I always catch the holiday spirit early. The colder weather means I’m ready to bake cookies and set up the table with cups of coloured icing and little dishes of sprinkles. I want to put our simple wreath outside before it’s too cold, and listen to holiday music in the car.
But it’s usually too early, and I have to tell myself to simmer down, it’s not even December yet! Then, because I keep reminding myself to wait, sometimes I wait too long and suddenly Christmas is next week and we have no tree. (Though we do have cookies.)
We also celebrate Hanukah at our house, but somehow that doesn’t seem to creep up the same way. Though we’re not reminded of the approaching holiday at every store we visit from Halloween on, we always remember to buy more candles for the menorah. And my husband and son light them each night.
I like to host a dinner with family just so we can make a huge batch of latkes. The menu is built around latkes and cookies, adding something like soup in between so we can call it a meal.
But for either holiday, celebrated early or not, we have our favorite treats. Read: baking.
Fruit and nut crostini.* Jam sandwiches. Ginger snaps.* Cream cheese-dough cutouts. Brownies with candy cane topping.* Need I go on?
Chocolate crinkle cookies. Almond crescents. Tartlets.
You get the idea. (the * recipes are at the end of the post)
One year I made some delicious chocolate cookies that had about a hundred steps, very soft dough and the ability to disappear instantly once set out on the table. Some years I talk my mother into making the nut crescents – almond! – because hers always turn out best. And many Decembers I try a new recipe so our family has some variety as well as tradition.
But every year I make fruit and nut crostini.
The recipe comes from Canadian Living magazine; I’ve followed the recipe exactly, and the crostini were delicious, but have also made some adjustments that I think of as improvements:
- Usually I use two smaller pans in place of the one larger and adjust the baking time. The pieces are smaller, but there are more of them.
- I don’t trim the top of the loaf to make it even.
- Leaving the vanilla out doesn’t alter the taste much, but makes for a lighter coloured treat, which I prefer.
- I’ve tried using different varieties of fruits and nuts, but always keep a mix of colours for appearance sake.
- Lastly, if I put the cooked base in the freezer for half and hour or so before slicing, the loaf gets firmer and easier to cut (otherwise the base is soft and marshmallow-y, so the hard nuts pull at it when you saw through).
What treats are on your every-year list?
Click here for the Fruit & Nut Crostini recipe.
Adapted Martha Stewart’s Gingersnaps recipe:
- 2 cups flour
- 2 tsp. baking soda
- ¾ tsp. cinnamon
- ¼ tsp. ground cloves
- ¼ tsp. black pepper
- ½ tsp. salt
- ¾ cup butter
- 1 ¼ cup brown sugar
- ¼ cup molasses
- 1 tbsp. ground ginger
- 1 egg
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
Beat butter and brown sugar together. Add molasses and mix gently, then add the ginger and egg. Mix well. Add remaining ingredients, except granulated sugar, and stir until combined. Refrigerate 1 hour or more.
Once cool, form dough into 1-inch balls and then roll in granulated sugar.
Bake on parchment-lined sheets (12 per sheet) at 350 for 10 minutes.
Brownies with Candy Cane Topping:
These brownies really walk a line between brownies and cake. I usually cut them into small squares and treat them as brownies, but if you want bigger slices, just call it cake.
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 large eggs
- ¾ cup cocoa
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- ½ cup milk (whole or 2%)
- 1 tsp. mint or peppermint extract
- 1 ¼ cups flour
- ½ tsp. baking soda
Beat the sugar and eggs together; add the cocoa and mix until smooth. Mix in the oil, milk and mint extract; Finally add the flour and soda, and mix until well combined. Bake in a parchment lined (or buttered) 9×13” pan at 350 for 25 minutes, or until cooked through in the centre.
You can also bake the batter in a 9” round pan, instead, but the round pan will take longer to bake. Check at 30 minutes, but it may need more time.
Candy Cane Topping:
- 1 egg white
- 1 ¼ cups icing sugar
- ½ cup crushed candy canes
Beat the egg white and icing sugar well, until smooth. Spread a thin layer over the cooled brownies (or cake) and sprinkle with the crushed candy cane.
Any extra icing is good for decorating cookies with, as it will harden in time, which you generally want for making sprinkles stick to butter cookies.