Beyond cookies and candy for holiday sweets
I love cookies, and I’ll certainly be making and eating my fair share of them during the holiday season. But after awhile, the cookie onslaught starts seeming “same-old, same-old.” That’s why I like to vary things a bit – especially when I’m giving homemade sweet gifts. Here are four non-cookie sweet treats that are good for eating at home, giving as gifts, or – best of all – both!
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Cranberry orange granola
Who doesn’t love granola? This version fits the season, with its use of orange and cranberries. As with the scone mix, florists’ cellophane bags make ideal gift-giving containers for it.
- 1/2 c. vegetable oil, such as canola
- 1/2 c. honey
- The zest from 2 large oranges
- 4 c. old-fashioned rolled oats
- 2 c. raw wheat germ
- 1 c. raw sunflower seeds
- 1/2 c. raw sesame seed
- 2 c. chopped walnuts, or other nuts such as pecans, hazelnuts, or a mixture of nuts
- 1 1/2 c. dried cranberries
Preheat the oven to 325. In a saucepan, heat the oil, honey and orange zest until just beginning to show a few bubbles. Meanwhile combine the remaining ingredients EXCEPT the dried cranberries on a large sheet pan, mixing to combine. Drizzle the honey/oil mixture over the dried ingredients and stir with a spoon until well mixed.
Spread the mixture evenly in a large rimmed baking sheet, place in the oven and toast, stirring frequently, for about 30-40 minutes or until browned to your taste. Allow to cool completely, then stir in the cranberries. Makes about 12 cups.
Lemon pecan poundcake
This unusual lemon pecan poundcake came from a distant aunt of my husband’s. It was a top secret recipe that she only reluctantly divulged after securing sworn promises never to reveal it to anyone outside the family. Enough time has gone by since she passed away years ago that I feel relatively sure that her revenge won’t strike me down. It is excellent – dense, almost a non-fruit fruitcake. It’s best kept in the freezer because it must be cold to slice it into the requisite thin slices.
- 1 lb. unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 cups sugar
- 6 large eggs
- 3 1/2 c. flour
- 1 tsp. baking powder, preferably Rumford
- 1/2 tsp. Kosher or sea salt
- Grated rind from 2 lemons
- 2 oz. bottle lemon extract
- 4 c. broken pecan pieces, lightly toasted
Preheat the oven to 275. Mix the flour, baking powder and salt well and set aside. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then add the eggs one at a time. Add the lemon extract and peel, and combine thoroughly. Mix in the dry ingredients, then fold in the pecans.
Bake in greased and floured standard bread loaf pans (approx. 4 1/2 inches x 8 inches x 2 inches) or mini-loaf pans. Standard loaf pans should take about 2 hrs. Begin checking mini loaves after 1 hour. Cake is done when a skewer comes out clean.
Turn the cake onto a cooling rack and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate for at least several hours before slicing it in very thin slices like a fruitcake. Makes 2 standard loaves or 4 mini loaves.
Cinnamon raisin scones
Scones are the ideal home-baked breakfast bread: not only do they mix up in minutes, their baking time is short compared to yeast doughs. This recipe calls for raisins, but I often use other dried fruits such as cranberries, cherries or blueberries. Since scones are best fresh from the oven, consider giving bags of scone mix as gifts. Simply combine the dried ingredients in a gift bag (florists’ cellophane corsage bags are ideal). Put the raisins and coarse sugar (about 1/4 c.) in separate fold-top sandwich bags, knot those bags and put them in the gift bag containing the dry ingredients. Print the instructions below, add that to the bag, and tie with a decorative ribbon.
- 1 3/4 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
- 3 T. sugar
- 1 T. baking powder, preferably Rumford
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/3 c. golden raisins
- 1 c. heavy cream
- Milk, if necessary
- Unsalted butter, melted, for brushing
- Coarse sugar, such as turbinado (sometimes sold as Demerara or Sugar in the Raw), for sprinkling.
Preheat the oven to 425.
Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and raisins in a large bowl and stir well to combine. Pour in the heavy cream and mix until a stiff dough is formed. (If the mixture is too dry, add some milk by tablespoonfuls until the dough forms.) Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 30 seconds. Pat the dough into a 12-inch by 6-inch rectangle. Cut the dough into 3-inch lengths crosswise, then cut each rectangle into triangles. Place on a greased sheet pan – preferably one lined with parchment paper – at least 2 inches apart and brush with the melted butter. Sprinkle with the coarse sugar and place in the hot oven. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until nicely browned. Makes 6 scones.
(Italian lemon cream liqueur)
Limoncello is a traditional sweet lemon liqueur made in southern Italy, usually served as an after-dinner drink. There are a few commercial cream versions, but most contain only alcohol, sugar syrup and lemon peel.
Limoncello is pricey, but inexpensive and surprisingly easy to make at home. Even the cream version below is a snap, and so decadently delicious, it’s worth the extra step. Though it tastes rich and creamy, the recipe uses only lowfat milk. If you can find Meyer lemons (they’re now just coming into season), use them: their fragrant perfume makes this even better. Italians serve limoncello straight up, in small glasses, but it’s also good over crushed ice.
- 6 – 8 lemons
- 2 c. vodka (the vodka should be good quality, but an expensive top-flight brand isn’t necessary)
- 8 c. (1/2 gallon) low-fat milk, either one or two percent
- 1 c. sugar
Zest the lemons (remove the peel) with a fine mesh grater, being careful to avoid as much of the bitter white pith as possible. Combine the grated peel with the vodka in a glass jar or bottle, swirl to combine, and let stand for four days, giving the jar a swirl occasionally.
Combine the milk and sugar in a heavy saucepan, preferably non-stick, and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook at a low simmer, stirring frequently, until the mixture has reduced to 4 cups, about half an hour. Remove from the heat and cool completely.
Pour the lemon-flavored vodka through a fine mesh strainer into the milk mixture. Discard the lemon zest. Chill the limoncello crema thoroughly before serving. Keeps, refrigerated, for a month or more. Makes about 6 c., enough to fill two 750ml bottles.