Every year for the past 20 years, I have been baking my holiday gifts for those that I love and adore. Those that have benefited are my kid’s teachers, the garbage man, the post man, our doctors, my facialist, the pediatrician, the crossing guard, the janitor at the elementary school, friends, family, and the list goes on and on.
In the last chapter of my life(prior to becoming a part-time stay at home mom), I had a very high end children’s furniture business (little folk art) and my clients included some of the “A-list” celebrities. In 1990, I started baking and making their holiday gifts. I would have my workshop make fabulous wood vessels, to package the cookies in, and I would then go home and make countless cookies, bars, and candy.
In the beginning, my go to book was Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Christmas Cookie Book(today, the pages of this book are falling out, have dough stuck between them, and is still my number one cookie book) . The balance of the cookies came from my personal collection; recipes passed down from family and loved ones. I loved this process. I loved creating the wooden boxes and containers, I planned out the cookie menu and enjoyed endless hours of baking and tasting. Mostly, I enjoyed giving something that they couldn’t go out and buy for themselves and that was my gift to them.
Each year the list would grow and grow and grow. But it didn’t stop me from carrying on with tradition. I love to bake. I always have. And as I get older, I understand how wonderful it is to give. This year, not only am I going to bake and create, but I am going to share with you some of my all time favorite treats.
Back in the early 90’s, I had a small selection of cookbooks and family recipes. Today, there are so many resources; the Internet, the food network, magazines, blogs, and lots and lots of cookbooks.
The recipe below is a new recipe and is my “featured” treat. I love cranberries. Each time I go to the supermarket I pick up a bag or two and throw them in the freezer. If I don’t stop soon, I am going to have to buy a third freezer just to store my cranberries. I found this recipe on a blog I like to read, Closet Cooking. I printed the recipe and immediately headed for the kitchen. I knew these were going to be good based on the ingredients, but I had no idea that they would be as good as they turned out to be. Shortbread + caramel + pecans + cranberries (that pop when the cranberries burst in the hot caramel-oh my) = something like nothing you have ever had.
This recipe is new for me this year and it is a keeper. I made this a few weeks ago and had some friends over for a little dessert party. Everyone went “CRAZY”. It was the talk of the dining room and my girlfriend, Deb, dubbed them “Crazy Cranberry Bars”. The name stuck. And my friends are still talking about them.
At the top of my list of favorites for 2010 are these bars. Don’t even hesitate. Just make them. You can thank me later!
Crazy Cranberry Caramel Bar
adapted from Closet Cooking
yield( I cut them up , like brittle, therefore I got a lot of servings)
for the shortbread crust
2 cups flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar (packed)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 sticks (6 oz) unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
for the caramel:
2 sticks (8oz.) unsalted butter
1 2/3 cups sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries (don’t thaw)
1 tsp. vanilla
3 cups pecans, toasted and chopped
4 oz. dark chocolate, finely chopped
• preheat oven to 350*
for the shortbread:
• place flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulse a few times
• add the chopped butter (i freeze it for about 45 minutes before using) and add to bowl, pulse and process it until it forms pea sized lumps
• sprinkle mixture into a 10×15″ baking pan, lined with foil which has been sprayed. press mixture down, making sure to get the corners.
• bake in preheated oven for 15-17 minutes. set aside to cool.
for the caramel:
• melt butter in a heavy duty saucepan
• mix in the sugar, corn syrup and salt and bring to a boil.
• simmer until the mixture turns a golden amber and reaches 245F on a candy thermometer.
• mix in the cranberries and let the mixture returns to 245F (some of the cranberries will pop).
• remove from heat and mix in pecans and vanilla.
• quickly spread the mixture over the shortbread, using an off set spatula. don’t touch the toffee, it is very hot.
• take your chocolate and sprinkle it over the hot cranberry toffee mixture and let it sit for 2 minutes. then take your off set spatula (that has been cleaned) and spread the chocolate, evenly over the hot mixture.
• let cool. once cool stick in the fridge for an hour (this makes it easier to cut). cut into bars, strips, or cut it random and create a big bowl of the best cranberry shortbread brittle you have ever tasted!
my top 20 favorites
1. brownies with a peppermint twist 2. chocolate gingerbread stars 3. caramel almond popcorn 4. chocolate peppermint bark cookies 5. coconut-macadamia nut shortbread 6. cake in a jar 7. david lebovitz’s chocolate crack cookies 8. dream bars 9. florentine shortbread cookie bark 10. french macaroons – hazelnut
11. gingerbread blondies 12. grandma rose’s butter cookies 13. holiday biscotti 14. lemon wreath cookie 15. molasses ginger cookies 16. oreo-ettes 17. pecan logs 18. pecan tassies 19. pistacho – raspberry pinwheels 20. the best rugelach- Evah!
red velvet fudge – I am baker
chocolate hazelnut butter-crunch – the dogs breakfast
pistachio-cranberry-white chocolate bark – brown eyed baker
chocolate-peppermint cookies – my madison bistro
chocolate marshmallow pops – white on rice couple
snowball cookies + icicle candy – sprinkle bakes
gluten free cake pops – gluten free girl and the chef
gingerbread dudes + gals – bake at 350
peppermint crisps – the galley gourmet