Caramel and bacon and pears, oh my.
If the holidays have a distinct flavor, it just might be the taste of homemade treats.
Whether they’re whipped up from traditional recipes or spiced with a twist, baked goods make some of the best gifts.
Here are a few recipes to help you get started.
Tiramisu is an Italian dessert made from espresso-soaked ladyfinger cookies, a mascarpone cream, a sprinkling of shaved chocolate and a dusting of cocoa powder. For our cookies, we opted to make a crumbly espresso-flavored almond cookie topped with a mascarpone cream.
1 cup slivered blanched almonds, lightly toasted
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons instant espresso or coffee powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 (8-ounce) tub mascarpone cheese
3 tablespoons powdered sugar, divided
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
Shaved chocolate, to decorate if desired
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a food processor, pulse together the almonds and granulated sugar until finely ground but not reduced to a paste. Add the butter and vanilla, then pulse to incorporate. Add the espresso or coffee powder, salt and flour and pulse until a crumbly dough comes together.
Shape the dough into 1-inch balls and place on the prepared baking sheets. Using your finger or the handle of a wooden spoon, press an indent into the top of each cookie. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden and firm. Allow to cool on the baking sheet.
When the cookies are cool, stir together in a medium bowl the mascarpone and 2 tablespoons of the powdered sugar. Transfer the mixture to a pastry bag or a zip-close plastic bag with the corner snipped off. Pipe a dollop of the filling into the indent of each cookie.
Sift the remaining tablespoon of powdered sugar with the cocoa powder. Sift over the tops of the cookies. Decorate with shaved chocolate if desired. Makes about 40 cookies.
Handmade Have-It-Your-Way Granola
Breakfast cereal as a holiday gift?
It may sound unusual, but it tastes wonderful. Granola is a practical, beautiful and delicious gift. It’s also easy and inexpensive to prepare. It can be packaged attractively yet simply in glass canning jars or cellophane bags tied with ribbons. And granola is easy to tailor to your recipient’s tastes.
And unlike many edible gifts, it has a long shelf life and doesn’t need refrigeration.
3 cups old-fashioned oats
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup canola or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons water
1/3 cup maple syrup
Flavorings of your choice (see below)
Heat the oven to 250 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, combine the oats, brown sugar and salt. Set aside.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the oil, water and maple syrup. Bring to a boil, then pour over the oat mixture. Stir until thoroughly coated. Spread the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 1 hour or until dried and lightly toasted, stirring every 15 minutes. Allow to fully cool before packaging. Makes 5 cups.
Dutch apple: Stir 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 2 teaspoons cinnamon and 1 cup of walnut halves into the dry oat mixture before baking. After baking, add 1 cup chopped dried apple and 1 cup golden raisins.
Jamaican: Stir 1/2 teaspoon ground mace, 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice, 1 cup cashews and 1 cup large-flake unsweetened coconut into the dry oat mixture before baking. After baking, add 1 cup chopped dried pineapple and 1/4 cup chopped candied ginger.
Chocolate cherry: Stir 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder into the dry oat mixture before baking. After the dry mixture has baked and cooled, add 1 cup dried cherries and 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips.
Cranberry Pear Cake
When we started dreaming up ideas for holiday cakes, we knew we wanted three things – warm spices, sweet-tart fruit and a moist crumb.
This holiday cranberry-pear layer cake delivers! We combined ginger, cinnamon and cardamom for rich, warm flavors that not only are baked into the cake, but also are repeated in the thick cream cheese frosting that is slathered over it.
For the cake:
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon dry ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 pears (or one 28-ounce can pear halves, drained), finely chopped (2 cups total)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups chopped dried cranberries
For the frosting:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
Zest of 1 orange
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon dry ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese
Strips of orange zest (optional)
Dried cranberries, to decorate (optional)
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly coat two 9-inch round cake pans with baking spray. Line the bottom of each pan with parchment paper.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the granulated sugar, butter, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, salt and vanilla until creamy smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping the sides of the bowl between additions.
Add the pears and flour and mix until combined. Stir in the cranberries. Divide the batter between the 2 prepared cake pans and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted at the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to finish cooling completely.
When the cake is completely cooled, make the frosting. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter, powdered sugar, orange zest, cardamom, ginger and cinnamon until creamy smooth. Add the cream cheese and mix until completely incorporated.
To assemble the cake, place 1 cake on a serving plate and spread about 3/4 cup of the frosting evenly over the top of it. Place the second cake over it. Spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides of the cake, swirling the frosting. Decorate with strips of orange zest and dried cranberries if desired. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Makes 16 servings.
Caramel Bacon Peanut Bark
Salty and sweet. Savory and rich. It’s the treat for chocolate fans who think they’ve tried it all.
It’s caramel bacon peanut bark. That’s right. Read that one again.
Trust us – the salty-savory-sweet flavors play so well together.
12 ounces maple or brown sugar bacon
2 (12-ounce) packages milk chocolate bits
1 1/2 cups chopped peanuts (salted or not)
1 (10-ounce) bag soft candy caramels
Large-flake sea salt
Line a baking sheet with waxed paper.
Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high. Working in batches, add the bacon and cook until very crisp, about 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain, then repeat with remaining bacon. Set aside to cool completely. When cooled, crumble the bacon into small pieces.
Place the chocolate bits in a medium microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring every 20 seconds, or until melted and smooth. Pour the chocolate onto the prepared baking sheet, then tap it on the counter to settle the chocolate into an even, smooth puddle.
Immediately sprinkle the peanuts and bacon evenly over the chocolate. Allow the chocolate to fully harden, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the caramels in a medium microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring every 20 seconds, or until melted and smooth. Drizzle the caramel over the bark, then sprinkle lightly with the sea salt. Allow to cool and harden, then break into pieces. Makes 24 servings.