The holidays always bring about a big burst of baking from me. In my experience, there are more likely to be people just dropping over unannounced during the holidays than any other time of the year, and I like to have things for people to nibble on while they are here.
So I usually start baking and candy making at the beginning of December, and continue all the way up until the day before Christmas Eve. Part of the reason is that I end up giving a lot of my baked goods away, so they have to be replaced. My MIL has gotten used to me making “Mice” and she takes a bunch of them to her social club’s Christmas party. Then there’s the tradition Conall started a long time ago at his work of bringing a big plate of home made cookies to work either on or right before Christmas so the people working that day don’t feel quite so forgotten. (He works in a position that has to be staffed 24/7/365 no matter what, even on holidays.)
I love baking. It’s one of the things I used to do with my mother that wasn’t stress filled. I can remember making homemade bread with my mother one year. Once a month on Saturdays we would make about eight batches of bread, enough to keep the family in bread for a month. The annual making Christmas cookies day was a lot of fun. We’d play Christmas music and fill the house with the smells of at least a dozen different kinds of cookies.
My grandma wouldn’t make so much cookies, but she’d make a bunch of fruit cakes before Christmas, and give a few away as Christmas presents. Yes, I know a lot of people don’t like fruit cake, but I was raised on them and love them, or at least, I love our family’s recipe. For a while after I grew up and left home, Grandma would send me a fruitcake for Christmas every year. When I’d get it in the mail, Conall would joke about if Grandma lived long enough, we could build our own home out of all the bricks we get from her …
Every year I bake four or five “traditional” things, and then I generally add one or two different types of cookies and see how everybody likes them. This year, I will be making seven different types of cookies, at least two or three batches of each.
Chocolate Chip cookies: These are the “Toll House” cookies, with a twist — I use Ghiredelli chocolate morsels instead of Nestle’s. The first time I did that was because I was wrist deep into cookie dough, and realized I didn’t have any Nestle’s semi-sweet morsels. I had some Ghiredelli from some candy I’d made earlier, and substituted them. Everybody went crazy over it, and now I can’t go back to Nestle’s.
Ciambellettes: These are supposedly from a very old recipe created by Bartolomeo Scappi and served on the table of Pope Pius V. Unfortunately, I’ve only found one reference to these cookies and that not in the cook book Scappi wrote (that book was written in 1570, and I’ve not found any hint of an existing copy, other than the title of the book and when it was written). However, these cookies (if they are authentic) would have been one of the first thumbprint style cookies. The cookie is very time consuming to make, being part boiled and then baked, but it is so worth the effort.
Candy Cane Cookies: These cookies are a staple of my childhood. Both Grandma and Mom made these every Christmas, and so do I. The candy cane cookies are basically a shortbread cookie, with the dough divided in half. One half is colored red, the other allowed to remain natural. A small piece of each color is rolled into a strip and the strips are twined around each other and one end formed into a crook.
Mice: A few years ago, in a local newspaper around the holidays, there was a recipe for “Mexican Mice”. Basically, it’s just a pecan sandy, rolled into a rounded cone, with almond ears, M&M Minis ™ eyes and noses, and a fried chinese noodle for a tail. After it’s taken out of the oven, powder sugar is sprinkled on top to give it a ‘lab mouse’ look. This year, I’m thinking about doing a few tail-less chocolate dipped mice and see how they turn out. The mice are a big hit everywhere, everybody just oohs and ahs over them.
Although they cause us to get some strange looks when we are talking about what ingredients we need. Many a conversation between Conall and I in the grocery store has gone like this:
Him: Do we have everything for the mice?
Me: No, we still need ears and eyes.
It’s surprising how quickly people will move away from us upon hearing a snippet of conversation like that. But I digress.
Kolackies: These aren’t the type of kolackies that my adopted father made when I was a kid. These are easier to make, and taste really good. The dough is just made with flour, butter, and cream cheese. Roll the dough out, cut it into squares, fill it with preserves, and bake. Simple, easy, and oh so good.
Peanut Butter Blossom: This was something that was a tradition for Conall, but never in my house. He asked me one year to make them, and it’s been on the list since then. Some years (like this one) I’ll switch it up a bit with some of the new flavors of Hershey’s Kisses ™ that are out there. This year will be dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and the Hugs. We’ll see what other flavors Kisses I might decide to use.
New or extra cookies:
Pecan Sandy: This year I found a different recipe for a pecan sandy that is drizzled with caramel and chocolate on the top. It looks really good, and I’m going to have to try it out.
Bite Sized Cheesecakes: I found a recipe for this two years ago, and decided to try it. It was very close to my recipe for cheesecake, but was made in cupcake tins for a two or three bite cheesecake. This year I think I will make some chocolate dipped as well.
Chocolate dipped shortbread cookies: Self-explanatory.
Oh, did I forget to mention I got a chocolate melting pot this year? It’ll make keeping the chocolate at the correct consistency so much easier than the double boiler did!
And besides all that, two years ago I started making truffles. This year I’m planning on making dark chocolate, white chocolate (I have a friend who’s allergic to chocolate), and some flavored middles: chai tea flavored, orange flavored, raspberry flavored, and maybe pumpkin pie flavored.
That’s a lot of baking, but I still have a couple weeks to do it all in.
What kind of things do you like to make for the holiday season, any holiday season? Do you make a bunch of things like I do, or only a few? If you are diabetic and can’t have lots of sugar, how have you changed your recipes to keep the taste you love but yet not endanger your health?
Well, it’s noon, and I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me today. At least one batch of truffles, and maybe the peanut butter blossom cookies to make. Or maybe the mice.