Getting Ready for the Holidays & Peppermint Bark Cookies

nutcracker_01Thanksgiving was on the late side this year. For those of you who pride yourselves on staying on top of every holiday, Christmas is coming. It’s time to get cracking. There are gifts to buy, a house to decorate and cookies to bake. What am I saying? You’ve probably done it all already!

For the rest of us, well it’s time to start dreaming of a white Christmas, checking the TV guide for old movies and more or less anything else to help us procrastinate. Sure, we pretend that we’ll make headway on our list by knitting scarves or mittens while Bing Crosby croons. Sometimes, we even manage to find the knitting needles if not the yarn we bought at a craft fair last summer.

Yes, I admit it. I’m one of those people. The kind who runs an all-day-all-night sprint of buying, wrapping, baking and decorating on December 24th. It’s particularly exciting when a nor’easter blows in. Is there anything more merry than slipping and sliding all over town on Christmas Eve? How about prepping twice-baked potatoes and baking a cheesecake until two in the morning?

Okay, maybe not. Instead of waiting until the last minute, here are a few foolproof and festive ways to get you started early on your holiday preparations.

Throw a party. Whether you opt for a potluck or cocktails, a holiday party will prompt you to hang your favorite baubles on the tree and line the nutcrackers up on the mantelpiece. If you find an extra minute or two, you might even run the vacuum cleaner around the living room. You needn’t invite a cast of thousands; your nearest and dearest or a few neighbors will do. Not only will you enjoy a fun evening but your halls will be decked sooner rather than later.

Add a Secret Santa or Yankee Swap to the party and you’ll be forced into the shops. While you’re there, you might as well pick up a few things for the family. In spite of yourself, you’ll make a dent in your holiday shopping before noon on the 24th.

Attend a cookie exchange. For some reason, Christmas has become synonymous with cookies. Not just one cookie will do; we must bake at least a dozen different kinds and the fancier the better. Now, someone, anyone, in your office or on your street must know about your fabulous Ginger Shortbread or Peppermint Bark Cookies. With a little luck, she’ll host an exchange just to get her hands on a dozen or so. Good news for you, you’ll go home with a pile of different treats. Moreover, chances are pretty good that your host will hold that swap in the next week or two. How nice to have your baking finished by mid-December. Don’t forget to throw a few cookies in the freezer to save for Santa.

And hey, if you’re in the kitchen anyway, you might as well whip up a quadruple batch of those wonderful cashews you’re famous for, some of that addictive Buttery Chocolate Almond Brittle or Death by Chocolate Sauce. These treats make great stocking stuffers and last minute hostess gifts.

Speaking of swaps, how about a Holiday Wrap & Chat? Invite some of your pals to stop by with their gifts, rolls of cheery holiday paper, bows and tags. Pool your resources, put on some festive tunes and spend a few hours wrapping and chatting. A great two-fer, you’ll be forced to move your shopping deadline up from Christmas Eve and enjoy a low-key evening with friends. Don’t forget, a sip of wine and a nibble of cheese will make the work seem to go quicker!

Enjoy the countdown to Christmas (only twenty-three more days) and bon appétit!

Peppermint Bark Cookies
Make sure to put out a plate of these delicious cookies for Santa. Enjoy!
Makes about 5 dozen

2 cups all-purpose flourbaking
1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon instant expresso or coffee powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 ounces mini chocolate chips
White Chocolate Ganache (recipe follows)
4 ounces peppermint sticks, crushed

Put the flour, cocoa, espresso powder, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in a bowl and whisk until combined. Add the chopped chocolate and toss to combine

Beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until combined. Reduce the speed to low, add the flour mixture and beat until combined. Cover and chill the dough until firm, about 30 minutes.

Put the racks in the center of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees.

Use a small scoop to grab scant tablespoons of dough, roll into 1-inch balls and flatten slightly. Arrange the cookies about 2 inches apart on sheet pans.

Switching position and turning the pans at the midpoint, bake the cookies for 8 to10 minutes. Cool the cookies on a rack, frost with White Chocolate Ganache and sprinkle with crushed peppermint.

Layer the cookies between sheets of wax or parchment paper in an airtight container and store at room temperature for up to 1 week. If you are making ahead, freeze before frosting.

White Chocolate Ganache
6 ounces white chocolate
1 tablespoon butter
3 tablespoons heavy cream
4 tablespoons sifted confectioner’s sugar

Put the chocolate, butter and cream in a heavy saucepan over low heat. When the chocolate and butter is about 1/3 melted, remove from the heat, let sit for a minute or two and whisk until melted and smooth. Add the confectioner’s sugar and whisk again until smooth. Let cool for a few minutes before frosting the cookies.

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One Year Ago – Mixed Reds & Greens Holiday Salad
Two Years Ago – Snowy Pecan Balls
Three Years Ago – Chocolate Truffles
Four Years Ago – Smoked Salmon Mousse
Five Years Ago – Roasted Beans
Six Years Ago – Winter Soup with Pasta, Beans & Greens
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

How are your holiday preparations going? Feel free to share – let’s get a conversation going.

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. In addition, I hope that you will take a minute to learn about my philanthropic project Eat Well-Do Good. © Susan W. Nye, 2014

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