Chocolate Turtles

A very significant part of the inspiration behind my doing this series every year on the blog in the first place comes from growing up in my grandparents’ house and my memories of the holidays there. 

Food is a personal thing for me, and cooking/baking food is even more personal because you’re providing sustenance and mere satisfaction to someone else, presumably someone else whom you care for. Most people who holiday bake, do so with the intention of giving it away to people they care about; it’s an act of love, which is really what the holidays should be about anyway.

All of that to say, my grandmother baked a lot during the holiday season, and so it always created this increased atmosphere of holiday giving and warmth and nostalgia that I try to recreate myself now every year now that I’m old enough and have discovered how much I love to bake. She pretty much did it all; cake, cookies, pie, peanut brittle, fudge, and another little nifty treat known as chocolate turtles.

For those who may be unfamiliar, chocolate turtles are a candy where pecans are mixed with a soft caramel, then dipped in chocolate. They’re VERY popular back where I come from in the Midwest, so much so that you can buy them much like you can buy a chocolate bar in a grocery store checkout line. Here on the West coast…not so much. So, my solution, as with a lot of things that I can’t find in stores out here is to just make it myself.

It may surprise you to know that the process for making chocolate turtles isn’t too complicated. There’s no need for candy thermometers, tempering, or any other complicated steps. You don’t have to use an oven to make them at all, since technically, you’re not ‘baking’ anything new. This really just comes down to assembly.

The most important things to stay on top of when making chocolate turtles are first of all, make sure you line the baking sheet with parchment paper. Not aluminum foil; parchment paper. Caramel is notoriously sticky, especially when it’s soft, and you will save yourself a lot of mess and frustration if you assemble these on parchment paper so as to ensure that they’ll actually come off when they’re set. Second, be diligent about ensuring that you’re not overheating the caramel in the microwave when softening it; don’t skip the step of pausing at the 30 second intervals to stir. That’s really about it. Enjoy y’all. One more day left in the 12 Days of Christmas. Any predictions on what we’ll close on?

Day 1: Orange Cranberry Buns

Day 2: Sausage Bread Pudding & Cranberry Sauce

Day 3: Sugar & Spice Crackers

Day 4: Cranberry Cookie Tart

Day 5: Spicy Gingerbread Sticks

Day 6: Reindeer Munch

Day 7: Jell-O Butter Cookies

Day 8: Gingerbread Blondies

Day 9: Chocolate Chip Cookie Brittle

Day 10: “Berry” Christmas! Scones

Day 11: Chocolate Turtles

 

Chocolate Turtles

Recipe Courtesy of Averie Cooks

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces roasted pecan halves
  • 25 soft candy caramel squares (about 1 heaping cup; note, make sure you are not using hard caramel candy, they have to be the soft chewy ones)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream or half and half, divided
  • 16 ounces of your favorite chocolate bar (You can mix them up like 8 ounces milk and 8 ounces dark, if that’s your preference; I used Hershey’s milk chocolate bars for the whole thing)
  • Sea salt, optional for sprinkling
  • Nonpareil sprinkles, optional

Directions

Line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper and lightly spray with cooking spray.

Arrange pecan halves in small piles on the paper, about 1 inch apart, in bunches of about 4-5 pecan halves per pile. Try to make them overlap so that the caramel doesn’t seep through.

In a glass measuring cup or microwaveable safe bowl, heat the soft caramels with a few tablespoons of the heavy cream or half & half for 3-4 minutes, pausing every thirty seconds to stir it so that they do not burn (This is important). You also may not need to let it go the full 3-4 minutes, you don’t want it to be liquid, you just need the caramel to be soft and loose enough to drizzle off the spoon, but still hold it’s shape around the nuts.

Drizzle about 1 tablespoon of the caramel over each pecan pile and set aside for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt about 8 oz of the chocolate in another glass measuring cup or microwaveable safe bowl. Heat in 15 second increments until it’s smooth. (Melt the additional chocolate as is necessary.)

Drizzle about 2 tablespoons of the melted chocolate over the caramel pecans, trying to ensure it encases the whole thing.

If desired, sprinkle a pinch of sea salt and the nonpareils over the turtles.

Allow the turtles to firm up at room temperature (this will take several hours, I recommend letting them rest overnight).  After an hour at room temp, you can place them in the fridge before serving, and to store.

“Berry” Christmas! Scones

Four days left before Christmas, and we’re winding down to the final three recipes of this year’s holiday baking series. I’m just about through with all the “merry and bright” baking I’m going to do before the Big Day. Somehow, every year it seems to both fly by and take a while, but as with every other year, I can honestly say that I’m so glad I decided to do it. It puts me in the holiday spirit like nothing else can.

I love making scones in general because they’re another one of the ‘blank canvas’ recipes that can stand up to a lot of customization. Once you have a good base scone recipe, you can adapt it to practically any flavor or occasion that you like. The more comfortable you get with baking, the more you’ll want to experiment. For my good, base scone recipe I defer to the clever folks at King Arthur Flour; I then tweaked, modified it so that it was more…Christmas-y.

Orange and cranberry are my “merry and bright” go-to flavors. I really tried to inject as much of it as possible into this dough, which is why it has the zest of two oranges and up to 2 cups of FRESH cranberries. I’ve made scones with dried ones before but this time I wanted to go with fresh so that they would burst while baking and create pockets of tart flavor to counterbalance the sweetness of the sugar, although I wouldn’t say these are overly sweet. The addition of vanilla and almond extracts give it that warm, bakery flavor.


While I was feeling good about placing fresh cranberries in the dough, I was a little concerned about the rise on the scones and that the berries might get in the way of that. As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about. They rose beautifully, much higher than I anticipated honestly and even though I know sour cream does amazing things to scone and biscuits dough I was still amazed at how light they turned out in texture.

If you’re the type of person who likes to eat a nice breakfast treat on Christmas morning, then this recipe was added to the series with you in mind. I recommend making the dough the night before, then popping the scones in the oven in the morning, so that they’re ready for you to eat as or after you’re opening presents, drinking coffee/tea, and whatnot. Be sure to check out the rest of the recipes from this year’s 12 Days of Christmas; just two days/recipes left!

Day 1: Orange Cranberry Buns

Day 2: Sausage Bread Pudding & Cranberry Sauce

Day 3: Sugar & Spice Crackers

Day 4: Cranberry Cookie Tart

Day 5: Spicy Gingerbread Sticks

Day 6: Reindeer Munch

Day 7: Jell-O Butter Cookies

Day 8: Gingerbread Blondies

Day 9: Chocolate Chip Cookie Brittle

Day 10: “Berry” Christmas! Scones

Berry Christmas! Scones

Recipe Adapted from King Arthur Flour

Ingredients

  • 5 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2/3 cups white sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, frozen
  • 1-2 cups fresh cranberries
  • Zest of two oranges
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1-2 cups buttermilk* (The amount of milk to use is going to vary depending upon the time of year and the location you’re in because of the varying moisture levels in the air. I always start with one cup, then gradually add more as I deem fit).

Directions

In a large bowl combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar and stir together with a fork.

 Use the large holes on a box grater to grate the butter directly into the dry ingredients. Add the cranberries and zest. Stir with a fork.

In a small bowl combine the eggs with the extracts and stir until the yolks are broken. Set aside.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour in the egg mixture and sour cream and buttermilk. Use a large fork and a large rubber spatula to stir the mixture together. If it seems a little dry you may add the additional buttermilk until it forms a shaggy dough.

Sprinkle a pastry mat, wooden cutting board or a clean smooth countertop with flour. Turn the dough out onto the surface and pat a few times with your hands until it loosely holds together. (Don’t knead it too much or the warmth in your palms will melt the butter and cause the biscuits to be tough.)

Use a bench scraper or a large sharp knife to divide the dough in half. Roughly shape each half into a square. Stack one of the halves on top of the other and use a rolling pin to roll it together into one mass. Repeat this process two to three more times before patting it into one final rectangle. (This is a process of layering so that the scones will bake flaky).

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

Preheat oven to 425°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place a shallow pan of water on the bottom rack of the oven.

Sprinkle your work surface with flour and unwrap the biscuit dough out onto it. Use a bench scraper or very sharp knife to trim the edges of the rectangle. Use a square cookie cutter, or a knife to cut the remaining dough into squares, about 2″ each.

Remove the cut scones to the baking sheet you’ve lined with parchment paper, placing them rather close to each other (it will help them rise higher). Freeze until cold, about 15 minutes.

Bake until golden brown, 18 to 23 minutes. You may need to cover them with foil to keep from browning too fast. When you pull one away from the others, it should look baked all the way through; the edge shouldn’t look wet or unbaked.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Brittle

As the saying goes, you learn something new every day; hopefully, the something new that you learn is useful and pleasant. Today’s recipe came as a result of me recently learning something new that was useful, pleasant, and delicious. It’s always nice when that happens.

It wasn’t until the month of November in the year 2020 that I learned about a nifty little invention called cookie brittle for the first time. Maybe some of you will be learning about it for the first time in reading this blog post. To you, I say: welcome. Your lives will never be the same.

Cookie brittle is a cookie dough made without any leavening agents (no egg, no baking powder, no baking soda). Ingredient wise, it resembles shortbread. But the method in making it departs from shortbread in that no air whatsoever is whipped into it. Instead, the butter is melted, combined with sugar, then spread thin into a sheet pan. With no air or leavening, the baked dough creates a very close textured crumb that after it cools becomes extremely, well…brittle.

I have a very special relationship to chocolate chip cookies. I have a go-to recipe that I very seldom deviate from, as I believe it’s as close to perfection as one can get. But in this instance I was just too curious not to give this cookie brittle thing a try. Boy. I learned something that day, that’s for sure. Texturally speaking, cookie brittle goes far beyond the texture of crispy chocolate chip cookies like Chips Ahoy or Tate’s Bake Shop. It’s called brittle for a reason; if I had to describe it, I would say that it’s like…a chocolate chip cookie crunchy toffee. Chocolate chip cookie candy. Now, doesn’t that sound absolutely delicious?

The recipe is actually very easy to follow, you just have to make sure that you follow it to a T. The dough has to be cool before you mix in the chocolate and nuts, and you have to be careful not to leave it in the oven too long. Because it’s baked directly in an ungreased pan, it can go from perfectly golden brown to burned in seconds. Don’t ask me how I found out both of those tips, just follow them.

Did I mention that this also makes great gifts? Cause it does. That’s if you’re still feeling in the giving Christmas spirit after trying this for yourself. You may not be. It’s that good.  

Day 1: Orange Cranberry Buns

Day 2: Sausage Bread Pudding & Cranberry Sauce

Day 3: Sugar & Spice Crackers

Day 4: Cranberry Cookie Tart

Day 5: Spicy Gingerbread Sticks

Day 6: Reindeer Munch

Day 7: Jell-O Butter Cookies

Day 8: Gingerbread Blondies

Day 9: Chocolate Chip Cookie Brittle

 

Chocolate Chip Cookie Brittle

Recipe Courtesy of Cookies & Cups

Ingredients

  • 14 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1 cup Turbinado sugar (Sugar in the raw)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Set aside a large rimmed baking sheet.

In a medium saucepan on medium heat combine the butter and sugar, stirring constantly. Once butter is melted, cook for one more minute and remove it immediately from the heat, being careful not to bring the mixture to a boil. Alternatively place butter and sugar in a large heat-safe bowl and heat in the microwave for 90-120 seconds until the butter is melted and sugar has dissolved slightly.

Whisk mixture until it is combined.Let the mixture cool for 10 minutes (this part is VERY important, it needs to be cool before you continue) and then whisk mixture again for 1 minute.

Whisk in the vanilla and the salt. Stir in the flour until the dough forms and then stir in the pecans and chocolate chips.

Press the dough onto the ungreased pan spreading it out all the way to the edges, you want the brittle to be thin.

Bake for 22-25 minutes, rotating the pan every 7-8 minutes until it’s lightly golden and firm to the touch in the center.

Let the brittle cool in the pan for 3 minutes and then line a counter or second baking sheet with parchment paper and invert the first pan onto the second, and allow it to cool completely.

Break the brittle into pieces and enjoy!

 

Gingerbread Blondies

Only seven days left until Christmas! Is everyone excited? It’s 50/50 for me. On one hand, I absolutely love the holiday season, but on the other hand it’s the season that I love more than the actual holiDAY itself. Christmas itself is bittersweet for me because once it comes, the holiday season is almost over.

But on the flip side, there’s still six more days until it’s over, so let’s just celebrate that with some more recipes in the five days that we have left of the 12 Days of Christmas, shall we? In all the years I’ve been doing the series, there are always certain categories of recipes that I try to make sure make an appearance, just for variety’s sake. I always try to do a savory recipe option. I always try to do a yeast bread recipe. I always try to do a snack. Then, I always try to a recipe that fits squarely into my “You Can’t Mess This Up, No Seriously You Can’t” category.

The “You Can’t Mess This Up, No Seriously You Can’t” category is for people who don’t like to cook or bake, or those who think that they can’t. I say “think” because I’m of hte opinion that if you can read, measure and follow a set of instructions, you can cook SOMETHING. Doesn’t have to be complicated. Doesn’t even have to be that delicious. But if you can read, count and do what you’re told, there’s something out there that you can cook and bake.

  Today I’m pleased to be able to share my “You Can’t Screw this Up” recipe of the 12 Days of Christmas: gingerbread blondies. While they’re the furthest thing from complicated that you can get, don’t let their simplicity fool you: they come together in minutes, and are absolutely delicious.

The base of the blondie itself is rich with warm, sugary, winter spices. It tastes like a dense and rather chewy cake. I modified the original recipe and decided to try and cut through the sweetness of the molasses and brown sugar by adding fresh cranberries to the batter. The cranberries burst as they bake creating lovely pockets of juicy, tart flavor.

I wasn’t kidding when I said you can’t screw these up. I’m also not kidding when I say they’re absolutely delicious.  The only way they could possibly be improved is with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. Then they’re beyond perfection; they’re holiday nirvana.

Day 1: Orange Cranberry Buns

Day 2: Sausage Bread Pudding & Cranberry Sauce

Day 3: Sugar & Spice Crackers

Day 4: Cranberry Cookie Tart

Day 5: Spicy Gingerbread Sticks

Day 6: Reindeer Munch

Day 7: Jell-O Butter Cookies

Day 8: Gingerbread Blondies

Gingerbread Blondies

Recipe Adapted from Betty Crocker

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted
  • 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 cup fresh cranberries

Directions

Line an 8-9 inch square baking dish wish parchment paper and spray lightly with cooking spray. Set aside and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a small bowl, combine the four, spices, and salt. Stir together with a fork, then set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the melted butter or margarine, brown sugar, molasses, vanilla and egg. Stir together with a fork or a wire whisk unto; thoroughly combined.

Add the flour mixture in 2 increments, stirring just until the streaks disappear. Fold in the cranberries.

Spread the batter evenly in the prepared baking pan.

Bake for 26-30 minutes, or until toothpick inserted halfway between edge and center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached. Cool completely in pan on cooling rack, about 1 hour before cutting into squares.

Linking this up to Fiesta Friday #359, cohosted this week by Jhuls@The Not So Creative Cook.

 

Jell-O Butter Cookies

As a snack/dessert all on its own, Jell-O doesn’t do much for me. I’ve just never been much of a fan. I think that for me, it comes down to the texture. Because of the gelatin, it’s rubbery, and doesn’t have much of a ‘chew’ to it. It’s just…there. Hanging out in your mouth until you swallow it. Where’s the ‘experience’ in that?


Even after I had a tonsillectomy and could only eat soft, cold, texture-less things, I still never wanted Jell-O. I stuck to popsicles and ice cream. All of that to say, Jell-O isn’t an ingredient that’s usually in my house. But when I was putting together the recipes for this year’s 12 Days of Christmas, I found one from the folks at Springerle Joy that made me change my mind. Not for the sake of Jell-O itself, but as an ingredient for another treat.

Butter cookies are really as close to a perfect dessert as you can get. Like pound cake, they’re wonderful all on their own, but their simplicity allows for a variety of different flavors to be added to them that can really enhance their taste.

This recipe is for a standard butter cookie that tastes perfectly fine all on it’s own. But rather than spices, the powdered base of two different flavors of Jello gets kneaded into the dough. Isn’t that clever? I wish I could take credit for the idea, but it’s 100% the recipe developers at Springerle Joy who come up with all kinds of imaginative recipes for stamped cookies, which are a favored go-to of mine. As with most other butter cookies, they hold up VERY well to cookie cutters, stamps and designs after baking.

When it comes to flavors, the sky’s really the limit, isn’t it? I mean, it’s been around for so long that there must be dozens of flavors of Jell-O out there by now. I know that around the holiday season, there’s a cranberry flavor that gets sold in some locations. I could’t locate it where I live, so for my rendition, I used cherry and lime. I then added red and green coloring gel to give them an extra vivid pop of color. Feel free to use whichever flavors you’re partial to.

These were fun to make, and eat. If you’re the kind of person who always has a box of Jell-O in your pantry, maybe you want to give this recipe a whirl.

Day 1: Orange Cranberry Buns

Day 2: Sausage Bread Pudding & Cranberry Sauce

Day 3: Sugar & Spice Crackers

Day 4: Cranberry Cookie Tart

Day 5: Spicy Gingerbread Sticks

Day 6: Reindeer Munch

Day 7: Jell-O Butter Cookies

 

 

Jell-O Butter Cookies

Recipe Adapted from Springerle Joy

Ingredients

  • 250 grams unsalted butter at room temperature (2 sticks + 2 Tablespoons)
  • 150 grams confectioner’s (powdered) sugar (1/3 lb)
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 450 grams all-purpose flour (1lb)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 (3 oz.) packages of Jell-O (flavors of your choice. I used cherry and lime.)
  • Red and green food coloring gel (optional)

Directions

In a medium size bowl combine the flour with the salt and stir together with a fork. Set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer or using a handheld one, beat together the butter and sugar until creamy and fluffy. Add the egg, mixing just until combined and yellow disappears. Add the vanilla extract.

Fold the flour-salt mixture into the butter mixture, mixing just until combined.

Divide the dough into two sections. Sprinkle two Tablespoons of Jell-O powder onto each section and knead the dough until combined. You can add a few drops of food coloring gel to boost the color if desired.

Wrap both doughs in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, or at least for a few hours.Dust the surface of your counter and rolling pin with flour or powdered sugar and roll out the dough to a thickness of approx. 3/8 inch to 1/2 inch. (If your dough is too soft to work with, refrigerate it 15-30 minutes.)

Dust the surface of your dough and your cookie mold with flour. Press the mold into the dough just far enough down to fill the mold cavity. Dust off any flour that appears on the impression. Place your cookies on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

Chill your cookie sheet full of molded cookies about 1/2 hour in the fridge.

Take your cookie sheet out of the fridge and immediately place it on the center rack of a preheated 325 degree F (160 degree C) oven. Bake your cookies about 15-20 minutes, depending on the size of the cookies. Remove the cookies when the bottoms are just beginning to turn golden brown.

(Note: no one oven is the same, & different baking sheets bake cookies differently. Keeping this in mind, I will ALWAYS test bake one cookie before baking entire sheets of the whole batch, just to get a good idea of how long they should be in the oven and if I need to adjust the way I’ve cut, rolled them out, etc. I highly recommend that you do the same.)

 

Reindeer Munch

For me, the holidays are about flavors AND smells. There’s a saying that goes something along the lines of “You eat with your eyes first,” and that’s true. But you also first eat with your nose too. There are some foods where the second that their smell hits my nostrils, I can already half taste them in my mouth.

It’s (obviously) been a long tine since I’ve been in a mall, but one of the few times of year I always used to like going to them was the holidays. Not so much to shop til I dropped, but mostly because if any of you have ever walked through a mall during the holiday season, then there is a certain smell that you’re going to be able to recognize.

The spiced nuts kiosk. In just about every place I’ve lived and every mall I’ve visited during the holidays, there’s a local vendor who rents out a booth/kiosk for the season to sell spiced/sugared nuts. Most of them have a tabletop stove contraption thingy that lets them make the nuts right there for you to see. It makes the most wonderful smells. I would get them in a candle if I could. Bath and Body Works should really consider it.

What does that have to do with today? Well I was trying to think of a snack recipe to include in the series and I started thinking about how the spied nuts kiosk. Nuts are a pretty pricey ingredient, so although I wanted to do a spiced nuts post, I wanted it to be a bit more accessible for those who may not want to splurge on buying them in bulk. Plus, I’ve just always been curious as to how spiced nuts were made. You can find practically any answer to any question you have through Google; so here we are.

Turns out, you don’t need one of those stovetop spinning contraption thingy things to make your own spiced nuts. Your oven will do the job just fine. The process is actually pretty simple. The sugary crusty coating comes from beating egg whites and water together, then folding in sugar. That gets poured over your ingredients, then they get baked off until crisp. Because the coating is so sweet, I wanted to use something salty that would offset the sweetness, balance out the flavors together, and also be sturdy enough to hold the topping. Enter in pretzels. I added in a little bit of cereal to play with different textures; the recommendations I give in the recipe are personal preferences. Feel free to use whatever cereal you like. Finally, I added in a little bit of dried fruit that would provide a tart, tangy flavor to balance out the sweet and salty.

I realized that this was going to be delicious when it was in the oven baking and my house smelled like a mall during the holidays. This stuff is dangerous. Bag it up and give it away as gifts and stocking stuffers, or there’s an excellent chance you’ll stand over the stove, munching on handfuls. Like I did. 

We’re officially halfway through the 12 Days of Christmas! Be sure to check out the other recipes that have been shared on the blog and get that holiday baking in while you still can.  

Day 1: Orange Cranberry Buns

Day 2: Sausage Bread Pudding & Cranberry Sauce

Day 3: Sugar & Spice Crackers

Day 4: Cranberry Cookie Tart

Day 5: Spicy Gingerbread Sticks

Day 6: Reindeer Munch

Reindeer Munch

Recipe Adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction

Ingredients

  • 3 cups pretzels
  • 1 cup of a cereal mix of your choice (I used Cheerios Cinnamon Oat Crunch and Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch, but you can swap in practically anything else so long as it’s dry and sturdy)
  • 1 cup of nuts of your choice (pecans, almonds would be my preference)
  • 1 cup dried fruit (like cherries or cranberries)
  • 2 egg whites
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 2 teaspoons salt

Directions

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper and spray it generously with non-stick cooking spray; or you can use a silicone baking mat. Set them aside.

Mix pretzels, cereal and nuts together in a large bowl. Set aside.

Using a handheld mixer, beat egg whites and water together on medium speed until stiff peaks form, about 4-5 minutes. Add the sugar, spices and salt, gently folding until combined.

Pour/spoon mixture over the pretzel- cereal-nuts mixture and stir to coat it completely. Spread them over the baking sheets and bake for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes.

Allow to cool completely. Stir in the dried fruit. Store at room temperature in an air-tight container or a resealable plastic bag.

Spicy Gingerbread Sticks

It just wouldn’t be Christmas if gingerbread didn’t make an appearance, would it? Every year I try to think of some new method that I can try out outside of just making the typical pan of gingerbread, but still come out with a treat that tastes like the original. You may be surprised by just how many different options there are out there.

This year, I decided to take inspiration from a past recipe I did for the 12 Days of Christmas back in 2017, Crinkle Cut Cookie Fries. They were a riff on a mass produced sugar cookie in the form of little sticks that was sold back in the 90’s that I absolutely loved. To this day, they’re one of the favorite recipes I’ve made for Christmas, and just in general.

Today’s recipe is made pretty much the same way that those were, except it’s a gingerbread dough. As I did before, I cut the dough into strips using a pastry wheel that had a fluted edge to give the sticks an extra decorative ‘flair’, but it’s fine if you don’t have one of those and just cut them into straight straws. So long as you give them the freezer time before baking, I promise they’ll still hold their shape just fine.

Do make sure you add a little sprinkles or sanding sugar to them, though. They just look more festive that way. If you do choose to add the cayenne pepper, these are going to have that real spicy gingerbread kick to them, which I love. But if you’re trying to serve them to kids or just aren’t overly fond of spicy flavors yourself, feel free to leave it out. Texturally speaking, these are rather crisp cookie that I think would be great eaten and dunked in coffee or tea. Because they’re crunchy, they last longer and also hold up pretty well in transport if you want to make them gifts. Enjoy, guys.

We’re almost halfway through the 12 Days of Christmas! Be sure to check out the other recipes shared so far for this year, and stay tuned for more….  

Day 1: Orange Cranberry Buns

Day 2: Sausage Bread Pudding & Cranberry Sauce

Day 3: Sugar & Spice Crackers

Day 4: Cranberry Cookie Tart

Day 5: Spicy Gingerbread Sticks

Spicy Gingerbread Sticks

Recipe Adapted from She Paused For Thought

Ingredients

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  •  cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional
  •  cup unsalted butter melted and cooled
  •  cup mild or medium molasses not blackstrap
  • ¼ cup brewed coffee cooled
  • nonpareil sprinkles

Special Equipment: Fluted pie cutter wheel, optional

Directions

In a large bowl combine the flour, brown sugar, spices, and the salt. Stir together with a fork until well combined, using the back of the fork to get the lumps out.

In a small bowl whisk together butter, molasses, and coffee until very well blended. Immediately, add butter mixture to flour mixture, stirring vigorously, until evenly incorporated.
 
Turn dough onto floured surface. Knead with your hands for 30 seconds to make it smoother and more malleable. If dough is too dry or crumbly to roll out, work in a few drops of water until it holds together; if too wet, thoroughly knead in 1 to 2 tablespoons more flour.
Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, or at least for a couple of hours.
 
 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Set aside two large baking sheets and two sheets of parchment paper.

 

Divide dough in half. Roll each portion out onto a well floured surface into a 6×12-inch rectangle. If necessary, cut and patch to make the sides roughly even. (Don’t worry about making it perfect.) Using a fluted pie cutter wheel (or a sharp knife) cut dough lengthwise into 3/4″-1″ thick strips (varies depending on how thin or thick you want them; you can also cut the dough crosswise first to make these shorter too). Spray lightly with cooking spray, sprinkle with nonpareils, and transfer cookie sticks to baking sheets.

Freeze cut out cookie dough for 15-30 minutes.Working with one rectangle batch of dough at a time, bake on the middle rack for 13 to 16 minutes or until just firm. Allow to set on sheets for about 60 seconds before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Serve cookie sticks with frosting, Nutella or fruit jam for dipping. (Note: No one oven is the same, & different baking sheets bake cookies differently. Keeping this in mind, I will ALWAYS test bake one cookie before baking entire sheets of the whole batch, just to get a good idea of how long they should be in the oven and if I need to adjust the way I’ve cut, rolled them out, etc. I highly recommend that you do the same.)

 

Cranberry Cookie Tart

Have you ever cooked or baked something that made you ask yourself: “Where has this been all my life, and why am I just now discovering it?”

It’s a really great feeling.

I experienced it when I made today’s recipe.

Seriously, one of the best cooking decisions I ever made was begin making my own cranberry sauce from scratch. I don’t know how people can eat the canned gelatine stuff. Real cranberry sauce not only has better texture, making it from scratch allows you to give it so much more and better flavor. Canned cranberry sauce just tastes like jellied Ocean Spray. Which…is pretty much all it is.

I say all of that because a significant part of what makes today’s recipe so delicious is the cranberry sauce filling, and I don’t want people who aren’t used to making it to be scared off by it as an ingredient. It’s worth it, y’all. It really is. Should you accept the challenge, and you want to ensure you’re making a tart that tasted just like ours did, or you just need an easy and delicious recipe for cranberry sauce, there’s one here, and here on the blog for your convenience, though I always just make the Cranberry Clementine sauce as a rule now; it’s that delicious, trust me.

Would you believe it’s a cinch to make? Yes, even though it’s a tart. And once your cranberry sauce is made, the whole thing comes together in less than 30 minutes. The base is a brown sugar shortbread that bakes up super light and crisp. This isn’t the Great British Bakeoff, so you don’t have to be too concerned about overworking your dough. 3/4 of it gets pressed into the pan, then the rest of it gets dropped on top of the cranberry sauce in chunks that form little pockets of cookie, rather than dropping it on in one large sheet.

Be prepared, y’all: they smells that are going to be coming out of your kitchen while this thing is baking are going to be enough to make you start salivating for it before it’s even done. I wish there was a Bath and Bodyworks candle for this scent; it would sell out, I guarantee you of that.

As I said earlier, from the very first bite of this that I took, I was asking myself how I went so long without discovering this thing. It’s so delicious, y’all. The crust is warm, buttery and crisp and its sweetness gets balanced PERFECTLY with the tartness of the cranberries. Because the filling is both cranberry sauce and fresh cranberries, there’s an textural element to it that has a nice balance of being both smooth, and somewhat chunky.

We loved this SO much, it was gone in a single weekend. So I did what any of us would do; I made another one. I’ll be having a very generous slice of it for my dessert tonight. Don’t be jealous; just make one for yourself.

Be sure to keep following along for more recipes for the 12 Days of Christmas!

Day 1: Orange Cranberry Buns

Day 2: Sausage Bread Pudding & Cranberry Sauce

Day 3: Sugar & Spice Crackers

Day 4: Cranberry Cookie Tart

Cranberry Cookie Tart

Recipe Adapted from Erren’s Kitchen

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter at room temperature
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup light brown sugar packed
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste or pure vanilla extract
  • 2⅓ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup of cranberry sauce or good quality cranberry preserves (if you need a cranberry sauce recipe, this is the one I always use. This one will work too.)
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen pitted cranberries Note: if using frozen cranberries, defrost before using and strain the juices.

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350F/160C. Grease a 9-inch removable-bottom tart pan* and place this on a baking tray.

Using a food processor or mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugar, vanilla and brown sugar vigorously until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. It’s an important step to beat the butter and sugar well together when making shortbread as this ensures the shortbread is light, crisp and will hold together.

In a separate bowl, sift the flour and salt. Add it to the butter mixture and mix until blended (forming large clumps). Turn onto a floured surface and using floured hands, press two-thirds of the mixture evenly into the prepared pan (including the sides).

Spread with the cranberry sauce evenly over the dough, leaving a 1⁄4-inch border and then scatter with the cranberries.

Crumble the remaining dough into large crumbs and scatter evenly over the filling, covering most of the surface.Bake the tart for 40 – 45 minutes, until lightly browned.

Leave to cool completely in the pan.

*If you do not have a tart pan, I do think that this would also work in a 9-inch roudn cake pan, you just won’t be able to lift the whole tart out of it. It’ll still taste great though.

Linking to Fiesta Friday #358, co-hosted this week by Eff@Food Daydreaming.

Sugar & Spice Crackers

Homemade cookies are a win no matter what time of year, but I will say that for me, there’s just something extra special about homemade Christmas cookies.  I enjoy baking them more around the holidays. I enjoy eating them more around the holidays–which, for me is really saying something.

Some cookie recipes feature a whole bunch of ingredients and whole bunch of steps. I’ve made ones like that and shared the recipes on the blog in the past. While most of the time, the extra labor is worth it, on the whole I do think that making Christmas cookies should be pretty simple and straightforward. Most of the cookie recipes I post for the 12 Days of Christmas are on purpose. Today’s post is the first of more to come.

When I was a kid, I absolutely LOVED the mini Vootrman gingerbread men cookies. Heck, it’s been a while since I had one, but I still do. They’re small, crunchy,  and they have an excellent spice blend to them that is everything you want in a Christmas cookie.

Whenever I can make a recipe on the blog that replicates (or dare I say it) improves on a mass-produced store bought product, I’m always extra pleased with it. This was one of those times. I was, admittedly, a little underwhelmed with how the final product looked. Obviously, they have some cracks and imprint from the cookie stamps wasn’t as sharp as I wanted it to be post-baking.

But let me tell y’all–when I took that first bite of these, I couldn’t care less how they looked. These are SO GOOD.

These are not what I would think of as ‘cookies’; they’re very crunchy. When you break one in half, it will snap, hence the name of crackers. A British tea biscuit is honestly what they remind me of. They’re type of snack that just screams for eating alongside a cup of tea and coffee.

Combined with the texture, the spices are what really makes these stand out to me. They’re warm and fragrant and just hit all the right notes of Christmas. Also, because these are so crunchy, they don’t really go ‘stale’; in fact, the longer you leave them to sit, the stronger the spices will come through.  Finally, if you don’t have cookie stamps, no problem. They will bake just fine as regular old rounds, which I’ve included directions for in the recipe.

Because I made them small, I had a bunch of these baked from this recipe. I was an idiot and shared quite a few, and now I’m almost out. Which now means I will just have to make some more. ASAP.

Day 1: Orange Cranberry Buns

Day 2: Sausage Bread Pudding & Cranberry Sauce

Day 3: Sugar & Spice Crackers

Sugar & Spice Crackers

Recipe Adapted from McCormick

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups plus 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1/8 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground mace
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

Beat flour, butter, sugar, baking soda and spices together with an electric mixer on medium speed just until mixture comes together, but is still sandy in texture, about 4 to 6 minutes. (If using a stand mixer, be sure to use the paddle attachment, not the whisk.)

Whisk egg, salt and vanilla extract in small bowl until well blended. Add to flour mixture; mix on medium until a soft dough forms, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Wrap dough tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 320°F. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper. Divide dough in quarters and keep the other 3 in the refrigerator while you roll out the first. Roll dough out on a clean and floured surface to about 1/8 inch thick. Dip your cookie stamps into powdered sugar, then tap to remove excess. Press firmly into the dough, then gently remove stamped cookie and place on sheet pan. Repeat until you’ve used up all of the dough.*

Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets 1 minute. Transfer crackers to wire rack. Cool completely.

*Alternatively, if you don’t have cookie stamps: after the dough comes together, you can shape it into a log, refrigerate the log overnight, then slice it into 1/8 thick rounds and bake as directed.

 

Sausage Bread Pudding & Cranberry Sauce

I’ve said it before, but one of the goals I set for myself in doing this Christmas series every year is to try and include at least one savory option in the mix. There are plenty of people out there who aren’t into sweets. God knows *I* don’t know or understand that lifestyle, but I can at least acknowledge that it exists by trying to factor it into my offerings on the blog for Christmas.

The savory baking I tend to do at Christmas usually translates into warm, comfort food-style dinners or brunch foods. In 2016, it was Stuffing Bread. In 2017, it was Tourtiere. In 2018, it was chicken hand pies. This year, I decided to do a little bit of recipe recycling to come up with something different.

Last week, I kicked off the series with these Orange Cranberry Buns. The recipe made quite a lot of them; there were leftovers. Granted, they were perfectly delicious all on their own, but I did get to thinking about ways I could use them for something else. What do you guys do when you’ve got a bunch of leftover bread sitting around? My thoughts exactly; you make bread pudding.

Now granted you don’t HAVE to make those buns just to make this dish. Any flavor or style of bread will work so long as it’s bread with a strong and sturdy crumb that can hold up under the milk and egg soaking. Look around the bakery aisle of your grocery store for challah, brioche, potato rolls; any of those will work perfectly here. But I will say that using these buns for it would be an AMAZING choice. Your tastebuds would thank you for it.

Most times, bread pudding is extremely sweet; a dessert, really. But, I’ve experimented with savory variations of it before here on the blog, which is what gave me the idea for this dish in the first place. That recipe used ham. This one uses sausage. Sausage is a very common ingredient when it comes to traditional dressing, and the flavors in that dish are the inspiration for the flavor profile I was shooting for. When it comes to mix-ins, I kept it simple. Spinach and onions and that was great for us. However, it’s really up to you as to what else you put inside. It’s kinda hard to screw this up when it comes to the mix-ins.

The cranberry sauce may seem like an odd choice for a savory dish, but just hear me out: it works. The saltiness of the sausage plays against the sweetness of the bread, and when you add the tartness and slight bitter flavor of the cranberry sauce to that, it’s a REALLY great bite. My sister took one bite of bread pudding together with a bit of the cranberry sauce, smiled and said, “Wow. It tastes like Christmas.”

That should tell you everything you need to know.

Day 1: Orange Cranberry Buns

Day 2: Sausage Bread Pudding & Cranberry Sauce

 

Sausage Bread Pudding & Cranberry Sauce

Adapted from a previous recipe on Cooking is My Sport, and Anne Burrell

Ingredients

For Bread Pudding

  • 7-8 cups cubed leftover, stale bread (you want a nice and sturdy bread, like a challah or brioche)
  • 3 lbs pork sausage
  • 16 oz fresh spinach
  • 1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced
  • 8 eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups milk, divided
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 teaspoons of your favorite herb blend (Italian seasoning will work fine)

For Cranberry Sauce

  • 12 oz. fresh cranberries
  • 6 clementines, peeled and sectioned
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 cup cranberry juice
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 star anise pod
  • 1 cup dried cranberries

Directions

For Bread Pudding

Place the bread cubes in a medium size bowl and stir together with 1 cup of the milk. Allow to sit for 10 minutes, until bread has absorbed most of the liquid.

Meanwhile, pour about 1 tablespoon of oil in the bottom of a large skillet or pot, and brown the sausage over medium heat. Drain the grease and set aside sausage in a medium sized bowl.

Saute the spinach in the same pan/pot until it is just wilted and vibrantly green, about 5 minutes. Remove to a separate bowl and set aside.

Saute the onions in the same pot, until they are translucent and limp, about 7-10 minutes. Remove to another bowl and set aside.

In medium size bowl, using a wire whisk combine the eggs, the milk, and the seasonings, beating until yolks are broken.

Spray an 11 x 13 baking dish generously with cooking spray. Spread half of the bread cubes in the dish. Scatter half of the sausage, spinach and sauteed onions on top of the cubes in an even layer. Drizzle half of the egg-milk mixture over that. Repeat, layering the rest of the bread, then the sausage, spinach and onions. Then, pour the rest of the egg-milk on top.

Cover the dish tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Preheat oven to 350°F. Uncover the dish then bake on the middle rack until the top is golden brown and the pudding is firm in the middle, 60-65 minutes. Serve warm with the cranberry sauce.

For Cranberry Sauce:

In a small saucepan combine fresh cranberries, clementines, orange and cranberry juices, sugar, cinnamon stick, and star anise.

Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Add the dried cranberries and simmer for 10 to 15 more minutes, or until the sauce has thickened. Store overnight in the fridge to allow sauce to set, then serve alongside bread pudding

Linking to Fiesta Friday #357, co-hosted this week by Diann@Of Goats & Greens.