Peppermint Polar Bear Paw Treats and The Books That Inspired Them

Peppermint Polar Bear Paw Treats and the Books That Inspired Them

These yummy treats were one of our recent projects.

I’d been wanting to do something that incorporated polar bears, since it’s winter, and when I realized I could shape little minty patties to look like bear paw prints, I got pretty excited.

It’s kind of like a teddy bear paw… but a polar bear instead.

My girls and I had been rotating through a couple of books that featured polar bears, which is one of the main reasons they were on my mind.  The books include East of the Sun, West of the Moon and Hush Little Polar Bear, both of which I’ve reviewed below.

Peppermint Polar Bear Paw Treats and the Books That Inspired Them

The bear paws are easy to make.  The patty is just sugar, cream cheese, and peppermint extract.

Then, for decoration, I added Junior Mints and milk chocolate chips.

You could use semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips instead, but I liked the milk chocolate flavor with these.

Peppermint Polar Bear Paw Treats and the Books That Inspired Them

Here are the necessary ingredients.  I didn’t actually count out the candies ahead of time:  I just poured a bunch in a bowl for my girls to pick from.

My 4yo did a pretty good job, and my 2yo had a lot of fun shaping the dough… when she wasn’t busy eating the candy.

Peppermint Polar Bear Paw Treats and the Books That Inspired Them

To make the mint patties look like bear paws, add one Junior Mint and top with three chocolate chips.

You have to press them in right away, since the heat of your hand is what helps form the shape.  Once you’ve formed the disc and placed it on the counter, it will begin to harden.  So you’ll want to *gently* push in your candy right away.

Then store them in the fridge.

They look really cute on Christmas cookie platters, and would also be fun at winter birthday parties.  Or just, you know, to eat yourself.  :)

East of the Sun, West of the Moon

I love this book.  East of the Sun, West of the Moon is a retelling of a 19th century Norwegian fairytale.  It’s retold by Susanna Davidson and illustrated by Petra Brown.

It’s part of the Usborne Young Readers:  Series Two books.  It’s meant to be read by children who are 8+ years and are gaining confidence in reading on their own.  I bought it to read to my 2 1/2 and 4 1/2 year old girls.  It’s certainly much more appealing to the older child, who get’s very excited about it, but my youngest still enjoys the pictures and does listen to the story.  And older kids will definitely enjoy reading it for themselves.

I think it’s wonderful, especially because it’s a fairy tale written for a younger audience that isn’t one of the same old, worn stories that are told over and over and over in other books.  It’s a fresh tale.  There’s adventure and excitement, and it’s even a little scary – as all fairy tales are – but not too much.

It’s terribly romantic, too, but not in a mushy, flowery way.  This is a story about a brave girl who goes to the ends of the earth to save the man she loves.  She enlists the help of the Four Winds and outsmarts an evil Troll to break the spell that turns her beloved prince into a polar bear.

There’s even a little message hidden in the ending promoting the importance of love and family over money and riches.

The retelling is written to be easily understood by kids.  There are a limited number of words on every page, so as not to be overwhelming, and it’s 64 pages are separated into six chapters.  The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous and many are displayed across a double page spread.

The physical book itself is also great.  It’s small, about 5.5 by 8 inches, with thick pages, and its sturdy hardcover is a silky, soft texture.  It feels nice to hold.

I completely and ardently recommend this book.  It is unfortunately no longer available from my Usborne site, but you can sometimes find used copies on Amazon.  You can also check out the other Young Readers:  Series Two books.

Hush Little Polar Bear by Jeff Mack

Hush Little Polar Bear, by Jeff Mack, is a charming picture book.  It’s available as a hardcover or a board book, and we have the hardcover version, since ours was a decommissioned purchase from our local library.

And I’m so glad I came across this gem while hunting for new books to read.  It’s colorful and adventurous, and a wonderful bedtime read.

It’s written in verse as a little girl talking to her stuffed toy polar bear and about what exciting dreams he may be having.  The bear sails the high seas on the back of a whale, swims through a waterfall, swings through the trees, forges through a desert, and floats through the sky … all the way home to her, where they curl up together to sleep.

The text has a good rhythm and the illustrations are a lot of fun.  The little girl appears somewhere on every page, watching the polar bear’s adventures from up close or afar, and my kids enjoy pointing her out.

Plus, I love reading stories at bedtime that end with the characters drifting off to sleep.  It helps set the mood.   :)

If you have Little Ones, you should really consider adding it to your collection.  It’s such a fun read!

Peppermint Polar Bear Paw Treats and the Books That Inspired Them

And now, back to the recipe that was inspired by these fantastic books:

Peppermint Polar Bear Paws

Ingredients:

4 1/2 cups confectionery sugar
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
20 Junior Mints candies
60 milk chocolate chips

In a large bowl, use a mixer to combine the softened cream cheese and confectionery sugar until smooth.

Add the peppermint extract and mix until fully blended.

Scoop large spoonfuls of peppermint mixture out and use your hands to shape it into a disc. It won’t “roll” in your hands very well, so you’ll need to form them mostly by pressing them into shape.

Immediately add a Junior Mint and 3 chocolate chips to the peppermint disc in a pattern that represents a bear paw while still malleable. The disc will begin to harden once you stop moving it around in your hands, so make one at a time.

Store covered in the refrigerator. Makes 20.

[Notes: place the chocolate chips in upside down, so that the flat sides are facing up. And when placing the Junior Mints on the disc, press very gently on the edges, instead of in the middle, to avoid cracking them.]

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Click here for the free printable PDF version:

Peppermint Polar Bear Paws

Enjoy!  And Happy Reading!

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Mini Irish Soda Bread with Guinness Recipe

Mini Irish Soda Bread with Guinness Recipe

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

This Paddy’s Day, we made some Irish soda bread to accompany our corned beef and cabbage.  But not just any Irish soda bread – Irish soda BEER bread.

The Irish half of my heritage was very excited about this.

And I was right to be excited, because these things were amazing!

Seriously:  little loaves of sweet, warm goodness with thick, crusty exteriors crackling open in my hands to reveal a velvety soft smoothness.

Yum.

And you could technically use any brand of beer you like, but I strongly recommend Guinness.  Although, I must admit, I’m tempted to make these again with chocolate stout…

But I digress.  Point is, these things are crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, have just the right amount of sweetness, and taste wonderful smothered in butter.

And they’re easy to make.

They are a wee bit on the heavy side, though, so one is more than enough per person (the recipe makes 12 mini loaves), and you could probably even make it into a batch of 16 instead.

Mini Irish Soda Bread with Guinness Recipe

Also, Irish soda bread usually calls for caraway seeds, but, since I don’t like caraway seeds, when I put this recipe together, I left them out.

If you’re a fan, however, feel free to throw in a tablespoon while mixing the flour with the sugar.

Mini Irish Soda Bread with Guinness Recipe

And, like I said, it’s easy.

Essentially, you throw everything together in one bowl, then knead for a minute, then bake.

Mini Irish Soda Bread with Guinness Recipe

The dough can be a little sticky, but that’s an easy fix.  Make sure to knead it on a floured surface, and coat your hands with flour.

Mini Irish Soda Bread with Guinness Recipe

Also, when cutting the loaf into tiny loaves and rolling them into balls, if they start to stick to your hands or the counter, just pat on a little more flour.

Mini Irish Soda Bread with Guinness Recipe

Kitchen shears or sharp scissors are the best way to make the X in the top of the mini loaves, although I suppose you could use a sharp knife if you don’t have shears.

Mini Irish Soda Bread with Guinness Recipe

Brushing egg over the tops adds a nice texture and color to the loaves.

Plus, make sure you bake them on parchment paper, or a some sort of nonstick baking mat.   Alternatively, you could grease the pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Mini Irish Soda Bread with Guinness Recipe

Was I wrong?  Do these things not look amazing??

Mini Irish Soda Bread with Guinness Recipe

And the aroma, the texture…

You won’t regret trying these.  I’m definitely going to find more excuses to make these.  And not just for Paddy’s Day.

Mini Irish Soda Bread with Guinness Recipe

Mini Irish Soda Bread with Guinness

Ingredients:

1 1/4 cups stout Guinness
4 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 cup raisins
1/4 cup melted butter
2 eggs

Pour the beer into a measuring cup and let sit for about a half hour at room temperature, until flat.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and pepper. Stir in raisins. Then, stir in beer, melted butter, and 1 egg until a dough forms.

On a floured surface, knead dough until smooth. Coat your hands in flour to prevent the dough from sticking to you.

Shape the dough in a ball. Using a sharp knife, cut the dough into quarters. Cut each of these quarters into three equal pieces. Shape each of these 12 pieces into balls and place on a cookie sheet that is lined with parchment paper.

Using kitchen shears, cut an X in the top of each loaf. Then lightly beat the remaining egg and brush it over the loaves.

Bake 45 to 50 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and the loaves sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
Cool on a wire rack.

(Note: Traditionally, Irish Soda Bread contains caraway seeds. I’ve omitted them from this recipe, due to personal tastes, but if you’d like to add them, simply stir in a Tbsp. of caraway seeds when combining the flour, sugar, baking powder, and spices.)

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Click here for your FREE printable PDF:  Mini Irish Soda Bread with Guinness

Enjoy!  :)

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Ultimate Norwegian Spice Cookies

Norwegian Spice Cookies

These Norwegian Spice Cookies are my mom’s favorite Christmas cookie.

I know that, originally, we had copied the recipe from a magazine.  Many years ago I typed it up and put it in my recipe binder.  Unfortunately, I don’t know the original source.  But I’ve made a few changes over the years anyway (to turn them into the proclaimed “ultimate” spice cookie), and so my own version of the recipe is featured here, along with a printable version.

But first, all the yumminess my camera could capture:

Norwegian Spice Cookies

I just love how the shadow of the mixer in the mixing bowl looks like a Christmas tree.  :)

This is the butter and sugar about to be creamed together, with the eggs and vanilla waiting patiently nearby.

Norwegian Spice Cookies

When you blend together the dry ingredients (flour and spices) be sure to thoroughly sift them together.  I use a fork for this. You want the spices to be evenly distributed.

I know it looks like a lot of spice when you’re measuring it out, but don’t worry, it won’t look like that much once it’s all mixed – and the flavor is fantastic!

Norwegian Spice Cookies

The gooey, spicy, luscious dough…

Once it’s blended, it’s pretty soft.  At this point you need to divide the dough in half, shape each half into a disc, wrap the discs in plastic wrap, and refrigerate them for an hour.

I’ve found that the easiest way to do this is to lay out a sheet of plastic wrap on the counter and scoop the dough into the center of it.  Fold the plastic wrap over the small mountain of dough and shape generally into a flattened circle as you pull the wrap over and around the dough.

It’s sticky, so using the plastic wrap to shape it instead of your hands saves you some time and aggravation.

Norwegian Spice Cookies

After you’ve had an hour to clean the mixer, sort through your cookie cutters, place some parchment paper on your baking sheets, and dance to a few Christmas songs, then the dough will be ready to be rolled out.

You could actually leave it in the refrigerator for a couple of hours, but I don’t think I’ve ever left it overnight.  After a few hours the butter in it gets too hard to roll out and then it needs to sit at room temperature for awhile, but if you leave it too long then it gets too soft, and that just makes my life complicated… so, really, between 1 to 2 hours is best.

Usually, in the midst of Christmas cookie baking marathons, I’ll make this dough, put it in the fridge, make and bake another cookie (like chocolate chip, for example), and then cut out and bake these.  Works out pretty well that way.

Norwegian Spice Cookies

And look at the spices in those snowflakes:  you can SEE the cinnamon, the cloves… *mouth waters*  …mmm, you should smell the magnificence.

Norwegian Spice Cookies

And these reindeer cookies are a great way to illustrate that flour helps you cut out the cookies.  The dough is soft and will stick to the cutters, but dipping the cutter in a dish of flour before stamping out a couple of cookies will help the dough to fall right out of the cutter.

Also, peeling away some of the dough surrounding the cookies before trying to lift them will help.  As will using a spatula like the one pictured below, or like this.

Norwegian Spice Cookies

But, sometimes I peel away the extra dough, and sometimes I don’t bother.  I certainly don’t pull away ALL of the dough… except for in the above photo because I thought it would make a neat picture.  :)

But you really only need to do a little at a time to help with transferring the cookies to the baking sheets.

If you’ve rolled out the dough without enough flour under it, the cookies will stick to the counter.  Just dip your spatula in flour before sliding it under the dough to loosen them.

And remember, with soft cookie dough like this, flour is your friend:

Norwegian Spice Cookies

You should put flour under the dough, on top of the dough, on the rolling pin, on the cookie cutters, and on the spatula.  I mean it:  flour party.

If there is too much on the finished cookie, just blow off the excess before baking.  Any extra at that point will be absorbed by the egg wash that you put on the cookies just before baking.

Although, I have to admit, I sometimes forget to add the egg wash.  But that’s okay.  It’s not essential to the cookie, but it does add a nice shine and a silky smoothness to them.

Norwegian Spice Cookies

The above picture is what was left of my dough after I collected all the scraps, rerolled them, cut out more cookies, and did it all again.  I got two small stars out of the last roll.

But we don’t waste food in our family.

Especially cookies.

So, I rolled up these scraps into a circle, flattened it into an oval, and placed it on my last sheet of cookies to bake.  After all, sometimes these last-of-the-scraps creations are the best part of making cookies.  :)

Norwegian Spice Cookies

And really, these cookies are great two ways:  thick and soft or thin and crunchy.  My mom likes them crunchy, I prefer them soft.  Luckily, that’s an easy problem to solve when baking multiple trays:  just cook some longer.

So, even tho the directions call for 10 to 12 minutes, I’ve cooked some larger ones up to 14 or 15 minutes.  Just keep an eye on them, to prevent burning.

Once the cookies were fully cooled, I sprinkled them with powdered sugar.  This step is not necessary, and I wouldn’t suggest doing it until you are ready to eat/serve them, but it is a nice touch.

Oh, and I didn’t bake them in that little metal pan – it was just to keep the sugar contained.  :)  The cookies need to cool on racks before you add the powdered sugar.

Norwegian Spice Cookies

These ultimate spice cookies go great with coffee:

Norwegian Spice Cookies

And with Christmas trees:

Norwegian Spice Cookies

Ultimate Norwegian Spice Cookies

Ingredients:
3 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
4 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temp
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 egg white mixed with 1 teaspoon water
Powdered sugar (optional)

Combine flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, and salt in a bowl until well blended.

Beat butter and sugar in a bowl until creamy.  Mix in eggs and vanilla.  Gradually add flour mixture.

Divide dough in half, flattening each piece into a disc.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Roll dough about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thickness on a well-floured surface.  Cut out cookies with cookie cutters that have been dipped in flour.  Place cookies on ungreased baking sheet, preferably covered with parchment paper, and brush with the eggs white mixture.

Reroll scraps and repeat with remaining dough.

Bake cookies for 10 to 12 minutes or until just browning on edges.  Cool on wire racks.  Store covered.

Before serving, as an optional step, you can sprinkle them with powdered sugar.

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Click for the FREE printable PDF:  Norwegian Spice Cookies

Merry Christmas!

And Happy Baking!  :)