I know this is the time of year that bloggers look back at the past year and post their favorites. Examples: Annie's Eats, Brown Eyed Baker, Bake or Break, and Love & Olive Oil. However, this is also the time of year that I post a list of all the recipes I've taken on in the last few months and have been too lazy to post! I don't know what it is about this time of year that gets me so behind other than the combination of 2 things - my absolute adoration of fall flavors (pumpkin, ginger, apple) and the inevitable slide into the holiday season and lots of homemade food gifts.
While this list isn't totally comprehensive, it captures some of my favorites from the last few months. I plan to post more thorough run-downs on a select few of them in the next few weeks, but this is my insurance policy that I have at least shared the recipes to my dear friends. And if you notice that the photo quality dramatically improves over time, it's because I scored a sweet deal on a new Canon Rebel T3i (Merry Christmas to me!) and have just started playing around with it.
In this first of two posts, let's start with 4 recipes that were my go-to's this Christmas - complete with ridiculously cute boxes that I picked up on clearance:
|Clockwise from top right: Vanilla Bean Caramels, White Chocolate Gingerbread Blondies, Molasses Cookies with Orange Sugar, Pistachio Cranberry Shortbread Rounds|
Pistachio Cranberry Shortbread Rounds
These cookies are not only festive but also completely addictive and a nice compliment to more traditional holiday flavors. I ended up making 4 batches of these so I can pretty much assure you that they are worth the investment in shelled pistachios. As icebox cookies, they require very little prep - and best of all, no cookie cutters! I made mine into rounds and didn't need the egg wash at all. After letting your dough soften just a little, roll it in the decorative or turbinado sugar and go on your merry way! Click here to get the recipe from Epicurious.
Molasses Cookies with Orange Sugar
I've had these bookmarked forever! I made the mistake of leaving them to the last of my holiday baking, which meant that I in no way felt like messing with rolling out the dough. It turned out to be a good decision because this dough is super STICKY. I ended up sticking it in the freezer to get it to a point I could slice it with a heavy knife, essentially turning it in to an icebox cookie. The orange sugar is well worth the tiny bit of extra effort, and the slightly adult flavors made them a perfect recipe for coworkers. Click here to get the recipe over on The Kitchn.
White Chocolate Gingerbread Blondies
Just the sound of this recipe screams delicious. I ended up making 3 trays of these, the final version being my favorite after a few small tweaks. Be sure to make them in a 9x13 pan (much easier to spread thin enough) and cut the butter down to 2 cups. I baked mine for an extra 5 minutes as this seemed to ensure that the center was cooked a little more thoroughly. These were really easy to cut with the help of a pizza cutter and packaged up nicely in the box as well as stacked in cellophane bags. Click here for the recipe from Martha Stewart.
Vanilla Bean Caramels
2011 was the second year I tried my hand at caramels for the holidays. It's a relatively simple process that doesn't require much more than a candy thermometer and a little patience for stirring constantly. While it was probably the 6th time I'd made the recipe, I did manage to screw up one batch by overheating. Not to worry, though. If you make the same mistake and your caramel becomes much to hard, just cut it up and put it in a sauce pan with some heavy cream and you'll have some delicious caramel sauce to gift instead! Here's the recipe I've used - substituting the vanilla with vanilla bean paste and sprinkling the tops with a little sel gris. Click here for the recipe from Allrecipes.
In addition to the box of deliciousness, I also decided to branch out of the baking arena with a huge batch of roasted mixed nuts.
Chipotle and Rosemary Mixed Nuts
I'm not sure if I would have attempted this recipe without having access to a store where I can buy nuts in bulk due to cost. However, they are sooo delicious and perfect for gifting and snacking that I highly recommend them. You can use any combination of nuts that you like - I used pecans, walnuts and cashews - and really really really use fresh rosemary. Not only is the rosemary beyond tasty combined with the hot spice, it also adds some nice color. I packaged up 2 cups per gift in tin tie kraft bags (wax lined) and sent them on their way. Click here for the recipe from the Barefoot Contessa.
Here's the basket that went to my office -
and earned me the title "Baking Ninja."