The Twelfth Day of Christmas: Mocha Almond Bars

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Merry Christmas to everyone! However you spend your holiday, I hope it is a time surrounded with those that you love. Today marks the final post in my “Twelve Days of Christmas” series. Cooking 12 different types of Christmas desserts has definitely kept me occupied during the month of December. Sometimes I wasn’t sure what Christmas-related story I wanted to share with you on a given day—let alone know what dessert I was going to try baking. By now you know all about my favorite Christmas songs, movies, and family traditions.

So without further ado, I present to you these Mocha Almond Bars for the twelfth day of Christmas. Coffee gives these bars a unique flavor, and the almonds add a little extra crunch. I brought these to my work holiday party because they were a snap to bake and they were easily transportable.

Day Twelve: Mocha Almond Bars
Adapted from Land O’Lakes

Ingredients for Bars
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 egg
1 teaspoon instant coffee granules
1 cup sliced almonds

Ingredients for Glaze
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 to 3 teaspoons milk

Directions
Heat oven to 350°F. Combine all bar ingredients except almonds in small bowl. Beat at low speed, scraping bowl often, until well mixed. Stir in almonds by hand. Press dough onto bottom of greased 13×9-inch baking pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until edges are lightly browned.

Meanwhile, stir together powdered sugar and almond extract in small bowl. Gradually add enough milk for desired glazing consistency. Drizzle over warm bars. Cool completely. Cut into bars.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
If you’re like me, you’ll find that often you don’t have the exact size pan that a recipe calls for. Generally that’s not a problem. However, you do need to remember that you will need to adjust your baking time in order for the texture of the bars to not be affected. So if you’re using a different pan size, it’s a good idea to check on your bars a little before the cooking time on the recipe.

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The Eleventh Day of Christmas: Peppermint Bark

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Last night my boyfriend and I were searching for a movie to watch and we settled on The Family Stone—one of my all time favorite Christmas movies. After the movie, I got to thinking about how many classic holiday films there are. So for today’s post I decided to share my top 10 Christmas movies of all time. In no particular order…

1. Frosty the Snowman
2. It’s a Wonderful Life
3. Miracle on 34th Street
4. How the Grinch Stole Christmas
5. Home Alone
6. The Family Stone
7. Love Actually
8. Elf
9. The Polar Express
10. The Santa Clause

Do you have a favorite Christmas film?

The peppermint bark recipe that I made for the eleventh day of Christmas couldn’t be any easier. You don’t even have to turn on your oven. All you need is your stove and the freezer and you’re set. With the simplicity of the ingredients and preparation, this is the perfect item to make for friends and family as a gift.

Day Eleven: Peppermint Bark
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Ingredients
1 package white chocolate chips
1 package semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 teaspoons peppermint extract
4 regular sized candy bars

Directions
Place candy canes in a plastic bag and wrap with a dish towel. Using a heavy pan or a rolling pin, smash candy canes to little bits.

Melt the semi-sweet chocolate chips in a double boiler. Add 1 teaspoon of peppermint extract and spread chocolate on a baking sheet lined with waxed paper to about a 13 x 17 inch rectangle. Place tray in the freezer to set chocolate.

Meanwhile, melt white chocolate chips in a double boiler. Stir in 1 teaspoon of peppermint extract. Remove semi-sweet chocolate from the freezer. Spread white chocolate over the top of the semi-sweet chocolate, all the way to the edges. Sprinkle with chopped candy cane bits and press them in slightly to make sure they stick. Return the pan to the freezer for about 15-30 minutes, or until chocolate is set. Snap candy into large shards and package as desired.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
Many recipes require the use of a double boiler to melt chocolate or to heat delicate sauces without scorching them. Rather than spending your money and taking up valuable cabinet space with an extra cooking vessel, make your own double boiler using simple tools that you have around your house. First, select a large pot and fill it with 1 to 2 inches of water and place it over low to medium heat until the water begins to simmer. Choose a bowl that has a diameter larger than that of your pot and place it on top. Make sure that your bowl does not fall into the pot or touch the simmering water. Place your chocolate, sauce or other substance into the bowl and let the steam heat the bottom of the bowl.

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The Tenth Day of Christmas: Key Lime Thumbprints

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I was at the mall last weekend and I saw lines of little kids waiting to get their picture taken with Santa Claus. It reminded me of the giddy feeling you get as a little kid when you’re face to face with what you believe the be the man himself—Old Saint Nick. It’s funny when you watch the demeanor of the little kids. Some are as happy can be, and are clearly running down a serious list of presents with Santa in the short time they have. Then there are others that look absolutely petrified, as if sitting in Santa’s lap is the absolute last place they want to be in the world.

Do you have a memory of sitting in Santa’s lap? I went in search of some pictures of a young Heather with Santa came up with two that I thought were pretty great.


For the tenth day of Christmas I adapted a recipe from Martha Stewart for Key Lime thumbprint cookies. These tiny morsels are a refreshing break from traditional thumbprint cookies which are usually filled with jam or chocolate. The center packs a powerful punch of lime flavor with both fresh lime juice and zest as ingredients. The shortbread dough and lime filling make for a unique and satisfying combination.

Day Ten: Key Lime Thumbprints 
Adapted from Martha Stewart
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Ingredients for Dough
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt

Ingredients for Filling
1 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon finely grated lime zest
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Directions
For the dough, cream butter and granulated sugar with a mixer until pale and fluffy. Add yolks and vanilla, and beat for 1 minute. Reduce speed to low, and beat in flour and salt until combined. Cover, and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees F. For the filling, whisk granulated sugar, flour, and eggs in a medium bowl. Stir in lime zest and juice and salt.

Roll balls using 2 teaspoons dough for each. Place 1 inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. With the handle of a wooden spoon, press gently in the center of each to create an indentation. Bake for 10 minutes. Press centers if indentations lose definition. Spoon filling into centers. Bake until cookies are light brown around edges, 6 to 8 minutes. Let cool on wire racks.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
If it seems you’re always short on time around the holidays, consider making your cookie dough in advance. Cookie dough can be frozen for up to 6 months in an airtight freezer bag wrapped in foil. That way you can make your cookie dough on a relaxing summer day in June and tuck it away for the holidays. Just remember to let your dough stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes before baking.

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The Ninth Day of Christmas: Frosted Sugar Cookies

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Most of my friends know what they’re getting for Christmas this year. Cookies… and lots of them. In fact, you don’t even have to be on my gift giving list to get some cookies. I’ve been handing out plates of cookies to my next door neighbor, the guy that works at the front desk in my apartment building, my coworkers… I even left a plate of cookies anonymously in our break room.

This week I came across another outlet for my holiday cookies. Every holiday season we have a fundraiser at work to raise money for local charities. This year we introduced a silent auction as a part of our fundraising efforts. I donated twelve dozen Christmas sugar cookies to be delivered to the winner on a pre-determined date. The bidding was competitive and at the end of the day, my cookies sold for $30.

After checking in with the winner, I learned that my cookies would be making their debut at a dinner party as a dessert. I had a fun time making them knowing they’d be going someplace special. And more importantly, knowing they wouldn’t be sitting around my kitchen tempting me like all the other baked goods in my apartment.

Day Nine: Frosted Sugar Cookies IMG_0336

Cookie Ingredients
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
2 cups white sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Frosting Ingredients
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 egg whites, beaten

Directions
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cover, and chill dough for at least one hour (or overnight). Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Roll out dough on floured surface 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Cut into shapes with any cookie cutter. Place cookies 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 6 to 8 minutes in preheated oven. Cool completely.

In a bowl, sift together confectioners’ sugar and cream of tartar. Using electric mixer, beat in 2 beaten egg whites for about 5 minutes or until mixture is thick enough to hold its shape. Add desired food coloring to frosting and transfer into a piping bag for decoration.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
It’s easy to make swirls in your frosting like I did for the snowflakes. Simply fill your sugar cookie with your base color and then immediately put dots of a second color on top. Then use a toothpick to swirl the colors together. It’s important to work quickly so the frosting doesn’t start to set before you swirl the colors together.

The Eighth Day of Christmas: Candy Cane Sugar Cookies

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Family traditions are one of the things I look forward to the most during the holiday season. Our family has a December tradition of traveling “Up North” for a getaway weekend to escape the bustle of the holidays. We all pack into the car and drive up to the Gunflint Lodge where our cell phones don’t get service, and you can get a spotty wireless connection at the lodge—if you’re lucky. It’s a great opportunity to unplug and simply enjoy time with family.

We make wreaths, decorate the lodge, go on nature hikes, drink hot chocolate, eat more food than we know we should, and enjoy time quality time with each other. This year I took some photos of our trip so that I could share them with you.

While we were tucked away in the north woods, my dad and I made some candy cane sugar cookies. I’d gotten the recipe from a co-worker and was excited to try it out. Given the fact that I was working with limited baking supplies, I tried to cut a few corners and purchased store bought cookie dough. My vision was that the cookies would have some more shape to them, but alas that was not the case. You’ll see the recipe calls for some additional flour that should allow your cookies to hold their shape a little better. Regardless, enjoy this unique twist on a traditional sugar cookie for the eighth day of Christmas.

Day Seven: Candy Cane Sugar Cookies
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Ingredients
1 (18 ounce) package refrigerated sugar cookie dough, softened
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
Red and green gel food coloring

Directions
In a large mixing bowl, beat the cookie dough, flour and extract until smooth. Divide the dough into three equal portions. Mix green food coloring into one section and red food coloring into the second section. Leave the remaining section plain. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Shape 1 tablespoon of each color dough into 6 inch ropes. Place the ropes side by side, press together, and lightly twist. Feel free to be creative with your color combinations—green and red, red and white, green and white, or even try all three!

Place rope of dough on an ungreased baking sheet and curve into a candy cane shape. Repeat with remaining dough, placing cookies 2 inches apart on the baking sheets. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until set. Cool for 2 minutes before carefully removing to wire racks.

Heather’s Helpful Hints
You’ll see that I’ve called for 3 tablespoons of additional flour in this recipe. This is because when I originally made the recipe, the cookies didn’t hold their shape like I was hoping. If you ever find that your cookies spread too much and lose their shape in the oven, try adding more flour to the dough at 1 tablespoon increments, until cookies retain their shape when baking.