PEMBERVILLE - All of us are busy one week before Christmas, but "busy" hardly captures the state of things for local resident Jen Johnson.
|Jen Johnson offers a selection of her favorite holiday cookies (Photo: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)
"I had orders for 300 dozen cookies," said Johnson on Monday. "I finally had to stop taking orders" for fear she wouldn't be able to fulfill all she has committed to this holiday season.
The owner of a local home-based bakery called Sweet Elsie is finding out what a sweet tooth the town of Pemberville has.
Among her favorite cookies to make at this time of year are chocolate covered cherry cookies and cinnamon cutout cookies, both of which she's generously sharing with Cook's Corner readers so they can add these flavorful gems to their own list of favorites for holiday parties and family gatherings alike.
The cinnamon cookies "are just as they sound: A very strong cinnamon flavor, great with coffee or tea."
The recipe is one she "stumbled across a few years ago - I think in a magazine. I thought I would give it a shot and it was an instant favorite," and just as quickly added to her must-bake holiday list for future years.
The chocolate cherry cookies have been a family favorite for even longer, said Johnson.
"I don't know where my mother found the recipe, but we have made them ever since - easily for 15 years now. It was a favorite of my mother's, and now it is a favorite among my husband and kids."
Johnson describes it as "a chocolate cookie, wrapped around a cherry, and then frosted with a cherry-chocolate frosting."
Take it from one who has tasted both cookies: It's hard to say which is best.
"The cinnamon cookie is very good. It's very strong, cinnamon wise, and it's not a very common cookie."
That's probably why it ranks first in popularity among her orders, only behind her decorated sugar cookies.
But as far as that goes, the chocolate cherry cookie has plenty of fans, too. "They don't last long around here."
Johnson, 27, says she's been baking for as long as she can remember. "Christmas baking is by far my favorite.
"I enjoy both baking and cooking thoroughly, but have had no formal training in either." A Toledo native, "I learned everything I know from my mom," the late Cynthia Bradley.
"When she passed away seven years ago, then I started making (the chocolate cherry cookies). It was kind of a way to make sure her holiday favorites were still being made at the holiday season."
Usually, there are between 12 and 15 different varieties of Christmas cookies that Johnson makes for herself, including pecan turtles, molasses, gingerbread men, peppermint pinwheels, and "a chocolate sandwich cookie" she says is "to die for. It's the only one I can't stay away from."
For Sweet Elsie purposes, Johnson pops out chocolate peanut butter pinwheel cookies, peanut blossoms, mint bark, peppermint bark and peanut brittle in addition to the cut-outs and the two cookies featured today.
She makes not just cookies but also candies, cakes, and cupcakes out of her home.
She and her husband, Wayne native Troy Johnson, formerly taught at Fostoria Middle School, which is how they met.
"We both got laid off in a mass layoff the school had, so we both kind of changed directions. He's a financial planner and I do this."
They were married in 2011 and Johnson started Sweet Elsie that same summer.
The name Elsie comes not from a favorite grandmother or great-grandmother, but is creatively based on the initials of Johnson's 4-year-old daughter - L-C for Lauren Cynthia."
The couple also has a younger child together.
For those planning to make the cinnamon cookies, Johnson offers one tip and one caution.
"If you don't cream the butter until it's fluffy, the cookies will come out hard."
Like any cutout cookie, thickness is an individual choice. Johnson says she likes to roll the cinnamon cookies to 1/4 or 1/8-inch thickness.
Her tip is that the frosting she put on the cinnamon cookies for the photograph is entirely optional. "It's not really for flavor, but just for appearance."
It's a simple milk and powdered sugar mixture.
Johnson has a facebook page: www.facebook.com/Sweet-Elsie-Bakery where people can place orders for cookies or candies, or call 567-213-1351.
But if they want those goodies for Christmas, desperate begging may be needed.
Chocolate-covered cherry cookies
1 (10-oz.) jar Mara-schino cherries, drained, juice saved
½ cup butter or margarine, softened
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. cherry juice
½ cup cocoa powder, unsweetened
¼ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. baking powder
1 ½ c flour
Mix together margarine, sugar and egg and cherry juice (not the cherries). In a separate bowl, mix together the dry ingredients and add slowly add to the mixture in the first bowl. Chill dough for 1 hour.
To form each cookie, wrap 1 T. dough around a cherry.
Bake for 10-12 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Frost cookies when cooled completely.
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 T. juice from cherries
Melt together over double boiler and frost cookies while frosting is warm.
Yield: 3-4 dozen dookies.
1 c. butter, softened
2 c. sugar
1/3 c. cinnamon
2 ¾ c. flour
Cream butter until fluffy. Slowly add sugar and beat until fluffy again. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Mix together flour and cinnamon. Gradually add to creamed mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour.
Roll out the dough on lightly floured surface and cut with desired cookie cutter.
Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 10-15 minutes.
Yield: 3 dozen, depending on thickness.