10 Out of 10, Would Bake Again

Cookies, cookies everywhere, and not enough time to bake! We’re in the final stretch of the Christmas preamble, which means it’s now or never for holiday cookie platter planning. The options are truly endless, as every blogger and their best friend has the “perfect” recipe that will change your life, must go on your list right this minute, and may very well be the secret to world peace. Hyperbole aside, there are really no bad cookies out there, especially when given as a gift of good will, so we can all take a minute to review the options calmly, methodically, without going down the rabbit hole in search of the mythical “best” Christmas cookie.

My criteria for determining the ideal Christmas cookie assortments are slightly different from everyday cookie rules:

  1. They must be somewhat sturdy to keep their composure in transit.
  2. Nothing excessively messy, sticky, or smelly, so they don’t contaminate other cookies on the same tray.
  3. Festive, seasonal flavors always get the edge, of course. They should be special, to suit the occasion, after all!

So without further ado, here are my top ten recommendations for holiday cookie supremacy. Are they the very best out there, bar none? I’ll let you decide for yourself…

Brownie Crisps are like chocolate cookie brittle; the perfect mashup between classic peppermint bark and baked goods is waiting to happen if you just swap the chopped walnuts for crushed candy cane pieces.

Ultimate Vanilla Bean Cut-Out Cookies definitely make the cut, because it wouldn’t be Christmas without some sort of sugar cookies. Soft and tender yet structurally sound to meet the demands of more complex shapes, they’re the optimal blend of form and function.

Pumpkin Spice Blondies sing with warm spices to complement everyone’s favorite orange gourd. That said, try switching it up with sweet potato puree if you’ve already had your fill of pumpkin by now.

Persimmon Oatmeal Cookies are a slightly unconventional twist on the classic, which is always appreciated in a sea of unchanging traditional treats. Lightly iced, soft and sweet, it’s an easy way to introduce a new fruit to recipients yet to venture outside of the tried-and-true assortment.

Maple Ginger Sandwich Cremes will satisfy the sweet teeth of everyone on your list. Rich maple flavor carries these surprisingly soft cookies, accented by the subtle warmth of ginger.

Gingerbread Cut-Out Cookies with either chai or classic spicing are boldly flavored, crisp, and sturdy cookies that retain their shape when baked, travel well, and make a solid foundation for edible buildings. Make a village or just a herd of fawns; they’ll all be demolished in short order.

Pistachio Praline Linzer Cookies are dressed to impress, glittering on the outside with decorative pearl sugar and glittering on the inside with caramelized pistachio paste. These are real show-stoppers that could proudly crown any platter.

Christmas Popcorn Bars are a quick and easy way to add color, texture, and a dash of fun to your assortment. Like popcorn balls but more consistent in shape, and fewer sharp kernels to contend with, they’re a great option to have the kids help create, too.

1-2-3 Peanut Butter Cookies are clutch when you’ve run out of time, ingredients, and energy. They literally take just three ingredients that are probably already sitting in your pantry, are gluten-free, and universally loved. You can even transform them into classic Peanut Butter Blossoms by sticking chocolate nonpareils in the center before baking.

Chocolate Spritz Cookies take advantage of those old-school cookie presses that only come out once or twice a year, but their effortless elegance will make you reconsider that limited utility. Candy cane filling glues these cocoa morsels together, but if you’re already over “minter” (mint-winter,) omit the candies in favor of orange zest for an invigorating citrus punch.

I could go on, but sometimes it’s better to keep it simple, limiting the options to only the best, rather than exploring the full scope of wildly divergent possibilities. See anything here that catches your eye or makes your mouth water? Do you have your holiday baking game plan down pat?

So with these aces up your apron sleeves, preheat your ovens and start softening your vegan butter… The baking season is here, and it’s time to make to make the days sweet!

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Vital Hit

No one could ever accuse the preeminent pioneer in blending technology, Vitamix, of being too limited in its scope, and yet the industry leader continues to innovate with cutting edge adaptions to the original. Seemingly out of left field, the Vitamix Aer Disk Container has landed to pulverize the competition in an entirely different way. The famously razor-sharp blades are replaced here by a perforated disk, designed not to chop and puree, but to whip, foam, muddle, and emulsify. Rigorously testing out each prime function with unscientific glee, my 10-year old classic 5200 base felt like a brand new toy all over again.

No need to lug out the stand mixer anymore to put a fancy finishing touch on your desserts. Instantly churn out whipped coconut cream, fresh and fluffy, firm enough to stand at attention in high peaks, with just the flip of a switch. That said, my greatest disappointment in this trial was in an attempt to make meringue; even the thickest aquafaba refused to do more than bubble and foment from the agitation. There is clearly a trick to this whip, but I haven’t unlocked all the secrets yet.

Cold foam is all the rage these days thanks to the relentless marketing push from Starbucks, who now whip it up in a variety of flavors. The thing is, they don’t offer a dairy-free option! As with making lattes, different brands can create very different results, but a bubbly beverage takes just a flip of the switch, no matter your “milk.” Start with at least 1/2 cup of steamed liquid, fully covering the disc, for most effective frothing. Compared to a dinky handheld electric whisk, this matrix of trapped air bubbles is much denser, consistent, and long-lasting.

Muddling is really not my style, as I rarely drink, let alone create cocktails, and let’s not even start with the alternate meaning of the word that alludes to my typically jumbled, disorganized state of mind. However, I quickly found that there’s much more to the concept than just mojitos and caipirinhas. Lemonade made with whole citrus means no zesting, no juicing, no waste and no mess. This trick works for plain old, straight-up fresh orange juice, too. Equal parts lifesaver and party starter when summer rolls around, you can even pop a handful of ice cubes in there to instantly chill your brew without crushing or diluting while you’re at it. It’s a nifty trick designed to wow a crowd, since it works best when you start with at least 1 1/2 – 2 cups of liquid to keep the citrus slices moving.

Water and oil, sworn elementary enemies, would never be caught dead mingling in public, let alone wrap each other up in a full, cohesive embrace. It takes considerable force to smooth things over in a proper vinaigrette, hollandaise, or mayonnaise, with every additional drop threatening to break this uneasy truce. Just call VitaMix a seasoned peacemaker because the Aer has some impressive diplomacy skills. While the standard canister can ace this test as well, I was genuinely surprised to find more consistent results with the risk of over-processing safely out of the picture. Notice that the herbs and spices remain fully intact in the mix despite the merciless blending, allowing each component to shine more brightly within the harmonized liquid mix. Joining balsamic with EVOO harmoniously, till dinner do they part, my dressing game has never been smoother.

Compatible with all full-size (Classic and Smart System) Vitamix blenders, there’s officially nothing this indispensable tool can’t whip into shape. Like any other Vitamix attachment, the Aer Disk Container can clean itself in 30 – 60 seconds with just a drop of dish soap and a quick bliz, no disassembly required. If that’s not a gift that keeps on giving, I don’t know what is.

This review was made possible as a collaboration with Moms Meet and Vitamix. My opinions can not be bought and all content is original. This page may contain affiliate links; thank you for supporting my blog!

Cutting the Mustard

Cornbread in any form is an easy sell. Buttery, golden crumbs that cling to the fork and sop up the richest stews like a savory sponge, it’s the side dish that can easily steal the show. I’ve never met a cornbread that wasn’t at least passable when smothered with a generous smear of vegan butter, but the very best versions are always paired with a touch of maple sweetness. Inextricably linked to the sticky syrup in my mind, this is how I first remember eating cornbread, back in my elementary school years. It was on a field trip to a maple tree grove where we indulged in samples of freshly tapped and concentrated, still warm maple syrup, stirred into milk and drizzled over squares of tender cornbread. Ever since that fateful day, there’s been no match to that simple serving suggestion.

That’s not to say that there’s no room for improvement.

Start by adding a bold punch of heat in the form of Colman’s Mustard. A riff on classic honey mustard, this sweet and spicy sensation isn’t just blended in, but swirled in thick, undulating ribbons, marbled throughout the classic golden loaf. Straddling the line between cake and bread, it has just the right pepper bite to accentuate, not overpower, that delicate balance.

Follow Colman’s Mustard on Instagram for their 12 days of giveaways, and don’t forget to scoop up some spicy rebates on Colman’s Mustard through iBotta next time you stock up.

Mustard-Maple Swirled Cornbread

Mustard-Maple Swirl:

1/4 Cup Grade B Maple Syrup
1/4 Cup Coconut Oil, Melted
2 Tablespoons Colman’s Prepared Mustard
1/4 Cup All-Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Ground Flaxseeds

Cornbread:

1 Cup All-Purpose Flour
2/3 Cup Coarse Ground Cornmeal
1/3 Cup Whole Wheat Flour
1 1/4 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 (14-Ounce) Can Corn Kernels, Thoroughly Drained
1 (14-Ounce) Can Full-Fat Coconut Milk
2 Tablespoons Grade B Maple Syrup
2 Teaspoons Apple Cider Vinegar

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan.

Prepare the mustard-maple swirl first by whisking the maple syrup, melted coconut oil, mustard, flour, and ground flax together in a small bowl. Stir until smooth and set aside.

To make the cornbread base, grab a medium bowl and combine both flours, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and pepper. Add in the corn, tossing to coat all the kernels with the dry ingredients to prevent them from simply sinking to the bottom of the loaf while baking. Separately, briefly mix together the coconut milk, maple syrup, and vinegar before adding the wet mixture into the bowl of dry ingredients. Use a wide spatula to bring the two together with as few strokes as possible. It’s perfectly fine to leave a few errant lumps in the batter!

Transfer the cornbread batter to your prepared loaf pan. Spoon dollops of the mustard-maple swirl at random on top and use a thin knife or wooden skewer to marble it throughout.

Bake for 32 – 38 minutes, until golden brown around the edges and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool completely before serving.

Makes 8 – 10 Servings

Printable Recipe

This post was made possible thanks to the support of Colman’s Mustard. All content and opinions are unbiased and entirely my own.

Bark with a Bite

For all their creative potential, edible presents are criminally undervalued, often viewed as gifts of last resort. Can’t figure out a darned thing your difficult, curmudgeonly Uncle Eddie would enjoy? Well, everyone eats food, at least. Oh, but what about that co-worker you greet every morning but forgot to include on your list? There must be something in the pantry you could cobble together and stick a bow on.

Written off as a last-minute option, haphazardly slapped together in a moment of charitable desperation, chocolate bark especially enjoys particular prominence around this time of the year. Little more than cacao slabs with a bit of extra texture, the concept nonetheless remains wildly popular despite- or perhaps in part because of- this very unpretentious simplicity. Chocolate is never a hard sell to begin with, so when you add in a handful of nuts or crushed candy canes, such effortless appeal is universal among givers and receivers alike. However, that’s just the beginning of this spicy story. Given a little bit more deliberate intention, what if I told you we could make bark even better?

Despite its comparatively blanched pallor, this particular festive candy innovation could make the finest single origin dark bar melt. Gingerbread aroma beyond your wildest dreams springs out of the woodwork, going out on a limb to kick this festive palate of spices up another notch. Chewy nuggets of candied ginger and the crisp, fresh crunch of roasted almonds lend textural dimension that goes against the traditional grain, eschewing the candy-coated peppermints of years past to complement a more balanced sweetness.

In this modern re-imagination of the classic confection, refined sugars need not apply, believe it or not. A modest measure of stevia is enough to contrast with those warming spices without risking dessert overdose during the most tempting time of year. I used Steviva Blend since it’s about twice as sweet as white sugar, thus allowing me to use less and create a more satisfyingly snappy texture. Desserts should always be about the flavor first and sweetness second, making it a perfect mix for my needs.

To satisfy your curiosity and your sweet tooth at the same time, you can check out more info about Steviva on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Gingerbread Bark

4 Ounces 100% Food-Grade Cocoa Butter
1 Teaspoon Blackstrap Molasses
1/4 Cup Steviva Blend
1 Tablespoon Coconut Milk Powder
1 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
1/8 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Sliced Almonds
2 Tablespoons Crystalized Ginger, Very Finely Minced

Place your cocoa butter in a microwave-safe bowl and heat it on full power 1 – 3 minutes, pausing at 30 second intervals to stir, until it completely liquefies. Be sure to keep an eye on it at all times, as it has a much lower melting point than a bar of finished chocolate. Mix in the molasses and let sit for just a moment to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, sift together the Steviva Blend, coconut milk powder, spices, and salt. Add the dry mixture into the cocoa butter, stirring gently until smooth. Pour into chocolate molds, shaped either like traditional break-apart bars or genuine slabs of bark for greatest effect, and tap lightly on the counter to knock out any errant air bubbles. Sprinkle evenly with the almonds and ginger.

Place the molds in your fridge or freezer to accelerate the curing process, allowing them to sit undisturbed until entirely solid; at least 1 – 2 hours.

Makes 1 Large or Two Small Chocolate Bars

Printable Recipe

Riches Beyond Your Wildest Beans

Good vanilla is more precious than most gemstones right now. Believe it or not, demand for this everyday extract is skyrocketing while supply of the genuine article is plummeting due to devastating cyclones in Madagascar, poor harvests, and labor shortages. Some unsavory companies are resorting to questionable shortcuts, using spent, ground vanilla bean pods to add those eye-catching black flecks to their products. Doing so allows them to list “vanilla beans” on the label, even if the actual flavor comes from artificial ingredients. It’s not just food products though; try going straight to the source, and you might be surprised to find that even basic baking extracts are far from whole blends.

For something as important as holiday cookies, quality counts more than ever. Sugar cookies especially rely on full-bodied, robust vanilla flavor. An elusive, nuanced taste that’s difficult to capture in baked dough, the difference between a chemical cocktail and the genuine article is immediately evident with a single bite. Now is the time to splurge on the good stuff, revel in it, fully indulge yourself and your loved ones, and look back on your festive contributions with zero regrets.

Highlighting the very best vanilla I know, I’ve joined forces with Rodelle Kitchen to participate in their annual Holiday Cookie Campaign. Starting with an unconventional base of cocoa butter rather than a neutral oil imparts the ambrosial flavor like pure white chocolate, but in cookie form. Tender, chewy morsels punctuated by a barrage of crunchy macadamia nuts, no one would dare call this “plain vanilla.” Notes of marshmallow, custard, and even rich toffee all come from a generous dose of vanilla paste, unleashing a world of sweet flavors from one humble bean.

GIVEAWAY ALERT! Just in time for holiday baking, Rodelle has generously offered to gift one lucky reader with a bundle of their sweet riches. Stocked with an 8 ounce canister of baking cocoa, 4 ounce bottle of pure vanilla extract, and 2 count vanilla bean jar, the treats such ingredients can manifest will be truly priceless. To enter, get the details below, and tell me about your favorite holiday cookies in the comment section. Do you have a classic heirloom recipe passed down for generations, or do you put a new twist on tradition every year? Extra credit goes to anyone willing to share their secret formula!

Rodelle Vanilla Holiday Baking Bundle Giveaway

Regular old roll-out cookies will crumble in the face of these bold, buttery, unapologetically vanilla treats. Fancy frostings need not apply; these beauties already sparkle with natural plant-based sprinkles baked right in.

White Chocolate Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookies

4 Ounces 100% Food-Grade Cocoa Butter
1/4 Cup Vegan Butter
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Cup Aquafaba
1 Tablespoon Rodelle Reserve Pure Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Rodelle Vanilla Paste
1 Cup Macadamia Nuts, Roughly Chopped

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with silpats or parchment paper.

Melt the cocoa butter on low power in the microwave in 30-second bursts, stirring well at each interval until completely liquefied. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before proceeding, waiting until it’s just warm to the touch.

Cream together the vegan butter and sugar in your stand mixer, beating until light and fluffy. Sift together the flour, salt, baking powder and soda separately, and slowly incorporate the dry goods, alternating with the melted cocoa butter. Add the aquafaba and both vanilla extra and paste, finally followed by the nuts, mixing just until blended and lump-free.

Use a medium cookie scoop to portion about 3-tablespoons of dough per cookie onto your prepared baking sheets, placing them about 1 1/2 inches apart. Use lightly moistened hands to press them down slightly before sliding the pans into the oven.

Bake for 10 – 14 minutes, until puffed in the center, set around the edges, and just barely beginning to take on color on the bottom. Allow them to remain on the sheets until cool enough to handle. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week… If you can make them last that long!

Makes 15 – 18 Cookies

Printable Recipe

A Whole Latke Love

Contrary to the frequently perpetuated oversimplification, latkes are not potato pancakes. They’re not hash browns nor patties, neither nuggets, tots, nor home fries. “Shredded potato clusters” don’t quite do them justice, but it’s hard to explain such a disarmingly simple dish. Sometimes it easier to describe what they aren’t, rather than what they are- Or ought to be. Strong opinions exist about what makes a proper latke, but in my family, that only means one thing: thin, crispy, silver dollar disks of starchy ribbons, all bound together with a scant handful of matzo meal and a whisper of yellow onion for seasoning. Deeply browned around the edges with a tender interior, some more so than others to appease a diverse crowd, they’re made by the pound and scaled up by tens; never trimmed back, never turned down. Rarely do leftovers survive the main meal, no matter how many buttery Yukon golds press through those sharp spinning grates.

For as long as I can remember, Hanukah has meant the smell of canola oil wafting through the house come midday, long before the menorah comes out or the table is set. My parents work in concert to sling the edible oily miracles well in advance of arriving guests to hide the laborious demands of each painstakingly shaped round. My mom stands guard inside the kitchen, cutting down armies of potatoes to form the raw fuel for this fire. Conveying them in heaping stock pots to my dad, he then dutifully, patiently shallow fries them outside on the grill. Through the bitterly cold winds, freezing rain, hail, snow, and thunderstorms, he faces the elements with steely resolve. There’s no Hanukkah celebration without the latkes, and they’re not about to cook themselves.

I’ll start by assembling my plate daintily, politely spearing two or three small clusters to save enough for the crowd, but after the first bite, proper manners quickly fall by the wayside. Seconds consist of a half sheet tray of the potato gems, shamelessly slathered with enough sour cream to sink a ship, if not lavished with a truly decadent crown of seaweed caviar. From age 3 to 30, if I don’t end the night with grease stains on my shirt and crispy potato shrapnel tangled in my hair, then it isn’t a real holiday dinner with my family.

Latkes aren’t the point here, despite their dominance on festive menus and historical authenticity- Or lack thereof. Latkes are about symbolism, taking on whatever meaning you assign them on this holy, yet entirely ordinary winter day. Latkes are whatever you want them to be, but the only way I’ll ever want them is back east in the house where I grew up, my parents lovingly slinging them from dawn to dusk. No recipe on Earth could ever recreate that kind of experience.