Friday, December 17, 2010

Baking Crunch Time

It probably will not become the next Murphy's Law or anything famous like that. But I'll bet a few cooks might agree with my axiom: Don't bake your holiday treats too soon, or they may be consumed before said holiday.

But, with the final weekend before Christmas upon us, we holiday bakers are nearing crunch time - literally! There will be plenty of crunching continuing this next week ... IF we get our goodies made.

So I have a couple more tried-and-true cookie recipes for you. I used them for a cookie tray for Brent's graduation party, as well as for some of my contributions to the Stafford Ministerial Alliance Community Christmas refreshments last Sunday.

The first, Chewy Pumpkin Caramel Bars, is a recipe from Jill. You know I love a good bar cookie recipe - no dropping or rolling required.

The second is a simpler version of an old-time favorite from my childhood. At home, we made Date Balls in a skillet. In fact, my original recipe is called "Skillet Cookies." I found a microwave version, which I shared with my 4-H cooking kids earlier this year and then for my recent cookie making session.

Enjoy! And my best as you make your family's seasonal favorites or try some new recipes!

Chewy Pumpkin Caramel Bars
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 2/3 cups sugar
2 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup solid pack canned pumpkin
3/4 cup vegetable oil
27 caramels, unwrapped (about 9 oz.)
1/4 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup chopped nuts, divided

Combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large mixer bowl. Add pumpkin and oil; beat until blended. Batter will be thick. Spread 2/3 of the batter into greased 13- by 9-inch baking pan. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes.

Combine caramels and evaporated milk in small saucepan; stir over low heat until caramels are melted. (I used the microwave. I used 70 percent power and stirred frequently so I didn't burn the mixture.) Pour caramel mixture over baked layer; sprinkle with 1/4 cup nuts. Drop remaining batter by heaping teaspoonfuls over caramel mixture; sprinkle with remaining nuts. Return to oven for 20 to 25 minutes (top layer will be slightly soft). Remove to wire rack to cool completely before cutting.


Fruit and Nut Chews (Date or Apricot Balls)
1/2 cup margarine or butter
1 8-oz. package dried apricots or pitted dates (1 cup, chopped)
1 cup sugar
1 egg
2 cups crisp rice cereal
1 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped
1 cup coconut

In 2-quart glass measuring cup, cook margarine or butter on high 1 minute or until melted. Stir in apricots or dates and sugar, then egg, mixing well. Cook 5 minutes. Stir in cereal and nuts.

Drop by rounded tablespoons onto waxed paper (I used a cookie scoop). Using hands, shape each into a ball or a log. Roll in coconut. Makes about 30. If you make them that size, they are 100 calories: 6 grams fat, 7 mg. cholesterol, 45 mg sodium.

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