My Christmas Treat Saga

Christmas 2008 was a great time…plenty of family and friends, giving and receiving gifts, and way too many yummy calories! To kick it all off, I spent three nights in the kitchen (the 21st, 22nd, and 23rd) plus Christmas Eve morning. I was baking a variety of candies and cookies to give 9-10 people for Christmas. I didn’t spend much time selecting the 5 recipes…and looking back, I wish I had more thought into it because I certainly encountered one too many problems!

Let’s see…

….I never did get “stiff peaks” when making meringue for Peppermint Meringues (yes, I tried it twice.) After using my electric mixer for nearly half-hour each time, I gave up.

…I didn’t have a candy thermometer and thus had to race over to my cookbooks to find out what in the world “soft ball” and “hard ball” mean in candy-making lingo – while my peanut brittle happily burned on the stove.

….(Into the trash went my first round of peanut brittle.)

…. and, even the walnuts burned while roasting in the oven, so I had to pick about 20 of ’em out. (Below, I reduced the oven temp for this reason – the orignial recipe says 350 degrees. If nothing else, just watch them closely.)

OKay, all of that said, it’s not like I destroyed my five treats. The Chocolate-Cherry cookies and Peppermint Meringues definitely turned out delicious and got lots of good comments. (Yes, even though my meringue never made par!) The Peanut Brittle was most challenging – I’d say, use a candy thermometer on these and you’ll have an easier time. And finally, the biscotti and walnuts fall somewhere in the middle.

Candied Walnuts
1 lb. whole, shelled walnuts
1 C white sugar
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
6 TSB milk
1 tsp. vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 325. Spread nuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet and roast in the oven for 8-10 minutes, until lightly browned.

2. Stir together sugar, cinnamon, milk and salt in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium-high for 8 minutes or until mixture reaches the soft-ball stage of 236 degrees F. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla immediately.

3. Add walnuts to the sugar syrup and stir to coat well. Spoon nuts onto waxed paper and immediately separate with a fork. Cool and store in an airtight container.

Anti-Microwave Peanut Brittle

Hints: my original recipe was Microwave peanut brittle. I failed miserably for two reasons. First, you must make it in a glass bowl in the microwave. Well, after 10 minutes, that bowl is freaking hot. How am I supposed to “quickly add butter and baking soda, stir vigorously, and pour onto cooking sheet” if I can’t even pick up the bowl? “Oven pads,” you might say. Well, I need two oven pads to hold the bowl, but then I don’t have a hand to quickly spread the mixture out and around. One needs three hands. Ugh, I am frustrated just thinking about it! Second, cooking anything in the microwave eliminates one of my most important senses – SMELL! Such as the smell of my BURNING peanut brittle! Recipe #2, however, turned out better. It’s done on the stove, so you have a lovely handle to grab with one hand, and a free hand to scoop out the mixture. AND you can stand over the pan and smell for burning! Brilliant!

1 C. white sugar
1/2 C. light corn syrup
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 C. water
1 C. peanuts
2 Tbs. butter, softened
1 tsp. baking soda

1. Grease a large cookie sheet and set aside. In large saucepan with handle, over medium heat, boil sugar, corn syrup, salt and water. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Mix in peanuts. Stir frequently until temperature reaches 300 F or until a small amount of the mixture, dropped in cold water, breaks into brittle threads.
2. Remove from heat. Immediately stir in butter and baking soda. Pour at once onto a cookie sheet. With 2 forks, lift and pull into a large rectangle. Cool, and snap into pieces.

Peppermint Meringues

2 egg whites
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 C. white sugar
2 peppermint candies, crushed

1. Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with foil.
2. In a large glass or metal mixing bowl, beat egg whites, salt and cream of tartar to soft peaks. Gradually add sugar until the meringue turns into hard, stiff peaks. Place mixture into bag and “pipe” small drops onto the cookie sheet. Sprinkle crushed peppermint candies over the meringues.
3. Bake for one and a half hours in the preheated oven. Meringues should be completely dry on the inside; do not let meringues brown. Turn off oven, and open oven door until cool. Remove from foil and set in air-tight container. They will stay fresh up to 3 months.

Pistachio Biscotti
1/4 C. light olive oil
3/4 C. white sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. almond extract
2 eggs
1 3/4 C. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 C. dried cranberries
3/4 C. pistachios (shelled) – if salted, omit 1/4 tsp. salt

1. Preheat oven to 300. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper.
2. In large bowl, mix together oil and sugar. Mix in almond and vanilla extracts, the beat in eggs. In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt and baking powder. Gradually beat dry mixture into sugar mixture. Mix in cranberries and nuts by hand.
3. Divide dough in half. Working with wet hands (since dough will be sticky,) form 2 logs (12 inches long by 2 inches high) and set on parchment paper.
4. Bake in oven for 35 minutes or until logs are brown. Remove from oven, diagonally-cut into 3/4 inch slices, and reduce oven heat to 275. Put slices back into oven for 8-10 minutes, or until dry. Cool before eating.

Chocolate Cherry Cookies

5/8 C. butter, softened (1 stick + 2 TBS)
1 C. white sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/4 C. all-purpose flour
6 TBS unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 C maraschino cherries, drained and chopped
1/2 C. chopped walnuts

1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease two cookie sheets.
2. In large bowl, cream butter and sugar until blended well. Mix in vanilla and egg. In separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. Stir flour mixture into sugar mixture, gradually. Mix in chopped cherries and walnuts by hand. Drop by round spoonfuls onto cookie sheets.
3. Bake for 8-10 minutes in oven. Cool.

The final product…

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