Thursday, December 17, 2015

Holiday Baking with Memories of Kraft Kitchens...

Now that I've started baking for the Christmas holidays, never has this-end-of-year gone by that I don't think about my times working in the Kraft Kitchens. The overly delicious food and baked treats that came out of those kitchens from our lovely recipe developers and testers were so surreal. At Christmas time, it was especially spectacular! Or when we were preparing recipes for our What's Cooking Festive Magazine-- cakes, cookies, bars, chocolate, candy, treats OH MY! This year, some of my all-time favourite festive sweets inspired from the Kitchens rolled to mind-- especially chocolate, peppermint and cranberries (something yuletide-y for everyone), and I couldn't wait to pull up my sleeves and share them as gifts for my kids' teachers, school bus driver, neighbours, and special friends. I mean what more holiday spirit can be said about giving your time and heart than with something fabulicious you made with love?

Toblerone Shortbread Cookies, Candy Cane Crunch Bark and Big-Batch Kris Kringle Cookies

Why buy Peppermint bark to give away or treat yourself and guests when you can make it yourself in a cinch. Who knew saltine crackers would serve as a perfect snappy base for chocolate and candy cane? With just butter and sugar, it bakes up the crunch! Replace candy cane for finely chopped walnuts, almonds or pecans for gifting the nut-lover!

Candy Cane Crunch Bark 
Makes 1 sheet (17 X 11)

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
40 unsalted saltine crackers (NOTE: One tube Premium Plus Crackers has 40 crackers)
1 pkg. (225 g) Baker's Semi-Sweet Chocolate, coarsely chopped
8 regular candy canes

TIP: For a sweet and salty treat, use salted saltine crackers.

Heat oven to 400°F. Cook butter and sugar in saucepan on medium-high heat five minutes or until butter is melted and mixture is well blended, stirring occasionally. Bring to boil; cook three minutes without stirring. 

Meanwhile, arrange crackers in single layer in foil-lined standard 17 X 11-inch baking pan.

Place candy canes in two sandwich bags and seal; cover top with towel and plummet the bag with several hard knocks to break and crush the canes (to small and crushed pieces).  

Spread sugar mixture onto crackers. Bake 7 minutes. Immediately sprinkle with chocolate. Let stand five minutes or until chocolate is melted; spread to cover crackers. Top with chopped candy cane; cool completely (set it faster by chilling in the fridge for ten minutes).

Crackers move around in the hot sugar mixture when coming out of the hot oven.
Carefully realign crackers with a wooden spoon for a smooth flat cracker base.

Sometimes I could lift the entire slab still attached to the foil; simply peel foil back and off. This time the sugar seeped under the foil causing it to stick to the pan. No worries-- use a metal lifter to get underneath the foil or bar and lift up. Break into pieces (try different shapes-- squares, oblong, sharp and jagged pieces for an interesting assortment).

Peppermint candy cane crunch bark in a snap!

I love these adorable shortbread cookies topped with a Toblerone triangle-- these are a classic at Kraft. And with this no-fail shortbread cookie recipe, these perfect soft discs yields nicely under its chocolate crunchy nougat hat. YUM!

Toblerone Shortbread Cookies
Makes about 40 cookies

1 lb. (2 cups) butter, very soft
1/2 cup corn starch
1 cup confectioner/icing sugar
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 bars (100 g each) Toblerone Swiss Milk Chocolate, or any flavour, sliced in 12 pieces each (I had about 4 cookies without chocolate) or buy 4 bars

Beat all ingredients together until well combined and the batter is soft. Shape dough into 1 inch (2.5 cm) balls; place on ungreased baking sheets. Use handle of a wooden spoon or thumb to make deep indentations in centre of each ball. Place one chocolate triangle in centre of each warm cookie. Remove from baking sheets to cool on wire racks completely.

To keep the shape of the Toblerone pieces, let cool on rack for five minutes and set in fridge for 10 to 15 minutes.

Up to my elbows in baking.... AND it was all worth it!

Another favourite of mine from Kraft Kitchens is Big Batch Kris Kringle Cookies-- a wonderful combo of white and milk chocolate, along with cranberries and pecans that is, as its name suggest perfect for kris kringleling or gifting. Along with the Candy Cane Crunch Bark and Toblerone Shortbread Cookies, they made a perfect trio for giving away!

Big Batch Kris Kringle Cookies

And to top it off--  fresh-baked morning Lemon Cranberry Cream Scones* for my youngest son's school of teachers and principal-- a yearly holiday tradition I've been cooking up for five years since my older boys tenured there. And I love it as do they :) ! 
Lemon Cranberry Cream Scones
(sub currants in recipe with dried cranberries and broil tops for crunchy crust) 

What sweet are you baking up this holiday?

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