Do you have visions of shortbread? Are you, like me, one of the few people who honestly likes fruitcake?
Now that we are officially in the holiday season—with a month to go before Christmas, it’s time to preheat that oven.
This week I’m going to share a few of my favourite traditional recipes. I’m hoping if you have a favourite, you are willing to share it on my Happy Gourmand Facebook page (comments aren’t available here). It will be like a virtual cookie exchange.
I know sugar cookies are often a favourite for those who like to decorate their cookies but in my house, growing up, we had shortbread to decorate and that took all our creative juices (and patience).
There was plenty of mess with sprinkles and glacé cherries and chocolate chips. I think my mom just never mentioned icing as an option for her own sanity.
Her recipe for shortbread is a bit unique, so if you’re up for a change, here it is. They are made with golden sugar.
Our other family tradition came from my dad’s side of the family – the Icelandic side. Their version of a Christmas cake is a torte made of cookie-like layers that hold a cardamom-infused prune filling. Vinertarta, as it’s called, is still one of my cherished holiday treats. It is much less cloying than the English fruitcake, and quicker to make, too.
A treat that I took on as a standard years ago is great to have at a party – Spiced Praline Nuts. I first did it at our Rabbit Hollow Dessert Party, our yearly neighbourhood event that offered a groaning table of various treats that Hubbie and I would make to share. (It’s a great way to get to know your neighbours, and also to spread the calories around.) The party is back on this year after the pandemic hiatus, so I dug out my recipe:
2-1/2 cups nuts (walnuts, pecans, or your choice)
1 cup sugar
¾ tsp cinnamon, ¼ tsp each ground ginger, nutmeg and cloves
1/3 cup evaporated milk
1 tbsp water (or rum for an adult crowd, if you wish)
½ tsp vanilla extract
Toast nuts at 375 F in the oven or toaster oven. Prepare baking sheet with silicone mat for finished mixture. In a heavy saucepan, combine sugar, spices and evaporated milk. Cook over medium heat stirring constantly until mixture boils and sugar dissolves. Cook until mixture reaches 234 F on digital thermometer or candy thermometer (soft ball stage if you know candy). Remove from heat and add water and vanilla. Stir well.
Toss in nuts and stir to coat, moving quickly (it will start to get stiffer). Be careful, this stuff is sticky and hot. Spread onto baking sheet in a single layer and let cool. Break into bite-size pieces and serve in a fancy dish or package as gifts.
Maybe in next week’s column, I should offer some diet-friendly recipes after this indulgence.
Wait, what am I thinking? You come here for gourmandise, don’t you? I’ll leave it to you to do your own balancing of treats and veggie sticks.
See you in the grocery store baking aisle.
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