Harvest and Honey

An open-ended love letter, culinarily inspired.

milk & cookies

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While I fear it may give the impression that I am somewhat of a scrooge, in the name of transparency I will admit something to you … {takes deep breath … hovers fingers above keyboard}. Okay, here goes …

My name is Lauren, I am 33 years old, and I have never put up a Christmas tree. There! I said it. I feel better – the weight has been lifted.

Sure I’ve put up decorations here and there over the years, to celebrate the holiday season (and admittedly, because I feel obligated to do it for a number of reasons). But no tree. We’ve just never done it. I’m not really sure why, although I suspect it has more to do with utter, shameful laziness than anything else, really. We’ve moved a lot too, and I’ve adopted somewhat of an anti-hoarding philosophy when it comes to how I approach my belongings (i.e. I try to minimize my earthly possessions as much as possible). So, holiday decor has just never made the cut. Also, there have been small children added into the mix. And cats (alright fine, that’s not a real excuse). And so alas, no tree.

That is, until this year. I am happy to announce that I actually set up my first (grown-up) Christmas tree and have been enjoying every bit of its twinkling, shimmering, holly, jolly glow for the better part of the past two weeks. And surprisingly, nary a cat nor kid has wreaked any sort of havoc on it. The Christmas miracle is alive and well, I can tell you firsthand. Last night after I tucked my kids into their respective beds and made my merry way to the couch, where I planned on doing a whole lot of nothing for the next couple of hours, I found myself mesmerized by this tree … looking completely lovely in its little nook of the room … “brighten the corner where you are,” and all. It was my parent’s tree, and they so kindly passed it along to us this year, since they have another one to enjoy. I suppose they figured that their 2 trees to my 0 trees made for a very uneven score, so they generously helped to even out the playing field by gifting one to us (Thanks guys!). It is filled to the brim (to the branch?) with ornaments that were handmade by my Grandmother, Nora, and that have been the objects of my greatest affection since I was very small. In fact, after my living loves and maybe my cast iron pan, they are the things that I would save in the event of a fire. What’s more, the soft glow of the Christmas tree provides my house with the exact right amount of light to allow for ample vision (important, I suppose) while also somehow blurring the scars and mess and less than ideal marks and smudges on the floor that somehow always seem to escape my cleaning. The light from the Christmas tree somehow magically washes all of those things away, and the room just looks perfect, peaceful. Again, with the Christmas miracles …

So now here I sit, wondering just how long after the holiday I can get away with keeping this tree up and shining each night before I’ve officially become a kooky Christmas lady, embarrassing to both my children and husband alike. I’m thinking maybe I’ll just keep it up and let it ebb and flow with the changing holidays over the course of the year. How lovely would a Valentine’s Day tree be? An Easter tree … the tree for Independence! I know people do this, and I’m about ready to join their club. So long as I can keep those magical lights twinkling, I am one happy camper … just making up for lost tree time.

Anyway, enough about my Christmas tree. Let’s talk about milk and cookies. The notion of leaving out a small (or not so small) plate of cookies and a tall glass of milk for Santa is easily one of my favorite Christmas traditions and it is the inspiration behind this recipe. Along with several other blogger friends, I was invited by Natalie and Holly of The Modern Proper to join their virtual Christmas Cookie Party – Calm and Bright Cookie Night – and share a favorite Christmas cookie recipe with you. You can check out all 33 blogger’s recipes by heading to TMP (beginning today where they’ve got a full list of fantastic cookies going on – the perfect way to celebrate a favorite holiday baking tradition with friends who are scattered all over the place (and the Internet). My Milk and Cookies Trifle is a play on the beloved Christmas Eve cookies and milk tradition, and it is a really fun dessert to serve not only at a holiday party or to Saint Nick himself, but any time of year, really. That’s part of the beauty of this recipe – it’s perfectly holiday but really flexible and sort of seasonless at the same time. Trifles are easy, casual things that are messy by design; sort of like a laid back version of a layer cake, which is a-okay with me. I’ve got a recipe here for my gloriously thin and crisp chocolate chip cookies that are **AWESOME** and ideal for a trifle like this. You want a crisp cookie that will stand up to the milk and cream, and these are just the ticket. The caramel flavor that comes through in the dough is so, so good with the cream (thanks, molasses!). Somehow this seemingly simple trifle is better than the sum of its parts, and its parts are pretty special, so that’s saying something.

That said, and in the name of calm and bright nights and magical christmas tree lights, I leave you with this wonderful recipe. I hope you are all enjoying a great holiday season and I am looking so forward to sharing some exciting news with you soon. Until then, happy baking!

 

Milk & Cookies Trifle RECIPE

*adapted from the Food Network Kitchens

 

INGREDIENTS

 

2 cups dark brown sugar, packed

1-3/4 cups (3-1/2 sticks), unsalted butter, at room temp

1-1/2 cups granulated sugar

3 eggs

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, divided

2 teaspoons molasses

2-1/4 cups all purpose flour

1-1/2 teaspoons salt

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 lb semi-sweet chocolate chips

4 cups heavy whipping cream

2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2 cups milk (any percentage will do)

Chocolate shavings or chopped chocolate, to garnish (you can shave a chocolate bar with a veggie peeler to do this)

 

DIRECTIONS

 

for the cookies: 

Preheat your oven to 360 degrees F. Line baking sheets with either parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugars together until they’re soft and fluffy; takes about five minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, until well blended. Add 1/3 cup water, the vanilla, and the molasses. Mix to combine.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt and baking soda. Add this mixture to the butter mixture, mixing until well-combined. When the flour mixture is totally incorporated into the butter mixture, add the chocolate chips. Stir or mix to combine.

Drop the cookies, only six at a time, in about 2-teaspoonful sized portions onto the prepared baking sheets. They will spread significantly so make sure not to crowd them. You can also stick to baking just four at a time to be safe. Freeze the cookies (on the baking sheets) for 20 minutes prior to placing them in the oven. After the 20 minutes, bake the cookies for 15  minutes, checking them a little early to ensure they don’t overcook. You want them to be thin/flat and very golden brown, but not over done. All ovens work a little differently, so you can gauge your baking time off of your first batch.

Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheets for at least 10 minutes before you try to transfer them anywhere, as they will crisp up dramatically in that time. Set them aside and continue baking in batches of 6 until you’ve made at least 24 cookies. The trifle only takes about that many, but the cookie recipe will make quite a bit more than that. The dough freezes beautifully, though, and I typically freeze what I don’t need right away for a later time.

 

to assemble the trifle:

In the bowl of your stand mixer, or in a large mixing bowl, combine the heavy cream, confectioner’ sugar, and vanilla extract. Whip on med-high speed until stiff peaks form, about 3 – 4 minutes.

Add the milk to a bowl.

Add enough whipped cream to cover the bottom of a large trifle dish. Or you can do this in individual servings in smaller glasses. Next, dip about three or four cookies in the milk, and then place them in a layer on top of the whipped cream. I typically break them up into smaller pieces to allow for easier serving and also it helps to make an even layer. But you can leave them whole as well. Top with more whipped cream and then more dipped cookies, working up until you’ve nearly reached the top (you can go as high as you’d like here). I like to end with the whipped cream and then garnish it with a shower of chocolate shavings. Serve right away. (tip: if you want to make the trifle a little ahead of time, you can just sub in Cool Whip for the whipped cream, as it has a much longer shelf life and will not break on you in the fridge as quickly. You can do that a day or two in advance).

 

Author: Harvest & Honey

Lauren McDuffie is a freelance writer, children's book author, food blogger, and prize-winning food photographer and stylist. She lives outside of Washington DC with her husband, Lucas, and two children.

9 thoughts on “milk & cookies

  1. Your photos of food are amazing!

  2. I’m glad you’ve discovered the Christmas tree. And I love hearing what constitutes a ‘tree’ for people. I think of mine as a memorial because, like you, the ornaments are from those who are no longer with me. Some are in bad shape due to age (and cats and kids) but they still go on the tree. And I loved your description of the lights. So true! I confess to still waiting for the nutcracker under those lights to turn into the prince though.

    • I love your comment! A Christmas tree is so often a type of memorial, you’re so right. That’s why I love mine so much – it is literally filled with one memory after another. And I’m with you on the nutcracker too 😉

  3. Haha did your kids love the christmas tree? I hope they do. The way you described it sounds like it is so pretty.

    • They love the tree so much! I struggle every day trying to keep them from demolishing it, as they don’t totally understand just how fragile all of the old ornaments are, but it’s fun to watch them enjoy it. Hope school is going well for you! Do you get a nice break? Hopefully so 🙂

  4. The yoga studio I go to has the tree up all year. They put hearts for Valentine’s Day, shamarock’s for St. Patty’s, eggs and bunnies for Easter, flowers for spring, etc. You get the idea. It would be weird if that tree wasn’t there anymore. ❤️❤️

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