Monday, December 17, 2007

Our 2007 holiday gift baking spree report...

It was one crazy weekend in our house! We finished up all of the baking, got everything packaged and the gifts were hand delivered (mostly to our great neighbors) or brought to the post office bright and early this morning - I think the total number of packages, including what Jeff delivered, was 21... certainly more than last year! We even added a few new and untried recipes to the list this year!

Fair warning - this is a massive post! It may take a bit to download all of the pictures if you are on a slow connection. If there is a recipe for any of the treats, you will find them colored in blue and located directly underneath the picture. Now, shall we dive right in?

Starting us off is one of Jeff's all-time favorites - Almond Roca. We toyed with the recipe this year - occasionally we had issues with the butter separating during the cooking process in the past. By changing the sugar amount (slightly), reducing the water and adding a couple tablespoons of light corn syrup, I made around 7 perfect batches of this - no separating issues at all! Crunchy, buttery, nutty and a rich layer of chocolate make this candy irresistable.

Here is one of the new recipes - Candy Cane Biscotti. This biscotti is crunchy, yet still somewhat tender as it has a butter-based dough. We dipped half the ends in melted white chocolate and sprinkled them with additional crushed candies.

Buttery checkerboard pretzels are the base for these next treats. They are topped with a caramel laced rolo, placed in the oven to slightly soften the chocolate and adorned with a crunchy kissable candy.

Chocolate Caramel Pretzel Squares

It wouldn't be right if we didn't make one of our favorite cookies. Using chocolate malt powder in the dough gives these a leg up over regular M&M cookies.

We always do two types of fudge and here is the first. Always a big hit and gets lots of comments!

The pups felt a little left out during the past couple of years when we did this mega baking spree. They decided we had to include a baggie of holiday-shaped biscuits to give away to the people who have doggies so they can feel the love too!

While this next treat is not a new recipe to us, it is the first time we have made them to share with others. These caramels are so fantastic, yet so easy to make. Chewy and delicious. There is a picture of them unwrapped if you click on the link to the recipe.

These cookies are new to us this year. Instead of decorating them all, we sent along a bag of homemade royal icing (no worries, we used meringue powder and not egg whites!) in a few of the boxes so they could have some fun and decorate the cookies themselves.

Hee hee... we did have a little fun while baking them - let's just say a few of the cookies lost a limb or their head(!) by the swift plunge of a scalloped cookie cutter. This was done by special request from Jeff - is he evil or what? So we did decorate a few cookies after all... see?

A caramel/toffee mixture that is heavily ginger-spiced is poured over popcorn and slowly baked in the oven to crisp up. This is so crazy good - it is one goodie that is hard to keep your hands out of!

These spiked pecans are a new recipe to make the list this year - the nuts are first thoroughly coated in a combination of egg white and the coffee liquor. They are then tossed around with granulated sugar, cinnamon and salt, and then roasted until the nuts are golden and the coating is nice and crunchy. They don't have a boozy taste at all, just sweet with a very mild coffee/cinnamon spiced background - these fancy nuts would be an exquisite addition to any holiday party tray.

We have to make so many batches of this bark because it is just so good. This has two layers of real white chocolate with a dark chocolate/cream mixture in the middle that is infused with peppermint. It also has two layers of crushed candy canes!

We do these crispy meringue bites often - the only thing I did differently this year was to add a green and red stripe to the pipping bag to create the effect you see!

This next unusual treat is a great way to use up popcorn. Salty and sweet with a mild molasses hint lingering in each bite.

We always make this snack mix to have around - this is quite spicy, so feel free to reduce the cayenne if you like.

We thought we should include another cookie to the mix (or we may just be crazy), so we did one of our new favorite gingersnaps! These store quite well and have a pleasant spicy (but not hot) bite.

Smooth, creamy and rich - the only words that can describe this additive fudge!

And finally, another recipe that is a must for every year. One-bite salty and sweet treats - these are small Ritz Bits crackers, filled with peanut butter, dipped into real white chocolate and finished off with a variety of holiday sprinkles.

White Chocolate Dipped Mini Peanut Butter Ritz Bits

Here is a snap of some of the gifts before we packed them up in their boxes - this is probably just over half of what we did - the rest are scattered anywhere there was a free space!

I think I'm ready for a nap...


  1. Wow! I love it. Great work. You did it again. This is always my favorite post of the year.

  2. Joe, I bow to your holiday baking madness! Perhaps next year I could just send you a list of the people that I bake for you and you could just add them to your list. Of course, they would know they did not come from me as my baked goods never turn out as beautiful as yours. Yummy , yes, just not as nice looking. Your friends and family must be thrilled with the gifts. I hope you, Jeff, and the dogs have a wonderful holiday. Laura

  3. Did you ever know that you're my hero...

    Martha aka dorothyntoto

  4. OMG! What a spread of goodies! Your neighbors are so lucky.

    The cinnamon fudge really caught my eye, I may have to try that recipe.

  5. Wow! Impressive line-up as always.

    Your gingerbread people gave me a good giggle. Love it! Brings to mind, "Oh no, Mr. Bill!". :D :D What is it about gingerbread people or things like chocolate bunnies that bring out the sick humor?? :D

    Next year I'd like to try to add some candy things in among the cookies for a little variety. Like that peanut butter-chocolate fudge - yum!

  6. Now those are some great recipes! Everything looks wonderful.

  7. Beautiful! I've used a couple of your recipes for my gift giving this year, so thanks for sharing! Those espresso caramels were lovely.

    Have a great holiday, hopefully you can relax a bit now the baking is over!

  8. Holy smokes, Joe - I can't believe you guys find the time to do all this!! That is WAY impressive. And I thought I was good because I managed to bake 100 cookies last week (of a whopping 2 different varieties). :o You put my sad attempts at baking to shame! ;)

    And you have some very lucky friends and family - I'd be honored to get treats from you anyday!

  9. Holy crap. I baked three kinds of cookies and some oreo truffles yesterday and was exhausted. I can't even imagine how you must feel! Great holiday spread. All the recipients are very lucky to be receiving such delicious gifts!

  10. I'd be ready for hibernation, not just a nap after all of this. That's an amazing amount of baking! You have some very lucky people in your lives!

  11. You're Amazing! Someday I hope to conquer the recipes in this post. :) But, instead of in a matter of days, I'll take a few years!

  12. You weren't kidding about the baking spree.

    Jeph and I have long wondered: what is your day job? How do you manage the time to do all these wonderfl things.

    The Swedish gingersnaps are similar to my Mum's recipe. Always a hit at home and when I bring them in to work!

  13. Even though I've been too busy to leave comments lately, I always look forward to this post! Phenomenal job again Joe! The recipients are in for a treat as usual! Happy Holidays!

  14. Wow, Amazing Joe!!!
    Everything looks delicious!!! I will try your changes in the almond rocca when I make it again. I did make a couple batches already with the original recipe and did get the butter separating a little. Thanks for all these great ideas and recipes!

  15. um... the kahlua spiked pecans? YUM! i made them last night to add to my gift baskets. they are SO delicious! thanks for sharing.

  16. I have decided that is the pool table...the only thing big and strong enough to hold the treasure trove of goodies!

    Tx for many great recipes over the months.... I am a big biscotti will try the pepperminties...
    check out the chocolate covered cherries on my food blog if you get a chance...they look pretty festive in their little red foil cups.

  17. Oh, my!! I bet you all are exhausted!! That is quite a spread.

  18. Joe, I am totally impressed and amazed with all the beautiful goodies you created for Christmas!

  19. The best post ever---thanks for sharing your expertise!

  20. A true work of art. May you and Jeff have a Merry Christmas.

  21. Someone called my holiday baking "hard core" today... I think I might need to redirect them to this post so that they can see what hard core *really* looks like!

    Everything looks wonderful. I think I'm going to have to give the Kahlua Spiced Pecans a try.

    Happy Holidays to you both!

  22. The people who get your baked goods are sooo lucky! Everything looks wonderful.

    I think I'm going to try that gingerbread popcorn!

  23. awesome work! those candy cane biscotti look fabulous. And can you tell me if those gingersnap cookies are chewy or more "snappy"? I'm looking for a chewy gingersnap.

    Merry Christmas!

  24. Honestly, I just want to know how to get on your receiving list? :) Absolutely incredible, and then to do tamales the next day. I want your energy and drive.

  25. please post the cut outs and your recipes for those. woowowowowowow! they look great!!!!!!!!! Krista,Canton Ohio

  26. Wow! That all looks so delightful- your recipients are going to love you.

    Next year you should consider putting one of your baking spree packages on the Menu For Hope raffle. You'd get a TON of entries trying to get a taste of Joe's homemade treats.

  27. Squeeee!
    When I picked up the box, I didn't look too closely at the return address, I just saw J something and J something; I expected that it was from my aunt and uncle and merely thought it strange that they couldn't fit a gift that size in my folks' luggage.

    I wasn't sure whether my aunt wrapped the gift before putting it in the mailer, then I decided that she would - my heart started to race when I saw it wasn't from her but instead was going to be a package of delicatable Christmas treats.

    I now understand why Jeff says he eats all the fudge so that you have to hide it from him: so smooth with no hint of the graininess often found in others' efforts. The roca simply melted, which makes no sense for that type of candy, but I mean that it was suitably brittle without breaking my teeth. Prior to tasting, I wasn't sure about the gingerbread popcorn, it just sounded odd, but once I tasted it, OMG! Fantastic!

    Sierra is also happy that she was remembered; it's hard to get a coherent review out of her, but I think it's safe to say she likes them. Without having read the recipe, I know that homemade dog treats are generally safe for human consumption, but I've decided to pass on trying them myself.

    Thank you so much! I don't think they'll last another day.

  28. Thanks everyone! It was a lot of fun, but quite time consuming. I loved it though!

    Peter - I'm lucky enough that I'm able to do my work from home.

    Crafty - The are definitely firm and "snappy", but not rock hard either. I'm not sure I would describe them at being chewy though.

  29. OH.

    Joe - you know Peter, Steven and I all post about our holiday baking, candy making (except for Peter), etc, but you just go all out gang busters. Holy cow!

    I LOVE the dismembered gingerbread men - VERY creative to do that INTENTIONALLY (as opposed to just having to make the sacrifice of eating those that break during the baking/decorating/packaging process). VERY cool!

    So, um, just how sick of sugar are you right now? LOL

    Totally gonna have to try some of these recipes - most notably the gingerbread popcorn!

  30. Wow, I can't believe you made all of those yummy treats. There are so many I want to try now. Thanks!

  31. Joe - On the table of treats I'm spying something that looks like decorated sugar cookies - santas, maybe penguins to the left of the santas and something on the far right - soldiers?

    Did you decorate them yourself? I wondered because they look awesome and I didn't see any mention of them or any pics.

  32. Jeph - kind of, but I'm already trying to figure out what to bake now!

    Rachel and anon - Thanks!

    Alysha - Hmm, I'm not sure what you mean. Did you click on the picture to blow it up? I *think* what you see are just the treat bags - we used ones that had fun holiday images on them!

  33. Joe - Okay - duh! I thought they were decorated cookies wrapped up in clear bags. I think I'll go take a nap...... :-D

  34. Alysha - hee hee! No worries... it was hard to take a good clear shot of all the stuff!