You start going through recipes in October, plan the cookie swap in November, prepare festive menus early in December, then wake up the last Saturday and the first thing you think of is that you’ve forgotten a niece’s potluck tonight, or it’s your turn to bring the office treat on Monday, or your old auntie is on the way over for tea and nothing new-fangled will do.
Oh well, the best laid plans and all that.
Here are three rescue recipes to get you out of that last-minute scrape.
Key Lime Bars
First, the potluck solution. These are sweet, tart and refreshing, perfect to follow a huge baked ham, macaroni and cheese, and Italian meatballs on the buffet table.
They add a touch of elegance to any party and make a perfect light dessert.
Believe it not, they’re easy, too.
I have to admit I’ve made these with bottled lime juice, but freshly squeezed is superior — about three large limes will do it.
2 cups vanilla wafer crumbs
2 tbsp. sugar
5 tbsp. melted butter
3 oz. softened cream cheese 1 tbsp. finely grated lime zest
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup lime juice
Prepare the pan first to make these easier to lift out.
Place two strips of foil in opposite directions in an 8-inch baking dish, leaving plenty hanging over two sides so you can grasp and lift out the cookies.
Coat evenly with non-stick cooking spray.
Combine vanilla wafer crumbs, sugar and melted butter and press into prepared pan.
Bake at 325 F for 10 minutes. For the filling, beat cream cheese together with lime zest.
Slowly beat in sweetened condensed milk, scraping down the sides of the bowl and the beaters — you don’t want to overbeat the mixture after this step or the centre will soufflé during baking.
Stir in egg yolk then add lime juice slowly, mixing well. Pour into prepared crust and bake until the centre is just about set and the edges are starting to pull away from the sides.
Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate an hour or so.
Lift out the entire thing and place on a cutting board. Dip a large, sharp knife into hot water and wipe clean with a paper towel — you should do this after every cut to keep the knife clean and the squares neat.
Cut into 16 squares to serve as cookies or 9 to serve as dessert.
Cranberry Pecan Muffins
If you’re on breakfast duty at the office next week, why not try these festive little beauties?
With the holiday season upon us, this isn’t the time to go for an austere breakfast, and this recipe has just the right touch of tartness in rich buttery batter with a crackling sugary topping.
This seems like a long list of ingredients but the method is simple.
To toast the pecans put them in a dry frying pan over medium heat or pop them in the oven on a piece of foil, heating just until you can smell them.
1/2 cup soft unsalted butter
3/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup sour cream
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg (preferably freshly ground)
pinch salt (only if using unsalted butter)
3/4 cup chopped fresh or frozen cranberries (don’t thaw if using frozen)
1/2 cup toasted chopped pecans
2 tbsp. firmly packed brown sugar
1 tbsp. large rolled oats
pinch each ground cinnamon and nutmeg
Cream butter with sugars until light and fluffy.
Beat in eggs one at a time, followed by vanilla.
Stir in sour cream.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, soda, nutmeg and salt (omit if using salted butter or margarine).
Stir into creamed mixture. Add cranberries and pecans, mixing just until combined.
Spoon into 12 paper-lined muffin cups.
Mix together brown sugar, rolled oats, cinnamon and nutmeg and sprinkle a little on top of each muffin.
Bake at 400 F for 20 minutes or until a tester in the middle comes out clean.
None of my aunties would pass up one of these family favourites.
They require a light touch — the trick is to be lazy and not overwork the dough.
I admit my mother never used unsalted butter, but I really think it makes a superior bun.
She also added the raisins just as they are, but I like to give them a little dip first.
If you’re really feeling wild and crazy, substitute dried chopped pineapple or apricots.
You can play with the amounts of butter and shortening, as long as the total is 3/4 cup — the butter adds flavour but the shortening lends a flaky, biscuit-like texture.
1/2 cup seedless raisins
2 tbsp. dark rum or water
3 cups flour
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt (if using salted butter or margarine, just a pinch of salt)
6 tbsp. (3 oz.) cup cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
6 tbsp. (3 oz.) cold vegetable shortening or lard
1 cup milk
2 tbsp. whipping cream (or 1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp. water)
Microwave the raisins together with the rum (tightly covered with plastic wrap) until bubbling hot. Allow to cool to room temperature, then drain and discard any liquid remaining.
Sift or whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
Cut in butter and shortening by hand or use a food processor, pulsing to get a coarse, mealy consistency.
Add drained raisins. Add milk, stirring just enough to form a sticky dough.
Roll out to 3/4-inch thickness and cut into about 16 rounds. If you prefer you can cut into squares or scone-shaped triangles.
Place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and brush with cream.
Bake at 375 F for 18 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.