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December 24, 2013

Locavore Lore: Sweet treats complete the holiday feat

’Tis the season for gifting, when we show our appreciation for those special someones in our lives with tokens of our esteem, wrapped up nice and shiny with a bow on top. These days, that list seems to grow like the Grinch’s reformed heart, and this festive time of year, while good for morale, can be rough on the checkbook. From extended families to friend groups who feel like families, it can be hard to feel the Christmas cheer as your balance sinks down to a lump of coal. We here at LEO are no strangers to belt-tightening, and so we have some helpful homemade options that have the benefit of being easy to make, gentle on the wallet and delicious. Nothing says Christmas spirit like some homemade goodness, and with the right packaging (can anyone say beribboned Mason jar?), you’ll have your loved ones ooh-ing and ah-ing over your Martha Stewart-esque creativity.

Sugarplum Cake Shop’s Hot Chocolate Mix

This recipe is courtesy of the festively named Sugarplum Cake Shop in Paris (France, not Kentucky), where I spent a year making coffee and cakes and other delicious treats. This stuff is so rich it may not even be legal in the U.S. yet. For best results, make with milk, not water (scratch that: Always make with milk. Wasting this mix on water would be a crime violating several international laws of decency). Take things to a whole other level by adding peppermint schnapps (or bourbon, this being Kentucky and all) and a dollop of whipped cream on top. Snuggle up with a demi-tasse (like I said, seriously rich) while visions of snow-covered Eiffel Towers dance in your head.

The best thing about this recipe is it’s almost sinfully easy. All you need is:

3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (Quality matters here, people. I don’t want to see any of that Baker’s shit up in here. Pony up for the good stuff and you won’t be sorry, reindeer’s honor.)
3 cups cocoa powder
2½ cups sugar
1/8 tsp. salt

In a food processor, grind up the chocolate chips. Be careful not to over-grind, otherwise you’ll end up with one sticky chocolate mass as opposed to the little bits you want.

Add the rest of the ingredients, mixing until evenly combined. And voilá! This mix makes a fabulous gift for all the chocoholics on your list. Bonus points for putting it in a Mason jar or other reasonably trendy container.

Chocolate Soufflé Cookies

Light as clouds, rich with chocolaty goodness, this is another favorite from my Sugarplum days. They really are best enjoyed the same day they’re made, however, so while they make a great last-minute gift, they are not for the planners among you (although who are we kidding — if you’re looking to the LEO Christmas issue for gift ideas, you’ve already screwed the pooch on that whole punctuality thing).

6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 large egg whites
1/8 tsp. cream of tartar
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt chocolate in a double boiler (or microwave, if you’re feeling lazy or don’t know what a double boiler is) and set aside. Whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar until frothy. Add sugar to the egg whites and whip until stiff, shiny peaks form. Fold in melted chocolate and vanilla extract. Do not over-mix! Gently, kids. Spoon batter onto a lined baking sheet. A small ice cream or cookie dough scoop works best here, but you can also use two spoons in a pinch.

Bake for 10-12 minutes until cookies are firm and cracked on the outside but still moist inside. These are best hot from the oven, perfect for Christmas parties or other festive occasions. And you can feel oh so fancy when you tell your friends, “Oh these? Just a little something I whipped up. They’re French.” Makes two dozen.

Vermont Ginger & Spice Cookies (from Mom)

This recipe comes courtesy of my mom, whose boxes of holiday treats always made me extraordinarily popular with my teachers in elementary (and middle and high) school. They’re super easy to make, and each batch pumps out 50-60 cookies at a time, making them ideal for gifting. I’m not sure what Vermont has to do with the recipe, but I like to think it’s an homage to my family’s annual tradition of watching “White Christmas,” the best of all holiday flicks, which is set at the Pine Tree Inn in, you guessed it, Vermont. Throw some Bing Crosby on the ol’ iPod and bake away.

4 cups sifted flour
¾ tsp. baking soda
¾ tsp. ground ginger
1½ tsp. cinnamon
1½ tsp. ground cloves
½ tsp. salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1¼ cups sugar
½ cup molasses
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together flour, baking soda, spices and salt. Cream butter and sugar for about three minutes using an electric mixer. Stir in molasses, then eggs (one at a time). Add vanilla. Add dry ingredients to wet mixture in three parts, mixing thoroughly in between. Pour some sugar onto a sheet of waxed paper. Using a spoon, drop walnut-sized lumps of dough onto the sugar and roll around to coat. Bake on ungreased cookie sheets about 14 minutes, or until light golden brown. The tops should crack.

These guys will stay soft, chewy and delicious for a while, making them the perfect gift cookie. Best served in a tin for easy counter snacking throughout the holiday season.

And there you have it! Happy baking to all, and to all a good night.