A classic treat for sharing

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If you’ve been invited to a barbecue this weekend, you’re probably thinking about what you can bring. Look no further than the original recipe for Rice Krispies treats.

Every time I’ve had a prepackaged Rice Krispies treat, I’ve been disappointed. They’re often too hard and a little bit stale, which is unfortunate because it’s so easy to make these correctly. You just need the recipe below, and about 20 minutes.

Whether or not you’re headed to a barbecue for summer’s last hurrah, this is a good one to have on file for when you need to contribute to your child’s class party or just want to have an after-school treat on hand.

Ingredients
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
40 marshmallows
6 cups Rice Krispies

Grease a 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking pan with butter. Set aside.

In large saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Add marshmallows and stir until completely melted. Remove from heat.

Add Rice Krispies cereal. Stir until well coated.

Using buttered spatula or wax paper evenly press mixture into pan. Cool. Cut into 2-inch squares. Best if served the same day.

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Window cookies worth the work

If you’re a fan of jam in your cookies, this one is for you. Window cookies are the last item in my cookie countdown to Christmas. They require a bit of time and effort, but they’re beautiful. They’re worth it.

I found the recipe on the Better Homes and Gardens website. They’re a sandwich cookie, so be conscious of the thickness of the cookies when you roll out the dough. The recipe calls for 1/4-inch thickness, but I found that to be a little too thick once I made the sandwich.

You can make them your own by adding chopped nuts to the batter or using a different kind of jam. You can use any cookie cutter shape to make the design in the top cookie, too. I used a snowflake cutter and really liked how they looked. The jam and nuts complemented each other well, and I dusted mine with a bit of powdered sugar to finish them.

Make it fun, make them yours and have a Merry Christmas.

Ingredients
1 cup blanched almonds, toasted and chopped
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup chopped hazelnuts or almonds (optional)
3/4 cup apricot jam

In a food processor, combine almonds and the 1 tablespoon sugar. Cover and process until nuts are finely ground. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add the 2/3 cup sugar. Beat until combined, scraping bowl occasionally. Add the ground almonds, the egg, egg yolk, salt, vanilla, almond extract, and nutmeg, beating on low speed until combined. Beat in flour until combined. If adding nuts, combine them into the dough.

Divide dough into four portions. Cover and chill about 2 hours or until dough is easy to handle.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Between waxed paper or parchment paper, roll out one of the dough portions to about a 1/4-inch thickness. Peel off top sheet of paper. Using a fluted 2- to 3-inch cookie cutter, cut out dough. Place dough cutouts 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Using a fluted 1-inch cookie cutter, cut out centers from half of the dough cutouts.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until tops are a pale golden brown. Cool on cookie sheet for 2 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack and let cool. Repeat with the remaining dough portions.

Spread 1 slightly rounded teaspoon of the jam in the center of each whole cookie. Top with the cutout cookies, flat sides down, pressing lightly together.

Gingerbread that works

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The fourth item in my countdown isn’t a cookie. It’s a gingerbread cupcake.

Gingerbread has never been a seasonal flavor I get excited about. The flavor always tends to be either too harsh or not quite right — at least in cookie form.

A few years ago, I saw this recipe for Gingerbread Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting. I went into it expecting to be disappointed, but was surprised at how much I enjoyed them. Putting the gingerbread flavor into a cupcake resulted in a lighter version of the flavor, one that wasn’t overwhelming. The frosting was really good, too. Together, they made a wonderful pair. If cookies aren’t your thing, I recommend this cupcake recipe for the holidays.

On another note, for those of you looking for gifts for the cooks in your family, check out my Pinterest board. It contains many of my favorite kitchen items, and contains items for any price range. I hope it helps you find the perfect gift.

Cupcakes
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (3 sticks), room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons unsulphured molasses
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line muffin pan with baking cup liners.

In a large bowl, sift together flour and spices; set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light, about 3 minutes. Beat in the molasses until incorporated. Beat in eggs one at a time. Beat in vanilla. Add flour and mix on low speed until just combined.

Fill the cupcake papers three-quarters full, making sure that the batter is divided evenly. Bake cupcakes until a toothpick inserted in the center of them comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Let cupcakes cool on a wire rack 10 minutes, then transfer cupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely.

Frosting
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons cinnamon

To make the cinnamon cream frosting: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese and powdered sugar until smooth. Add cinnamon and vanilla extract and beat until combined.

Place frosting into a large decorating bag fitted with a decorating tip and approximately 1/4-inch above cupcake top at a 90° angle to cupcake surface, pipe a spiral of icing, beginning at the outer edge and working inward.

Sandwich cookies suited to a more sophisticated palate

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Cookies are great, but not all adults want the same over-sugared treats that might be made for children. What about adults looking for something sweet and a little more grown-up than your average sugar cookie?

I’m a firm believer that there needs to be something for everyone on the holiday tray, which is why I was thrilled when I found this recipe for Hazelnut-Mocha Sandwiches in the Holiday 2010 edition of America’s Test Kitchen Holiday Cookies magazine.

The chief flavors in these cookies are provided by hazelnuts, espresso and chocolate. There’s no frosting to be found and no decorating to be done. The flavor reminds me of hazelnut biscotti, just in a different form. I’ve made these twice and received rave reviews both times from adults, particularly those who also love coffee.

I hope you enjoy this third cookie in my Christmas countdown.

Ingredients
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup hazelnuts, toasted and finely ground
1 cup superfine sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces and softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons cream cheese
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
12 ounces milk chocolate, chopped

Adjust oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. With electric mixer on low speed, combine flour, nuts, sugar, salt and butter and mix until crumbly and slightly wet, about 2 minutes. Add vanilla and cream cheese and mix until dough just begins to form. Finish kneading dough by hand to form large, cohesive mass. Divide dough in half, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes.

Roll each dough half to 1/8-inch thickness and rechill until firm, 10 minutes. Using 2-inch round cookie cutter, cut out cookies and place 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake until edges are light golden-brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Cool 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack and cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough, gathering and rerolling scraps once.

In saucepan over medium-low heat, whisk together heavy cream and espresso powder. Add chocolate and stir until melted and smooth; cool 30 minutes. Spread heaping teaspoon filling over bottoms of half of cookies; top with remaining cookies. Let sit until firm, about 1 hour.

Sugary shortbread is perfect for a platter

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For the second cookie in my countdown to Christmas, I bring you Pecan Fingers. I found this recipe years ago in my “Good Housekeeping Favorite Recipes: Brownies!” cookbook. It’s simple and really tasty.

I include some kind of shortbread cookie on my Christmas cookie platter every year because it’s important to have one cookie that’s easy to make and not time-consuming. I save the time-consuming part for the sugar cookie decorating. One of the most important pieces of advice I can offer to anyone who is in charge of doing all the Christmas baking is not to commit to cookies that all require extensive amounts of time to make and decorate. Don’t get overly ambitious — making a large amount of cookies is ambitious enough, no matter the type. To do a platter well, you need to choose what you want to spend time on, and what you want to keep simple and delicious. There’s a large variety of shortbread recipes out there to choose from. Shortbread is one of the easiest things to make, which is why I always choose at least one type for my platter.

When I think of shortbread, I tend to think of simple, buttery, and sometimes dry, plain cookies. These pecan fingers are pretty far from that. They are sweeter than your average shortbread, but overall have a warm flavor to them because of the pecans and brown sugar. I will likely bring these back to my assortment this year because my mouth is watering just thinking about them.

Ingredients
3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, with a mixer at medium speed, beat butter, brown and granulated sugars, vanilla and salt until creamy, about 2 minutes. At low speed, gradually beat in flour until just evenly moistened. With hand, press dough together to form ball.

Divide dough in half. On half of an ungreased large cookie sheet, roll half of dough, covered with waxed paper, lengthwise into 12-inch by 5-inch rectangle. On same cookie sheet, repeat with remaining dough, 1 1/2 inches from first rectangle. With fork, prick dough at 1-inch intervals. Press tines of fork along long side of rectangles to form decorative edge. Sprinkle pecans evenly over rectangles; press gently to adhere.

Bake until edges are lightly browned, 20 to 25 minutes. While still warm, cut each rectangle crosswise into 12 finger-shaped cookies. Transfer fingers to wire rack to cool. Store in tightly covered container up to 1 week.