Hello Friends! I know it’s been A WHILE since I’ve posted anything here on the blog. I even have several partially written posts almost ready to go, that just need a few touch-ups. But, life has been busy these last few months and I had a hard time juggling everything. Mostly, we have been focused on wrapping up a landscape remodel project. I plan to post some details on that in the coming weeks. We are basically redoing both our front and back yards. The last phase of the project finally got underway mid December, so most of the planning and prep are behind us, and now we just watch the transformation come together! I’ll tell you all about it soon 🙂
We also got a piano recently… I am the “pianist” in our home, although I use that term generously, as I have a long ways to go to perfect my skill! But still, we finally have a real piano, and I have to admit much of my spare time these last couple months has been spent playing it 🙂
But I’m back today with my holiday baking roundup for you! And I plan to start back up with regular posts in the new year. So keep an eye out!
I had a hard time deciding what to bake for my holiday give-aways this year. Giving away treats around the holidays is a tradition I thoroughly enjoy. It’s a good chance to let people know you are thinking of them, to meet new neighbors, and to get some tasty goodies lying around the kitchen 🙂 I really enjoy baking, but don’t do it that often these days (trying to stay healthy and all ;)). So I decided to take full advantage of this holiday season, and also the fact that I have plenty of neighbors, friends, and family to share the holiday baking bounty with.
I perused several of my favorite cookbooks and cookie magazines, as well as hunted online for a few things. I want to share with you the treats I ended up making, and where you can find each delicious recipe! This was a pretty successful round of holiday baking and I was really pleased with the results! I will, however, highlight a few lessons learned at the end. Now on to the specifics!
The two books I ended up using for this year’s holiday baking were Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh (I have several of his cookbooks and love them all!), and a Cookies magazine – The Best of Fine Cooking, Holiday 2012 edition. I’ve had it for as long, and love to pull it out and try a few things every year. I also have a couple favorites from it that I keep repeating 🙂 Most of the recipes I used from the magazine can be found on the Fine Cooking website under the “Holiday Cookies” section.
To be honest, you could plan a full, delicious, diverse, treats menu from either one exclusively. Everything I’ve tried from both of these books has been exceptional. And the instructions are excellent. So even if you’re not an expert baker, these recipes will guide you through what you need to know to come out successful.
Holiday Baking Roundup
Ready for the list of treats? I know, it’s quite a few (eight, to be exact) … and this is my narrowed-down list! There are so many fun things to try, and I wanted to get some classics in there too.
A classic, but one I’ve never made. This is one of Hubby’s favorite types of candy, so I wanted to be sure to include it this year 🙂 I compared several recipes online, and ended up going with one from Genius Kitchen. It had good reviews, and a few helpful comments, so I decided to give it a try.
Caramels – Honey, Macadamia and Coconut.
This was a tantalizing recipe from Yotam’s book. Again something I have never made and decided to give it a try. These turned out with a perfectly soft and tender (not stick-to-your-teeth) texture. I credit that success to the excellent instructions in this recipe.
Soft Gingerbread Tiles with Lemon Butter Glaze.
Another one from Yotam. The picture in the recipe book was so lovely I had to try them for myself. And I also love a good gingerbread or molasses cookie (one of my favorites during the holidays)! These are a real eye-popper and will be lovely to include in a giveaway tin.
Chocolate, Banana, and Pecan Cookies.
The third and final recipe from Yotam’s Sweet book. Hubby spied this recipe a month or two ago, and we tried it out for some cookies to just have “on hand” in the freezer. (Sweet tooth much?) They were delicious, and also festive with the crackled powdered sugar coating. Plus, you can make them ahead and freeze the cookies before baking. This made them really easy to pull out and cook right before packaging everything up to give out.
The Cookies magazine has quite a few flavors of biscotti. I tried three of them last year, and two were so amazing I decided to repeat them this year – Gingerbread and Triple Chocolate.
Pistachio Meringues with Toasted Coconut.
Another recipe from Cookies with a whimsical picture that pulled me in. They seemed really easy to make, and another definite classic. This was, however, the one treat I didn’t think turned out quite as well as it could have. I have a few thoughts on why in the “lessons learned” section at the end. Also, at the time I chose them, I failed to realize they had to bake/dry in the oven for four hours! Which meant I had to do some diligent oven planning around them. So keep that in mind if you decide to try making meringues!
The last classic I wanted to try. And another one I haven’t made before. We have a good family friend that always liked to make these around the holidays – for him these pressed or “spritz” cookies are equivalent to the holiday season. So I wanted to give them a try! I hunted around for a good recipe (well-reviewed). There are many to choose from online, but in the end I ended up going with one from the Cookies magazine, since I have always had good luck with their recipes, and I really wanted these to turn out as delicious little bites of buttery goodness. I was not disappointed!
Baking these treats required a couple special tools that you may or may not have in your baking arsenal. Here’s a quick list for reference:
- Cookie press – for the Spritz cookies. I went with the one from Oxo. It is simple to use, easy to clean, and comes with a nice assortment of shapes. You can find it from Amazon, Bed Bath and Beyond, Sur La Table, etc. See on Amazon.
- Cookie stamps – for the Gingerbread Tiles I purchased a classic set from Nordic Ware at Sur La Table. There are many different options available at Amazon and other online sources as well. These just provide some nice classic patterns and were easily accessible to me. See on Amazon.
- Piping bag and tip – this was for the Meringues, and the recipe called for a large #8 star tip.
When you are taking on the baking challenge of 8 different sweets, most of which you have never tried before, and you are the only one baking, and you want everything ready fresh at one time… there is a little planning that must go into the process! A few of the recipes I chose were intentional, because I knew I could make them ahead. I highly recommend this if you are trying to prep up a large assortment of treats that you want all fresh and ready at the same time! It takes a little stress and pressure off 🙂 From my treats list, here’s what I could make ahead:
- Carmels – store in an air tight container at room temperature for up to a week, or one month in the fridge.
- Toffee – store in an air tight container in the fridge for a couple weeks.
- Chocolate, Banana, and Pecan cookies – make these ahead as far as rolling the dough balls in the pecans, flatten slightly, and then freeze. To finish off just pull them out of the freezer, toss them in a bag with powdered sugar until coated, and bake for an extra minute!
- Soft Gingerbread Tiles – make the dough ahead of time, it keeps in the fridge for 2-3 days.
- The biscotti is also OK made a day or two early. It is already crunchy, and most people will dip it in coffee or tea so a day or two old doesn’t hurt at all! We’ll eat this for up to a week after I’ve made it (if it lasts that long!) and can’t notice the difference.
So you see? More than half the treats I made could be fully or partially prepped during the week leading up to treat-baking day. Everything came together nicely in the end, and was even fresh and tasty! Even if you choose a different treat line-up, consider the combination of baked goodies, and try to pick a few that can be safely made ahead.
Trust the thermometer (I got really nervous towards the end as I thought it might be burning, but it turned out perfect ;)). Also, if adding chocolate to the top, melt it first and then spread it on top of the hardened toffee. Some reviewers said they just put the chocolate chips on top of the warm toffee, let them melt, and then spread. Well, maybe I waited too long to add the chocolate, but it didn’t melt fully … so I ended up using a small kitchen torch to eat up the pieces left enough to spread them around. It turned out OK in the end but added to my baking stress!
As I mentioned earlier, these didn’t turn out quite right for me. The flavor and texture were great, but they didn’t quite maintain their height. Most of them fell slightly during the baking process. I am not sure what went wrong – maybe my egg whites were not fresh enough, maybe I didn’t beat them long enough? Meringues can be finicky, so I am just pleased that the texture and flavor were good. I will work on the shaping more next time 🙂 If you are trying meringues for the first time, just be sure you carefully follow all instructions!
This is just a personal preference, but I prefer my biscotti on the slightly chewier (as opposed to crunchy) side. This means I need to shorten my baking time by a few minutes next time.
Do NOT use parchment or any other covering on the baking sheet – you must use an ungreased baking sheet. The cookies need something to stick to to come off the press. Soft dough is OK. Just use a little flour to roll it into a log in order to more easily load into the press. Don’t get distracted by the “clicks” of the press 🙂 Just push down until the lever stops, and that is a full cookie!
And that’s all! I hope this holiday baking roundup inspires some ideas for your own treat making extravaganza! Whether for the holidays or just for fun! Happy baking 🙂