If the Hallmark Channel, with its proliferation of non-stop holiday movies is any indication, the 2017 Christmas season is underway. It’s hard not to be inspired by Hollywood’s interpretation of the perfect Christmas. Happy people sipping hot chocolate in front of crackling fires. Glimmering Christmas trees and dining tables set with fine china and crystal. Endless trays of perfectly-shaped and iced sugar cookies spread throughout cozy kitchens. Living up to these scenes of holiday perfection seems impossible, but here’s the good news: there are ways to create your own version of a Hallmark Christmas, especially when it comes to the food.
A reader’s recent request for my grandmother’s butterscotch yule log began my descent into Christmas baking. It’s a delicious treat that can be stored in the refrigerator and enjoyed by the slice whenever a craving for something sweet can’t be denied. Wrapped in red plastic wrap, it’s also the perfect last-minute gift for those on your list who appreciate a homemade gift from the kitchen.
To make it, melt a cup of butterscotch morsels in a double boiler or in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds until melted. Remove from the heat and stir in 1/3 cup of sweetened condensed milk and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla. Add a 1/3 cup of chopped pecans, mix well, and chill until the mixture is firm enough to handle. Form into a 12-inch roll on a sheet of waxed paper, then roll tightly in the paper to create an even shape. If you’d like, you can roll in more pecans for good measure. Wrap tightly in wax paper and chill before cutting into slices.
Digging into my grandmother’s recipe files triggered sweet memories of her holiday baking traditions. I loved walking into her kitchen and seeing the red tablecloth on the table topped by tins of Christmas candy, cookies and other delicacies. When the red cloth and tins arrived, that meant Christmas was not far behind. All of the combined splendor of the Hallmark Christmas movies don’t compare to her festive table filled with treats that, in my childlike mind, were created with me in mind.
While looking for the butterscotch log recipe, I uncovered an old booklet of Christmas recipes compiled by MSU’s Extension Service several decades ago. Recipes for some of her annual treats were included, including those for orange balls, fruitcake cookies, peanut brittle, and stained glass candy. Thumbing through the pages was a nostalgic trip to a bygone era in which worry about calories and fat grams was nonexistent.
I was surprised to find one recipe that read like one from our health-conscious era. The extension service was really ahead of its time. Their fruity, spicy cookies are the perfect antidote for those who, either by choice or health reasons, have to limit sugar.
Sugarless, But Still Delicious Christmas Cookies won't make the cut on a Hallmark movie set. But, they’ve earned a place in my own set of Christmas tins.
Sugarless, But Still Delicious, Christmas Cookies
1-3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon grated orange rind
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup, minus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, lightly toasted
1/2 cup raisins or chopped dried cranberries
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine dry ingredients. Add remaining ingredients, mix well.
Drop by teaspoon on ungreased baking sheet to make 32-34 cookies. Bake 15-20 minutes until lightly browned on top. Remove from oven and then remove from pan to cool.
Note: If you prefer a touch of spice, add 1/4 teaspoon of ground cloves to dry ingredients.
Revised from MSU Extension Service’s “Celebrate Holiday Ideas.”