Sure, a lot of people bake for the holidays. It seems natural. Siblings and children are home from college and relatives from far away come to visit. You want to show them that they mean something to you, so you bake. You don’t bake the usual chocolate chip cookies. You break out the heirloom family recipes and once a year favorites.
I used to do the holiday baking by myself, with one of my brothers occasionally passing through the kitchen. Last year, I decided to try something different. I invited my mom, aunts, grandmother, 8 year old cousin, and my brother’s girlfriend to join the marathon baking session. Guess what? I could not exert my over-the-top perfectionist tendencies. But it was FUN! We had our family’s famous “punch” while baking. My little cousin was in heaven. I learned that certain recipes are best made ahead of time and that others, like peanut butter blossoms, seven layer (magic cookie) bars, christmas ‘wreaths’ and sugar cookies are great to make when a little cousin is offering her helping hands. I learned that even your tried and true jam thumbprint recipe can fail.
This year, I will not be performing the holiday baking alone. I was texting my little cousin on Thanksgiving and she asked me when we would be doing our annual holiday baking. I had sort of given up on it because of everyone’s hectic schedules. Still, she persisted. Now, as I look back over last year’s fun, I am glad she asked for us to do it again! We managed to work around everyone’s schedules and will be doing our cookie baking a few days before Christmas!
Not needing an excuse to make one of my favorite ‘bar’ cookies, I recently made a batch (along with my favorite sugar cookies) for a coworker’s baby shower. Variations of this bar are everywhere. My mom’s original recipe came from the paper wrapper on a can of Sweetened Condensed Milk. I tend to make these with whatever leftover bits of baking chips I have in my baking pantry.
“Catherine’s Seven Layer Bars”
2 sleeves graham crackers (16 graham crackers)
1 stick butter, melted
14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
3/4 c. mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
4 oz. Ghirardelli white chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 c. Heath toffee bits
1/2 c. Butterscotch chips
1/2 c. shredded sweetened coconut
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 13″ x 9″ pan with cooking spray.
Break graham crackers into 1-2″ pieces. Place in food processor. Pulse until fine crumbs are formed. Combine graham cracker crumbs with 1 stick melted butter with a spatula in a medium size bowl.
Pour graham cracker-butter mixture into greased 13″ x 9″ pan. Pat down evenly with hands. Press crust down with bottom of (1/2 c.) measuring cup or glass, adding a 1/2″ rim/edge in the crust.
Pour sweetened condensed milk over graham cracker crust. Spread evenly with spatula, trying not to drag up graham cracker crumbs in the process. Sprinkle on the rest of the ingredients in layers, ending with the coconut (if using). Press down with a fork.
Bake 25 minutes, or until coconut is toasted and turns a light tan color. Transfer pan to a wire rack. Let cool completely, 1 hour – overnight. Cut into small bars and serve from pan or place each individual square on a muffin cup and serve on a big tray.