Along with the viewing of “Love Actually,” the mailing of Christmas cards, and the annual re-adjustment to running while swaddled from scalp to shoelaces, there’s one other big item on my list of favorite early-December events. I have come to lovingly call it the ANNUAL FESTIVAL OF BAKING (Yes. All-caps).
Three years ago, my friend Tara and I simultaneously got a craving to make holiday treats. We decided it would be fun to get together one Saturday in December and bake a bunch of stuff to share with our friends and co-workers. We met up at her house, since her kitchen beats mine handily, and plotted our strategy. That first year, we made sugar cookies, gingerbread men, a couple different varieties of fudge, and I can’t even remember what else. The result, after a looong day, was piles of treats that met appreciation from many bellies, by no means excluding our own. In a sugar-induced haze, we promptly decided to do it again the next December.
Over the last several years, we’ve swapped some treats for others. We get our recipes from family recipe collections, from magazines (Southern Living and Good Housekeeping are absolute goldmines this time of year), from cookbooks, from the Internet – basically, if we spot something irresistible, we use it.
However, sadly and truly as many of you know, a fantastic recipe doesn’t always equate to a fantastic product. That first year, we scrapped a batch of lemon cookies because the baking sheet turned out to be slightly less “non-stick” than advertised. Aluminum may serve lots of purposes, but “health supplement” isn’t typically one of them! Other times, we’ve misread ingredient measurements just a tiny bit – I blame it on chocolate fumes going to our heads – and although the result tasted just fine, it didn’t exactly look like the picture. Oh well. The baking must go on.
Fast-forward to this year: the 3RD ANNUAL FESTIVAL OF BAKING. Before the big day, I had pre-festivaled by experimenting with bourbon balls. I found a recipe on www.allrecipes.com [one of my favorite, favorite, recipe resources]. Pretty easy to make, but half a cup goes a long way. Whew. Not to mention, when I brought them out to share, they had, per the recipe’s suggestion, been “marinating” (ha!) in the fridge for a couple days. Nothing kicks off a baking festival like whisky-flavored chocolate!
As we worked, we had the support of a new teammate: Tara’s adorable baby daughter! Our tiny sous chef admittedly wasn’t much with a stirring spoon or measuring cup, but I interpreted her smiling, cooing, and frequent diaper soiling as undisputable enthusiasm for the day’s project. She shows great promise in the baking arena.
The day became a whirlwind of flour, sugar, chocolate chips, and holiday tunes on the radio. Afterwards, as Tara’s hubby kindly cooked us supper, we surveyed the day’s yield:
- Basic chocolate fudge (credit Good Housekeeping)
- “Super fudge” (credit, er, assorted ingredients on hand, namely dark chocolate, butterscotch chips, white chocolate chips, and marshmallows)
- Peppermint chocolate tart (Southern Living)
- Peanut butter blossom cookies (Tara’s recipe collection)
- Cranberry chocolate chunk cookies (Good Housekeeping)
- Two tired but content cooks…and hopefully, many delighted bellies.