The holidays are abuzz with excitement, from decorating, shopping, to holiday events but few hold as much anticipation for my family as a holiday table, laden with treats! It simply brings out the child in everyone.
What Christmas would be complete without cookies…sugar cookies, snickerdoodles, gingerbread, cookies of every kind? I’m sure your family has their favorites so instead of rehashing old recipes, I’ll simply offer a few tips and tricks.
Tip: When using cookie cutters, etched rolling pins or molds, omit the leaveners like baking powder and soda. The cookie will taste just as great but will also hold its pristine shape.
Decorating cookies with royal icing can be daunting as royal icing can be tricky. If you aren’t up for the battle, try using candy melts instead. They come in various flavors and colors, easy to color yourself and sets quickly. Simply melt in the microwave and scoop into a piping bag. No piping bag? Scoop the candie melts into a ziplock bag and clip the corner. Another great way to decorate cookies is to microwave a container of frosting. It’ll melt into a ganache consistancy for easy piping or pouring.
Speaking of leaving out the leavening agents from cookie recipes and using candy melts, another fun twist is lining a popover tin with cookie dough to form cups. I found this idea on pinterest and it works like a charm! I used chocolate chip cookie dough and after baking, lined the cups with melted chocolate candy melts. When serving, I filled the cups with cold milk for the kiddies and Rum Chata for the adults. If you leave cookies & milk out for Santa, why not try this idea?
Another holiday favorite both at home and among my husbands work mates, who begged me for it each year, is Baklava. The delicate pastry and spiced nuts, soaked in a light honeyed syrup is irresistible!
1 lb nuts, chopped. Pecans, walnuts or mixed nuts. 1 tsp ground cinnamon 16 oz package phyllo dough. 1 cup butter, melted. 1 cup white sugar 1 cup water. 1⁄2 cup honey. 1 tsp vanilla extract. 1 tsp lemon zest, grated
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Butter a 9×13 inch baking dish.
Toss together cinnamon and nuts. Unroll phyllo and cut whole stack in half to fit the dish. Cover phyllo with a damp cloth while assembling the baklava, to keep it from drying out.
Place two sheets of phyllo in the bottom of the prepared dish. Brush generously with melted butter. Sprinkle 2 to 3 tablespoons of the nut mixture on top. Repeat layers until all ingredients are used, ending with about 6 sheets of phyllo. Using a sharp knife, cut baklava (all the way through to the bottom of the dish) into four long rows, then (nine times) diagonally to make 36 diamond shapes.
Bake in preheated oven 50 minutes, until golden and crisp.
While baklava is baking, combine sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Stir in honey, vanilla and lemon zest, reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes.
Remove the baklava from the oven and immediately spoon the syrup over it. Let cool completely before serving. Store uncovered.
At our house, a Christmas without fudge would be something near a cardinal sin but the same old chocolate fudge, peanutbutter fudge and double decker fudge combining the two can become (at least for me) boring. I wanted something different and that captured the colors and flavors of the season. The perfect answer is …
White Chocolate Cranberry Fudge
2 cups sugar
¾ c sour cream (not light)
½ cup unsalted butter
½ tsp salt
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 (7 oz) jar marshmallow creme
1 tsp vanilla extract (clear vanilla extract if you want whiter fudge)
1 (5 oz) bag dried cranberries (Craisins)
1/2 – 1 c. Chopped nuts (Optional)
Line a 9×13 baking dish with foil and lightly spray with cooking spray.
Combine sugar, sour cream, butter and salt in a heavy 2 qt saucepan. Bring mixture to boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, to soft ball stage (238 degrees).
Remove from heat and stir in chocolate chips until fully melted. This will take a few minutes. Stir in the marshmallow creme and vanilla extract until smooth and blended.
Stir in dried cranberries until evenly distributed and nuts if preferred. Pour into the baking dish, cool to room temperature.
Chill in refrigerator for several hours before cutting into squares, Store in an airtight container.
With all these lovely desserts gracing the table, you may think our holiday baking is complete…but, what about the chocolate lovers? Surely a mere cookie would not do, at least not in this family! My answer is a …
Chocolate Crack Pie!
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 9-inch unbaked pie shell
Preheat oven to 350.
Melt butter in large, microwave safe bowl. Add sugar to melted butter and use a hand mixer or whisk to combine until sugar is mostly dissolved. Add additional ingredients and beat or whisk until well blended.
Pour into pie crust and bake about 25-40 minutes, or until center is set and toothpick has gooey wet crumbs and the top had a nice crackly crust. After cooking, place a paper daily, place or cookie cutters on top and dust with powdered sugar. Serve warm with vanilla bean ice cream or cooled with whipped cream.
Now for the cake!
Any of your favorite cake flavors will do. For mine, I made a spice cake with real buttercream frosting. I’m not huge on a heavily frosted cake so I created a “Naked Cake” by scraping down the sides to allow the layers to peek through then drizzled it with caramel. The cookies were a basic sugar cookie recipe with leaveners withheld to ensure the shapes but with the addition of cinnamon for color. I decorated the cookies and attached popsicle sticks to the backs with while chocolate.
What are some of your families favorite holiday treats?