry cutter and a large bowl, combine the butter, flour, sugar and salt. Process or cut in until the mixture resembles coarse meal and begins to clump together. Sprinkle with water, let rest 30 seconds and then either process very briefly or cut in with about 15 strokes of the pastry cutter, just until the dough begins to stick together and come away from the sides of the bowl. Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and press together to form a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 20 minutes.

Allow the dough to warm slightly to room temperature if it is too hard to roll. On a lightly floured board (or countertop) roll the disk to a thickness of ⅛ inch (.3 cm). Cut a circle about 2 inches (5 cm) larger than the pie plate and transfer the pastry into the plate by folding it in half or by rolling it onto the rolling pin. Turn the pastry under, leaving an edge that hangs over the plate about ½ inch (1.2 cm). Flute decoratively. Chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Line the crust with foil and fill with metal pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden. Cool completely before filling.
For the Filling: Bring the water to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan. Remove from the heat and let rest 5 minutes. Whisk the sugar and cornstarch together. Add the mixture gradually to the hot water, whisking until completely incorporated.

Return to the heat and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. The mixture will be very thick. Add about 1 cup (240 mL) of the hot mixture to the beaten egg yolks, whisking until smooth. Whisking vigorously, add the warmed yolks to the pot and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in butter until incorporated. Add the lemon juice, zest and vanilla, stirring until combined. Pour into the prepared crust. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming on the surface, and cool to room temperature.

For the Meringue: Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Using an electric mixer beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar, salt and vanilla extract until soft peaks form. Add the sugar gradually, beating until it forms stiff, glossy peaks. Pile onto the cooled pie, bringing the meringue all the way over to the edge of the crust to seal it completely. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden. Cool on a rack. Serve within 6 hours to avoid a soggy crust.

The Ultimate Lemon Meringue Pie (from Cooks Illustrated)

Makes one 9-inch pie

Graham Cracker-Coated Pie Shell
1¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter , chilled and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
4 tablespoons vegetable shortening , chilled
3-4 tablespoons cold water
½ cup graham cracker crumbs

Lemon Filling
1 cup granulated sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon table salt
1½ cups cold water
6 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon lemon zest from 1 lemon
½ cup lemon juice from 2 to 3 lemons
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Meringue Topping
1 tablespoon cornstarch
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
½ cup granulated sugar
4 large egg whites
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1. For the pie shell: Mix flour, salt and sugar in food processor fitted with steel blade. Scatter butter pieces over flour mixture, tossing to coat butter with a little of the flour. Cut butter into flour with five 1 second pulses. Add shortening; continue cutting in until flour is pale yellow and resembles coarse cornmeal with butter bits no larger than a small pea, about four more 1-second pulses. Turn mixture into medium bowl.

2. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons cold water over mixture. Using rubber spatula, fold water into mixture; press down on dough mixture with broad side of spatula until dough sticks together. If dough will not come together, add up to 1 tablespoon more cold water. Shape dough into ball, then flatten into 4-inch-wide disk. Dust lightly with flour, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 30 minutes before rolling.

3. Generously sprinkle work area with 2 tablespoons graham cracker crumbs. Place dough on work area. Scatter a few more crumbs over dough. Roll dough from center to edges, turning it into a 9-inch disk, rotating a quarter turn after each stroke and sprinkling additional crumbs underneath and on top as necessary to coat heavily. Flip dough over and continue to roll, but not rotate, to form a 13-inch disk slightly less than 1/8-inch thick.

4. Fold dough into quaarters; place dough point in center of 9-inch Pyrex pie pan. Unfold to cover pan completely, letting excess dough drape over pan lip. To fit dough to pan, lift edge of dough with one hand and press dougn in pan bottom with other hand; repeat process around circumferences of pan to ensure dough fits properly and is not stretched. Trim all around, ½-inch past lip of pan. Tuck ½ inch of overhanging dough under so folded edge is flush with lip of pan; press to seal. Press thumb and index finger about ½-inch apart against outside edge of dough, then use index finger or knuckle of other hand to poke a dent on inside edge of dough through opening created by the other fingers. Repeat to flute around perimeter of pie shell.

5. Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes. Use fork to prick shell at ½-inch intervals; press a doubled 12-inch square of aluminum foil into pie shell; prick again and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

6. Adjust oven rack to lowest position, heat oven to 400 degrees. Bake, checking occasionally for ballooning, until crust is firmly set, about 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees, remove foil, and continue to bake until crust is crisp and rich brown in color, about 10 minutes longer.

7. For the filling: Mix sugar, cornstarch, salt, and water in a large, nonreactive saucepan. Bring mixture to simmer over medium heat, whisking occasionally at beginning of the process and more frequently as mixture begins to thicken. When mixture starts to simmer and turn translucent, whisk in egg yolks, two at a time. Whisk in zest, then lemon juice, and finally butter. Bring mixture to a brisk simmer, whisking constantly. Remove from heat, place plastic wrap directly on surface of filling to keep hot and prevent skin from forming.

8. For the meringue: Mix cornstarch with 1/3 cup water in small saucepan; bring to simmer, whisking occasionally at beginning and more frequently as mixture thickens. When mixture starts to simmer and turn translucent, remove from heat. Let cool while beating egg whites.

9. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Mix cream of tartar and sugar together. Beat egg whites and vanilla until frothy. Beat in sugar mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time; until sugar is incorporated and mixture forms soft peaks. Add cornstarch mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time; continue to beat meringue to stiff peaks. Remove plastic from filling and return to very low heat during last minute or so of beating meringue (to ensure filling is hot).

10. Pour filling into pie shell. Using a rubber spatula, immediately distribute meringue evenly around edge then center of pie to keep it from sinking into filling. Make sure meringue attaches to pie crust to prevent shrinking. Use spoon to create peaks all over meringue. Bake pie until meringue is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Transfer to wire rack and cool to room temperature. Serve.

copy-of-dscn3221.jpg

martha martha martha (maple walnut cupcakes)

dscn2685.jpg

For someone who’s been very interested in food and cooking for a large part of her life, I was late catching onto Martha Stewart fanhood. I just didn’t know much about her, for whatever reason. I didn’t watch her show, I didn’t read her magazine, and I hadn’t made any of her recipes. But then last Christmas, my mother-in-law gave me Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook.

This is a really great book. For one thing, every recipe has a beautiful picture accompanying it. Also, many of the recipes include garnishes. What a relief for someone like me, who is new to caring about garnishes! But more important, of course, are the recipes themselves. There’s a great mix of classics, like chocolate chip cookies and buttermilk biscuits, to more advanced but still familiar recipes, like a wedding cake and croissants, plus a good peppering of more original ideas, like grapefruit cookies and rum-raisin pie. I’m especially excited to make my way through some of the cookie recipes. Whoever heard of grapefruit in cookies? Yum!

I’ve been craving cupcakes for quite some time now, and I wanted something a little bit more…interesting that your standard old chocolate or vanilla. These were perfect! I’m especially happy with the maple buttercream frosting. I had my doubts going in, because I haven’t had the most successful history of working with buttercream. Also, I was only making a third of the recipe. I know buttercream is very temperature sensitive, and this much smaller amount was going to change temperatures a lot faster than the recipe indicates. And, I was worried about the method of combining the maple syrup and the egg yolk. The syrup is heated to 240 degrees (my probe thermometer tops out at 212 degrees, so I guessed and hoped for the best), then drizzled into the egg yolk. 240 degrees is…hot, especially for egg. But, it all seemed to work out! The buttercream did show signs of breaking, but I tried beating it more, and it actually came together very nicely!

The only change I would make to the recipe is to toast the walnuts before mixing them with the batter. Oh, and I wouldn’t spill a quarter of the dry ingredient mixture on the counter and then not notice until the cupcakes were in the oven. All in all, they were really good.  And cute!

dscn2680.jpg

Maple-Walnut Cupcakes (from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook)
Makes 2 dozen

2¾ cups (13.75 ounces) unbleached flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 ½ cups (10.5 ounces) granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup milk
1½ cups (5.5 ounces) walnuts, toasted, chopped medium-fine
Maple Buttercream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two standard 12-up muffin pans with paper liners. Into a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs and vanilla, and beat until combined. With the mixer still on medium speed, add the flour mixture in two parts, alternating with the milk and beginning and ended with the flour. Fold in the walnuts.

Divide the batter evenly among he muffin cups, adding about 1/3 cup to each. Bake, rotating the pans halfway through, until cupcakes are golden and a cake tester inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 18-20 minutes. Transfer the pans to a wire rack to cool slightly. Invert the cupcakes onto the rack; then reinvert and let them cool completely, top sides up. Frost tops with Maple Buttercream. Cupcakes can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Maple Buttercream
Makes enough for 2 dozen cupcakes (about 2 cups)

This frosting can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to three days. Bring to room temperature before using.

3 large eggs yolks
1 cup pure maple syrup
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitting with the whisk attachment, beat the egg yolks on high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes; set aside. In a small saucepan set over medium-high heat, bring the maple syrup to a boil, and cook until it registers 240 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat.

With the mixer running, slowly pour syrup down the side of the bowl in a slow, steady stream, until completely incorporated, about 1 minute. Continue beating until bowl is just slightly warm to the touch, 4 to 5 minutes. Add butter, one piece at a time, until thoroughly incorporated and the frosting is fluffy, about 4 minutes more.

dscn2688.jpg

a handful of vagueness (pasta with meyer lemon, creme fraiche, and parmesan)

dscn2150.jpg

My next Meyer lemon experiment was a savory recipe from Amanda Hesser’s Cooking for Mr. Latte. This is the type of recipe that drives me crazy – a handful of this and a few handfuls of that. Seriously? I don’t see anything wrong giving exact measurements – of course everyone adjusts recipes to their own tastes, but you want to at least give your readers a starting point. Especially when you say something like “quickly fold in the ingredients, adding more to taste.” I’m supposed to fold, taste, fold, taste, fold, when I’m in a hurry?

Anyway. Somewhere along the line when I was reading about Meyer lemons, I read that one reason that their availability is often limited is that they aren’t as hardy as regular lemons. Apparently, this is true. I bought the lemons on Saturday and figured I had plenty of time to use them, but by Tuesday, they weren’t looking so hot, so I rushed to use them that day.

dscn2141.jpg

This recipe involved another new ingredient for me – crème fraiche. Pretty good stuff. Kind of like mellow sour cream.

Not only are the ingredient amounts basically useless, but the method for this recipe didn’t really work either. Hesser instructs the reader to grate “a handful” of parmesan cheese into a bowl along with some lemon zest, then add “three handfuls” of arugula. (Grr.) The cooked pasta is added to the bowl, then the crème fraiche and some of the pasta cooking water is stirred in. The problem is that the hot pasta melted the cheese into clumps, and I couldn’t get them to melt into a smooth sauce. The lemon zest clumped with the parmesan clumps, so there really wasn’t an even distribution of flavors.

dscn2145.jpg

All that being said, the recipe has lots of potential. The flavors were good, although I needed more arugula, more parmesan (of course!), and more zest. And, unlike with the lemon bars, I think the Meyer lemons may be important to the recipe. I’m actually hesitant to try it with regular lemons, although it’s probably worth the experiment. It’s a great weeknight meal, because all of the other ingredients can be prepared while the pasta is cooking. Just don’t expect Hesser’s recipe to help you along at all!

Pasta with Meyer lemon, crème fraiche, and parmesan (adapted from Amanda Hesser’s Cooking for Mr. Latte)
Serves 4

The amounts listed for each ingredient are loosely based on Hesser’s recipe. However, it is expected that your personal tastes may vary and you may want to adjust the quantities accordingly.

1 pound pasta (any shape)
salt
3 ounces arugula, chopped
zest from 2 lemons
juice from 2 lemons
½ cup crème fraiche
½ ounce parmesan cheese, grated
ground black pepper

1. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta. Cook until al dente. Drain, reserving ½ cup of the water.

2. Mix hot pasta with remaining ingredients, making sure to add cheese after crème fraiche to avoid clumps. Stir in reserved water if pasta is sticky. Serve in heated pasta bowls.

dscn2151.jpg

belated wishes (slice-a-fancy cookies)

dscn1929.jpg

As much as I love my friends and family, I am terrible at getting gifts out to them on time. Invariably, I won’t start looking for gift ideas until after I’ve made the call (or email or text message) to wish the person a happy birthday

And that is why my good friend Sidfaiwu, whose birthday is before Thanksgiving, got Christmas cookies along with the rest of his birthday gift.

copy-of-img_0256Updated photo 12.13.08

These cookies are as much a Christmas tradition in my family as santa or the decorated tree. Although I can’t remember a Christmas without them, this is my first time making them.

The dough itself is simple – a classic cookie dough recipe where the butter and sugars are creamed together, the eggs are beaten in, and the pre-mixed dry ingredients are added. It’s in the shaping that the recipe gets interesting. The dough is divided into equal portions, colored, patted into rectangles, then stacked and cut to form cookies. This is where the recipe really shines, because it’s an easy way to make an impressive variety of shapes.

dscn1875.jpg dscn1882.jpg

dscn1888.jpg dscn1918.jpg

I hope Sid enjoys these as much as I always have!

Yes, Dave and I got him a math calendar for his birthday.  We are the coolest friends ever.

dscn1944.jpg

Slice a Fancy Cookies (from Family Circle)

I was working from a shorthand recipe that I’d copied in a hurry a few years ago.  This is the real version (updated from my original post), although I’ve modernized it a bit.  Apparently I made the “ribbon fancies”.  I would just call them striped, but what do I know.

Makes about 12 dozen cookies

4 cups (18 ounces) unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1¼ cups (2½ sticks) butter
1 cup (7 ounces) firmly packed light brown sugar
½ cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1. Mix flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda.
2. Beat butter with brown and granulated sugars until fluffy; beat in eggs and vanilla. Blend in flour mixture.
3. Divide evenly into 3 bowls. Flavor, shape, and decorate each variety, following recipes below.
4. Slice frozen cookie dough into 1/4-inch sections and place on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake at 350º for 8-10 minutes. Remove from cookie sheets to wire racks; cool completely.

Ribbon Fancies

Divide one bowl of dough into three equal portions. Tint one third red, one green and leave one plain. Roll out each section into a 9 x 3-inch rectangle between sheets of parchment (or wax) paper; chill in freezer 10 minutes; halve each rectangle lengthwise. Brush tops very lightly with milk. Lay one plain stripe, on top of that place a green, then red, than green again, and red, and then white layer on top of each other. Wrap in wax paper and freeze for several hours at least. When ready to bake, follow above directions.

Pinwheel Twirls

Divide second bowl of dough in half. Tint one half red or green; leave other half plain. Roll out each half to a 9×9-inch square between sheets of parchment paper; peel off top sheets. Lay tinted dough, paper side up, on top of plain dough. Peel off paper. Roll up doughs tightly, jelly-roll fashion. Wrap in wax paper; freeze at least several hours. When ready to bake, follow above directions.

Checkerboards

Divide third bowl of dough in half. Blend ½ square unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled, into one half; leave other half plain. Roll out each half to a 9×3-inch rectangle, chill. Cut each rectangle lengthwise into 8 strips, each 3/8-inch wide. Carefully lift a chocolate strip with a long-bladed spatula and place on a clean sheet of wax paper; lay a plain strip close to it, then repeat with a chocolate and plain strip to make a four-stripe ribbon about 1½ inches wide. Brush very lightly with milk. Build a second, third, and fourth layer, alternating plain and chocolate strips each time and brushing each layer with milk before adding the next one. Wrap in wax paper; freeze. When ready to bake, follow above directions.