Christmas Baking

I am behind in my Christmas baking, but it is finally getting underway.  I started with an easy no-bake recipe, Almond Balls, for a cookie exchange. I have some Sugar Cookie dough in the fridge waiting for me to roll out. I bought all the ingredients to make Chocolate Caramel Cookies, because Christmas isn’t complete without chocolate and caramel.

Of course we’ll make a batch of the Christmas cookie poster child, Spritz Cookies, and it’s sibling, Russian Teacake (or Mexican Wedding Cake or Snowballs, it goes by a number of aliases!).

I’m also pretty certain The Husband will be expecting at least one pan of Nanaimo Bars. Although I sometimes add in different cookies in the Christmas line up, these are family traditions that certain Tartlets would not want to forgo. What’s in your cookie tin?

Toffee Bars

The remainder of the Thanksgiving leftovers have been consumed, frozen, or made into soup and now the Christmas baking and party season begins!  The next couple of weeks I plan to highlight some of my favorite recipes for cookies and party fare.  Some foods really do take a long time to prepare to have a good looking presentation and excellent flavor.  These bars do not.  These bars are a hostess’ friend.  They are made of ingredients that are staples in my kitchen, probably yours too.

Toffee Bars

1 c. flour
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. butter, melted

1 1/2 c. chocolate chips
1/2 c. chopped pecans

Stir together flour, sugar, and butter. Press into the bottom of an 8 x 8-inch pan. Bake at 350 F for 15 minutes or until golden.

Immediately sprinkle chocolate chips over the top and allow to melt. If there are some that don’t melt, put the pan back in the oven for a minute. Spread the chocolate evenly over the top. Sprinkle with pecans. Cool completely before serving.

Recipe Makeover

One of my favorite Pillsbury Bake Off recipes is this one from 1974, a $25,000 winner, although in the printed version I have it calls for two eggs, not three. When I use a cake mix, I typically make it with some variations. Although a mix can be very convenient and I am not completely opposed to using them, I like a cake made from scratch, not with all the preservatives of a mix. So I came up with this variation of a much simpler recipe. When I make it in a Bundt pan, I prefer to cover it with cherry pie filling, but when I make it in a 9×13-inch pan I typically use the fudgy chocolate frosting. I don’t always make this the same way, but this was today’s version.

Chocolate Covered Cherry Cake (adapted from Francis Jerzak’s Pillsbury Bake Off recipe)

2 1/3 c. flour
1 1/3 c. sugar
1/2 c. cocoa
1 Tbsp. baking powder
3/4 t. sea salt

1/3 c. expeller pressed canola oil
1 21 oz can cherry pie filling (regular or ‘lite’)
2 eggs
1 t. almond extract

1/2 c. mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 F. Either grease and flour a pan or spray with nonstick spray; set aside.

Stir dry ingredients together in a large bowl. In a medium bowl, stir together oil, pie filling, eggs, and extract. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, gently stirring until moistened. Fold in chocolate chips. Spread the batter into prepared pan. Bake 30 minutes, or until wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool on wire rack.

Either frost with fudgy chocolate frosting while still warm or cool completely and cover with with another can of cherry pie filling or sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Fudgy Chocolate Frosting

3/4 c. sugar
1/3 c. milk
5 Tbsp. butter

1 1/2 c. chocolate chips

Bring sugar, milk, and butter to a boil, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate chips until completely melted. Spread over cake while warm.

Fudgy Brownies

Some times you just want to eat chocolate. For me that time is usually around 3 PM, but sometimes the feeling starts early in the morning and lasts all day. In a moment of benevolence sanity, I decided to make brownies to share rather than eat an entire bag of chocolate myself 😉 The result was this batch of fudgy brownies. I ran out of baking powder (!) and used a mixture of cream of tartar and baking soda.

Fudgy Brownies (adapted from Betty Crocker’s Chocolate Cookbook)

1/2 c. butter
1 pkg. (12 oz) dark chocolate chips

1 1/2 c. sugar
1 1/4 c. flour
1 t. vanilla
1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. sea salt
3 eggs

Heat oven to 350 F.

Melt chocolate and butter together in microwave or in a double boiler over low heat. Beat in remaining ingredients. Spread in greased 9×13 inch pan. Bake until center is set, about 25 minutes; cool completely.

Try not to eat the entire pan yourself.

Sugar Overdose

We were planning to visit our 5 acre lot to water our baby trees and burn some yard waste, and I didn’t have the ingredients on hand for the mandatory assemblage of S’mores that is associated with our bonfires. Tragedy!

But I had lots of mini M&M’s and mini marshmallows leftover from banana split/ice cream sundae making last week, so I was sure I could come up with something that would at least contain the two most important ingredients of S’mores — chocolate and marshmallows. The cracker is there just to keep your hands from becoming *too* gooey! 😉

In the Tase of Home Baking Book, a gift from my mom, there was just the thing — Fun Marshmallow Bars. The only modifications I made were to use mini M&M’s and I used almonds instead of peanuts. The kids love the rich marshmallow top. I think I could come up with a better brownie recipe for the base, but this works. Calorie for calorie, I think I’d prefer to have a bowl of ice cream, but if you want a kid pleaser and something that’s simple from the pantry, this is a decent dessert.

Fun Marshmallow Bars (from The Taste of Home Baking Book)
1 pkg devil’s food cake mix
1/4 c. butter, melted
1/4 c. water
1 egg

3 c. miniature marshmallows
1 c. M&M’s
1/2 c. chopped nuts

In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry cake mix, butter, water and egg; mix well. Press into a greased 9×13 pan. Bake at 375 F for 20 minutes.

Sprinkle with marshmallows, M&M’s, and nuts. Bake 2-3 minutes longer or until the marshmallows begin to melt. Cool on a wire rack. Cut into bars.

Trial and Error

Once again I thought I’d try some new recipes from one of my many cookbooks, and I turned to the King Arthur’s Flour All-Purpose Cookbook, despite my less than thrilling results with the chocolate chip cookies. After all, you hear rave reviews of something and, when the first thing that you try that isn’t to your taste, it doesn’t squelch your interest entirely and you have to try something else. I made the ‘Ultra-Butterscotch Brownies’ but used the variation for blondies and omitted the butterscotch chips.

I wish now that I would have tried these in one of my glass dishes, because I think they may have baked better than in my metal 9×13 pan. These were looking quite done — pulling away from the sides of the pan, glossy on top, gooey but not runny in the middle, so I pulled them from the oven and *FOOM* they collapsed like the Stardust but without the fireworks, cheering, or dust. But the part around the edge is sooo yummy. Oh, man, how can you go wrong with that much butter and brown sugar together? I may have to try these again. And on the next page in the cookbook is ‘Raspberry Truffle Brownie Bars’, so I’m not ready to throw in the towel on this cookbook, yet.

Butterscotch Blondies (from The King Arthur’s Flour Baker’s Companion, p. 324)

8 Tbsp. (1 stick) soft butter
2 c. brown sugar
1/2 t. salt
1 t. baking powder
2 t. vanilla

1 1/2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour

3 large eggs

1 1/2 c. chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Melt the butter in a medium-sized mixing bowl in the microwave, and mix in the sugar, salt, baking powder, and flavoring. Stir in the flour, then the eggs, one at a time. Stir in 1 c. of the nuts. Scoop the batter into a lightly greased 9 x 13-inch pan. Sprinkle the remaining nuts over the top of the batter.

Bake the blondies for 30 to 35 minutes, until the top is shiny but the middle is still gooey (though not liquid). Just like a fudge brownie, you don’t want to overbake these; underbake a bit for chewiest texture. Remove them from the oven and cool completely before slicing.

Minty Fresh

I guess I’m just on a brownie kick lately. There are worse things in life. 😉 I have a friend who is fond of Andes’ Candies and I thought I would try to come up with a brownie recipe that used the little bits found in the grocery near the chocolate chips, but that wasn’t so darkly chocolaty that she wouldn’t want to eat them. I took these to our concert of prayer on Sunday.

These have what you might consider a traditional brownie texture. They don’t rise a lot so they won’t be confused as cake; they are dense but not so moist as to be fudgy. I was rather pleased with the final result and would definitely make these again. And minty fresh breath is good for kissing 😀

Mint Brownies

2 c. sugar
4 eggs

1 t. vanilla
1 c. butter, melted

1 c. flour
2/3 c. cocoa
1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt

1 c. Andes’ Candies bits

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray a 10×15 inch jelly roll pan; set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the sugar and eggs. Add the vanilla and butter and mix well. Combine the dry ingredients; add to batter and mix well. Fold in the candy bits.

Spread batter in prepared pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until done. Cool on wire rack. Spread with frosting.

7 Tbsp. cocoa
7 Tbsp. butter, melted
3 c. confectioners’ sugar
5-6 Tbsp. whipping cream

Andes’ Candies bits

Beat together frosting ingredients, adding enough cream to achieve a spreading consistency. Frost brownies; sprinkle with candy bits.