The countdown is on! Christmas is exactly one week away. And I am definitely not ready. I've done about 70% of my shopping and hoping to finish the rest up during the week nights...cause I have a feeling the malls and stores are going to be insane next weekend for that final Christmas push.
Things have been a bit insane around here. The last two weekends have been completely dedicated to non stop baking (more on the last weekend's baking extravaganza in a future post). The baking marathon started on Friday, December 7th with dough preparation. Followed by baking all day December 8th and half day December 9th. On the 9th, fifteen family and friends came over to our house in the afternoon with their own baked goodies so we could pack up boxes for the two recipients I signed up to bake for for this month's Operation Baking GALS.
Baking GALS, it's a group of volunteer bakers who bake and ship goodies to military deployed overseas once a month. I've been participating since May of this year and I absolutely love it. I typically sign up to send to one recipient each month and usually send one large flat rate priority mail box from the post office...
But since December is Christmastime I figured I would up my game and recruit my friends and family to help bake for the two troops I signed up for. It must be especially hard to be away from home during the holidays so it was our goal to bring them some home baked goodness and holiday cheer.
I have to say my friends and family rock! They amazed me with everything they contributed. I wasn't sure how many boxes we could fill, but I was hoping for 6 (3 for each recipient). If you're wondering what one person would do with that many treats...don't worry, they don't have to eat them all by themselves. Each recipient shares the goodies with all the troops in their units (our recipients have 50-100 people in each of their units).
Apparently I completely under estimated my crew because we filled more than twice as many boxes as I hoped....we did a total of 14 boxes! Wow! It was beyond awesome!
Since I've never done this on a mass scale, I wasn't sure how it was all going to come together. Especially since we have a fairly small home and not a lot of space. There was a little chaos trying to get our assembly line organized, but we made it work and everything came together in just a couple of hours.
Each person brought their goodies, already baked, along with some non baked items, like individual snack size bags of nuts to help fill spaces in the boxes. The shipping is a flat rate, so we pack in as much as possible.
Here's a re-cap of the baked goodies everyone contributed:
Peanut Butter Cookies (two kinds)
Raisin Walnut Spice Cookies
Chewy Chocolate Cookies with Peanut Butter Chips
Molasses and Ginger Cookies (several types)
Nieman Marcus Cookies
Chocolate Zucchini Bread
Cookie Dough Fudge
Gingerbread White Chocolate Blondies
People also donated plenty of non baked items to help fill the boxes....such as pistachios, beef jerky, mixed nuts, pretzels, coffee, cup of noodles, card games, magazines, See's peanut brittle and 150 See's candy suckers. My mom, niece and nephew and a few others, tied red, white and blue curling ribbon on each and every sucker. We used them to fill up nooks and crannies and it really brought a festive touch to the boxes.
Here are pictures from Operation Baking GALS Christmas.
|Friends and family packing up cookies|
|Mom and my niece and nephew tying red, white and blue ribbons on 150 See's suckers |
(notice the guys supervising while watching football)
|The goodies are stacking up!|
|My Grandma! She made these adorable (and delicious) little strawberry santas for us to snack on.|
|Check out the goodies! We included some cards and notes for the troops.|
|All the boxes around the Christmas tree ready to be taped up!|
See. My friends and family rock! I've already gotten a few requests to make this an annual tradition. I'm totally in!
Thank you to everyone who helped with the
Operation Baking GALS Christmas edition.
Oh, and I suppose I should tell you a little about the blondies.
I've sent these to the troops in the past and they maintain freshness for the week plus traveling time it takes for a box to arrive overseas. The molasses is what keeps them so moist. They remind me of a chewy ginger snap dotted with sweet white chocolate. They bake in large sheet pan. I turned the giant blondie out on to the bottom of another sheet placed on top and then inverted and inverted again onto a large cutting board. Once it's out I cut individual squares using a square cookie cutter. I find that my knife skills trying to maintain even straight lines are pretty horrible. Luckily the cookie cutter ensures a perfect size every time.
These are easy to make and have that spiced flavor I'm looking for around the holidays. Definitely a keeper.
Gingerbread White Chocolate Blondies
from Martha Stewart Cookies
2 3/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 large eggs plus 1 egg yolk
1 1/4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup unsulfured molasses
1 3/4 cup coarsely chopped white chocolate (10 ounces) - I used 12 ounces white chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350. Spray a 12x17 rimmed baking sheet with non stick cooking spray. Line bottom of the pan with parchment paper and spray the parchment with non stick cooking spray (to make a sling for easy removal, allow parchment to hang over the ends of the pan).
In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves together until evenly distributed.
In the bowl of an electric mixture fitted with paddle attachment, beat butter and both sugars on medium-high speed until creamy and pale (about 3 minutes). Turn mixer to low and add eggs and yolk one at a time until fully combined, scraping down bowl as needed. Add vanilla and molasses until combined. With mixer on low add the flour mixture in 3 batches until combined. Stir in white chocolate.
Pour batter into the baking sheet and spread evenly using an offset spatula. Bake for 25 minutes until golden brown on the edges. Cool fully in the baking sheet.