I remember when I was a kid my mum would spend hours upon hour baking, and then freeze what seemed like hundreds of plastic containers full of Christmas treats. Perfect little squares and Christmassy shapes and tarts and pies. I also remember her taping these containers shut with long strips of masking tape to dissuade curious kids and husband from sampling them. ”They’re not for now, they’re for Christmas.” After all the time she spent making this stuff, there was absolutely no way were were going to eat it all before the big day. That was back in the days in small town Canada when Christmas Day and the 3 or 4 days following were spent visiting friends and family or having visitors, and laying on food for all and sundry. Plates and platters filled with delicious sweet and savoury morsels, and if us kids were very lucky we might be able to sneak one or two pieces when nobody was looking… I think secretly mum would still love to fill the freezer with baking, but my siblings and I are long grown up and gone, and the close by grandkids are a bit young to be pigging out on copious amounts of baked goodies. My two would be quite happy to help out with that, but are a little far away this year.
In Canada the type and variety of things people bake for Christmas is quite different from that in the UK. It’s quite eclectic, influenced by the many different cultures that have settled in Canada. I remember amazing cookies and cakes made by my mum’s friend – her background is Ukranian and her husband’s is German. For many years we would go to their house on Christmas Eve and our eyes (mum’s and dad’s included) would go wide on sight of the wonderful array of baked and savoury goodies she would offer us. Mum’s Italian friends would make these amazing light-as-air pastries every year before Christmas. Entire extended families would get together and make them and divide the spoils among them, and we would always be given a tin of them. Crisp, ethereally light fried pastries, covered in powdered sugar, hoarded like gold dust.
My mum’s baking took on a lot of different influences and was gorgeous and perfect. I remember her butter tarts being especially good straight out of the freezer (sorry mum, we did manage to break through that masking tape!). My grandma’s baking was more traditionally British. She always made mince pies (tarts) and shortbread, and these things she called Chinese chews which required rolling out a cooked date mixture in powdered sugar while it was still hot. I made them once with her and hated doing it because the mixture was so hot and hurt my hands. I guess I moaned and sulked to no end, which she must have found rather amusing. Every year after that she would ask me if I wanted to help her make them, and then have a good belly laugh when I refused!
I do love doing Christmas baking - rolling out cookies, grinding nuts, the smells of cinnamon and citrus, melting chocolate… Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) my attempts at it are generally sporadic. The first weeks in December generally pass by in a blur, with work events and kids’ parties & concerts (as I write this we are one Christmas concert down, one to go). This year though in the last week leading up to Christmas work will slow down and there is no school. Maybe we’ll manage it then. There are certain things I will make every year, and always new things to try. Almond butter brittle is a must, and delicate buttery biscuits with pecans and maple syrup, or almonds and candied orange peel, and some variety or other of shortbread – simple melt-in-your-mouth vanilla shortbread fingers or brown sugar shortbread. I’ve tried the panettone this year, and am determined to try making a stollen.
This year I took part in the International Blogger Holiday Cookie Recipe Exchange. The recipe I was given to try and blog about was Blondies with Cranberries and Pistachios, from Mardi at eat. live. travel. write. They’re very festive looking with the red cranberries and green pistachios, and looked extra pretty drizzled with a little white chocolate on top, and served on little plates with teeny bites of orange-chocolate brownies. I overcooked them a bit – oops – but the flavour was butterscotchy and almondy nobody seemed to complain!
Blondies with Dried Cranberries & Pistachios
Adapted from How to Cook Everything
- 113g/8 tbsp tablespoons butter, melted
- 115g/1 cup dark brown sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla or 1/2 teaspoon almond extract (I used both)
- Pinch salt
- 125g/1 cup all-purpose flour
- 50g/1/2 cup of dried cranberries
- 60g/1/2 cup unsalted pistachios
- Optional: 25g white chocolate (melted) for drizzling on top
Preheat oven to 160 degrees Celsius/350 degrees farenheit. Line an 8×8 (20cm square) pan with greaseproof paper.
Mix melted butter with brown sugar – beat until smooth. Beat in egg and then vanilla and/or almond extract. Add salt, stir in flour. Mix in the dried cranberries and pistachios.
Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until set in the middle (check at 20 minutes – 25 minutes was too long for mine).
Cool on rack and drizzle with the melted white chocolate to make them look extra festive. Cut into squares of whatever size you desire.