I think one of the best gifts of the holidays is the get-out-of-dieting-free card that awakens from hibernation when Fall and Winter meet under the mistletoe.
This isn’t about making yourself sick on mashed potatoes or yeast rolls, either (though that’s allowed, too). I’m talking dessert… Cakes, pies, cookies, candies… All of it.
There’s a happy medium of giving and receiving, and that makes it even better.
My sweet friend, Mary Lu, gave me her version of fruit cake. It made me yearn for a fire place, a cup of chai tea, and a blanket. It was loaded with a comforting blend of spices and fruit. If the people who make the commercial kind tasted hers, they’d die of inedible embarrassment.
My pal, Pam, gave me individually wrapped caramels! The were creamy, and had just the right amount of caramel flavor, which is not easy to achieve!
I’ll be honest. I didn’t give as much as I got this year. Time wasn’t on my side.
I did, though, do a bit of baking.
I think the highlight was a recipe that I wish I could claim: Rosemary-chocolate sea salt cookies.
I came across the creation on a blog.
Here, the rosemary almost takes on a minty flavor, but you can certainly tell it’s the woody-herb.
The recipe calls for a vial of Via, the Starbucks coffee. I happened to have one from a sample, so I used it. The second time I made them I planned to use instant coffee, but I forgot. I really couldn’t tell it was missing. So, if you don’t want to shell out the 8 bucks for the Starbucks stuff, don’t.
This cookie is fantastic. It’s salty, it’s sweet and it has a scent you’d never expect. The best part is that it’s not really a “Christmas cookie.” Make it now.
My mom always made cookies for the holidays. There’d be tins filled with irresistible goodies on the counter, and I’d always look forward to filling them, or emptying them.
Her snowballs were a favorite. They look like a solid sweet, but they melt in your mouth. You just need a few ingredients:
1 cup chopped walnuts
4 cups flour, not sifted
2 tsp vanilla
1 lb butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
Preheat oven to 350°.
Combine butter, nuts, vanilla, sugar and flour.
Roll into balls and place on greased cookie sheet.
Bake for 15 minutes.
When cool… Dip in sifted powdered sugar.
Mine didn’t stay spherical. I think it’s because I made them on the warmest day of Winter. I also made half the batch as directed, and the other with almonds and almond extract.
My other childhood treat was paintbrush cookies. These are wonderful.
1 egg yolk
Splash of water
Mix shortening and sugar.
Add eggs and vanilla.
Add flour, baking powder and salt.
Chill for one hour.
Preheat oven to 400°.
Roll out dough, cut with cookie cutters.
These oven-free treats come out like fudge, but take the form of a cookie.
I used almonds because I think the peanut butter can takeover in the traditional treat. Plus, almond butter tends to be a bit healthier. My partner in cuisine crime told me the almond butter was the dominant flavor in my version, so there you have it. It probably didn’t help that I used almond extract, too. I did like the coconut versus the oats because they gave a nice chewy texture. I also added a sprinkle of sea salt for an extra zing!
My last big contribution to the holiday food free-for-all was a tres leches cake. I made it just before I went home to see my family. This was so my partner in cuisine crime would have a treat to get him through the agony of my absence, ha!
Tres leches translates to three milks (evaporated, sweetened condensed, and whole milk or heavy cream). They give the cake an unimaginable moistness. The cake is a sponge that soaks up every drop of the milks… this is no soggy cake. It’s perfectly wet, and never dries out.
The actual cake recipe was based off Martha Stewart’s.
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted and cooled, plus more for baking dish
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
5 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 splashes of almond extract
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
1 can coconut milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat eggs and 3/4 cup sugar on high until pale and thick, about 4 minutes. Add vanilla and almond, and beat to combine. With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture and beat to combine. With a rubber spatula, fold in melted butter until incorporated. Transfer batter to dish and bake until top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes, rotating dish halfway through. Let cake cool completely.
For the whipped cream, I made it in the traditional way (heavy cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla). I added a splash of dark rum, just to make your tongue tingle. You could also add rum to the milks if you want!
For the toasted coconut, you can do it in a non-stick pan on the stove, or in a 350 degree oven. Watch it closely. It’ll burn fast.
Here’s the deal. I know I’m a day late and $50 short on this one. Yes, the holidays are over and the thought of waiting till next year to make all this is nauseating. So, go ahead and save these recipes for a day of indulgence. Stub your toe? Make the tres leches.
I’m not trying to wreck your resolutions. If you don’t have one, just promise to live by this thought: stressed is desserts spelled backwards.
If you have artificial vanilla extract throw it away. The pure stuff is worth the money. If you have a membership for a wholesale club, look for the big bottles there. They’re 5 times the size of the grocery store stuff and about the same price.