I grew up in a family where my Mom would start baking for Christmas in late September. There would be all sorts of treats baked and frozen over the course of three months; an amazing chocolate sugar cookie we still call P.T.A. (not sure why), decorated Rogers Syrup cookies, Granny’s German sour cream twists, popcorn balls, spiced nuts and the occasional butter tart (no raisins). Coming from a large family meant that there were ample helping hands at the baking counter. Being the youngest of 10 siblings I was given the easy tasks, counting out the dozens, removing cookies from the cooled sheet and carefully stacking the baking into large ice cream pails for freezing. I designated myself chief taster and to this day still know my way around butter, vanilla, and the different types of sugar. Christmas baking was a yearly ritual in a large family.
Nostalgic Holiday Baking
I’d forgotten how enjoyable it was to spend days baking in the kitchen. Somehow time had passed and it had been decades since I stood at the 1960’s Arborite counter arguing with my sister over who got to lick the beaters. Then Covid arrived and I found myself staring at empty lockdown days wondering what to do. Enter Christmas baking and within a few days I was back in the kitchen with a counter filled with nuts, sugar, flour and of course lots of butter. Without my Mom to guide me I texted frantically with my sisters, trying to sort out things like the timing and temperature levels on handwritten recipes that just said “Bake” or whether the taste of a certain cookie was the result of my mother’s depression era thrift (she often substituted bacon drippings for a portion of the butter) or because my adult tastebuds had evolved.
Wrapping Culinary Gifts for the Holidays
My Covid baking outcome was a freezer filled with Christmas treats that were tucked into pretty packages made from recycled containers and shipped to friends and family across the country. Covid lockdown gave me an enlightened understanding of why Mom washed out plastic bags, reused cereal bags to wrap school sandwiches and of course kept the ice cream buckets for summer berry picking and Christmas baking. In her world where you went without, object was currency. It didn’t matter what you presented something in, so long as it kept things fresh the gift of baking symbolized love and caring. It turns out pottery is a perfect vessel for baking and holiday treats.
Here are a few recipes (some old family recipes and some new) that are easy to bake, can be made in an afternoon and are lovely when gifted with a piece of Island Stoneware. Finished the package off with ribbons and a handwritten tag and your pottery and culinary treat is sure to be a welcomed holiday gift.
9 cups of air popped corn (unpopped kernels removed)
3 small York Peppermint patties
2 Tablespoons Butter
Combine York Patties and butter in a small pan. Melt and toss over popcorn. Spread onto parchment paper and wait until chocolate has reset. Break into pieces and place into an airtight container. Popcorn will keep up to a week.
2 cups of raw unsalted almonds (pecans and walnuts also work well)
1 egg white (bring egg white to room temperature before whipping)
6 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp instant espresso powder (you can substitute instant coffee powder, just double the amount to kick up the flavour)
¾ tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch each of nutmeg, cayenne pepper and salt
Preheat oven to 250ºF. Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Beat egg white just until it’s frothy and holds a peak. Mix in almonds and stir to coat. Set aside. In a small bowl mix together all dry ingredients and stir until there are no clumps. Add dry mixture to bowl with almonds. Lightly mix until all the dry mixture is sticking to the nuts.
Spread mixture onto parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for an hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Remove from oven and leave nuts to cool. Nuts will stay fresh in an airtight container for a week.
¼ cup pure maple syrup (don’t use artificial syrup here, these nuts deserve authentic Canadian Maple Syrup)
1 Tbsp unsalted butter (melted)
Pinch each of teaspoon kosher salt, cayenne pepper, teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 medium egg white (bring egg white to room temperature before whipping)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread the pecans on a baking sheet and toast about 10 minutes (if you can smell the nuts they’re toasted). Let nuts cool and change the oven temperature to 250°F.
Line the baking sheet with parchment paper. In a bowl, toss the pecans with the maple syrup, butter, salt, cayanne and black pepper. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg white until frothy (soft peaks). Add the egg white to the pecans and toss well.
Spread the pecans on the baking sheets in a single layer. Bake for 40 minutes, until the nuts are golden brown (mix once or twice while they’re baking). Immediately loosen the pecans from the parchment paper with a spatula and let nuts cool completely on the baking sheet before serving. Nuts will stay fresh in an airtight container for a week.
Spiced Glazed Nuts and Pretzels
This recipe is from chef David Lebowitz I like to follow food bloggers and chefs who know their stuff (sorry no Tiktoc recipes here) and thoroughly test recipes. Mr. Lebowitz has a long history in the culinary world and has a newsletter full of recipes and French culinary tidbits that is worth following (and paying for). This nut and pretzel mixture would gift well in our Square Serving Bowls or Dory Boat Serving Bowls.