If there's one scent that screams out "festive," it's the scent of baking gingerbread cookies. And if there's one activity that screams out "festive," it's the decorating of said gingerbread cookies. Nothing makes one bask in the glow of holiday togetherness like a cozy afternoon of cookie baking with the children.
To be honest, we all know that making cookies with children is less of a warm and peaceful activity, and more of a chaotic and Lord of the Flies-like activity, at least in my house. But that's why I love this recipe; spending a day making dough, and then chilling dough, and then rolling out and baking cookies, and then waiting for the cookies to cool, and THEN decorating cookies with crazed children who are eating icing and decorative candies by the handful would probably do me in. I would morph from my usual Buddy the Elf-like persona to one resembling the Grinch.
This recipe saves me from trying to stop Christmas from coming for the poor little Whos. It is great for making ahead of time because the dough can be frozen for up to three months; make the dough when you have ten minutes to yourself, and then bake the cookies when you feel like it. Brilliant, no? In my case I made this dough in November, then I baked the cookies while my children were at karate. By the time they came home they had cooled enough for the decorating extravaganza to begin, and I didn't even have to put Bailey's in my coffee. Well, I did, but I didn't HAVE to, if you know what I mean.
This recipe for frosting works great, but I confess that I often foist store-bought tubes of icing on my children so they can easily decorate to their heart's content. Either way works well.
For the cookies:
Yield: Makes 4-5 dozen cookies, depending on the size of the cookie cutters (size DOES matter, it turns out).
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens
In my books, there are two hostess gifts that are always acceptable: wine and chocolate. Where recipients might be less than enthused about homemade wine, homemade chocolates are a different story altogether. Chocolate truffles are a decadent and impressive, yet incredibly simple gift from the kitchen.
The key to making these truffles is using very good quality chocolate and full-fat coconut milk. You can get creative by using different kinds of chocolate and infusing the coconut milk with different flavours by swapping out the vanilla for peppermint or almond extract, or maybe adding Grand Marnier for a special touch. You could also swap the cocoa powder for icing sugar or crushed nuts or candies to roll the truffles in; there are so many delicious combinations to try!
These truffles are also vegan, although they are so rich and scrumptious no one will believe you if you tell them that. It can be our little secret.
Place the chocolate into a large heatproof bowl.
In a small saucepan, bring the coconut milk to a boil. Add the vanilla extract. Remove from heat and pour over the chopped chocolate. Stir until completely smooth. Refrigerate until firm, approximately 3 hours.
When the mixture is firm enough to handle, scoop and roll into balls 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Roll or dust balls with cocoa powder.
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Yield: 3-4 dozen truffles
Around the holiday season, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Sometimes I make complicated recipes that have three dozen ingredients and take a whole day’s worth of steps to make, and those are good. And then sometimes I make a recipe that takes fifteen minutes to make and requires only two easily-obtained recipes. Those are REALLY good.
This recipe is so much more than the sum of its parts. It’s absolutely scrumptious and unbelievably easy to make. Packaged in a festive tin or gift box, it makes a wonderful hostess gift — and no one will guess how simple it is! When I make this for a party I either have to hide the evidence or triple the recipe, else wise my family will eat it all. Or I will eat it all. One or the other.
Some people would involve their children in the ingredient preparation; me, I do not trust my children with a rolling pin and instructions to crush anything. Disaster could only ensue from such a situation over here, but perhaps your children are much less destructive — in which case, by all means, get the children to help crush the candy canes! Family togetherness and delicious treats? Yes, please.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Place candy canes in a zippered plastic bag. Using a rolling pin, crush the candy canes to little bits. Don’t worry about uniformity here – there is room for all the candy parts, big and small. You should have about 1/2 cup of crushed bits – add more candy canes if need be (or eat the bits, if you crushed too many).
In the top of a double boiler, and slowly melt chocolate chips over simmering water, stirring often.
Pour the melted chocolate onto the parchment paper-lined baking sheet, smoothing it out so that it is about 1/4–1/3 inch thick. Immediately sprinkle the crushed candy canes over top all the chocolate.
Place the baking sheet in the freezer for approximately 30 minutes, or until set.
Break the bark into pieces and store in the refrigerator.