Get cracking on holiday baking

PHOTO: Commons

Christmas baking is one of the pleasures of the season. I hate the commercial frenzy of Christmas, but baking special recipes for friends and family is true bliss! Yes, there are all sorts of seductive treats out there to buy, but somehow they never taste as good as homemade. Many of you will have family favourites you bake each year while some of you may not be experienced bakers. Here are two of my favourite well-tested recipes which pass the Christmas test, that is: they are easy to put together, they taste wonderful and children love to help in the production!

By the way, a word about pastry trays: if you are setting up a pastry tray, try to find a rectangular plate or tray to arrange rows of individual items in alternating colour. It is a fast and simple method but pleasing to the eye and the palate.

Hard Gingerbread

Two weeks ago, my three-year-old grand-daughter, Olivia came over to help Granny bake cookies. I don’t know who had more fun, Granny or Olivia. It brought back fond memories of my own children but emphasized the importance of choosing childproof recipes, meaning, recipes that work and are not so fiddly they will frustrate a cook, young or old. There is something that everyone can do in the recipe to make them feel successful and of course, it has to taste great. You be the judge.

We made the following recipe for a historic gingerbread, originally from Cook Not Mad and included in Setting a Fine Table, Fort York’s cookbook available in their canteen at Fort York and on Amazon. It is a wonderful book. Each recipe has a fascinating historical background, tastes delicious and, most importantly, has been tested for success. Don’t waste your time or money on recipes that have not been tested.

Tip: Because the batter contained no eggs, Olivia and I could enjoy a taste of the raw dough without fear of salmonella poisoning – “Delicious Granny!” The baked cookies were yummy too.

1 cup (250 mL) butter, softened

1 cup (250 mL) granulated sugar

1 cup (250 mL) fancy molasses

4 cups (1 L) all-purpose flour

2 tbsp (25 mL) ground ginger

1 tsp (5 mL) allspice

1 tsp (5 mL) ground cinnamon

1 tsp (5 mL) grated nutmeg

1 tsp (5 mL) baking soda

Pre-heat oven to 350 F (180 C). Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.

In large mixing bowl, beat the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in molasses until smooth.

In separate bowl, whisk together flour, ginger, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg and baking soda. Stir flour mixture into creamed mixture one cup at a time. Press the dough together, kneading gently a few times until smooth. Divide in half.

Roll out each portion between 2 large pieces of parchment paper rolling away from you and turning the paper with the dough as you need to roll out to form a large rectangle about 1/4 inch (6 mm) thick. Dough can be chilled if you wish at this point to finish another time.

I prepared the dough before Olivia came so that she could have the fun of cutting out the shapes. You can use plain or fancy cutters; place on prepared baking sheet about 1 inch (2.5 cm apart). Form the scrap into a disc and re-roll for more cookies.

Bake 10-12 minutes or until slightly darkened on the bottom and firm to the touch. Let stand on baking sheet for at least 3 minutes before removing to a cooling rack.

Make-ahead: Layer in airtight containers. Store at room temperature for a few days or freeze for up to 2 weeks. Makes about 90, 2 inch (10 cm) cookies.

Christmas Crack

This is a “surprise” cookie in that the ingredients are not what you expect especially when you taste it and the crack says, “more!” I first had a version of this cookie at Adam Beck Public School baking day. It took me a long time to figure out the ingredients and have seen it around with a variety of additions. I hope you enjoy this version of crack!

1 cup (250 mL) butter

1 cup (250 mL) packed brown sugar

45 individual soda crackers or a few more if necessary (1 1/4 sleeve)

1 cup (250 mL) semi-sweet chocolate chips

Almond slices or candy cane crunch (available at Bulk Barn)

Pre-heat oven to 350 F (180 C). Line a 15 x 9 inch baking pan with parchment paper. Arrange soda crackers on baking sheet side by side to fit snugly. Trim and add any where necessary. Place butter and sugar in a saucepan and cook, stirring, until mixture is smooth. Boil for 2 minutes. Pour sugar-butter mixture evenly over arranged crackers; bake 10-12 minutes. Cool on cooling rack.

Meanwhile, in mixing bowl over saucepan of simmering water, melt chocolate chips. Drizzle chocolate over cooled toffee-covered crackers in zig-zag pattern. Immediately sprinkle with almonds or candy cane crunch. Cool. When ready to serve, slice with sharp knife along the lines of the cracker into about 2 inch (10 cm) pieces. Yield about 45.

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