I recently spoke with my maternal aunt, Ruth Ann. Among the many things we discussed, one that struck a note for both of us was holiday baking. It was a tradition passed on from my grandmother, who used her considerable baking skills to make gifts for family and friends. My mother and aunt worked alongside grandma in the kitchen, learning her methods and developing their own. Sometimes, they even allowed my generation to share in the fun.
Being totally honest, at the time it didn’t seem like fun. From my perspective, it seemed like the baking and decorating went on and on, and with the exception of tasting the few broken cookies and crumbled bars, there was little reward for the efforts. The sweets were packaged for gift giving and those that remained were stored until Christmas Eve, when finally they would be enjoyed.
Ruth Ann and I both continue this holiday tradition. We bake longtime family favorites like cut-out cookies and struggle with the time commitment necessary to roll, cut, bake, and decorate these favorites. While I stick to cookies and bars, Ruth Ann excels in candy making, especially fudge. She also makes another favorite – not mine, though – Christmas Stolen. She bakes several for family and friends. I don’t understand why you have to ruin a great coffeecake with dead fruit – but that’s just me.
This year, my friend Pat and I started what I hope will be a yearly event. We did our own take on the long-standing cookie exchange. Instead of baking cookies at our respective homes, we came together for the day, she on one side of her kitchen, me on the other. We mixed, baked, laughed, and talked. Pat’s mom, Jeanne, joined in the fun, decorating, cleaning, and keeping us on track. At the end of the day, our combined efforts netted thirteen different cookies and bars, including three batches of the dreaded cut-out cookies. We burned a few pans and tried new recipes – some good, some not. It was a great time, but next year we’ll take two days for our baking marathon.
Overachievers that we are, in the weeks since, both Pat and I have added other varieties to complete our cookie platters.
Although you can only imagine the flavors, here’s a photo of my 2011 cookie platter along with a family-favorite recipe for you to try.
Caramel Oatmeal Bars
Melt together in a saucepan or glass dish in micowave
32 unwrapped caramels
5 tablespoons evaporated milk
Mix together in a bowl
1 cup flour
1 cup oatmeal
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Press half of oatmeal mixture into a 9 x 13 pan Bake at 350° for 10 to 15 minutes. Pour caramel mixture over partially baked crust. Add remaining oatmeal mixture. Bake another 15-18 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle on enough chocolate chips to cover. Cool and cut.