Every year going back a ways now, I make homemade treats during the month of December to give to people. Either I bring a big box to a party, or I attach some to gifts I give people, or I just give them when I see people… it’s something I like doing, and people are always amazed and impressed when they discover I made them myself.
That couldn’t be further from the truth: I choose treats that are rarely much pain to make, even when I push myself to try something new. It’s a good exercise for me – I always make at least two types of cookies, which forces me to flex the baking skills I claim to not have… and I try to add at least one new type of candy every year. I’m happy to say that it helps me become more comfortable baking too!
This was the first year I put my tree up since 2006 (which is when I bought the thing). It made me happy to look at it, so I’m glad I put it up. Funny story: I was seriously floored when I saw my tree was white, and asked myself, “Why is my Christmas tree white?” I decided to blame exBF – or at least I started to mentally blame him, telling myself that it was his choice for us to have a white tree (we lived together in our own apartment in 2006, which is when we got the tree). Before I could even fully finish that sentence in my head, I corrected myself: “Seriously? You and I both know damn well that if exBF wanted a white tree and I wanted a green tree, this would be a green tree.”
Funny but true – I can be very uncompromising and demanding, and exBF learned early on that it was often just easier to let me have my way or give me what I want. WELL IF YOU ARE READING THIS, YOU SHOULD KNOW YOU WERE RIGHT. I don’t like the white tree anymore! It didn’t last the test of time! but thankfully, FeistyMom has agreed that I can give it to her to use. Yay, no waste!
AHEM. Anyway, I’m sad to report that I frequently forget to photograph all the goodies put together in nice boxes, so here’s the first cookie I made: walnut espresso cookies. I used a Martha Stewart recipe that I’ve been eyeing for a few years, but I substituted walnuts for hazelnuts. Hazelnuts are cost prohibitive, and I’d already bought chopped walnuts for use in one of my other recipes.
Walnut espresso recipe here (substitute walnuts for hazelnuts). I considered adding chocolate, but decided they were good as is, though I know Dessert Zombie probably wished for more chocolate 😉
The other cookie is something I’ve thought about often – mint chocolate chip! I couldn’t find the Andes baking chips, and was about to just chop up my own Andes as the recipe suggests, but stumbled upon a huge stack of Nestle Tollhouse “Winter Mix” chips – mint chips (green) and dark chocolate chips, mixed in the same bag. It worked out well. Recipe here, via Kirbie’s Cravings. My one issue, which I failed to figure out how to correct, was that the cookie came out too soft or too hard. I adjusted the baking time several different times, but it never seemed to bake exactly the way I like… chewy when it cools. I think the lack of brown sugar in the recipe makes the dough very different from what I’m used to… so I don’t think I’d make these again.
I really wanted to attempt a slightly more difficult cookie – another Martha recipe I’ve had saved for a while – but I also failed to find peppermint extract. I hadn’t realized just how seasonal peppermint extract is! Grrr! I guess I will make those next year, though I’ve already found a truffle recipe I want to make for next year’s goodies…
The holidays aren’t the holidays without me making salted caramel. This was actually the first candy I ever made, back in 2006, and it sort of got me hooked – especially since I DIDN’T burn my skin off. Everyone was so impressed! and it wasn’t that difficult. Or difficult at all, really. I used a different recipe this year, and going forward will be using this one… although this year, I substituted all of the water for Kahlua, so the resulting flavor was really smokey, rich. I enjoyed it a lot, and the texture was closer to what I like than the recipe I’d been using. (I also omitted the cream of tartar, as I don’t have that in my pantry and am trying not to buy any new ingredients.)
A few years ago, I purchased some cheap, somewhat flimsy metal bowls from Bowery Kitchen for a dollar and change a piece. They fit perfectly over my pots to make a quick double boiler, and my days melting chocolate in the microwave were over for good. I haven’t looked back! Melting chocolate leads to the easiest kind of ‘candy making’ (I can barely call it candy making!). I bought a bag of pumpernickel pretzel rods from Trader Joe’s – I really loved the extra roasty flavor, though some people might not be fans. Dipped them in some chocolate, then sprinkled them with red-green-white nonpareils to make them look festive. Super easy! Oh, and because the chocolate is hidden by nonpareils, you don’t have to worry about tempering the chocolate so it doesn’t streak or look yucky after it re-hardens. (Someone asked me why I didn’t make the pretzels myself. I’ve read recipes for pretzels, and while it doesn’t seem out of range of a non-baker like me [who is slowly growing more comfortable baking things], it is a lot of work considering the entire bag of pretzels cost me $1.49.)
And with the leftover chocolate in the bowl after I’d dipped all the pretzels, I added Rice Krispies, tossed a bit, then used a cookie scoop to mound them into mini cupcake liners. Chill, and then you have rochers.
Jacques Pepin taught me this. I don’t care for how they taste, but you can do this with any cereal, any nuts, anything you like. It’s a great way to use up that last bit of chocolate, and some people really like them!
Remember the Kahlua salted caramels a few pictures back? Yeah, I took wax paper and wrapped them individually. I didn’t want to, but they were soft enough and my apartment warm enough that if I didn’t, they’d just stick together. This was a painful 2 hours spent in front of mindless television…
I failed to photograph the two big trays of fudge I made, but they were also super simple. These are the first two containers to go out. I bought a huge stack of red takeout cartons years ago, and am still going through all of them…
Now I’m just bragging – when I met up with Hungry and Dessert Zombie to exchange goodies, they got much bigger, prettier packages of all the goodies I’d made (different type of boxes). Dessert Zombie doesn’t bake, for all his good qualities, so he instead was allowed to purchase goodies… and he did not disappoint! Macarons from my favorite macaron place in the city, bisous ciao, and chocolates from Hungry’s favorite chocolatier in the city, La Maison du Chocolat. (And that wasn’t all, that’s just all I took photos of – he bought us each more goodies that he knew we’d enjoy – thanks again, Dessert Zombie!)
*Seriously, he bought me my favorite congee from my favorite congee place because I was sick. Come on. How much nicer can a guy get?
Hungry made four different types of cookies this year – lemon iced, Nutella thumbprint, cherry oatmeal, and s’mores browni bars. Recipes and her photos can be seen here. The above photo is of my table covered in goodies (and the fudges I made in the triple server there). Umm… no I don’t really eat many sweets.
So… for those of you who bothered to read this far… guess what?!
I’m giving away some treats to a very lucky reader. Is it you?
IS IT YOU???
MUST BE LOCAL TO NYC, as in, able to meet up with me in Queens or Manhattan.
Leave a comment below with why you deserve to win some of the treats. Be creative!
I’ll pick a random comment to win on Tuesday, January 22, and email that person using the email they commented using (so please use a real email address).