Wednesday, December 16, 2009

2009 Holiday Baking Spree...

After a few busy days, we finally have all of the goodies baked, cooled, wrapped, packaged and either hand delivered or dropped off at the post office for our annual Holiday Baking Spree. I wasn't sure if we were going to be up to doing all of this, but the distraction was welcome and it lifted our spirits. This will be a fairly big post with plenty of treats, so get yourself a warm, steamy beverage (preferably chocolate in this house!) and grab a seat!

We decided to add a couple brand new recipes this year and the first I tried out were these Smoky Cheddar Coins. Imagine a sharp shortbread cookie, except instead of being sweet, it was rich with smoky cheese, crunchy toasted pecans and had a note of heat from a pinch of spicy cayenne pepper. You can use a regular sharp cheddar, but we couldn't resist the thought of a racy smoked cheese - we used a cheddar that was Apple Smoked and lightly flavored with garlic. This dough can easily be made ahead of time - wrap the dough logs well, then stick in the freezer until you're ready to slice off as many savory coins as you need (they are easier to slice neatly if you let the dough thaw first).

Smoky Cheddar Coins

One baked good we always, always have to make is one of Jeff's favorite holiday cookies. Using a scoop of chocolate malt powder, these thin, crispy cookies, bumpy from those festive M&M candies, have a unique taste that makes it hard to stop at one. Which is one reason why we make so many of them - this year we ended up making over 16 dozen (though plenty found a home in Jeff's belly already!).

Chocolate Malted M&M Cookies

If you're new here, or have yet to give this wicked candied popcorn a try, I urge you to whip up a batch as soon as you can... especially if you are a salty-sweet fan. Generous with ginger and cinnamon, this fragrant treat will earn you points alone for the sweet aroma that drifts throughout your house as it bakes.

The first time we made this fudge, we couldn't get enough of its creamy, smooth texture. It has quite a wallop of cinnamon, but it isn't overwhelming at all - love the surprise on people's faces if they've never had it before!

Remember how we toyed around with the roca recipe we always use last year? It didn't let us down again this year either as we made almost 27 pounds and not one batch had any issues. This buttery candy is crazy addicting and I'm glad most of it has left the house, otherwise I'd have eaten way more than I need to!

Since many of recipients have doggies running around their house, we had to include a little package for them too. Gus wasn't around when we first made these biscuits, which is why we choose them over the rest - he needed to sample some too you know!

This next cookie is new to the Baking Spree, but isn't new to us. We first made these snappy crisps back in September this year and we knew right away it was special enough to make the cut. This happens to also be one of those doughs that makes dozens with a single batch and can be made ahead and frozen.

We usually do two types of fudge and after some discussion, we decided to forgo the rest we thought about and hurried right back to these double-decker gems. Perfect for those chocolate-peanut butter fans in your life!

This next one couldn't be simpler, which is why it always gets made. Using a waffle pretzel as the base, we top each square with a caramel-stuffed chocolate Rolo candy (we've also seen these made with Chocolate Kisses, which would work just as well!), then slip the whole pan they were assembled on into a warm oven for just a minute or two. You'll know they are ready when the chocolate turns shiny. We top them with M&Ms, but nuts also work well (and if you use a pecan, they'll be a snazzy turtle-like clone!).

Chocolate Caramel Pretzel Squares

When we first made this unconventional brittle, I wasn't sure what the outcome would be. Maple, chipotle and peanut? Could that really work well? You sure bet it can! The smoky heat from the chipotle is tamed by the sweetness, but you still get a little burn that comes by surprise. Working in just a bit of pure maple syrup adds an intriguing and slightly more complex depth than your ordinary peanut brittle.

These nutty, slender almond cookies are fun, sparkly and using red hots adds a real zinger to them. They are dipped in melted white chocolate, which helps the colorful crushed candy and coarse sugar stay in place.

Spiced nuts are commonly found on tables around this time of the year, but our snazzy kicked-up version is leaps over its competition. The pecan halves are tossed with egg white, Kahlua (a delicious coffee liqueur), sugar and a touch of cinnamon. Roasting them not only brings out the richness of the nuts, but it turns the mixture we coated them with into a tantalizing sugary casing that is a thrill for any lucky taste buds.

Another new treat to the list this year are these adorable spritz cookies. Last year we made an Eggnog version, but this year we went crazy with peppermint and white chocolate. We found the dough firm enough that we popped these melt-in-your-mouth cookies out in no time, but if you find that the dough is too soft to hold the shape you want, stick it in the refrigerator for 15 to 20 minutes. As with any spritz, it is best to pipe them onto cold, ungreased baking sheets - this helps them stick and pull away from the spritz gun.

I thought we were finally done with cookies, but then Jeff pleaded a case to make these swanky gingersnaps that he loves. I quickly caved and hauled the mixer back out, mainly because I love their satisfying texture - crispy around the edges, yet the closer you get to the crackly center, the more moist and chewy they get. Plentiful in the spice department, they do have a secret ingredient most can't pick out, but love - fresh ground black pepper!

And to finish our gifts off, we close with another "no-recipe" goodie that we've been making for as long as we've done this baking spree. These little bombs are small Ritz Bitz crackers, filled with creamy peanut butter, that take a dip in a lake of creamy white chocolate. Before the chocolate has a chance to set, we sprinkle the tops with all sorts of colored sugars or sprinkles - so easy, yet insanely good.

White Chocolate Dipped Mini Peanut Butter Ritz Bits

Whew - I believe that's everything this year! I was hoping to sneak in a few more new recipes, but we couldn't knock out any of the older favorites without some pouting! Maybe next year...


  1. My favorite post of the year!!! Well done again!!! Hope you have a wonderful Christmas and New Years =O)))

  2. This is my first comment on your blog, although I've been reading for a long time. You're so creative! How do you have enough time to bake all these treats! Best wishes to you and Jeff.

  3. holy moly. i second the commenter earlier - i always read your blog but this is my first comment. THIS is amazing and i had to tell you that you are my new hero.

    Thank you and Happy Holidays!!!

  4. Joe & Jeff

    What does one need to do to get on your gift list?

  5. Agreed that this is always my favorite post of the entire year. :) You have some lucky, lucky friends and family.

  6. I wish I was your neighbor. This is beautiful what you did again this year. Every year I anxiously wait for this post. Thanks to you and Joe for everything you do.

  7. I accidentally found your blog tonight (or I should say early this morning, since it's 1:00 a.m.)! I was looking for easy, yummy treats to make for my co-workers. Your "Holiday Baking Spee" is perfect! I am going to make your two-toned fudge, chocolate covered Ritz bits, and Kahlua Pecans. They sound so delicious and yet fairly easy.I plan to buy inexpensive Christmas containers and fill them with these goodies! I'll let you know how things turn out!

  8. Agreed, my favorite post of the year!

  9. Now that was a lot of baking! Everything looks wonderful. The chipotle maple brittle is probably the one that will squeeze it's way into my already packed list of baking for this weekend! I am with you that I like the fact everything moves quickly out of the house as it is all too tempting! Happy Holidays!

  10. This is my favorite post of the year, too! Tomorrow and Saturday are my baking days and I think a lot of these are being incorporated! Thanks and have a Merry Christmas!

  11. All I can say is WOW!!!!! I will start my baking this weekend. Some of these will be on the list for next year and the lemon scented ginger almond ones are on the list this year. Thanks for all your time and sharing your recipes! Have a very Merry Christmas!

  12. The most delicious post I've seen all holiday season! I'm putting a bunch of those recipes on my must try list because that's a bunch of yummy in my gym-loving belly!

    (Oh yeah - and I'm with Carole!!)

  13. I'll have a dozen of the:
    -Smoky cheddar coins
    -Lemon scented ginger almond crisps
    -Chipotle maple peanut brittle
    -Swedish gingersnaps

    Wonderful Holidays to you!

  14. Holy cow--you weren't kidding when you said baking spree! Everything looks amazingly delicious, but what?! No biscotti?! How can that be???


  15. I agree, this is definately my favorite post of the year! Have I mentioned mail order to you recently???


  16. I always look forward to hearing what you'll be sending out for the holidays, how ridiculously cute and so generous!

  17. I can't believe it...27 POUNDS of Roca and I didn't get a lick of it?! You are a machine, I envy you.

  18. Awesome, as you guys are every year!!

  19. Oh my! what lucky friends you have.

  20. Wow, these all look so beautiful! You certainly have been busy. Thank you for sharing all these treats with us.
    Happy Holidays to you both and to Gus!

  21. Thanks guys! We talked about making up a few boxes to give away on the site, but as you know, things didn't go as planned this year. However, we are looking to do this next year!

  22. HOLY MOLY!! Makes you want to reach out and grab a few pieces!

    I've made you Cappuccino Fudge with a twist, I added a hazelnut layer to it. Fantastic stuff!!

    Awesome post!

  23. I prepared your Kahlua spiked pecans for my family and in-laws at Christmastime and received rave reviews!

  24. Cyndy - Sounds tasty!

    Kearby - Fantastic!

  25. Just saw this link over on another site I frequent -- WDW for Grownups -- and was so excited to see one of my favorite food blogs pop up!

    Question: What's the best way to melt that chocolate for the ritz bitz guys? I've tried several different ways, but usually end up with a sticky mess. Is it just "double boiler it up?" Do you add anything to the chocolate?

    Ah, inspiration! I love that you guys are already into the holidays!

  26. AJ - It really depends on what kind of White Chocolate we are talking about. If you are using good quality, block-style White Chocolate, then I would absolutely just use a double boiler. You can use a microwave, but do it in slow bursts on 50% power, stirring often.

    If we are talking about white chocolate chips, you'll need to add a bit of shortening to smooth it out and help the chips melt.