4 Easy, No-Bake Holiday Treats to Save Your Sanity this Christmas
Oh Christmas, you tedious, beautiful, glittering bitch.
I am one of those irritating adults who has carried the childlike joy of Christmas with me into adulthood, in large part because of a mother who made Christmas so magical every year.
My dad was a jeweler, which means that he more or less disappeared between Halloween and New Year's, leaving my mom (like so many moms before - and after - her) to be the Keeper of Christmas.*
And keep it she did.
Decorations, music, piles of wrapped gifts that she actually had to drive to a store and stand in in line to purchase (let's all pour out a sip of Chardonnay for the moms lost during The Great Cabbage Patch Mania of 1985).
And of course, she baked cookies. So many cookies. The year she baked nearly 1500 cookies in one day is cemented in the annals of family holiday lore (and speaking of, if you can remember your mom using an electric cookie press, it's time for a night cream).
Christmas is hard for those who've lost people they love. But throwing myself into the joy of the holiday, making it special for my kids, is how I keep from sliding down into the abyss. It's also how I help to keep my mom alive, keep her close, and make her a part of my kids lives, and their holidays.
And since food is my love language, we spend a lot of hours in the kitchen. I just prefer not to spend them covered in flour, cracking dozens of eggs, and wrestling with hot sheet pans. That's how this tradition began.
I moved to Florida in 2004, just after my mom died. During that first holiday season, I was lonely, grieving, and far from my friends and family at home. So I mailed treats and cards to connect us over the miles, and as the years passed, the loneliness abated but the treats never stopped.
This year we branched out and added a grownups only treat, a special shout out to my grandfather on my dad's side who was rarely seen without a Manhattan in his hand (don't worry; a booze post is coming soon, too. Because Christmas. And 2020).
So if you're like most moms out there, working your tail off to recreate the joy of Christmas and make it magical for your own family, but the thought of a flour-covered kitchen and multiple bowls of table-staining, finger-staining, laundry-staining royal icing makes you want to hide under the bed with your Chardonnay (or your Cabbage Patch doll), I say to you sister, there is a better way.
Disclaimer: These are super easy and so much fun to make (and eat) but... do you remember that scene in Goodfellas where Henry's girlfriend is cutting cocaine in her apartment kitchen and there's just white powder everywhere?
Right. Don't leave your kids alone with this recipe.
Ingredients 3 packages unflavored gelatin 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar 1 cup light corn syrup 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract Confectioners' sugar, for dusting
Combine the gelatin and 1/2 cup of cold water in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and allow to sit while you make the syrup.
Meanwhile, combine the sugar, corn syrup, salt, and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat to high and cook until the syrup reaches 240 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from the heat.
With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour the sugar syrup into the dissolved gelatin. Put the mixer on high speed and whip until the mixture is very thick, about 15 minutes. Add the vanilla and mix thoroughly.
With a sieve, generously dust an 8 by 12-inch nonmetal baking dish with confectioners' sugar. Pour the marshmallow mixture into the pan, smooth the top, and dust with more confectioners' sugar. Allow to stand uncovered overnight until it dries out.
Turn the marshmallows onto a board and cut them in squares. Dust them with more confectioners' sugar.
Place in treat bags, tie with a cute ribbon or festive twine and stage for delivery.
Gingerbread Caramel Sauce
3 cups sugar
¾ cup water
1½ tbsp light corn syrup
1½ cups heavy cream
3 tbsp butter
1½ tsp ground cinnamon
1½ tsp ginger
¼ tsp ground cloves
1. In a large saucepan combine sugar, water and light corn syrup. Bring to a boil, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Wash down crystals inside the pan with a wet pastry brush. Cook, without stirring, until an amber caramel forms, about 6 min. Remove from heat; stir in heavy cream and butter. Caramel will bubble.
2. Stir in cinnamon, ginger and cloves, pour into small glass jars; let cool. Refrigerate for up to 2 months. I also bought these cute labels on Amazon.
1 cup maraschino liqueur (I used Luxardo)
1 pint sour cherries, stemmed and pitted (in a pinch, you can buy a jar of sour cherries in light syrup, and drain the syrup)
Bring the liqueur to a simmer, and then turn off the heat. Add the cherries, stir, let cool, and then pour into jars. Refrigerate. Cherries will be tasty for months.
Chocolate Nut Clusters
This recipe is incredibly easy - you've probably made your own share of nut clusters. What sets this recipe apart is our family secret: a few handfuls of toffee bits.
Approximately 2 pounds dark or milk chocolate melts (I like a 2 to 1 ratio of chocolate to nuts but you can experiment with this recipe and see what works for you)
1 pound unshelled peanuts, skin removed, or roasted almonds or cashews. I recommend using lightly salted nuts, or combining salted and unsalted
Your secret ingredient: Toffee bits. I use Heath Bits O'Brickle. I use between 1/4 and 1/3 of a cup for a recipe this size.
Line 1-2 large baking sheets with parchment paper (baking paper). Prepare a candy melter like this one from Wilton, or follow the stove top or slow cooker instructions below.
Toss the chocolate into a heavy bottomed bowl over a pan of simmering water.
Cook, stirring occasionally, until melted and smooth (about 10-15 minutes). Let cool for 5 minutes, then stir in nuts.
Use a cookie scoop or metal spoon to drop the mixture into rounds onto prepared baking sheets. Refrigerate until set (about 1 hour).
Spray a 6 quart (6 liter) slow cooker with nonstick oil spray (you can also use a liner).
Pour the chocolate melts into the cooker, cover and cook on low for 1-2 hours or until chocolate is completely melted. (Stir occasionally -- every 20-30 minutes or so -- to avoid burning the chocolate on the bottom of the cooker bowl.)
Add the peanuts and brickle and mix well to combine.
Use a cookie scoop or metal spoon to drop the mixture into rounds onto prepared baking sheets. Refrigerate until set (about 1 hour). Alternatively, you can do what Scott's family does and use candy molds and liners. I prefer the drop method, while my compulsively neat and ferociously organized mother-in-law prefers the uniformity of liners. Do you, girl.
What I hope every mom takes away from this post (besides the discovery of the absolute miracle that is gingerbread caramel) is that it's your own joy and enthusiasm that makes Christmas special for your littles, not how much work you put in or how Pinterest-worthy your holiday looks on Instagram. Our holidays certainly weren't extravagant; my mom made Christmas magical by simply loving the season, and us. So lower your expectations for yourself and raise a glass instead, and cheer yourself for doing the best you can, whatever that is this year. I see you, girl. You're doing great.
Merry Christmas from my heart to yours.