Thursday, December 16, 2010

2010 Holiday Baking Spree...

Ready for our annual monster post? Here it is! We've spent the last several days mixing doughs, running the oven nonstop and using almost all the burners on the stove to crank out many treats for this years gifts. I tried to weave in more new recipes, but Jeff has his traditional "must have" list and it can be hard to manage getting anything else in without cutting out important favorites.

One of those new recipes were these fun Cranberry-Eggnog Twirls. Using a buttery cookie dough laced with rum extract and fresh grated nutmeg, the inside contains thickened cranberry preserves (you could also use cherry, raspberry or another type as well) mixed with toasted pecans for a wondrous nutty surprise. Be sure to finely chop the nuts so they don't cut into the dough when you spread it on top. This cookie can definitely be made ahead of time - keep the rolls of dough in the freezer to slice and bake as needed (remember our cookie dough log trick - store them in paper towel tubes to keep their round shape!), or bake them and stash them in the freezer that way. Either way, you can't go wrong!

I tried to swap this fudge for a new-to-us one, but as I expected, Jeff protested and he was right - I had to make it!. This should definitely cure the itch for any chocolate/peanut butter fans in your life with its creamy smooth texture. You could try a different chip to contrast against the chocolate - say butterscotch or white chocolate, but it will always be peanut butter for us.

These skinny sticks, made with plenty of ground toasted almonds in the dough, are a real eye grabber. Dipped in melted white chocolate, the decadent "glue" allows the sparkling sugar and crushed red candy to stick on one side. They may look innocent enough, but your first bite will let you in on the secret - those red jewels are not just any sweet candy, they are energetic Red Hots!

This next new treat was a last minute addition. While made in the same fashion as any other spiced nut, these almonds are anything but ordinary. Not only do they get a boost from a generous amount of vanilla bean paste and Dutch-process cocoa powder, but a dose of cinnamon and cayenne really fuel the fire for a complex bite. Out of the oven, they had a pretty rough look to them - not necessarily all that attractive. Jeff had a good idea though - after they had cooled down, we tossed them in a bowl with a couple extra spoonfuls of cocoa. This gave them a more cohesive look (and a hot cocoa-esque taste!) - we were tempted to call them hot chocolate rocks instead!

One of our best "no recipe" recipe has to be these one-bite bombs. All these happen to be is miniature Ritz Bitz sandwiches (the peanut butter stuffed ones), dipped in white chocolate and topped with a variety of jimmies/sprinkles/what-have-yous. We found some festive Mickey ones while in Disney a couple weeks ago - I had to practically pry them out of Jeff's fingers to use, but they made it on too! Somehow, though, they managed to escape the picture - I bet I know where those went! One of these years I'll go all out and sandwich the large crackers with a smear of peanut butter myself for giant snacks, but these poppable tiny discs are so easy to do and just too cute to resist.

White Chocolate Dipped Mini Peanut Butter Ritz Bits

We decided to do a couple neighbor-only treats just because they have been so welcoming to us since we moved in earlier this year. Instead of using metal miniature loaf pans and then wrapping up the loaves, we used small oven-safe ceramic bakeware that has festive paintings on the outside. The bread itself is moist and mildly sweet with a warming spice to it that is both welcoming and tasty. To gussy them up a bit, we added a quick vanilla drizzle on top with a smattering of crystallized ginger. For a lighter touch, use lemon juice in the drizzle instead of the vanilla.

Growing up, one of my brothers' must-haves in the cookie trays (besides Buckeye Balls!) were those classic crackly chocolate cookies smothered in confectioners' sugar. This new-to-us version, which is the other recipe we made just for the neighbors, does have a slightly different method, but it is a bit more adult in taste - just what we were looking for! Blooming the cocoa in the warm melted butter seemed to extract a deeper chocolate essence and helped give the cookies an awesome brownie-like texture. The espresso powder can be optional, but I urge you to give it a try using the lesser amount first - it makes for a richer chocolate punch, yet doesn't leave a lingering coffee flavor behind. If you'd like that mocha-hint, kick the amount of powder up.

As always, we used the most butter this year (a bit frightening how much in total) making batch after batch of "the" roca. Once again, using our tweaked recipe, each three and a half pound of sweet candy came out without one issue standing in the way of an impeccable slab. One of these years I'm going to scatter a mess of dark chocolate shards on top for a sharp contrast, but Jeff asked we keep with tradition and use blocks of milk chocolate.

Almond Roca

We just made these gorgeous cookies for a recent Weekly Wednesday Treat day and knew immediately that we'd do them again for our gift baking. I did make one slight change - I used a 2" cutter to stamp out the dark, thin cookie dough to get a larger yield per batch.

Chocolate-Peppermint Cookies

I think one of the most popular and requested munchies from our list would have to be this crazy delicious candied popcorn. Some people may opt to have a pot of mulled cider simmering on the stove to give the house that holiday aroma wafting throughout the house, but I'd much rather let the magical combination of fragrant ginger, cinnamon and molasses do this and end up with a crunchy treat when its done.

One of the items that Jeff requires several batches (I lost count of how many we baked if that is any indication) of every year are these thin, crisp and chewy cookies. We began making these several years ago and haven't looked back - they are fairly unique in taste from a generous scoop of chocolate malt powder and you'll find plenty of M&M's in each one. I do have one quibble though... I used to be able to get enough M&M's from one bag to use in the recipe. Now? I need more like 1 1/2 bags - darn package downsizing!

Chocolate Malted M&M Cookies

Kahlua. Pecans. Cinnamon. Sugar. Yeah, now that's what I'm talking about in a holiday treat! Ridiculously addictive and barely-lift-a-finger easy to make.

Kahlua Spiked Pecans

This fudge always surprises people with its creamy, intense cinnamon rush. I know it can be hard to find cinnamon chips (we did this year!), but it is worth the effort - stock up and stick them in the freezer once you find them if you need to!

Here's another recipe we did for Jeff's co-workers that we thought would make for a smashing treat in our boxes this year. Peppermint and chocolate is a natural setting for a Christmas cookie and the filling in these is just that - they may look a little plain considering their other counterparts in the box, but one bite will wipe that idea right out of your mind. We figured the crisp cookies would be sturdy enough to hold up to shipping, but we're still waiting to hear how they fared.
Mint-Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

If you groove on the mashing of sweet and salty, this next "no-recipe" treat is right up your alley. Simple to do, all you need are waffle pretzels, rolo candies (though chocolate kisses work too) and more of those colorful M&Ms. Spread the pretzels out in an even layer, top them with your chocolate candy and place them in a warm oven just until the chocolate is shiny and has softened slightly. Set an M&M on top, give them a gently press so the chocolate cements to the pretzel and let them cool. If M&M's don't do it for you, grab a fat pecan (lightly toasted!) and use that instead!

Chocolate Caramel Pretzel Squares


  1. Love the Peanut Butter Fudge, it was how I discovered your site. I make it often.

  2. The Gingerbread Popcorn looks amazing! Well, everything does, but that in particular! I shall bookmark it and make it soon.

  3. My favorite post of the year! I love how you mingle in some more complicated treats with simpler ones. Your selection looks wonderful this year- Merry Christmas to you and Jeff!

  4. Fantastic Christmas goody post as usual! Love the new additions! Just keep working away at Jeff!

  5. Wow, what an awesome assortment of treats. Those Spicy Chocolate Almonds really caught my eye, I'll be trying those out pronto!

  6. Love your site! I was looking for a recipe for Gingerbread muffins, but am now making mini Gingerbread loaves for friends this year. Thanks for the recipe!

  7. Wow, what a variety!
    My favorite from the list and one I definitely want to try are the Chocolate Almonds! Don't know how they looked like before the cocoa dusting, but the picture you posted look amazingly delicious!

  8. Absolutely amazing what you baked for the holidays! It all looks so good - though I think the peanut butter fudge would better without the peanut butter. ;) (Not a fan of pb...) :)

    Thanks for ALL the great reviews this year! Happy Holidays!

  9. I am exhausted looking at all of this! You have such lucky family & friends to get all of this. I may have to make those mini gingerbread loaves.

  10. A gorgeous array as always! I looked at all the photos w/ my 5-year-old who said "*I* would like to receive those as a gift! Does Joe know I exist?" I placated him by telling him we could try out the gingerbread popcorn recipe this year. :)

  11. Thanks everyone! We hope everyone is enjoying their packages and we can't wait for next year to roll around to do it all over again!

  12. Wow. You guys HAVE been been busy. Clearly I am getting a very late start but I guess the only good part of that is you've made so many delicious sounding recipes that I could probably get all my ideas just from you! Happy holidays guys.

  13. I think fudge is a must-have every year on the list. Again it's one of my favorite post. Every on your list are so lucky to have you. Thanks again for doing this special post every year.

  14. OMG this is the wrong time to be doing the Dukan diet in France, no less, and peanut butter and chocolate is my absolute favorite combination and we can get Fluff here and OMG... am I drooling on my keyboard?

  15. What great ideas! It's difficult to choose the best.
    Thanks a lot to share all that with us.
    I really want to do something from your wonderful list, almonds with cocoa is really great. I usually buy them.

  16. Those cranberry eggnog twirls look amazing and I am sure they taste even better than they look. I will be trying those next year.

  17. Oh man, I can't tell you how much I look forward to this post every year! And how much I reference the previous year's post when coming up with my own list of goodies! The gingerbread popcorn, Khalua walnuts and buckeyes were a HUGE hit last year!

    No goodies for us this year, unfortunately. Preparing to move. I'll just have to settle for drooling at your treats on the screen.

    Speaking of moving, how does one apply to be your neighbor? 'Cause, dang, I want those goodies showing up on my doorstep! ;)