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Holiday baking

(Provided photo — Yvona Fast

Chocolate chip — or sugar spice?

Peanut butter’s also nice.

Gingerbread — or butter spritz?

My cookies crumbled into bits!

Snowmen, stars and Christmas trees —

yummy treats! We all love these!

Mix them, roll them, cut out shapes,

Bake them, cool them, decorate!

Stollen, Babka, Three Kings Cake —

what Christmas treasures will you make?

Winter has taken center stage, and the holiday season is upon us. But it is a holiday season like no other. The pandemic has reached the North Country.

Homes are decorated with holiday cheer, but most of their occupants will be spending Christmas only with those in their immediate household. Travel has slowed. There are no holiday concerts, and even shopping has slowed as many are reluctant to congregate in crowded malls.

What’s left? Baking!

Christmas means a myriad of cookies, pies and special ethnic treats like gingerbread that we make only at this time of year. Every European culture has its own unique Christmas cookie treat. Along with cookies, various ethnic cakes are also part of holiday baking traditions.

The custom of serving baked goods in December began long before Christmas was a Christian holiday — with the pre-Christian civilizations like Teutonic and Germanic tribes from northern Europe as well as the Romans. Winter Solstice feasts of ancient northern European cultures were filled with baked treats. When Christianity took over the pagan traditions, cookies were imprinted with a “J” for Jesus, and cookie designs took on religious shapes and symbols.

It’s winter. We’re happy to turn on the oven. A delicious scent, a warm kitchen with fresh pastries, cookies and cakes will be your reward. They taste Christmassy and go great with a cup of hot tea or coffee!

Can’t spend time with friends or family? Bake, and drop off some goodies on their porch.

Traditional baked treats can be time consuming and complicated to make — but there are cookies, breads and cake that don’t require so much fuss.

Want a healthier touch? Add fruit — apples, cranberries, pears, grapes — and use oats and other whole grains.  

Whether you’re baking for family, friends, or for holiday gifts, baking makes for good eating, pleasant memories, and holiday cheer.

Cranberry Apple Nut Bread

Ingredients:

2 cups whole wheat flour

1 cup all-purpose flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 eggs

2/3 cup honey

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup sour cream

1/4 cup butter

2/3 cup apple cider

3/4 cup chopped walnuts, pecans or other nuts

1 tart apple

1 to 2 cups cranberries

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Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease two 8-by-4-inch loaf pans.

In a large bowl, stir together the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In another bowl, beat the eggs, honey and vanilla. Melt butter. Beat in sour cream, butter and apple cider.

Chop the nuts; wash, core and dice the apple (no need to peel). Stir apple, cranberries and nuts into flour mixture. Add liquid ingredients and fold in until just blended. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans.

Bake in preheated oven about 40 minutes (until a toothpick inserted into the crown comes out clean). Cool in the pans for a while; then remove from the pans and place on wire racks to cool completely.

Holiday Oatmeal Treats

These healthy oatmeal cookies are made festive with holiday cranberries.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup butter (1 stick)

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

2/3 cup sugar

1 cup pumpkin (fresh or canned)

1 1/3 cup rolled oats

1 1/3 cup dried cranberries (aka craisins)

2/3 cup chopped walnuts

– 

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Cut in butter using a pastry blender or a food processor.

In large bowl, beat egg with sugar and vanilla; beat in mashed pumpkin. Add flour mixture and stir to combine. With wooden spoon, stir in oats, cranberries, and nuts to form a stiff dough. Drop half-inch dough balls with teaspoon onto a greased cookie sheet. Flatten with back of the spoon. The smaller cookies will be crispier; larger ones will be chewy. Bake 15 minutes.

You may want to omit the cranberries and use them to decorate the cookies before baking.

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Author of the award-winning cookbook “Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market,” Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at yvonawrite@yahoo.com or on Facebook at Words Are My World.

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