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Union Square is baking up a 'Christmas...


Union Square is baking up a 'Christmas Cookie Tour'

Christmas hospitality is a hallowed tradition in Baltimore's Union Square neighborhood, where homeowners annually open their restored, renovated and holiday-decorated homes for tours, and serve treats to each guest.

There are 25 homes on this year's "Christmas Cookie Tour," which takes place today from noon to 5 p.m. In addition, the H. L. Mencken House will be open, and there will be a country Christmas craft store, demonstrations of rug hooking and restoration techniques, and items for sale.

Tickets are $10, and are available at the Steuart Hill Elementary School, located at the intersection of West Lombard and Gilmor streets.

Among homes to be open this year is that of Dan Pearce, built in 1867-'70, first renovated in 1980. Mr. Pearce has continued renovations and describes the house as a blend of the old and the new. He will be serving butterball cookies on the tour. Here is his recipe:

Butterball cookies

Makes about 10 dozen

2 sticks margarine

4 tablespoons sugar

3 cups flour

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup chopped pecans

powdered sugar

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix well all ingredients except powdered sugar. Form dough into small balls (about a teaspoonful of dough per ball). Bake 15 minutes; do not brown. Roll cookies in powdered sugar while still warm. You need a Christmas gift for the boss, and think one of those elegantly arranged baskets of goodies would be perfect -- but he's watching his weight, so it seems cruel to tempt him with sweets.

But suppose the basket contained only sugar-free and fat-free items, such as apple and walnut whole-grain cereal, trail mix, herbal tea, Guiltless Gourmet tortilla chips and picante sauce, and sugar-free cookies?

It could, if it comes from the Greeting Basket, of Timonium, which offers gift baskets for all occasions. Besides the basket called "A Healthier Choice," there's the "Chocolate Indulgence,"

"Gourmet Treasures," "Video Popper" and "Merry Munchies" for Christmas. Baskets start at about $25 and go up to $100. There's also a collection of gifts under $35, which includes a 1-pound box of Christmas cookies for $12, and a pasta dinner for four for $34.95. Custom baskets are also available. Delivery and shipping charges are extra; the average delivery cost is $5. Baskets can be shipped almost anywhere in the world.

To order, or for more information, call (410) 560-0152.

Holidays are hard on diets. There are too many occasions to feast and too many sweet treats lying about. But not all baked goods need be high in fat, and Susan G. Purdy's new book, "Have Your Cake and Eat it Too" (William Morrow, $25), proves the point, offering recipes for 200 low-fat pies, cakes, puddings, breads, puddings and desserts.

Recipes range from orange crumb yogurt cake to cocoa roulade with raspberry cream. They're not no-fat, but with lower amounts of fat they should fit into a balanced diet. Beginning bakers might have trouble with some of the more complex recipes, but instructions are clear and extensive.

Here's a recipe for a cake-brownie. Each serving has 342 calories and 10 grams of fat (25 percent of calories from fat), 215 milligrams of sodium and 1 milligram of cholesterol.

Mocha pudding cake

Serves 6

Butter flavor no-stick cooking spray

1 1/3 cups granulated sugar, divided use

1 cup unsifted all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa (preferably Dutch-processed), divided use

2 teaspoons baking powder

Pinch of cinnamon

1/4 cup canola oil

1/2 cup 1 percent milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 heaping teaspoons espresso coffee powder or regular or decaffeinated coffee powder

1 cup boiling water

Position rack in center of oven and heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 8- by 8-inch baking pan with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, combine 2/3 cup of the sugar, the flour, 1/4 cup of the cocoa, the baking powder and cinnamon and stir well to blend. Whisk in the oil, milk and vanilla. The batter will be stiff. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

In a small bowl, stir together the remaining 2/3 cup sugar and 1/4 cup cocoa. Sprinkle evenly over the cake batter. Dissolve the coffee powder in the boiling water and pour over batter; don't stir.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until the top of the cake looks crisp and crackled, and a cake tester inserted in a "cakey" area comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for about 5 minutes. Serve warm from the pan.

Union Mills Homestead, a 1797 house museum and grist mill, is holding its annual "Poinsettia and Greens" day this afternoon from noon to 4 p.m. The house, home to six generations of the Shriver family, has been decorated for the holidays by Alloway Herb Gardens. Greens and flowers will be available for sale in the mill, and the gift shop includes items such as china sets and dolls. The mill's stone ground flours (cornmeal, roasted cornmeal, buckwheat, whole wheat, and rye) will also be available. The mill is located 7 miles north of Westminster on state Route 97. For more information, call (410) 848-2288.


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