By L.A. Story
For Crossroads Magazine
A myriad of images and memories come to mind when I think about the holiday season.
Being from the South, snow isn’t typically one of those images.
However, desserts — like sugar plums — absolutely dance through my head.
My mother, and my late grandmothers, were all inspirational to me in the fact that their tasty dishes could tempt anyone.
During the holidays, food is not only enjoyed during the celebrations, but often homemade desserts were — and still are — given as gifts for friends and neighbors.
The art of cooking seems to still be in vogue. People still like to eat, even though the favorites may be changing with generational and cultural differences.
When my children were small, and I had more time to cook, I recall carrying on this tradition and making desserts as gifts. I will not ever forget the delight my efforts seemed to bring. It was worth every moment in the kitchen.
Another thing I like to consider when cooking for the holidays is the traditional desserts enjoyed by my children. They have come to expect certain things at Christmas, but I also like to shake things up and try something new.
My kids are grown and now I think of grandchildren enjoying these same foods that were enjoyed all the way back to when my own parents were young.
I suppose, in a way, these desserts are time machines. They are traditional items that set the tone and create happy memories for these children.
I dug through my well-used cookbooks for some of the best desserts I have tried over the span of about 30 years or so. Some were clipped from magazines, some came from one of my many, many cookbooks, others were handwritten on paper that has yellowed and become brittle with age and some were written are on special stationary and handed to me by generous hostesses at my request.
There’s a memory with each one.
I have divided up the selections.
The first four or five should be easy to give as gifts.
Some will be super easy recipes to make and some will be for the more experienced cooks.
Either way, my hope is to present a Dozen Decadent Desserts that might help someone else’s holiday be just a little bit brighter and maybe add something to their own family traditions.
Brown Sugar Shortbread
1 cup butter (no substitutes), softened
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Gradually stir in the flour. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth, about three minutes. Pat into 1/3 -inch-thick rectangle measuring 11 inches x 8 inches. Cut into 2-inch x 1-inch strips. Place 1 inch apart on ungreased baking sheets. Prick with a fork. Bake at 300 degrees for 25 minutes or until bottom begins to brown. Cool for five minutes; remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Yield: 31/2 dozen.
Moist and Minty Brownies
11/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
2 tbsp. water
1 (10 oz.) pkg. ( 11/2 cups) mint flavored semi-sweet chocolate morsels, divided
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.
In a small saucepan, combine sugar, butter and water. Bring just to a boil; remove from heat. Add 1 cup mint chocolate chips and vanilla extract, stirring until chips are melted and mixture is smooth. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.
Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in flour mixture and remaining mint chocolate chips. Spread into a greased 9-inch square baking pan.
Bake 25-35 minutes, just until center is set. Cool completely. Cut into 21/4 inch squares. Yield: 16 brownies.
Granny’s Peanut Brittle
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup water
1 cup peanuts (I prefer Spanish peanuts)
2 tbsp. butter, softened
1 tsp. baking soda
Grease a large cookie sheet and put it aside.
In a heavy 2-quart saucepan, over medium heat, bring sugar, corn syrup, salt and water to a boil. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Stir in peanuts. Set candy thermometer in place and continue cooking. Stir frequently until temperature reaches 300 degrees, or until a small amount of mixture separates into hard and brittle threads when dropped into very cold water.
Remove from heat; immediately stir in butter and baking soda; pour at once onto cookie sheet. With two forks, lift and pull peanut mixture into rectangle about 14 x 12 inches; cool. When cooled, break the candy into pieces.
1/4 cup butter
3 squares (1 oz. each) unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 tbsp. water
1 tsp. vanilla
1 box (1 lb.) confectioners sugar
1/2 cup chopped nuts or 1 cup miniature marshmallows (if desired)
Melt butter and chocolate over low heat in a medium saucepan. Stir in corn syrup, water and vanilla. Stir until smooth. Remove from heat. Immediately stir in confectioners sugar and nuts or marshmallows (if desired). The mixture will be quite stiff. Pack into a well-buttered, 8-inch square pan. Cool and cut into serving squares. Yield: 13/4 pounds.
Buttery-Nut Cookie Balls
(We have no real name for these scrumptious wedding-cake -like cookies. It is a recipe given to me by my mother-in-law. She used to make them for us each year as holiday gifts and we anticipated them! They are shortbread-like and addictive.)
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (I prefer pecans)
1 cup all purpose flour
With a mixer, cream butter, powdered sugar and vanilla until fluffy. Using hands, or a strong spoon, mix 1/2 the nuts, then 1/2 the flour until well mixed then alternate adding the remaining nuts and flour until all is well mixed. Shape into 2-inch balls and place on a cookie sheet. Bake at 325 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes or until very lightly browned. Allow cookies to cook, then roll them in more powdered sugar. Store in airtight container. For best yield, double or triple this recipe. Tripled, it produced about 31/2 dozen cookies.
Chocolate Praline Torte
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup whipping cream
3/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans
1 pkg. (18-1/2 oz.) devil’s food cake mix
1-3/4 cups whipping cream
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
In a saucepan, combine brown sugar, butter and cream. Stir over low heat until butter is melted. Pour into two greased 9-inch round cake pans. Spring with pecans; set aside.
Prepare cake mix according to package directions. Carefully pour batter over pecans. Bake at 325 degrees for 35-45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pans for 10 minutes; invert onto wire racks to cool completely.
For topping: beat cream in a mixing bowl until soft peaks form. Add sugar and vanilla; beat until stiff. Place one cake layer, pecan side up, on a serving plate. Spread with one half of the topping. Top with second cake layer and remaining topping. Garnish with chocolate curls or sprinkles, if desired. Yield: 8-10 servings.
1 box German chocolate cake mix
3/4 cup butter
1/3 cup evaporated milk
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup pecans.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare German chocolate cake mix according to package directions and pour half of batter into a greased 14x10x2-inch baking pan. Bake 15 minutes.
While first layer is baking, mix together butter, evaporated milk and caramels in a microwave-safe bowl. Melt in microwave 1 minute at a time, taking out to stir, and repeat until mixture is melted and smooth.
Pour this mixture over baked layer then add chocolate chips and pecans and cover with the rest of the batter. Bake 15 to 20 minutes.
Double Diablo Chocolate Cake
(This one is a little bit challenging. It is a Martha Stewart recipe from many years back. It’s delicious, but it takes some work. Bake this cake at least 1 day prior to serving and ice the cake the day it is to be served.)
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup water (or Scotch whiskey)
14 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup water
1/2 lb. unsalted butter
6 eggs, separated
1-1/3 cups sugar
9 tbsp. cake flour
1-1/3 cups finely ground blacked almonds
pinch of salt
Chocolate Ganache Icing:
8 oz. semisweet chocolate
1 cup heavy cream
Soak raisins overnight in water (or whiskey). Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 8-inch pans, line bottom with wax paper, and butter and flour paper.
In top of a double boiler, melt chocolate with water. Stir in butter, bit by bit, until smooth.
Beat egg yolks with sugar until thick and creamy. Stir into chocolate. Add flour and almonds, then raisins and whiskey. Mix together gently.
Beat egg whites with salt until stiff but not dry. Fold by thirds into chocolate mixture. Pour batter into prepared pans, smooth top, and bake for approximately 20-25 minutes. The cake should be moist in center, just shrinking from sides of pan. Rest cake in pan for 10 minutes before letting cool on rack.
Chocolate Ganache Icing (for day the cake is to be served)
Melt chocolate in cream, whisking until smooth. If too thin, cool slightly over ice. Pour over cake, smoothing with spatula. Cake can be decorated with light sprinkling of confectioners’ sugar, if desired.
Easy Pumpkin Pie
1 unbaked pie shell
1 (16 oz.) can pumpkin
1 (12 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
Combine all ingredients (except pie shell) and mix well. Pour mixed ingredients into pie shell. Bake 15 minutes at 425 degrees; then reduce heat and bake 35 to 40 minutes longer at 350 degrees.
Heavenly Pecan Pie
(This is different from anything I have ever had. Plus, it’s easy and there’s no baking except for the toasting of pecans and coconut.)
1 prepared graham cracker pie crust
8 oz. cream cheese
8 oz. Cool Whip
1-1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 cups chopped pecans
2 cups coconut
1 small jar caramel topping
Using a mixer, blend cream cheese, Cool Whip and sugar until well blended. Pour mixture into graham cracker crust. Toast pecans and coconut on a cookie sheet beneath oven broiler until lightly browned. (Check often. It browns quickly.) Pour toasted pecans and coconut on top of mixture in pie crust. Drizzle with desired amount of caramel topping. (If caramel doesn’t pour easily, remove the lid and place in microwave for 10 seconds or so to soften.) Cover pie and refrigerate for at least an hour. Enjoy.
No-Bake Chocolate Cheesecake
1-1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 pkg. (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
1 pkg. (3 oz.) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 cups frozen non-dairy whipped topping, thawed
8-inch packaged graham cracker crust
In a small microwavable bowl, melt chocolate chips for 1 to 1-1/2 minutes or until chips are melted and mixture is smooth when stirred; set aside to cool. In a large mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, sugar and butter until smooth. On low speed, blend in melted chocolate. Fold in whipped topping until blended and spoon into crust. Cover and chill until firm.
Paleo Pecan Pie
(Finally, I cannot forget my vegetarian friends. This pecan pie is vegetarian and Paleo friendly and it’s from one of my favorite Paleo cookbooks “The Paleo Effect” by Meghan Little and Angel Ayala Torres.)
1/2 cup coconut flour
1/2 cup coconut flakes (unsweetened)
1/2 tbsp. maple syrup
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/4 cup coconut oil
3 egg whites
1 egg white
1 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup coconut crystals
8 tbsp. arrowroot powder + 2 tbsp. water (= slurry)
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
6 oz. pecan halves
For the crust: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix the maple syrup, sea salt, coconut oil and egg whites. Sift in the coconut flour and coconut flakes. Mix until incorporated. Grease a pie pan or springform pan (which will make the pie easier to remove) with coconut oil and press the dough into the pan. Press it into the pan thinly and evenly.
Poke the bottom of the crust a couple of time with a fork and bake, uncovered for 10 minutes.
For the filling: Combine egg white, egg, maple syrup, coconut crystals, slurry, sea salt and vanilla and blend until thoroughly incorporated. Pour the pecans into the pie crust, then top with the egg mixture. Wrap the edges of the pie crust with aluminum foil to prevent burning. Bake for 40 minutes uncovered or until set. Yield: 8-inch pie.