Holiday Baking

I love holiday baking. I think the thing I look forward to most at Christmas time is baking cookies. In fact, between my mom and me, we usually have made so many cookies that our Christmas dessert always ends up being a cookie buffet. Even as a kid and later a teenager, my mom, sisters and I would set aside a whole day just to bake cookies before Christmas. We always listened to Nate King Cole and Frank Sinatra Christmas albums (along with a cheesy 80s Christmas album that is thankfully no longer in the music rotation) while we baked. Those were always my favorite days; no worrying about cleaning the house for guests or getting ready to go anywhere, just baking and listening to music while wearing sweat pants.

Recently I made my triple chocolate cranberry oatmeal cookies again to have the dough on hand in the freezer. Those are always a favorite of mine. Also, today I'm sharing recipe for two more family favorites. I think the original recipes were from Gourmet magazine, but we've been making these for so many years, I'm not 100% sure where the recipes came from anymore. Well, at any rate they are both good, and I hope you will want to give them a try this year. Enjoy!

Chocolate Caramel Treasures

1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg white
1 cup finely chopped toasted pecans
10 plain soft caramels (1 inch by 1/2 inch each)
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2/3 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips

Cream butter and sugar together in a mixer until light and fluffy. Add egg yolk, milk and vanilla and beat to incorporate. Sift together flour, cocoa powder and salt, and beat into butter mixture until incorporated. Gather the dough into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator to chill until firm enough to roll into balls, at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silpats. Place egg white in a shallow bowl and beat lightly with a fork. Place pecans in a separate shallow bowl.

Using a sharp knife or bench scraper divide the dough into 30 equal pieces. (I like to divide it into 3 pieces and then divide each of those pieces into 10 pieces). Roll each piece of dough between your palms to form a ball. Roll the ball in the egg white and then the pecans. Place on baking sheet.   Repeat with remaining dough. You should have 15 cookies on each baking sheet. Press the center of each ball of dough with your thumb to make a depression. Bake until cookies are puffed slightly, but still look a little soft in the center, about 10-12 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately press the centers of the cookies again with the back of a wooden spoon. Transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

Make the filling: Heat the caramels and cream in a small saucepan over low heat until melted and smooth. Spoon into centers of cookies and cool completely.

Make chocolate drizzle: Place chocolate chips heatproof bowl and microwave at 30 second intervals (stirring between each interval) until smooth. Pour chocolate into heavy duty Ziploc bag. Snip off corner to form a small hole. Drizzle chocolate over cookies and let stand until set.  (To speed this up you can place them in the refrigerator until set).

Makes 2 1/2 dozen cookies.

Notes: Can be made 2 days ahead. Store in airtight container at room temperature with waxed paper between each layer of cookies. The caramels can usually be found on the candy aisle of the grocery store. Be sure to buy soft, not hard caramels. 

Cherry Streusel Bars

2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted cold butter, cut into 1/2 inch peices
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 tablespoons 2% or whole milk
Nonstick cooking spray

7 ounces cherry jam
1/2 cup dried cherries

1 cup shredded sweetened coconut
3/4 cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place a piece of foil in a 9 x 13 inch pan so that it hangs over the long slides of the pan (to create a sling to help you remove the bars later). Spray the pan and foil.

Place all crust ingredients in food processor and pulse until combined and clumping together. Set aside 1 cup for streusel topping. Place remaining mixture into prepared pan and press into pan to form a smooth layer. Bake until pale golden, about 20 minutes. Cool 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, wipe the food processor with a paper towel (no need to completely wash it). Place the cherry jam and dried cherries in processor and process until almost smooth. Spread filling on crust.

Add coconut and almonds to the 1 cup of crust mixture that was set aside to make the streusel. Sprinkle streusel on top of cherry filling. Bake for another 30 minutes until lightly golden. Cool in pan. When ready to cut and serve, use the foil sling to remove the bars. Place on cutting board, slip off of foil, and cut into bars.

Makes 12-16 bars. 

Note: Can be made one day ahead. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.  


Christmas Morning

I love Christmas morning. As a kid I would often get up at 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning, knock on my parents door, and ask to open presents. The answer was of course "no" and I was told to go back to bed. I would lay in bed wide awake, waiting as the minutes slowly passed. Finally at 6:00 my mom would let me get up. I would then go wake my sisters screaming, "It's Christmas!" We would all file downstairs in our PJs and open our stockings. While we looked into the stockings my mom would start breakfast. Often she made this raspberry coffee cake.

Although I love big breakfasts, I am not a fan of spending too much time making breakfast. It is the morning after all and I'm usually hungry. This coffee cake is really easy to make though. My mom would whip it up as we unloaded our stockings, and then she would pop it in the oven to bake while she sat and watched us open the rest of our gifts. The cake is really, really good warm. She would let it cool just enough so that we could eat it, and while it cooled she would whip up a batch of scrambled eggs or other breakfast items.

Even though it's not Christmas yet, I found myself wanting this coffee cake the other day. So, I share the recipe with you now. Perhaps you will want to make it on Christmas morning, or some other day; it is really good any day of the year.

Miles loves looking at the lights on our tree. I can't wait for him to celebrate his first Christmas. I'm so excited that I'll probably wake up at 5:00 am that day.

Raspberry Coffee Cake

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup whole or 2% milk
1/2 cup raspberry preserves
Powdered sugar, for dusting the cake

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter or spray a 9 x 13 inch glass baking pan.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixer, beat the cream cheese, butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix to incorporate. On low speed add half the flour mixture, the milk and then the remaining flour mixture. Mix until just incorporated.

Spread the batter in prepared pan. Spoon the preserves in 12 dollops onto of the batter. Using a knife, swirl the preserves into the batter to form a marbled effect.

Bake for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool for 10-15 minutes on wire rack. Sift powdered sugar over. Serve warm.

Serves 8-10

Notes: Although this is best eaten warm, it is still very good at room temperature.