Holiday Hearth

by Ana L. Palles

Making Cookies Even if you aren’t a baker, this time of year always inspires even the cooking averse to venture forth and find the mixing bowls and measuring spoons. There is something so festive and joyful in seeing a batch of homemade cookies sitting on cooling racks in the kitchen. One family I know breaks up into teams and challenges each other to bake the best cookie. Not only does it result in some wild creations, but it is usually accompanied by a lot of laughing and priceless memories.

The recipes below are family favorites and are reliable and fairly easy. The recipe with the most steps is the Oatmeal Fudgie bar cookie, but oh, they are SO worthwhile. Our EASIEST recipe of all is the Cranberry Cream Cheese poundcake. You will scratch your head and wonder how something with such few ingredients comes out so delectable.

Don't second guess! The Cranberry Cream Cheese does not contain baking powders or soda. It is one of the simplest and most beautiful of bundt cakes. A slice of golden cake dotted with bright red cranberries personifies the season. The tartness of the berries makes a nice contrast to the richness of the cake. You will keep this recipe in your files for future years.

Some of us have grown up expecting certain traditional items on the holiday table. The Wine Date Nut bread is an interesting and very tasty interpretation on a familiar holiday standby.You'll be surprised at the difference the wine makes.

We didn't forget those of us who have to watch their sugar intake. Bake up a batch of Oatmeal Snack Cakes for Christmas morning and you'll have folks wondering if they truly are sweetened with only the natural fruit sugars. Pineapple, apples, dates and oats make these a wholesome pleasure.


Roll-Out Sugar Cookies

Okay, tie up that apron good and tight -- you're bound to get flour all over you. But if your kid's hearts are set on making Santas, snowmen, bunnies, or chicks, then you're going to have to whip up a batch of Rolled-Out Sugar Cookies. Make this a wonderful family tradition at your house. There is nothing more festive than beautiful, homemade cookies on a Santa plate. Get that motley crew of young rascals to help you, and make it a joyous gathering everyone will remember!

3 ½ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups sugar
1 cup butter
2 eggs
1 ½ teaspoon vanilla

Sift flour, baking soda and salt together. Set aside. Place butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and begin to beat at medium speed. Add eggs one at a time. Begin to add flour mixture, incorporating well. Add vanilla. Stir until mixed. Do not overmix.

At this point, you can begin rolling the cookies out, or to make it easier, you can place the cookies in the refrigerator for about an hour so that the butter can chill. This should make rolling it out easier. You can roll the cookies out on a sheet of wax paper that has been lightly dusted with flour. Bake the cookies on a lightly greased baking sheet in a 375 degree oven for about 10 minutes or until the edges begin to brown.

Decorating the cookies:

The cookies can be decorated before baking by brushing with milk or egg white and dusting them with festive sprinkles or sugars. The cookies can also be decorated after they are baked either with a thick confectioner’s sugar glaze or by using either white or dark chocolate. Melt the chocolate and dip the areas of the cookie you would like to decorate. Add sprinkles or colored sugars as desired while the chocolate is still wet.


Molasses Crinkles

Forget what you've heard about spice cookies, it definitely does not apply to Molasses Crinkles. Something about their taste is so familiar, so indescribable, you'll end up dreaming about them when they are gone. At Christmas time, these cookies announce to one and all that the holidays are here and their joy cannot be contained. But you won't want to have them only at Christmas. This cookie will fill your kitchen with the fragrant aroma of spices which bring sheer pleasure to any home. You'll be amazed at how quickly they will disappear from your cookie jar especially on those cool, blustery days. A "must try" recipe!

3/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1 egg
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt

Roll each ball in sugar and place approximately 3-inches apart on greased cookie sheet. DO NOT FLATTEN BALLS. Bake at 350°F for approximately 15 - 20 minutes.


Oatmeal Fudgies

Prepare yourself for total devastation. The combination of an oatmeal cookie base and creamy rich fudge, makes for the richest dessert bar possible. This was one of the very first bar cookies we dreamed up in our kitchen, and their popularity never waned. This is one bar cookie that you will not want to share. Keep the cookie bars refrigerated to slice cleanly, and like we said, prepare yourself for an assault on the senses.

Base and Topping Crust:
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats, uncooked

Spread out 1/2 - 1 cup of batter as thinly as possible on a cookie sheet. (Dough does not have to be uniformly square, but should be uniform in thickness.) Spread the remaining cookie dough in a 9 X 13 baking pan. Bake at 350°F. Thin cookie layer will be ready in about 10-15 minutes. Thicker layer will be ready in about 20-25 minutes. Take out of oven and let cool.

Fudge Filling:

1 cup condensed milk
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a heavy saucepan, heat the condensed milk and the chocolate chips until all the chips have melted and the fudge is smooth. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract.

Pour the fudge over the baked cookie dough in the 9 X 13 pan. Remove the thin layer of baked cookie dough, breaking up into large chunks and place on top of the fudge so that some areas of fudge peek through. Let cool in refrigerator until fudge is completely set. Cut into squares and be ready for the compliments!


Cranberry Cream Cheese Pound Cake

You cannot go wrong with this recipe. It is one of the easiest recipes you will ever make and yet, one of the most outstanding. You will be asked to share this, so pass it along with your love and compliments!

1 cup butter, softened
6 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 cups cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups of fresh cranberries

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a bundt pan and set aside. Sift the flour and set aside. Place butter, cream cheese and sugar in a mixing bowl and begin mixing on medium speed. When it appears as though the sugar is incorporated with the butter and cheese, add eggs, one at a time. Stir in flour. Add vanilla extract. Make sure to stir the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl so that the butter and cream cheese are well mixed. Stir the fresh cranberries at the very end. Do not over mix as you want the cranberries to remain intact.

Scoop the batter into the prepared pan. The batter will be very thick. This is normal. Bake in a 325 degree oven for about an hour or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out dry.


Holiday Wine Date-Nut Bread

This traditional holiday date nut bread was a mistake. In my haste one day, I accidentally mixed the glaze ingredients into the batter. The result was very tasty. This bread has a habit of growing on you. Serve it with cream cheese and it will become an adult favorite.

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves & allspice)
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 oz. chopped dates
1 cup chopped walnuts
2 eggs
1 1/3 cups white wine (Chablis, Chardonnay, etc.)
1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Grease and flour 2 large loaf pans. It is usually a good idea to put parchment paper on the bottom of the loaf pan to help pop the breads out of the pan when they are done baking.

Soak the dates in the wine overnight if possible, or at least for a few hours. Set aside. Sift flour, baking powder, powdered sugar, spices and salt together. Set aside.

Combine butter and brown sugar in a mixing bowl. Add eggs. Slowly begin to incorporate the dry ingredients. Add the wine from the dates and then stir in the dates at the very end. Do not overmix.

Pour batter into loaf pans. Bake at 325 degrees for about 50 minutes or until a cake pick inserted in the center comes out dry. These loaves can be frozen and they do slice up beautifully.

Tip: when preparing tea sandwich trays with the different fruit breads, it is easier to get a nice even slice if the loaves are placed in the freezer for a few hours.


Oatmeal Snack Cakes

Our dad was a diabetic and it was always tough for him around the holidays because he wanted to participate in all the holiday baking treats. This recipe is healthy as well as delicious and uses the natural sugars contained in the fruits to sweeten the muffins.

2 ½ cups oats
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped dates
½ cup bran
1 cup crushed pineapple
¼ cup crushed pineapple, set aside
2 large apples, chopped, set ¼ aside
3 eggs
4 tablespoon butter melted
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon salt

Combine oats, raisins, dates and bran in a large bowl. Process pineapple, apples, eggs, butter, baking powder, vanilla and salt in food processor until pureed. Pour over ingredients in bowl. Mix thoroughly. Add pineapple and chopped apples that were set aside. Scoop out in muffin tins using medium muffin cups. Bake for 20 minutes in a 325 degree oven.

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