I have spent the last few weeks gathering supplies for the Holiday Baking Season. I make a list of treats that I plan to make, take stock of what is in the cupboard, then I review the recipes that I plan to make and create a list. I try to watch the sale ads for a few weeks before I plan to start in order to get the best prices on all the ingredients.
I hate to start the baking too early, because I want treats throughout the holiday season and there still has to be goodies when my son arrives from Texas. The second weekend of December is usually perfect for getting started. It was so much easier when my daughter still lived at home. We always worked together on the baking projects and it made it easier, faster and much more fun.
Cranberry Orange Biscotti
I’m not gonna lie. I found the recipe on the side of a box of Pillsbury Cranberry Orange Quick Bread several years ago (it’s still there). I substitute orange juice for the liquid to intensify the flavor a bit. I also add more chopped dried cranberries or cherries and some white chocolate chips. After they are baked and cooled, I either drizzle or dunk them with white chocolate and sprinkles.
Typically I make a double batch of these so there are plenty left to share. These are amazing and package nicely for sharing (maybe in a coffee mug). They look festive and pretty and fit perfectly into little plastic Wilton sleeves that I twistie tie closed. They keep pretty well so they are usually one of the first things I bake.
The Chex Mix is one of our favorite munchies throughout the holidays. I make it in my big roasting pan following the directions on the Chex Cereal boxes. I use all 3 Chex cereals, small pretzel sticks or twists, plenty of deluxe mixed nuts and either bar chips or little sesame sticks for something interesting.
I make huge batches of this and store it in airtight containers and gallon sized plastic bags. It also packages nicely for sharing in a smaller holiday print plastic bag or a decorative tin.
I make roll out sugar cookies using a variety of different recipes. Although I have used the Pillsbury refrigerated dough, I prefer home made. If you do use the refrigerated tubes, be sure to add an extra bit of flour to it before your roll it out to keep the cookies from spreading into unrecognizable shapes.
I like thick sugar cookies with a nice flour base like “Loft House” makes. I found one of my favorite recipes in a little Christmas Cookie digest magazine I bought about 15 years ago: Ethel’s Sugar Cookies. Over the years, I have collected a huge stack of Christmas cookie recipe magazines and books. It’s fun to rummage through them to find a new recipe to try out.
Having fun shapes to decorate is very important to me. I have 2 toolbox sized containers full of cookie cutters. I add a few new ones each year. My favorites are the Ugly Sweaters because you can be super creative with them.
Hint: Although it is not always possible, I prefer my sugar cookies to set a day, to firm up before I decorate them.
You can bake sugar cookies and store in air tight containers or freeze them until you are ready to decorate.
Icing is my struggle. Even though I have experimented with several recipes, I have never perfected the art of making the perfect consistency of decorating icing. My daughter is a pro, but my mom made the best. I often buy many brightly colored cans of frosting that work just fine or now they have Wilton tubes of red and green and white that you can screw a tip onto.
I absolutely love gingerbread cookies. I prefer them quite plain with coffee for breakfast. Yummmmm. I miss the Pillsbury refrigerated rolls of gingerbread dough because I really liked the flavor. As I mentioned with the sugar cookie dough, I just added a few tablespoons of flour to the dough to prevent spreading. I spent 2 years searching frantically for it before realizing that they had discontinued it. Drat! I have had to up my game and make scratch or use a mix.
For gingerbread, it is important to have people shapes, flat houses, reindeer and ninja bread men. All kids love the ninja bread men (even 50+ year old kids like me!) Small candy canes, red hots and various other candies work well for adorning the gingerbread people and houses. You can even stick a mini gingerbread boy onto one of the flat houses to give it a 3D effect.
Like Paula Dean, I love butter. I go through a ridiculous amount of butter each year between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Maybe that is why I am so crazy about shortbread cookies. You can really taste the richness of the butter. I can feel my arteries clogging just thinking about these divine little goodies. I prefer to keep these simple. No icing. Maybe some sprinkles. Just pure delightful cookie!
These share well because you can stack them nicely since they don’t have any icing.
Chocolate Covered Pretzel Rods
A few years ago I found some inexpensive molds for making chocolate covered pretzels rod Christmas Trees. I buy both white and green chocolate discs that can be melted in the microwave. Then I put the chocolate into squeeze bottles. I drop some little colored decorative balls into the mold and fill the molds 2/3 full then add the pretzel rod.
After they cool for 10 minutes or so, you can pop them right out of the mold. They look quite festive and will slip right into a Wilton plastic sleeve for sharing.
I have a little pan that will make 12 mini sweet bread loaves at a time. Usually we make 2 flavors and get approximately 36 loaves. For banana bread, I add some chopped pecans to the mix and then I like to top the loaf with a pecan half in the center. Pumpkin is another favorite for the mini loaves.
These are moist so they don’t keep as long as the cookies. Make sure you freeze, share or eat these within about a week. You can slip these in a holiday treat sack to share.
In a Nut Shell
Of course we always try out some new recipes or pull out an old favorite, but these are my “Must Have’s” for the holiday baking season. This gives us a nice variety to have around, plus plenty to package up and share with others.
I talk a lot about sharing your treats. Let’s face it nobody needs this many cookies or we’d be rolling into January. You can share a simple plate or make it a little more. A few dollars and a quick trip to the local Dollar Tree and you can stock up on holiday mugs, basket bags, tins and little treasures to pair with the baked goods. You can even add some fresh fruit, candies, some hot cocoa mix or tea bags. It has always made me happy to make goodie baskets for people who needs a little extra holiday cheer.