Baking helps warm up the holiday season

Baking helps warm up the holiday season

Shortbread, caramel and peanut butter are just a few of the tasty flavours of the season

  • Nov. 26, 2017 12:30 p.m.

Cathi Litzenberger

Morning Star Columnist

I missed Christmas baking last year; my mood was black and we ended up away for Christmas. This year I’m back to a new normal and can hardly wait to get baking.

The four recipes I offer today are quick and easy and freeze well, so let’s get started. Peanut butter bars are a popular no-bake treat and a favourite of my nephew. Caramel shortbread squares have a firm caramel centre, and a milk chocolate top, are super-easy to make and they take only 20 minutes to bake.

And what’s Christmas without shortbread? I offer my mom’s recipe today, which we all love. The only change I’ve made is that I don’t mix it all by hand. My mom would make cookies as well as a batch in a square pan, lightly scoring the top for easy cutting into squares while still warm. And the last recipe is a Viennese cookie that I only make at Christmas. Remember to stir your love into everything you make as it will transfer to whoever eats it.

Peanut Butter Bars

1 cup butter or margarine, melted

2 cups graham cracker crumbs

2 cups confectioners’ sugar

1 cup peanut butter

1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

4 tablespoons peanut butter

In a medium bowl, mix together the butter or margarine, graham cracker crumbs, confectioners’ sugar and 1 cup peanut butter until well-blended. Press evenly into the bottom of an ungreased 9×13 inch pan.

In a metal bowl over simmering water, or in the microwave, melt the chocolate chips with the 4 tbsp. peanut butter, stirring occasionally until smooth. Spread over the prepared crust. Refrigerate for at least one hour before cutting into squares.

Caramel Shortbread Squares

2/3 cup butter, softened

1/4 cup white sugar

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk

1 1/4 cups milk chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a medium bowl, mix together 2/3 cup butter, white sugar and flour until evenly crumbly. Press into a 9 inch square baking pan. Bake for 20 minutes.

In a 2-quart saucepan, combine 1/2 cup butter, brown sugar, corn syrup and sweetened condensed milk. Bring to a boil. Continue to boil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon for about 3 minutes. Pour over baked crust (warm or cool). Cool until it begins to firm.

Place chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat for 1 minute, then stir and continue to heat and stir at 20-second intervals until chocolate is melted and smooth. Pour chocolate over the caramel layer and spread evenly to cover completely. Chill. Cut into 1- inch squares. These need to be small because they are so rich.

Viennese Crescent

Holiday Cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup butter

1 cup hazelnuts, ground

1/2 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

1 vanilla bean

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, butter, nuts, 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, salt and vanilla. Hand-mix until thoroughly blended. Shape dough into a ball. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. Meanwhile, place second sugar in a bowl or small container. With sharp chef’s knife, split vanilla bean lengthwise. Scrape out seeds, and mix them into the sugar. Cut pod into 2-inch pieces and mix into sugar.

Remove dough from refrigerator and form into 1-inch balls. Roll each ball into a small roll, 3 inches long. Place rolls 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet, and bend each one to make a crescent shape.

Bake 10 to 12 minutes in the preheated oven, or until set but not brown. Let stand 1 minute, then remove from cookie sheets. Place hot cookies on a large sheet of aluminum foil. Sprinkle with prepared sugar mixture. Turn gently to coat on both sides.

Cool completely and store in an airtight container at room temperature. Just before serving, coat with more vanilla flavored sugar.

Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist, appearing every other Wednesday and one Sunday per month.

RELATED: Kitchen Wit & Wisdom: Gingerbread meets egg nog

Mom’s Melt in your Mouth Shortbread

1 cup butter, softened

1/2-1 tsp. vanilla

1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Red and green candied cherries

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Whip butter and vanilla with an electric mixer until fluffy. Stir in the confectioners’ sugar, cornstarch and flour. Beat on low for one minute, then on high for 3 to 4 minutes. Drop cookies by spoonfuls 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Decorate with tiny pieces of red and green cherries.

Bake 12 to 15 minutes in preheated oven. Watch that the edges don’t brown too much. Cool on wire racks.

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