Recently, some friends joined me in the kitchen for a little Christmas baking and a lot of fun. We made breads (yeast raised coffeecakes full of apple butter and raisins and cranberry/apricot and pumpkin applesauce quick breads) along with the two choices featured today, Date Balls and Pretzel Reindeer.
Date Balls for Christmas
When I asked my kids a few weeks ago what cookies I should be sure to make, the number one choice was Date Balls. These are dangerously addictive*, but they can be mostly handled by kids who might be lured into the tasks with the promise of getting to sample generously when done.
*A friend. who assures me she has never tried the illegal stuff, calls these the "crack cocaine of Christmas cookies. They do disappear from cookie trays quickly, so you will likely be making them often. Though I have doubled the recipe, getting the cereal and nuts stirred in evenly was much more difficult. My suggestion is to just plan to make this amount again...and again and again. They really don't take a lot of time and, if you have people hanging out in the kitchen looking for things to do, let them do the rolling into balls and sugaring. This really is a good "communal" food to make.
1/2 c butter
1 c sugar
1 1/2 c chopped dates
1/2 c flour
1 t vanilla
3 1/2 to 4 c crisp rice cereal (Rice Krispies or similar)
1 c chopped nuts (optional)
1. Place the butter in a large, heavy saucepan. Melt over medium heat. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar, eggs, dates and flour. Return to burner and continue cooking, stirring often (these stick very easily!) for about 5 minutes, until the mixture just comes to a bubbling boil.
3. Allow to cool until comfortable to handle. Shape into small balls and roll in powdered sugar. (The best way to do this is to put half a cup or so of powdered sugar in a quart or gallon size plastic bag and shake three to four of the balls at a time.)
Depending on the size you make these, the recipe will make 4 to 6 dozen balls.
The Pretzel Reindeer are a nice variation on chocolate covered pretzels, and my friend Joy taught us all how to make them. Sadly for her, the pretzels I had were miniatures, so the reindeer were slightly under-endowed in the antler department. Adding to the proportions problem, the only red available for the mouths were a-little-large-for-the-project red cinnamon candies. As I look at these photos, I have to admit I am more reminded of a turkey than a reindeer, but still, they were fun to make--and if you start out with the right materials, yours will no doubt be spectacular!
rod shaped pretzels
full size pretzel shaped pretzels
white chocolate chips
semi-sweet chocolate chips
cinnamon "red hots" candies
miniature chocolate chips (or miniature M&Ms or bits of red candied cherries)
(The amounts for this recipe will depend on how many you want to make and how much chocolate you end up using for each reindeer. See NOTE. )
1. Place some white chips in a microwave-safe bowl and melt in the microwave at medium power. Depending on the amount you use, this may take two to four minutes. Stir occasionally, as it is not always apparent that the chips have melted--they will appear to be holding their shape even though they have turned to liquid. You do not want to leave them in too long.
2. Press a pretzel-shaped pretzel into the melted chips or use a spoon or knife to spread one side of the pretzel with coating. Lay the pretzel, coating side up, on waxed paper. Repeat with remaining pretzels. Set aside.
3. Meanwhile, repeat step 1 with a bowl of semi-sweet chips. Dip the top half of a pretzel rod in the chocolate, swirling to coat all sides--or use a knife or spoon to spread the chocolate. Immediately press the rod on to the center of one of the coated pretzels. Hold for a few moments to be sure that the two pieces are well-adhered. Set aside until cool and well-hardened. (Briefly place in refrigerator or freezer if your kitchen is very warm from baking.)
4. If necessary, rewarm some of the white chocolate. Carefully place two small drops of the white coating in place for eyes. Press a miniature chocolate chip "eyeball" in each. Using a dot of the coating, adhere the red candy of choice for a mouth. Cool completely.
5. For presentation, cover the reindeer heads with non-zippered sandwich size bags. Tie a ribbon at the base of the bag, around the "neck" of the reindeer.
NOTE: These really don't take a lot of chocolate for each reindeer. We coated almost two dozen with about a cup or so of each kind of chocolate, and we had quite a bit left over. The extra coating was remelted and used to decorate other Christmas cookies. (More on that next time.)