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Make it Merry: Festive Sweet Treats

From cookies and toffee to brownies and bread, these festive recipes are sure to brighten, and sweeten, your holiday season.

Holiday Toffee

Submitted by Sugar Sweetery, Rancho Cordova,   @sugar_sweetery, @sugarsweetery

Toffee is a classic holiday treat—and making it is a great tradition! Place some in a festive tin or in parchment paper with a decorative ribbon or tag, and gift it to family, friends, teachers, or coworkers.

Holiday Toffee


•    2 cups salted butter (room temperature)
•    2 cups sugar
•    2 tsp. vanilla bean paste (or extract)
•    2 cups chocolate chips (white, milk, or dark)

•    Top with white chocolate and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar; add chopped pecans into the toffee and top with dark chocolate and a sprinkle of sea salt; add sliced almonds into the toffee and top with milk chocolate and more sliced almonds; top with sprinkles and pretzels.

Place softened butter in a large pot and melt over medium heat. Once melted, add in the sugar, and stir until the mixture is combined.

Bring the mixture to a boil, but do not stir it (stirring too much can cause it to crystalize). You’re looking to see it change to an amber color and will notice it thickening and smelling fantastic—like caramel popcorn!

Reduce the heat to low and let it continue deepening in color; you’ll want it to become a dark amber, which can take 5-10 minutes depending on your stovetop. If you have a thermometer, stick it into the mixture and wait until it reaches 290 degrees. Once it reaches temp, turn off the stove and move the pot off the burner.

Add in the vanilla and nuts, if using, give it a good stir, and spread the mixture evenly across a parchment-lined 9x13-inch cookie sheet. Let it rest for 5-7 minutes.

After the toffee has cooled just a bit, add your choice of chocolate chips, let them melt for 3 minutes, and then take an offset spatula and spread the melted chocolate evenly over the toffee.

Sprinkle with your toppings of choice and let the toffee completely cool for 5-6 hours or overnight.

Once cooled, cut it with a knife or break it apart with gloved hands.

TOP BAKING TIP: Use salted butter in dessert recipes; it helps cut the sweetness of the treat and adds more flavor!

Cranberry Orange Dessert Loaf

Submitted by Sugar Mill Bakery, Auburn, @thesugarmillbakery, @sugarmillbakeryca

My mom loves cranberry orange scones, so I created this loaf with her in mind! I wanted an after-dinner option that mimicked the breakfast treat she adores. This recipe is also great for sharing or can be made into mini loaves for holiday gifts.

Cranberry Orange Dessert Loaf


•    2 cups all-purpose flour
•    ½ tsp. salt
•    1 tsp. baking soda
•    ⅓ cup oil
•    ½ cup brown sugar
•    ½ cup sugar
•    1 tsp. vanilla extract
•    ½ tsp. orange extract
•    1 tbsp. orange zest
•    1 egg
•    1 cup buttermilk
•    1 cup dried cranberries

•    ½ cup powdered sugar
•    2 tsp. orange juice
•    Water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, salt, and baking soda together in a small bowl.

With a handheld or stand mixer, combine the oil, brown sugar, sugar, vanilla extract, orange extract, and orange zest. Add in the egg.

Alternate adding in flour mixture and buttermilk in 3 parts, ending with the flour. Mix until combined. Fold in cranberries.

Pour into a greased or parchment-lined 9-inch loaf pan. Bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean from the middle.

Make the glaze by combining powdered sugar, orange juice, and enough water until it reaches your desired thickness. Pour over the loaf when it’s completely cool.

TOP BAKING TIP: Use room temperature ingredients. The extra time you spend to let your ingredients come to the same temperature will help to create a beautiful (and delicious!) product.

Mexican Hot Chocolate Brownies

Submitted by Ruby Made, Orangevale, @rubymadeco

As a kid, my best friend’s dad would often make us Abuelita hot chocolate. It was always a special memory, so I still love incorporating flavors of cinnamon into desserts whenever I can.

Mexican Hot Chocolate Brownies


•    1 ½ cups (180g) flour
•    2 tsp. cinnamon
•    ¼ tsp. nutmeg
•    ⅛ tsp. cayenne powder (add more if you want more spice)
•    4 large eggs (room temperature)
•    1 ¼ cups Dutch-process cocoa
•    1 tsp. salt
•    1 tsp. baking powder
•    1 tbsp. vanilla extract
•    1 tsp. espresso powder or 1 tbsp. brewed coffee, optional for enhanced flavor
•    2 sticks (227g) unsalted butter
•    2 ¼ cups (447g) sugar
•    2 cups (340g) chocolate chips
•    Cinnamon, for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9x13-inch pan.

Whisk together flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cayenne in a medium bowl.
Beat eggs together in a large bowl with the cocoa, salt, baking powder, vanilla, and espresso powder/coffee (if using) until smooth.

In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium low heat. Once melted, add the sugar, and stir to combine. Continue to heat, while stirring occasionally, until the mixture is hot but not bubbling. The appearance will become shiny as the sugar starts to dissolve. This step will help produce a shiny crinkle top.

Add the hot butter-sugar mixture into the cocoa mixture. Stir until smooth. Add the flour mixture; stir until combined and smooth. Add the chocolate chips until just incorporated.

Place the batter into the lightly greased pan. Bake for 26-30 minutes, until the edges feel set and the center looks moist but not uncooked. Test the center with a toothpick; you should see moist crumbs inside but no uncooked batter.

Remove from the oven and let cool. Dust the top with cinnamon before serving.

TOP BAKING TIP: Always weigh out your ingredients. Not every measuring cup/scoop is the same. This helps your baked goods stay consistent and gives the most accurate result when following a recipe.

Stamped Coffee-Glazed Gingerbread Cookies

Submitted by Teal Rabbit Bakery, Roseville, 916-345-4845, @tealrabbitbakery

Gingerbread has long been a tradition of the holiday season. I love these cookies for their festive exteriors, soft centers, holiday spices, and cozy coffee glaze. Enjoy a batch curled up on the couch or by the fire.  

Stamped Coffee-Glazed Gingerbread Cookies


•    2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
•    2 tsp. ground ginger
•    2 tsp. ground cinnamon
•    ¾ tsp. ground cloves
•    ½ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg (or ground nutmeg)
•    ½ tsp. baking soda
•    ¾ tsp. salt
•    ½ cup unsalted butter (room temperature)
•    ½ cup dark-brown sugar (packed)
•    1 egg
•    ¾ cup molasses

•    ⅔ cup powdered sugar
•    4 tsp. coffee

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In medium bowl, mix flour, spices, baking soda, and salt.

In a stand mixer, cream the butter and brown sugar on medium high until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and molasses.

Reduce speed to low and add in flour mixture in half cup increments until just combined.

Divide dough in half. Wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Make the glaze by combining the powdered sugar and coffee.

After the dough is chilled, flour your work surface, and roll it out to about ¼-inch thick. Press with a festive stamp and then cut out with a circle cookie cutter or biscuit cutter. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and refrigerate for about 15 minutes.

Bake for 8-10 minutes. Let cool briefly, but glaze while still warm.

TOP BAKING TIP: Always gather all your ingredients and pre-measure them before getting started. This will help you stay organized and ensure all your ingredients are at the proper temperature.

Soft Amaretti Cookies (Italian Snowballs)

Submitted by Taylor Made Desserts, Fair Oaks, 916-228-0520,, @taylormade_desserts@tmdesserts

Crunchy on the outside, chewy in the middle, and just enough Amaretto to make them a little boozy, these festive cookies are naturally gluten-free and remind me of my first trip to Italy during the holidays last year.

Soft Amaretti Cookies (Italian Snowballs)


•    2 ¼ cups ground superfine almond flour
•    1 cup sugar
•    ½ tsp. salt
•    2 large egg whites
•    1 tbsp. Amaretto (almond liqueur)
•    1 tsp. almond extract
•    ½ cup granulated sugar (for rolling)
•    1 cup confectioners’ sugar (for rolling)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk together the almond flour, sugar, and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites on high speed until they hold stiff peaks. Add in the Amaretto and almond extract, and whisk to combine.

Using a spatula, gently fold half the egg white mixture into the almond flour mixture and combine. Add the remaining egg whites and mix until the batter is soft and very sticky.

Using a small ice cream scoop or a tablespoon, scoop out the batter and roll into small balls using your hands. Roll the dough balls first into the granulated sugar and then into the confectioners’ sugar. Place on the baking sheet about 2 inches apart.

Bake for 15-20 minutes until the cookies look “cracked” and form a crunchy exterior. The middle should still be soft. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool for 10 minutes before enjoying!

TOP BAKING TIP: Always line your baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat (even if the pan is nonstick). This will ensure even baking every time!

Holly Jolly Ginger Molasses Cookies

Submitted by The Cookie Boss, El Dorado Hills, 510-690-7995,, @cookie_boss_edh

My favorite holiday story growing up was The Gingerbread Man, so I love baking these ginger cookies, decorating them with my son, and recreating the fairy tale.

Holly Jolly Ginger Molasses Cookies


•    2 sticks (226g) unsalted butter (room temperature)
•    1 cup (220g) sugar
•    1 egg (room temperature)
•    1 cup dark or light molasses (do not use cooking or blackstrap molasses)
•    2 tbsp. white vinegar
•    5 cups all-purpose flour
•    1 ½ tsp. baking soda
•    2 tsp. ground ginger
•    1 tsp. ground cinnamon
•    1 tsp. ground cloves
•    ½ tsp. salt

With a mixer on high speed, cream the butter for about 30 seconds or until the sticks have lost their shape. Add the sugar and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy, usually 2-3 minutes (I use the paddle attachment on my stand mixer). Scrape down the sides as needed. Add the egg, molasses, and vinegar to the butter and sugar. Beat to combine well. The mixture will look a bit curdled; this is normal due to the vinegar reacting with the egg.

In a separate bowl, gently mix the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and salt with a whisk. Slowing add the dry mixture to the wet ingredients in portions, and ensure all ingredients combine well, just until the mixture stops sticking to the sides of the mixing bowl. DO NOT OVER MIX. The dough should be a little sticky and should come together when you press it in your hands without crumbling.

Divide the dough into two even portions, roll out each portion on parchment paper, place them both (stacked), in a half-sheet baking tray, and cover the tray with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30-90 minutes.

When the dough is done chilling, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Working in sections, roll the dough to ½-inch thick on a floured surface; cut into desired shapes or use cookie cutters. Place shapes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a baking mat. Gather and reroll "scraps" of dough as needed, using all the dough.

Bake for 10 minutes, let the cookies remain on the tray for 5 minutes, and then move to a cooling rack.

Once cooled, decorate with Royal Icing.*

TOP BAKING TIP: Always read recipes from start to finish BEFORE beginning.


3 egg whites

1 lb. confectioners’ sugar

1 tsp. vanilla extract



Using a stand mixer or large mixing bowl, beat egg whites on low medium speed until frothy, about 1 minute.


With the mixer on low speed, slowly add in confectioners’ sugar and vanilla.


Once fully incorporated, increase speed to medium high and beat until stiff peaks shiny peaks form.


Divide icing among small bowls and use gel food coloring to make desired colors. (Keep any icing that isn’t being immediately used covered with plastic wrap as it begins to crust over very quickly.) Use caution when coloring the icing. Start with small amounts; it is easier to add more color than to remove color if too dark. Also, as the icing sits, the color will deepen over time.


Have two consistencies of each color—one for outlining (toothpaste consistency) and another for flooding (thick syrup consistency). Adding water thins the icing, adding powdered sugar thickens the icing.

Transfer icing to piping bags and decorate cookies.

Decorating Tips

  1. Start by using the outlining consistency icing to trace the edges of the cookie.
  2. Using the same icing, scribble some icing in the center of the cookie. This will help prevent the thinner consistency icing from spilling over.
  3. Starting from the edges, use the flood consistency icing to fill in the entire cookie.
  4. Set the cookie aside on a flat surface, such as a cooling rack, and allow the icing to dry for about 10-15 minutes, just until you can see the surface has crusted over.
  5. Using the outlining consistency icing, begin decorating your cookie with details.
  6. Allow the cookie to dry for at least 3-5 hours before packaging.

by Megan Wiskus