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.