As I wrote over the weekend, I finished all of my holiday baking! Wahoo! I ended up making six cookies and one candy, which was a significantly reduced amount from my original plan, but still plenty of variety and tons of fun! Here's the spread that I took to work yesterday:
From left to right . . .
Golden Vanilla Bean Caramels
I first stumbled into this recipe as part of a Daring Baker's Challenge, and although I've never made the caramel cake since, (the main part of the challenge,) these caramels were such a hit with friends and family (and me!) that they are a MUST at holiday time. I recommend sprinkling the hot caramel with coarse sea salt after pouring into the pan -- it turns the already fantastic treat into something other-worldly. I also recommend purchasing a package of "confectionery waxed paper" for wrapping, since it makes your life SO much easier when you are wrapping almost 100 caramels -- those pre-cut rectangles are a lifesaver! Additionally, I have veganized these in the past using Earth Balance and full-fat coconut milk (in place of the heavy cream,) with no noticeable difference in flavor or texture. The best review came from Dan, while chomping on one of my salted caramels: "now, I REALLY don't like caramel . . . but I LOVE these!"
Pistachio-Cranberry Biscotti Straws
I go back and forth on including biscotti in my holiday cookie tray, because, although I LOVE biscotti and find them ridiculously easy to make, they are often the "bastard stepchild" of holiday cookies -- two or three are left lingering on the tray with a heap of crumbs, whilst everything else has been gobbled down. However, I don't know what it is about this recipe -- perhaps the simple yet satisfying flavor combinations, or the long, thin, crispy-but-not-tooth-shattering shape -- but these guys are a winner! I would definitely recommend making biscotti long and skinny in general -- they are fancier to eat, for some odd reason, and they have a simple, pleasant crunchiness, instead of the dry, gnaw-off-a-chunk of traditional biscotti. I will definitely make this recipe again, and will perhaps play around with flavor combinations in the future! (Lemon-Ginger? Coconut-Lime? YES!)
Pine Nut Wedding Cookies
There is something about these cookies that screams "CHRISTMAS!" to me, and although practically everyone and his next-door-neighbor makes these, I wanted to make some this year, too. (Plus, my mom requested them -- who knew? I don't ever remember her making wedding cookies for her Christmas tray!) Now, this recipe as written is NOT budget-friendly -- hello, 2 cups of pine nuts? Yowza. BUT, I could easily see substituting a cheaper nut in the future with delicious results. These are nutty and buttery and sweetly satisfying, with that traditional, melt-in-your-mouth wedding cookie texture. Yum yum butter, nuts, and sugar! What's not to like? :)
Gingerbread Cut-Out Cookies
I'm so glad I stumbled upon this recipe when looking for gingerbread cookies to make with my students a few years ago, (we had both a dairy and an egg allergy among the group, so vegan baking was required,) because this is the easiest, SPICIEST, tastiest gingerbread cookie ever! The cookies mix togeher in minutes, are a breeze to roll out, bake up soft yet sturdy, and store well over the Christmas week. (That is, if they last that long! Dan loves these guys, too.) I love the intense, spicy flavor using the full amount of spices, but I would definitely recommend cutting back on all of the spices if you are baking for conservative palates. (The cookies as is have a gentle heat to them, but that might be too much for very young children or picky adults -- I'd cut all of the spices down to 1/4 teaspoon, and the cookies will still be delicious!) I also love that the cookies are made with healthy canola oil, and suggest whole-wheat flour as a possibility, too. Additionally, the size of this recipe is quite modest, which I like -- nobody wants to get carpal-tunnel from the pastry bag after decorating 10 dozen gingerbread people!
Peppermint Merengue Kisses
Merengues and I have had a long and sordid history . . . let's just say we don't get along well! :) Anyhow, I confess to being a lazy baker and didn't completely follow the mixing directions in this recipe; consequently, I really couldn't get my merengue to whip to stiff enough peaks that they could be piped beautifully. Oh well! That's what spoons are for, right? My rustic merengues taste fantastic, and are being quickly disappeared by Dan -- I think he could eat a double-batch of this cookie all on his own if allowed! The basic recipe is simple enough to adapt to a variety of flavors, which I may choose to play around with in the future.
Basic Sugar Cookies
I posted at length about these cookies already; let's just say that they are one of my favorites, and I look forward each year to decorating cookies!
Salted Nut Roll Bars
I found vegetarian marshmallows! (My co-op has started carrying "Dandies!" Wahoo!) A church choir friend introduced me to these bars, and I'm totally hooked -- the Salted Nut Roll (made in St. Paul, Minnesota,) is my favorite candy bar EVER, and this simple, sweet-and-salty bar so closely mocks the original, I'm hooked! I did make a few changes to the recipe/directions, which seemed to work well for me -- I didn't combine the marshmallows with the peanut butter caramel layer, instead just layered the marshmallows over the salted peanuts and poured/spread the sticky stuff on top. This seemed to work REALLY well for me, and avoided the messy, gooey spreading job described to me by my choir colleague. (Also, the recipe I used did not call for any butter, and it worked just fine.) I would recommend chilling these bars before cutting, otherwise you'll have a very sticky knife and globby shapes instead of "bars." Globby or not, these are fantastic!
Well . . . merry what have you to all! I'm off work again today due to 8 more inches of snow and general horrible weather, (woot snow day!), and I'm absolutely delighted to have a "free day" to finish preparing for the holidays. I definitely need to get a little more cooking done, and our apartment could use a quick clean before hosting guests. I'm off!