‘Tis the season for steaming mugs of cocoa, snow boots, Christmas shopping and final exams. Playing Santa can work up quite an appetite. And studying for finals definitely calls for a cookie (or three).
Luckily, this is the time of year for sweet treats. Sugar plums and figgy pudding have had their day. This week, we bring you a couple more modern recipes with a variety of flavors and textures, sure to please even the Grinchiest member of your crew.
Not only has cooking and baking been proven to have therapeutic qualities (read: finals week), these delicious desserts make for excellent gifts to give to friends and family. Make loads of goodies at one time, package in smaller containers, add a bow and check several people off your list at once. When the smell of cinnamon and warm chocolate fills our apartment, your roommates will thank us. And you just might, too.
Spiced nuts are a holiday tradition in Germany and Northern Europe. Street peddlers sell them at Christmas markets. They make an excellent, not-too-sweet snack.
½ cup honey
2 tbsp. butter, melted
5 cups whole raw almonds
½ cup brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground cloves
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Warm honey and butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Add almonds, sugar, salt, cinnamon and cloves. Remove from the heat and toss to combine. Spread almonds on a lined cookie sheet and toast in the oven for 25-30 minutes, stirring every five minutes. Nuts should be a dark, chocolatey brown in color when finished. Allow to cool before eating.
Peppermint Candy Cane Bark
Simple, sweet and elegant, our take uses only four ingredients. Make sure to splurge and buy higher-quality chocolate, as it will be on display here. We like Ghirardelli’s.
2 12-oz. packages of milk chocolate chips
1 tsp. peppermint extract
1 12-oz. package of white chocolate chips
6-8 large candy canes, crushed
In a double boiler or microwave-safe bowl, melt milk chocolate chips, stirring constantly. Once melted, add in peppermint extract. Line a shallow pan with aluminum foil. Spread the melted chocolate onto the pan and toss unmelted white chocolate chips and crushed candy canes liberally on top. Chill in the refrigerator until set, for one to two hours. Break into small pieces and enjoy.
New York Times food writer Mark Bittman calls this recipe the easiest holiday candy to make. Little more than sugar, salt and nuts, peanut brittle is a winter favorite in the South.
2 cups of white sugar
2 cups of roasted peanuts
a pinch of salt (if using unsalted peanuts)
Use a bit of butter to grease a baking sheet, preferably one with a low rim. Combine sugar and two tablespoons of water in a heavy skillet and turn the heat to medium. Stir until smooth, then cook, adjusting the heat so that the mixture bubbles steadily. Stir occasionally until the mixture turns golden-brown (which it may do rather suddenly). Stir in the peanuts and a large pinch of salt, if desired. Pour the mixture onto a greased baking sheet and spread out. Cool for about half an hour, then break into pieces. (You can score brittle with a knife when it has solidified slightly but not yet turned hard — that way, it will break into even squares.) Store in a covered container for up to two weeks.
Eggnog Cheesecake Bars
Why drink your eggnog when you can eat it? This mix of a holiday classic and a guilty pleasure dessert will bring some variety to the holiday season.
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
3 tbsp. sugar
¼ tsp. ground ginger
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
3 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
12 oz. cream cheese, softened
⅓ cup sugar
¾ cup eggnog
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. To make the crust, combine sugar, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg with the graham cracker crumbs in a bowl. Add the melted butter and stir until evenly combined. Then, place the mix in a 8x8x2 baking pan lined with parchment paper. Evenly press the crumb mixture until flat. Bake at 375 degrees for five minutes, then remove from the oven.
For the filling, beat the cream cheese on medium-high speed in an electric mixer for around a minute, until smooth. Then, add ⅓ cup of sugar and beat for another minute. Then, add the egg and beat until smooth. Finally, add the eggnog and beat until no lumps remain.
Pour the filling over the crust and bake at 325 degrees for about 30 minutes or until the center has set. Cool in the pan for an hour. Refrigerate for at least four hours before serving.
Now for an easy take on a classic. This recipe is for dorm-goers who want to make a killer dessert but only have a microwave.
3 cups semisweet chocolate chips
14 oz. of sweetened condensed milk
¼ cup butter
1 cup chopped walnuts
⅓ cup crushed peppermint candy or candy canes
Place your chocolate chips, milk and butter in a large microwavable bowl and microwave until the chips are melted (three to five minutes) and stir a few times while cooking. Stir in the nuts and crushed candy canes. Then, pour into an 8×8 baking dish and refrigerate until set.