Make it: 5 easy sweet holiday treats

One of the things I love most about the Christmas break is the time at home, and this year, hubby will be working through which leaves me with a rare window of opportunity to spend some lovely time in the kitchen. I know how 1950s that sounds, but there's nothing more relaxing than a quiet afternoon, no kids, the iPod on shuffle and a bunch of yummy sweets recipes to get cracking on... (except perhaps a week in the Seychelles with a procession of tanned locals bringing me mojitos? - Not happening so back to the kitchen...). 

Here's 5 mouthwatering delights I can't wait to sink my teeth into over the next couple of weeks - and best thing is, they're all pretty easy to make! Enjoy! And don't forget to share!

First up, peanut brittle. You don't even need a candy thermometer for this. Just watch for the sugar mixture to turn a golden colour and make sure once you add the baking soda, butter and peanuts that you mix quickly and get it spread on the pan as fast as you can as it will harden up pretty quickly.

Homemade Peanut Brittle
Cook Time: 25 minutes | Set Time: 15 minutes
Nonstick cooking spray
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup water
½ cup light corn syrup
½ teaspoon coarse salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ teaspoon baking soda
3 cups salted dry-roasted peanuts (about 1 pound)

Step 1. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly coat with cooking spray; set aside.
Step 2. In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, water, corn syrup and salt. Bring to a rapid simmer over medium-high and cook until deep golden, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove pan from heat. Stir in butter, baking soda, and peanuts (mixture will foam). Stir until mixture is no longer bubbling and caramel is smooth, 1 minute.
Step 3. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet and spread with a lightly greased spatula. Let cool until firm, 15 minutes. Break into pieces. The brittle can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 weeks.
Via Brown-eyed baker


Toffee Pretzel Bark
Prep time: 20 mins Chill time: 1 hour

400g dark chocolate, finely chopped
¾ cup broken pretzel pieces, divided
¾ cup Heath toffee pieces, divided
200g white chocolate, finely chopped

Step 1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

Step 2. In a double boiler or in a microwave on low power, melt the dark chocolate, stirring until the chocolate is smooth. Remove from the heat, and stir in ½ cup of the pretzel pieces and ½ cup of the toffee pieces. Spread the mixture on the prepared baking sheet. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Step 3. Melt the white chocolate in the same manner as you did the dark chocolate, stirring until completely smooth. Remove the baking sheet from the refrigerator and spread the white chocolate on top of the hardened dark chocolate layer. Sprinkle with the remaining pretzel pieces and toffee, using your palm to lightly press them into the white chocolate. Return the pan to the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Step 4. Use a sharp knife to cut the bark into pieces. (I usually just press the tip of the knife into the bark and let it break into pieces/shards.) Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container.

Pistachio & Cranberry White Chocolate Bark
Prep Time: 15 minutes  Set Time: 30 minutes

450g white chocolate
½ cup shelled pistachios
½ cup dried cranberries

Step 1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Step 2. Melt the white chocolate over a double boiler (or in 30-second intervals in the microwave on 50% power, stirring after each). Once the chocolate is melted, remove from the heat and let sit for a few minutes to cool slightly, stirring occasionally. Add the pistachios and cranberries and stir to combine.

Step 3. Spread the chocolate mixture onto the prepared pan in an even layer (depending on the size of the pan and how thick you’d like your bark, you may not need the entire surface of the pan).

Step 4. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or until set.

Step 5. Using a sharp knife, cut the bark into pieces. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Caramel Nut Bars 
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cups cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup chilled butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

Topping:1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
1/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped pecans
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts
1 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 tsp vanilla extract

For the crust, preheat the oven to 350F. Line a 13x9 inch baking pan with parchment paper, with a 1-inch overhang on the short sides of the pan. Grease paper and sides of pan.

Blend flour, powdered sugar, cornstarch and salt in a food processor until combined. Add butter and process until mixture resembles a fine meal. Press evenly into bottom of prepared pan and bake until set and lightly browned, about 25 minutes. Set aside while preparing the topping.

For topping, stir brown sugar, corn syrup and butter in medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir until sugar dissolves and mixture boils. Boil 1 minute. Add nuts and cream and boil until slightly thickened, about 3 more minutes. Stir in vanilla and pour hot topping over crust.

Bake until caramel has darkened and bubbles thickly, about 20 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack. Remove by lifting overhanging ends of parchment and transfer to a cutting board. Cut into bars with a heavy sharp knife.

Serves 32. Can be stored for 1 week between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container.
Via Dream about food - adapted from Bon Appetit, Dec. 1999

White Chocolate Macadamia Cream Cookies
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
14 tablespoons butter, softened
1½ cups brown sugar
3 large eggs
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
120g white chocolate (before melting), melted and cooled to room temperature
¾ cup chopped white chocolate
1 cup macadamia nuts (we used dried cranberries)

INGREDIENTS  FOR WHITE CHOCOLATE CREAM120g white chocolate (before melting), melted and cooled to room temperature
1¾ cup confectioner’s sugar
¼ cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, softened
¼ cup coarsely chopped white chocolate
Step 1. Preheat oven to 350. Butter 2 cookie sheets.
Step 2. Prepare the white chocolate cookie dough: Combine flour, baking soda and salt in medium bowl; set aside. Cream butter and brown sugar in large bowl until fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla until blended. Stir in melted white chocolate and chopped white chocolate, then nuts (dried cranberries in our case); then gradually add the flour mixture.
Step 3. Drop 1&12;-tablespoon mounds of dough onto cookie sheets 2 inches apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until golden around the edges. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.
Step 4. Prepare the white chocolate cream: Combine melted white chocolate and confectioner’s sugar in medium bowl and stir until blended. Stir in Milk, vanilla and salt. Beat in butter and fold in the white chocolate chunks. Refrigerate for 10-15 minutes to thicken. Spread the white chocolate cream between 2 cookies.
Variation: For Triple Chocolate Triple Chocolate Cream Sandwiches: Replace white chocolate chunks in cookie dough with bittersweet chocolate. Replace white chocolate in cream with milk chocolate.
Via Tastespotting from Crazy About Cookies by Krystina Castella

Now I know I said five - and five you now have - but I couldn't resist this one. The recipe looks incredibly fiddly which doesn't normally deter me, but my window of baking opportunity is limited so this tasty treat may have to wait for a future festivity. In any case, it sounds like heaven...

Pat's Peanut Butter Mocha-Maple Brownies

(adapted from Martha Stewart)

Mocha Brownie batter
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
60g unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
120g semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 Tablespoon of espresso powder
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Peanut Butter Maple Filling
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
3/4 cup smooth peanut butter
2 Tablespoons of maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt

Ganache frosting (optional but may lead to remorse if skipped.)
1 1/2 cups of bittersweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature

Brownies: Preheat oven to 160 degrees. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with foil, allowing a 2-inch overhang. Spray the foil and set aside.
Prepare the batter: Put butter and chocolates in a heatproof medium bowl set over a pan of simmering water; stir until melted. Let cool slightly. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.
Whisk granulated sugar and espresso powder into chocolate mixture. Add eggs, one at a time, and whisk until mixture is smooth. Stir in vanilla. Add flour mixture; stir until well incorporated. Set aside while you make the filling.

Filling: In a large bowl, on low speed, beat together the butter, confectioners' sugar, peanut butter, maple syrup, and salt until smooth.
Pour about one-third of batter into prepared pan; spread evenly with a rubber spatula. Drop dollops of peanut butter filling (about 1 tablespoon each) on top of batter, spacing about 1 inch apart. Drizzle remaining batter on top, and gently spread to fill pan. Drop dollops of remaining filling on top. Gently swirl peanut butter filling into batter with a butter knife, running the knife lengthwise and crosswise through layers.
Bake until a cake tester inserted into brownies (avoid center and edges) comes out with a few crumbs but is not wet, about 45 minutes. Let cool slightly in pan, about 15 minutes. Using the foil overhang, carefully lift the brownies out of the pan and place on a wire rack. Cool completely before ganaching.

Ganache: Put chocolate chips into a medium-size heatproof bowl.
In a small saucepan, bring cream to a gentle boil. Pour the hot cream over chocolate chips and let mixture stand for about 5 minutes.
Using small concentric circles, gently whisk in butter until it is incorporated, chocolate is melted, and a smooth mixture forms.
Pour/spread the ganache on cooled brownies and let stand until set, about 20 minutes.

Makes about 12-14 brownies
Via Pixie-Baker

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