Let this be a warning to you to be careful about some of the recipes you find online. During my holiday baking bonanza, I bookmarked a ton of recipes for cookies and sweet treats. I don't know if it is somehow an odds games, as in the more recipes you find means you will have more total failures, or if it was purely random chance. Let me tell you, I had some complete flops. It started when I tried to find recipes for "Cranberry Bliss Bars," which are those delicious white chocolate bars you can find at Starbucks. Not naming names, the first recipe I tried was a complete failure. The bars were soggy in the middle and burnt on the outside. Was it my baking conditions or the failure of the recipe itself? I tried a different recipe that called for a different combination of eggs, flour and sugar, and somehow they turned out completely fine.
Another recipe I found for "shortbread cookies" called for granulated sugar instead of icing sugar and 2 cups of butter. I should have known that one would end up being a melted butter mess of "cookies." An enticing photograph doesn't necessarily mean the recipe will turn out in your own kitchen. Maybe it is the fault of whomever tries the recipe or maybe it is actually the fault of the food blog? This is why recipe testing is so important. What do you think? I did have many holiday baking successes, such as the Cranberry Bliss Bars in this post that were wonderful (good verified recipe further down the page) and some great cookie recipes like chocolate peppermint ganache cookies (pictured left) and sprinkle sugar cookies (pictured right). Since this is a holiday recap post I will stop being such a downer and move on to more positive things. Fla-ver Candies sent me a sample of some of their artisanal candies to try because you can never go wrong with more candy over the holidays.
Fla-ver candies are artisan crafted with natural flavours and low in calories. A 25g bag only has about 95 calories with big bursts of flavours. They are good to impress foodie friends with the interesting flavours, such as popcorn, pineapple jalapeno, or lime chipotle. Just make sure to warn your friends about the spicy flavours! The pineapple jalapeno flavour was actually really spicy. Fla-ver candies would make a neat stocking stuffer or as a "taste test" exercise at a holiday party. Plus they look neat in glass bowls, on candy platters or a in a special Fla-ver dispenser.
I took the cherry flavour for myself and liked the little bursts of flavour. I would compare them to "Nerds" candies with slightly more flavour. I'm not sure I would voluntarily buy some of the other flavours myself, since I don't like chipotle or super spicy things. The candies are a neat foray into interesting flavours you wouldn't normally find in candies. Fla-ver candies are available to buy on their website or Amazon store.
Just like I didn't start this holiday recap like a regular holiday recap, this year's Christmas didn't feel like every other Christmas. As much as the holidays are about joy, peace and happiness, it is strange when those things are turned upside down. My Mom was in hospital for most of December and she was luckily discharged a few days before Christmas. This made the holidays feel a little different because she was not quite her active self and obviously couldn't do the normal holiday prep activities. For me, this made celebrating at a distance different too because I knew my Mom and Dad weren't having a regular old Christmas; it was harder for me to enjoy it when I knew other people were struggling. I saw them for a few days before Christmas and then went back to Ottawa for actual Christmas.
Other people struggle around Christmas too--people that don't have very much or are missing family to celebrate with--so this made me more aware of those situations too. We tried to make the best of the situation, as I bet many other people also do, by adding some normalcy and traditions to the celebrations. Getting a real Christmas tree is one of those things we have to do every year. It signals the beginning of the season by decorating it, and seeing a lovely tree every day as a reminder of holiday joy. I also love the glow of the lights and cozying up on the couch next to it while watching a Christmas movie.
For Christmas Eve dinner, I made salmon with fennel, onions and cranberries based on this Christmas Salmon recipe. On the side I made roasted Brussel sprouts and butternut squash. Of course, as is holiday tradition, every meal starts with a cheese platter albeit a smaller selection than previous years. The biggest success was the Cranberry Bliss Bars for dessert and for bringing over to the in-law's and friend's houses. Everyone seemed to love them: "It's like the Starbucks bars, right?!"
Cranberry Bliss Bars1/2 cup butter, melted
1 large egg
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup white chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries
Icing:1 cup white chocolate, melted
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 cups icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup dried cranberries
Directions:1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line an 8x8 pan with foil or spray the pan with cooking oil.
2. In a medium bowl, microwave the butter for about 1 minute. Allow the butter to cool slightly, and then add the egg, brown sugar and vanilla.
3. Add the flour and salt and then fold in the white chocolate chips and cranberries. Pour the batter into the baking pan.
4. Bake for 20 minutes until the centre is set and the edges are golden brown. Allow the bars to cool before frosting.
5. For the frosting: In a stand mixer, add the cream cheese, about 3/4 cup of the melted white chocolate, the icing sugar and vanilla, and beat on high for 2 to 3 minutes.
6. Ice the top of the bars and then sprinkle the cranberries on top. Then drizzle the bars with the remaining white chocolate.
If you feel like there is a common theme with my holiday baking--cranberries, white chocolate and sprinkles--it is merely because I bought way too much of those items at Bulk Barn. Even my husband who does not like white chocolate liked the bliss bars and the white chocolate cookies. Even if there were a few hiccups and shaky starts to December, I still remembered what is important: family. All of the other stuff, although nice to have for that "Christmas feeling" is optional.
Disclosure: I received free samples of Fla-ver candies for review purposes. The opinions expressed are my own based on my own experiences.