When I was a kid, Annie and I started getting revved up for Christmas in September. We went through a 5-Step Christmas spirit program, unintentionally designed to test the patience of our parents.
Blast Christmas cassette tapes on repeat. The ones full of really annoying Christmas songs such as the Twelve Days of Christmas (no good music involves counting, see also, 99 Bottles of Beer), The Little Drummer Boy (lovely message, but if I wanted to hear someone make instrument noises with their mouth I'd listen to a cappella), and The Chipmunk Song (if you need an explanation as to why this one sucks, I cannot help you) work best.
Re-decorate the basement with paper snowflakes and red and green construction paper chains. Who cares that your parents spent thousands of dollars waterproofing and finishing the basement? It looks great when decorated with garbage.
Time for Christmas movies! Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph, and A Christmas Story are best when watched thrice weekly beginning Labor Day weekend. Don't forget to watch videos of your Santa visits of years past.
Make your parents rue the day they signed you up for piano lessons. Subject everyone to Christmas music performances, complete with vocal accompaniment from Annie.
Rummage around in the mailbox on a daily basis until you've assembled the ultimate Christmas catalog trifecta: the JCPenney Christmas Big Book, the FAO Schwarz Catalog, and the American Girl Catalog. Since Santa buys the gifts, think nothing of greedily dog-earring half the pages in each catalog. Silently ponder what the 6-foot tall stack of boxes hidden under a sheet in the utility room contained, but continue to believe in Santa until you're 11 anyway. (Don't be a hater; I was a trusting child. And maaaaybe a little behind in the deductive reasoning department.)
(Apologies to my other sister who is 8.5 years my junior for excluding you here...by the time you had the dexterity to make paper snowflakes, I was a surly teenager who wanted to sleep in Christmas morning.)
I get into the Christmas spirit much later in the year in my old age, but with arguably equal intensity. My "psych myself up for Christmas" methodology has significantly changed and matured over the years. For example...
I've replaced The Chipmunk Song with Michael Bublé's Christmas album and old classics from Bing, Frank, and Dean. Instead of Frosty the Snowman, I'm now more of a Love, Actually kind of girl. A Christmas Story isn't going anywhere. Some things never change.
Old traditions like paper-chain making with Annie have been replaced by new ones such as our annual Christmas Eve-Eve ritual of wrapping presents while drinking rum from teacups. Don't knock it 'til you've tried it.
While my parents are still very generous to me and my sisters at Christmas, I now love buying them gifts just as much as I once loved circling clothes in the American Girl catalog that would best suit Felicity Merriman's gingery-complexion.
However, no amount of Christmas shopping or rum-drinking gets me in the holiday spirit more than putting on Christmas music, and making a batch of cookies. Do you put together a cookie tray at Christmas? These would be perfect a perfect addition. They're a simple chocolate cookie rolled in pecans, filled with caramel, and drizzled with more chocolate. After eating a few of these I found that a sprinkling of fleur de sel makes these even better, so feel free to add that before the caramel sets! Speaking of the caramel, it doesn't harden completely. The best way I can describe its final consistency is to compare it to peanut butter. Soft, but not pourable. In other words, perfect.
If you're looking for other Christmas baking ideas, look no further, as I have pulled some recipes from my archives:
Salted Maple Pecan Pie Bars
Soft Gingersnaps with White Chocolate
White Chocolate Cranberry Blondies
Cranberry Orange Walnut Tea Bread with Sweet Orange Glaze
Christmas M&M Cookies
Peppermint Chocolate Cookies
Gingerbread Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting
Cranberry White Chocolate Chip Cookies
Hello Dolly Bars
Pear Spice Cake with Walnut Praline Topping
Green Velvet and Red Velvet Cupcakes
Here's what you'll need:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup dark cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup white sugar
1 large egg, separated, plus 1 additional egg white
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups pecans, chopped fine
14 soft caramel candies
3 tablespoons heavy cream
Melted almond bark or chocolate, for decoration (optional)
Stir together flour, dark cocoa powder, and salt, and set aside. Using an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar. Add egg yolk, milk, and vanilla and mix until incorporated. Beat in flour mixture until a dough forms. Form dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and adjust oven racks to the upper-middle and lower-middle positions.
Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk 2 egg whites until foamy. Roll dough into 1 inch balls, dip in egg whites, and roll in pecans. Place dough balls 2 inches apart on baking sheets.
Using a 1/2 teaspoon round measuring spoon, make a dent in the center of each cookie. Bake for 12 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through baking. Upon removal from the oven, use the 1/2 teaspoon again to re-form the dents.
While the cookies are baking, prepare the caramel. Combine the caramels and heavy cream in a small bowl, and microwave for 1-2 minutes, stirring occasionally, until smooth. Pour caramel into the cookie dents, and let sit on baking sheet for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. If desired, drizzle with melted chocolate or almond bark.
Makes about 2 dozen.
Source: America's Test Kitchen Holiday Cookies 2010 Special Issue, via Pixelated Crumb