Santa's secret is making a list and checking it twice. My secret is graham cracker pralines.
And while Santa's secret to holiday organization allows him to deliver presents to millions of children, my secret gives me batch after batch of holiday sweets without getting out a mixing bowl.
Take a box of graham crackers, some refrigerator and pantry staples (butter, brown sugar and vanilla) and a bag of chocolate chips, and end up with a delicious confection in about 20 minutes.
The graham crackers are spread on a jellyroll pan or cookie sheet with sides lined with aluminum foil. It takes about 28 squares to cover the baking sheet. Two sticks of butter and cup of brown sugar are brought to a boil and simmered for three minutes. The mixture is taken off the heat; vanilla is stirred in; and over the graham crackers it goes.
Then, the ensemble gets 10 minutes in a 350-degree oven, where the butter-and-brown sugar mixture bubbles like crazy. Once out of the oven, the confection is sprinkled with chocolate chips, which are allowed to melt, then are spread to an even thickness.
You can sprinkle the still-soft chocolate with nuts at this point, or opt to stop. Chopped pecans or sliced almonds both work well. I usually sprinkle half the sheet of pralines with chopped pecans and leave the other half plain so that my children, who don't like nuts, can enjoy them.
Before the pralines harden, and while they're still on the foil-lined baking sheet, cut them into squares with a serrated knife, then pop the whole pan into the freezer for 20 minutes.
Once frozen, the pralines can be removed from the foil-lined pan and broken into squares. Store them tightly sealed in a plastic container between layers of parchment or wax paper for a month in the freezer or for a week in the refrigerator.
If your freezer isn't large enough to hold your baking sheet, simply let the pralines cool for several hours in the refrigerator.
Graham cracker pralines make a wonderful teacher or hostess gift when given in holiday tins or tied up in a cellophane bag.
24 to 30 graham cracker squares
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
6 ounces semisweet chocolate morsels
1 cup chopped pecans or sliced almonds, optional
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet that has sides with aluminum foil, folding the foil over the edges. Spray foil with nonstick cooking spray. Arrange graham crackers in a single layer over the foil.
Combine butter and brown sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 3 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in the vanilla and pour over top of the graham crackers, spreading to cover.
Place in the heated oven and bake for 10 minutes.
Remove from oven and sprinkle with chocolate morsels. Allow morsels to melt, then spread evenly over top. Sprinkle with nuts, if desired. Cut into squares in the pan while still warm. Freeze on the baking sheet for 20 minutes, or refrigerate for several hours. Remove foil and break into squares.
Nutrient analysis provided by registered dietitians of the Augusta District Dietetic Association. Send questions via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Karin Calloway is a Web chef for Viking Range Corp. (www.vikingrange.com) and a member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. You can write her in care of Newsroom, The Augusta Chronicle, P.O. Box 1928, Augusta, GA 30903. Or send e-mail to email@example.com.