From my oven with love

For me, the approach of the holidays is defined by the fragrant aroma of vanilla and the gluttonous joy of licking the mixing spoon clean. I have early memories of  the clamor of pots and pans banging together as my mother did her version of Christmas shopping.

The holidays are a time for people to treat themselves. People eat more sweets, whether in celebration of the approaching new year, the presence of family and friends, the vacation time, or simply because it’s chilly outside. For me and my mother, it has always seemed like a win-win to give a baked gift. Not only are these gifts always received with eagerness, but you can often do the baking with someone you love.

The pound cake recipe contributed by Marian Martin, my grandmother, is my ideal baked gift. It’s large enough for a family but keeps well, so it can be given to an individual. The moist, velvety texture is comforting and has always been a reminder of the holidays for me. The cake can be topped with chocolate ganache or icing for an extra flair, and it is sure to be a hit with anyone… who’s not on a diet.
Truffles
Contributed by Robin Autorino
Prep time: 30 minutes
7 oz heavy whipping cream
8 oz dark chocolate
3 tbsp cocoa powder
1 oz  extract or liqueur to flavor
nuts (optional)
Robin says the key to a good truffle is equal parts liquid and chocolate. This means that you will need to adjust the amount of heavy cream according to how much flavoring you use in your truffle. When I visited Robin Chocolate’s new location at 600 South Airport Road, we made our truffles with amaretto liqueur and used high quality chocolate, which definitely made a difference. Using high quality ingredients will improve the quality of your finished product.
Melt the chocolate in a microwave or double boiler. Bring the cream to a simmer. When the chocolate is fully melted, stir the cream into the chocolate in parts and add the liqueur or extract of your choice. Put the truffle mixture in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes or until it has a doughy consistency. Take out small, bite-size scoops and form into balls. Roll in cocoa powder or nuts (children can have a lot of fun with this part).

Two Ingredient Pumpkin Muffins
From sweet-verbena.blogspot.com
Prep time: 10 minutes
Bake time: 25 minutes
15 oz can of pumpkin
1 box vanilla cake mix
Blend pumpkin and vanilla cake mix. Fill muffin cups and bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. They are ready to eat, but taste better with the following cream cheese icing on top.
Ms. Humble’s Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting
From notsohumblepie.blogspot.com
Prep time: 15 minutes
16oz cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup heavy cream, cold
Beat the cheese, sugar and vanilla until smooth. In a separate bowl, beat the cream to nearly stiff peaks, then add the whipped cream into the cheese mixture and quickly and briefly beat to combine. Do not over beat.
Optional Acorn Toppers
To add a little fall flair to your cupcakes, top them with these simple, edible acorns.
Hershey’s kisses
Butterscotch chips
Mini vanilla wafers
Icing
Attach bottom of kiss to vanilla wafer with a small amount of icing. Attach butterscotch chip to other side of wafer. Press into iced cupcake.

Pound Cake
Contributed by Marian Martin
Prep time: 30 minutes
Bake time: 1 hour 30 minutes
3 sticks unsalted butter
1 8 oz package of cream cheese
3 cups sugar
6 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
All ingredients need to be at room temperature. Beat butter and cream cheese until fluffy. Beat in sugar. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Add vanilla. Beat in flour until combined. Don’t over beat. Pour into a greased and floured bundt pan. Place a Pyrex measuring cup filled with two cups of water in the oven with the cake to ensure moistness. Bake at 300 degrees for 1 hour and 30 minutes. Cool in pan for 30 minutes.
Honey Roasted Peanut Butter Bars with Chocolate Ganache
From Better Homes and Gardens website
Prep time: 40 minutes
Bake time: 12 minutes (1 hour to chill)
Crust
1 package devil’s food cake mix (2-layer size)
1/3 cup butter, melted
1 egg
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 15x10x1-inch baking pan with foil, extending foil over the pan edges. Lightly grease foil. Set aside. In a large bowl, combine cake mix, 1/3 cup melted butter, and egg. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed for 1 to 2 minutes or until mixture is combined. Press mixture onto bottom of the prepared pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 12 minutes. Cool completely in pan on a wire rack.
Peanut Butter Filling
3/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup honey-roasted peanut butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons whipping cream or milk
3/4 cup honey-roasted peanuts, chopped
In a large bowl, combine 3/4 cup softened butter, peanut butter, and vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add powdered sugar and beat until combined, scraping bowl occasionally. Beat in the 2 tablespoons whipping cream. Stir in the chopped peanuts. Spread mixture evenly over the cooled crust. Place bars in the refrigerator while preparing the ganache.
Ganache Topping
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 11.5 oz package milk chocolate  pieces
In a small saucepan, bring 1/2 cup whipping cream just to boiling over medium-high heat. Remove from heat. Add chocolate pieces. Do not stir. Let stand 5 minutes. Stir until smooth. Cool 15 minutes. Very gently pour ganache over bars, lightly spreading it to the edges of the bars with a spatula. Cover and chill for 1 to 2 hours or until set. Using the edges of the foil, lift the uncut bars out of the pan. Cut into bars.

Published in Longmont Times-Call’s Holiday Gifting publication on 11/24/11 (see PDF below).

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