How to cook up Christmas magic

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As the classic holiday carol proclaims, Christmastime is here. We all should be decking the halls, enjoying the golden days of yore and getting our yule logs ready to go – whatever that means. However, getting into the spirit while the stress of school and a global pandemic drag on can be a bit challenging. 

Every good Christmas tale says the Christmas spirit is made up of love, joy and magic – and every good cook knows love, joy and magic begin in the kitchen. That’s why I’ve compiled the best recipes for cooking up the taste of Christmastime – as well as the best Christmas song pairings for an ideal holiday baking playlist. 

Rudolph Noses

Song pairing: “Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer” by Kacey Musgraves 

Festive, simple and delicious, these three-ingredient treats look like little Rudolph noses. 

Graphic by Claire Henry

Peppernuts 

Song pairing: “Oh Holy Night” by Céline Dion

Peppernuts, or “pfeffernüsse” as German-speaking communities call them, are nut-sized spiced cookies traditionally baked at Christmastime by Mennonites. I have many fond memories of rolling out skinny logs of peppernut dough and cutting them into tiny cookies with my Mennonite family. Anise oil gives peppernuts a similar flavor to black licorice, so if you do not like black licorice omit the anise oil. 

Graphic by Claire Henry

The Best Iced Sugar Cookies

Song pairing: “Cold December Night” by Michael Bublé

The key to shaped sugar cookies is to make sure your dough is extremely cold before cutting and baking the cookies. This keeps your shapes from spreading. Adding almond extract into the dough also takes these sugar cookies up a notch.

For icing both sugar cookies and gingerbread cookies, I like to combine a small bit of water with a lot of powdered sugar until it reaches my desired consistency. There’s no need to get fancy with the icing – the cookie should be able to hold its own. 

Graphic by Claire Henry

Gingerbread Cookies

Song pairing: “Heaven and Earth” by Leslie Odom Jr. 

Nothing tastes more like the holidays than a soft, spiced gingerbread cookie. Adding details with white icing gives these cookies a classic, rustic look that will be sure to impress – that is, if you get time to admire these cookies before they’ve been gobbled up. 

Graphic by Claire Henry

Gingerbread House

Song pairing: “Candy Cane Lane” by Sia

I stumbled across this video by Tasty a few years ago for a perfect gingerbread house, and I have to say it has all the secrets to a no-fail cookie home. I have followed the video’s instructions for the past two years and have ended up with perfect, beautiful gingerbread houses – which is no small feat. 

The best part of a gingerbread house is the decorating. I like to add pretzel logs for a winter cabin look and frost sugar cones with green icing to make pine trees. 

Peanut Clusters

Song pairing: “This Christmas” by Ben Rector 

You cannot go wrong with chocolate and peanuts. These simple treats keep well in the freezer, so go ahead and make a big batch. They make for perfect holiday gifts for neighbors, friends, the mailman – really anyone, sans those with a peanut allergy.

2 pounds white chocolate

3 cups dark chocolate chips

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 ½ pounds salted peanuts

Directions:

Slowly melt white chocolate and chocolate chips in the top section of a double boiler. When completely melted, stir in vanilla. In a large mixing bowl, pour in salted peanuts and then stir in the hot chocolate mixture. Drop clumps the size of small cookies on waxed paper to cool until hardened. 

Cracker Toffee

Song pairing: “Santa Tell Me” by Ariana Grande 

Another perfect Christmas gift is this simple and addictive toffee. Made from saltine crackers, this Christmas dessert perfectly balances salty and sweet.

Ingredients: 

Saltine crackers 

1 cup butter

1 cup brown sugar

6 ounces of milk chocolate chips

1 cup chopped nuts

Directions:

Line a cookie sheet with foil. Place a layer of saltine crackers over the entire surface of foil. Combine sugar and butter in a saucepan and boil for three minutes. Pour hot syrup over saltines. Bake at 400 degrees for five minutes. Sprinkle the hot surface with chocolate chips and spread the chocolate evenly as it melts. Sprinkle chopped nuts on top. Cool and break into pieces. 

Cheese Fondue 

Song pairing: “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” by Ingrid Michaelson and Will Chase

Not a sweets person? In my family, we make cheese fondue every Christmas Eve. Sourdough bread, tart green apples, carrot sticks and summer sausage all pair well with this fondue, which uses gruyere cheese and cherry brandy. 

Ingredients: 

½ pound imported Swiss cheese

½ pound gruyere cheese

2 tablespoons cornstarch 

1 cup dry white wine

1 tablespoon cherry brandy

½ teaspoon mustard 

½ teaspoon nutmeg

Directions: Shred cheeses and coat with cornstarch. Heat wine and lemon juice to a gentle simmer. Gradually add the cheeses. Once smooth, stir in brandy, mustard and nutmeg. 

When it comes to Christmas, there’s no place more nostalgic than the kitchen. Food can remind us of some of the best memories of Christmases past, so recreating family recipes is a great way to get into the spirit. Turn on some good Christmas music, pull out the cookbooks and get baking.

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