December 6, 2012
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Visions of Sugarplums

With all of the occasions for baking special treats at this time of year, it’s no wonder many of us have visions of sugarplums dancing through our heads.  Whether you’re presenting your loved ones with edible gifts, preparing a decadent dessert to top off your holiday meal, or attending a neighborhood cookie exchange, below are some sweetly scrumptious recipes to serve to your friends and family this holiday season.

Make the holidays a bit sweeter with these excellent edible gifts.

Chocolate Caramel Popcorn
Recipe by Jacques Torres
Ingredients:
1 cup popcorn, for popping
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1 pound bittersweet chocolate, tempered (or milk or white chocolate, if you prefer)

First, pop the popcorn (for best results, use a hot air popper).  To make the caramel, place the sugar, corn syrup, and water in a 2-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat and cook until light golden brown. Use a wooden spoon to stir the popcorn into the caramel until it is evenly coated. Pour the caramelized popcorn onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet and allow it to cool. When cool, use your hands to break up any clumps. Be careful when you work with the caramel. It is very hot and can burn! Have a bowl of ice-cold water next to you in case you get hot caramel on your hands.

Place the cool popcorn in a large bowl. Use a ladle to drizzle the chocolate over the popcorn, stirring with a wooden spoon as you go. Keep adding chocolate until the popcorn is evenly coated. Pour the chocolate-coated popcorn onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet and allow it to cool. When it is cool, place it in decorative bags or tins to give as gifts.

Maple Glazed Walnuts
Recipe by Ellie Krieger
Ingredients:
2 cups walnut halves
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/8 teaspoon salt

Preheat a dry skillet over a medium-high heat. Add the walnuts, maple syrup and salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until syrup is caramelized and nuts are toasted, about 3 minutes. Let cool.  Place in cellophane bag and tie with ribbon to give as gifts or favors.

Hazelnut Crunch: Noci Croccante
Recipe by Giada De Laurentiis
Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup dark corn syrup
2 1/2 cups coarsely chopped toasted hazelnuts
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

Line a heavy large baking sheet with parchment paper. Stir the sugar, water, light corn syrup, and dark corn syrup in a heavy large saucepan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat to high and boil without stirring until a candy thermometer registers 260 degrees F, about 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Mix in the hazelnuts, butter, and salt (the mixture will be thick and nutty), and cook until the thermometer registers 295 degrees F, stirring constantly, about 15 minutes. Quickly stir in the baking soda. Immediately pour the caramel onto the prepared baking sheet, spreading it as thinly as possible. Let stand until hard.  Break the brittle into pieces and place in decorative tins to give as gifts.

Top off your magnificent holiday meal with a tasty trifle.

Pumpkin Gingerbread Trifle
Recipe by Paula Deen
Ingredients:
2 (14-ounce) packages gingerbread mix
1 (5.1-ounce) box cook-and-serve vanilla pudding mix
1 (30-ounce) can pumpkin pie filling
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 teaspoon ground cardamom or cinnamon
1 (12-ounce) container frozen whipped topping
1/2 cup gingersnaps, optional

Bake the gingerbread according to the package directions; cool completely. Meanwhile, prepare the pudding and set aside to cool. Stir the pumpkin pie filling, sugar, and cardamom into the pudding. Crumble 1 batch of gingerbread into the bottom of a large, pretty bowl. Pour 1/2 of the pudding mixture over the gingerbread, then add a layer of whipped topping. Repeat with the remaining gingerbread, pudding, and whipped topping. Sprinkle of the top with crushed gingersnaps, if desired. Refrigerate overnight. Trifle can be layered in a punch bowl.

Chocolate Toffee Trifle
Recipe by Paula Deen
Ingredients:
1 box chocolate cake mix (recommended: Duncan Hines)
1/2 cup coffee liqueur
1 (16-ounce) jar fudge sauce
3 chocolate covered toffee candy bars, broken into pieces
1 1/2 cups heavy cream whipped and sweetened with 1/3 cup sugar

Prepare the cake according to the package directions for a 9 by 13-inch cake. Cool thoroughly.  Prick the entire top of the cake with a fork. Pour coffee liqueur over the cake and allow it to soak in. Wrap the cake with plastic and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. Slice the cake into 1-inch thick pieces.

Line the bottom of a large glass bowl with a single layer of cake. Pour 1/4 of the fudge sauce over the cake, top with 1/4 of the candy bar-bits then 1/3 of the whipped cream. Repeat layering 2 more times ending with fudge sauce and candy bits. Refrigerate until ready to serve.  Cook’s Note: Assemble the trifle shortly before serving or it will get soggy.

Panettone Trifle
Recipe by Giada De Laurentiis
Ingredients:
1 pound mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, melted
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons espresso powder
1/4 cup coffee liqueur
12 ounces panettone, cubed
Chocolate shavings, for garnish

Using an electric mixer, beat the mascarpone cheese, melted chocolate, powdered sugar, and espresso powder in a large bowl until smooth and fluffy.  Divide half of the panettone cubes among 6 wine glasses or old-fashioned glasses. Sprinkle half of the liqueur over the panettone. Top with half of the mascarpone mixture. Repeat layering with the remaining panettone, liqueur, and mascarpone mixture. Sprinkle the chocolate shavings over the trifles and serve immediately. (The trifles can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Let come to room temperature before serving.)

Try one of these crowd-pleasing recipes at your next neighborhood cookie exchange.

Hazelnut Chocolate Chip Cookies
Recipe by Giada De Laurentiis
Ingredients:
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 ounces English toffee candy (recommended: Heath or Skor bar), finely chopped
1 cup hazelnuts, toasted, husked, and chopped
1 (12-ounce) bag semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  Line 2 heavy large baking sheets with parchment paper. Finely chop the oats in a food processor. Transfer the oats to a medium bowl. Mix in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.  Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugars in a large bowl until fluffy. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. Add the flour mixture and stir just until blended. Stir in the toffee, hazelnuts, and chocolate chips.

For each cookie, drop 1 rounded tablespoonful of dough onto sheet, spacing 1-inch apart (do not flatten dough). Bake until the cookies are golden (cookies will flatten slightly), about 15 minutes. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets for 5 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely. (The cookies can be prepared 1 day ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.)

Poinsettia Cookies
Recipe by Gale Gand
Ingredients:
3/4 cup butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 egg, separated
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
Parchment paper
30 wooden Popsicle sticks
1 cup red sugar
30 green M &M candies

With a paddle attachment beat butter, cream cheese and egg yolk until smooth, reserving the white for later. Stir in flour and baking powder. Mix until stiff dough forms. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. Lightly beat egg white and set aside.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  On lightly floured surface, roll dough, 1/2 at a time, into a 15 by 9-inch rectangle. With sharp knife, cut dough into 3-inch squares. Place 3 inches apart on ungreased, parchment-lined cookie sheets.  Brush with egg white. Lightly press about 1 1/2 inches of wooden stick into bottom center of each dough square. With sharp knife, cut the dough diagonally from each corner to within 1/2-inch of center of each square. Sprinkle about 1 teaspoon red sugar over each square. Fold alternate corners of the square to the center to form pinwheel, overlapping the dough at the center pushing down gently to seal in center. Press one M & M in center of each pinwheel.  Bake for 9 to 12 minutes or until set. Using spatula, immediately remove from cookie sheets.

Orange, Chocolate and Nut Squares
Recipe by Giada De Laurentiis
Ingredients:
1 package store bought sugar cookie dough
1 cup orange marmalade
1 1/2 cups assorted nuts, toasted and chopped (try hazelnuts, almonds, and walnuts)
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Spread the cookie dough out on a cookie sheet to 1/4-inch thickness (about 9 inches by 12 inches) using your fingertips. Bake for 25 minutes. Let cool.  Spread the marmalade over the cookie. Sprinkle with nuts.

In a double boiler over very lightly simmering water, melt the chocolate. Dip a spoon in the melted chocolate and drizzle on top of the cookie. Let cool. Cut the cookie into 12 bars or squares. Serve or store in an airtight container.