Have you checked your calendar lately? It’s already December, which means we only have a few short weeks until Santa pays a visit. I’m reminded of that fact every time I almost get run over in the Target parking lot this time of year. Seriously, it’s a madhouse out there; be careful.
This is also the time of year when people bust out all of their fancy gadgets and baking pans to show off their skills and spread some holiday cheer.
I’m not much of baker myself. I have too many horror stories of trying to bake cookies only to end up with chocolate chip cookie soup instead of dough. I usually can’t be bothered to learn to measure and sift and whisk and beat and mix until my arms fall off. I normally just buy goodies from the store and tell people they’re from my heart.
However, this year, I’ve got a new attitude. I feel a little bit more domesticated and a little less intimidated by my measuring cups and spoons. Plus it’s fun to put my food processor to good use.
So after some inquiries, a little research and shopping for a few ingredients, I’ve already whipped up my first batch of familiar holiday treats. There’s not much baking or time involved here, so these four delectable delights are easy to make and easy to eat.
1. Hello Dolly Squares
I don’t know where the name comes from, but that’s not important; these are delicious. I remember one of my aunts making these once in a while during my childhood, and then she moved, and I forgot about them until just recently. They don’t look like much, but I make them pretty frequently these days, and they’re a real crowd-pleaser. Rich butter soaked into a crumbly graham cracker crust topped with chocolate, nuts, coconut and doused with a can of condensed milk, these bars are literally dangerous. They’re so sweet and crunchy and melty and soft all at the same time that it’s hard to have just one and leave them be.
The best part is that they’re so easy to make, I always feel embarrassed when someone asks me for the recipe. It’s more of an assembly than a recipe.
All you need is:
-1 stick of butter
-One sleeve of graham crackers crushed (The food processor works beautifully for this.)
-1 cup of milk or semi-sweet chocolate chips
-1 cup of chopped pecans or walnuts
-1 cup of unsweetened shredded coconut
-1 15-oz. can of condensed milk
All you do is:
-Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Spray a 9X13 baking pan with cooking spray, add the stick of butter and put it in the oven to let the butter melt while the oven comes up to temperature.
-When the butter is melted, take the pan from the oven with proper protection and evenly distribute and press the crushed graham crackers into the butter. And then layer on the nuts, chocolate chips and then the coconut.
-Pour condensed milk evenly to cover the layer of coconut completely.
-Bake for 25-30 minutes until the condensed is completely absorbed and the coconut is toasted golden brown.
Now, just let them cool, cut, serve and wow your friends!
2. Peppermint Bark
Does anything remind you of the holidays more than a candy cane? Everything about it is festive - the red and white stripes, the shape that makes them perfect for adorning your tree and the cool crisp bite of peppermint that makes you feel a little shiver. This yummy sweet combines all of that with layers of rich chocolate and more peppermint flavor.
My boyfriend’s sister, Sunny, shared this recipe that she uses with me. This item is only part of a tantalizing spread of treats she makes with her family up in Bedford, Mass., every year at Christmas.
All you need is:
-1 pound (1 1/2 12 oz. bags) of white chocolate chips (Sunny recommends Ghirardelli for the best results)
-1 12 oz. bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
-1/2 teaspoon of peppermint extract
-1/2 cup of crushed peppermint candy
All you do is:
-Preheat oven to 250 degrees
-Line a 9X13 baking pan with foil and spray with cooking spray
-Spread semi-sweet chocolate chips evenly on the bottom of the pan and place in oven until almost melted, about 5 minutes
-Using an offset spatula, spread the melted chocolate evenly across the bottom and refrigerate until the chocolate firms up again, about 20 minutes
-In the meantime, melt white chocolate chips on your stove in a double boiler, which is a heatproof bowl on top of a saucepan filled with simmering water. Do not let the bowl touch the water.
-Once the white chocolate is almost melted, take the bowl off the heat and stir in the peppermint extract.
-Allow the mixture to cool a little bit and then spread on top of the dark chocolate layer, top with crushed peppermint pieces and gently press candy into the chocolate with the palm of your hand. But be careful; it’s warm.
-Refrigerate the bark until completely firmed up again.
-When it’s ready, lift the foil out the pan and shake off any excess peppermint candy that didn’t stick.
-Breaking up the bark is kind of tricky, but I found an easy solution to that. Place another strip of foil on top of the bark, so the slab of yummy goodness is sandwiched between two pieces. Flip it so the dark chocolate layer is facing up. Then take out your rolling pin and bash a few times horizontally and then a few times vertically. I store mine in the refrigerator so it stays firm.
And there you have it!
3. Festive Shortbread Cookies
Of course I had to include some type of cookie to this collection. Plain shortbread is delicious with its buttery sweetness and melt-in-your-mouth texture, but it also serves as a blank canvas that can be dressed up for any holiday. When I was a kid, our next-door neighbor Mrs. Kiser would bring my family a platter of assorted homemade cookies for Christmas. She was a pro in the baking department; her offerings included gingerbread, fudge-striped and fruit-filled cookies. But her iced and chocolate-dipped shortbread was my favorite.
So I looked up an easy shortbread recipe online, and I used melted chocolate, candy-coated chocolate pieces representing Christmas and Hanukkah and holiday sprinkles to decorate. This was a fun one, and it was very elementary. I bet you can tell that from the picture of my finished product.
All you need is:
-2 cups of flour
-1/2 teaspoon of salt
-1/2 cup, plus 2 tablespoons of powdered sugar
-2 sticks of room temperature unsalted butter, cut into chunks
-1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
-1 teaspoon of water
For decorating, you can use whatever you want. I used white and semisweet chocolate that I melted in the microwave in 30-second intervals plus candies and sprinkles.
All you do is:
-Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
-Pulse flour, sugar and salt in a food processor to combine.
-Then add butter, vanilla extract and water and mix until it just comes together when you press the dough in your hands.
-Roll up the dough in plastic wrap into a log about 2.5 inches wide.
-Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, and then slice into quarter-inch disks and place on parchment-lined baking sheets.
-Bake for 12-15 minutes until they are very lightly golden brown.
-Allow them to cool completely before dipping in melted chocolate and adding candies and sprinkles. Let the chocolate harden, and you’re done!
4. Chocolate-covered pretzels
I still had some chocolate chips to use up, if you can believe that, so I decided to put together one more of my favorite flavor combinations. Pretzels and chocolate are a match made in heaven with salty and sweet tastes that hit your tongue at the same time. And it’s better for you than chocolate cake, right? That’s what I say to justify my love for chocolate-covered pretzels. For this, I just used pretzel rods and dipped them in the same chocolate I melted for the shortbread cookies. Roll them around in sprinkles, let the chocolate firm up and you have a sweet-salty treat in minutes.
This is so cliche, I know, but holiday baking is supposed to be fun. For me, having fun in the kitchen is using simple methods to help me get at those sweet morsels faster. I'm also looking forward to sharing these. Really, no one needs two pounds of peppermint bark to themselves. But this will not be my last foray into making goodies this season, I promise. I enjoyed myself too much, and I managed to avoid major disasters. A kitchen and clothes covered in chocolate is a sign that everything worked out just fine.