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Bake Your Own Ready-Made Holiday Treats

You never know when unexpected guests might stop by during the holidays.

So how can you make everyone feel welcome at anytime?

With Karen DeMasco, author of "The Craft of Baking," it's all about having some ready-to-serve treats on-hand. DeMasco prepared some of her favorite homemade snacks on the broadcast that you can make, set out for your guests and enjoy -- without the stress.

Recipes Galore

Spicy Caramel Popcorn

This crunchy treat makes a fun and unexpected dessert or a great movie snack. I also love packing it into cellophane bags and tying the bags with ribbon for hostess gifts, or placed around the house in small bowls for when company drops by.

Makes about 4 quarts

Nonstick cooking spray
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 cups sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
Lightly coat two large heatproof rubber spatulas and a large mixing bowl with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large saucepan or pot with a lid, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add the popcorn kernels, cover, and keep the saucepan moving until all of the kernels have popped, about 4 minutes. Transfer the popped popcorn to the prepared bowl, removing any un-popped kernels.

In a small bowl, whisk together the baking soda and cayenne pepper. In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, butter, salt, and 1/2 cup water. Cook over high heat, without stirring, until the mixture becomes a light golden-yellow caramel, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and carefully whisk in the baking soda mixture (the mixture will bubble up-so be careful). Immediately pour the caramel mixture over the popcorn. Working quickly and carefully, use the prepared spatulas to toss the caramel and popcorn together, as if you were tossing a salad, until the popcorn is well coated.

Pour the popcorn onto a large baking pan and quickly flatten and separate it into small pieces while it is still warm. Cool to room temperature, about 15 minutes. Once it is cool, store it in a well-sealed airtight container. Caramel popcorn will keep in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Grandma Rankin's Cashew Brittle

My Grandma Rankin started making what became her famous cashew brittle as a young adult, using a recipe passed down by her mother. Years later, she decided to give the salty-sweet candy as Christmas gifts. Before long she was sending my grandfather to the nut factory to buy nuts in bulk. For years she made 150 pounds of the candy every holiday season!

Makes 1 3/4 pounds

Nonstick cooking spray
2 cups sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) salted roasted cashews

Lightly coat a rimmed baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray; set it aside.

Combine the sugar, butter, corn syrup, and ½ cup water in a large saucepan. Stir together so that all of the sugar is wet. Cook the mixture over high heat without stirring until it turns a dark amber color, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat. Carefully whisk in the baking soda, followed by the salt; the caramel will rise and bubble.

Using a wooden or metal spoon, fold in the cashews. Pour the brittle onto the prepared baking sheet, and using the back of the spoon, spread it out into a layer about 1/2 inch thick. Let it cool completely. Break the brittle into bite-size pieces, using a mallet or the back of a heavy knife.

The brittle can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature or up to 2 weeks.

Variations on Brittle Recipe:
Cacao Nib Brittle
Replace the cashews with 1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) cacao nibs.

Pink Peppercorn Brittle
Replace the cashews with 1 cup (4 ounces) pink peppercorns.

Pumpkin Seed Brittle
Replace the cashews with 1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) toasted pumpkin seeds.

Honeycomb Brittle
Double the amount of baking soda. This makes the caramel bubble up, making the finished brittle look like a honeycomb. The end result is a very light, airy, crunchy candy.

Chocolate Walnut Biscotti

These biscotti can be kept in an airtight container for up to three weeks. These light, crispy cookies are deeply chocolaty but not too sweet. I use coffee extract here (which you can make yourself, using instant espresso powder and water; below). The coffee extract acts similarly to vanilla extract, adding a fantastic depth and roundness to the chocolate flavor without adding a discernible coffee flavor. Without the extract, the flavor of these cookies falls flat.

Makes about 3 dozen

1 cup walnut pieces, roughly chopped
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons Coffee Extract (recipe follows)
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

This dough is very sticky, so use ample flour on your work surface and hands when rolling it out.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Spread the walnuts in a single layer on a second baking sheet. Toast them in the oven, stirring occasionally, until they are lightly golden and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool the sheet on a wire rack. Keep the oven on.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, cocoa powder, brown sugar, granulated sugar, butter, baking soda, and salt. Beat on low speed until the ingredients are well combined and no butter pieces are visible, about 4 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolk, coffee extract, and vanilla. Add the mixture to the flour mixture and beat on low speed to combine. Add the cooled nuts and the chocolate chips, and beat just to combine.

Turn out the dough onto a generously floured work surface and divide it in half. Shape each portion into a 16 x 2-inch log, and transfer them to the prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 3 inches apart.

Bake, rotating the sheet halfway through, until the logs are firm to the touch, about 20 minutes. Transfer the logs, still on the parchment paper, to a wire rack and let cool slightly, about 5 minutes.
Reduce the oven temperature to 250 F.

Transfer the warm logs to a cutting board. Using a serrated knife, cut the logs on the diagonal into 1/3-inch-thick slices. Arrange the slices, cut side up, on the baking sheet. Bake until the biscotti are dry and firm to the touch, about 1 hour. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and let the sheet of biscotti cool completely on the rack.

Coffee Extract
1/4 cup hot water
One 2-ounce jar instant espresso powder, preferably Medaglia D'Oro
Slowly stir the hot water directly into the jar of espresso powder. Cover the jar with the lid, close the lid tightly, and shake well to combine. Use immediately or keep in a dark cupboard at room temperature for up to 6 months.

Variations on Biscotti Recipe:

Chocolate-Dipped Chocolate Walnut Biscotti

Bake the biscotti, omitting the chocolate chips. Melt and temper 12 ounces semisweet chocolate. Dip one side, or one end, of each cookie into the chocolate. Scrape off any excess chocolate on the edge of the bowl. Place the biscotti, dipped side down, on a parchment-covered baking sheet. Let the chocolate set at room temperature, about 5 minutes. The biscotti can be kept in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.

For a Gingersnaps recipe, go to Page 2.


Gingersnaps

Don't let these innocent-looking little cookies fool you-they pack a punch of spicy ginger and have a fabulous crunch.

Makes 3 dozen

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
11/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup granulated sugar
12 tablespoons (11/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, at room temperature
2 large eggs
1/4 cup blackstrap molasses
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
1/2 cup Demerara sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 F.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the granulated sugar and butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs, molasses, and ginger to combine. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the flour mixture, beating just until incorporated.

Line two baking sheets with parchment. Shape the dough into twenty-four 3/4-inch balls. Put the Demerara sugar in a shallow bowl and roll the balls in it to coat them completely. Space the balls evenly on two baking sheets. Bake, rotating the sheets once halfway through, until dark golden brown, about 15 minutes. Transfer the baking sheets to wire racks to cool. The gingersnaps can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Variations on Gingersnaps
These gingersnaps make a great crust for pies and tarts. Serve gingersnaps with Butterscotch Pudding and a spoonful of creme fraiche.

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