Christmas is just days away – who has time to bake? Yet there’s one more party at work. And the neighbors just brought by a basket of Meyer lemons from their tree. And you still haven’t found a gift for the dog sitter.
And then there’s the big guy in the red suit, expecting cookies (Oreos? Horrors!) on a plate with some milk.
A homemade treat to share would be appropriate in each case. But who has time to bake?
I know what this week can be like, so I tested three no-bake treats, plus a super-easy baked pantry cookie from my files that turned out to be the fastest recipe here.
A three-ingredient recipe has got to be fast, right?
These white chocolate snowflakes that I spotted on Food52.com harken back to those General Mills concoctions that were popular in the 1960s. You may remember them: chocolate and peanut butter and Cheerios, for example. Others included chow mein noodles or rolled oats.
The snowflakes have just three ingredients: white baking chocolate, rice cereal (a.k.a. Rice Krispies or equivalent) and salted roasted peanuts. Melt the chocolate, stir in the cereal and peanuts, and dollop on wax paper, then chill. Great stuff: The bland-sweet candy meets its match in the peanuts, and the cereal provides great crunch.
These not-at-all-fancy treats proved to be the most popular ones in the newsroom taste test.
A British blog had a no-bake recipe for coconut treats that intrigued me. Sweetened condensed milk is mixed with powdered sugar and unsweetened flaked coconut, with a touch of vanilla. The mixture is spread in a baking pan, chilled, then cut out with cookie cutters. To finish, they’re brushed with melted white chocolate and topped with sprinkles. How festive, right?
It may have been my translation of the British measures, but the first of these cutouts that I made were quite thick and quite rich to boot. (OK, they’re more candy than cookie.)
To reduce the richness, I switched to a much smaller cookie cutter than called for. I’d also recommend using a larger pan in which to chill the coconut base, to flatten it out a bit.
The taste of this treat reminded me of the middle of Mounds bars, so I topped half the cutouts with dark chocolate. Much better, though still pretty sweet.
ON THE BALL
Date nut balls and bourbon balls are big among holiday treats, but I got to wondering if anything like that used oranges. (My little tree is loaded with fruit, already ripe.)
Cooks.com, which gets contributions of all kinds, had several recipes for orange balls, but looking at them I realized why I hadn’t seen any in a while. All the recipes used frozen orange juice concentrate for the liquid. Hardly anyone buys that anymore, what with all the not-from-concentrate juices out there.
Finally, I found one recipe that includes fresh orange juice, plus zest. White corn syrup substitutes for the viscosity of the juice concentrate. Ground-up vanilla wafers are the base and chopped pecans provide the richness. (Walnuts or almonds also would work.)
The “dough” for these comes together very quickly; the rolling is what takes some time. Instead of rolling the balls in coconut, since I already had a coconut treat, I coated them in powdered sugar. Bonus: They look great in holiday mini muffin cups.
STIR, DROP AND RELAX
An old Betty Crocker recipe is my almost-Christmas gift to fellow bakers. This is the recipe to use when you’re out of butter, the remaining brown sugar has hardened to a brick, the kids ate the chocolate chips, and yet Santa is expecting cookies.
Flour, sugar, eggs, flavoring and your favorite cooking oil (except olive oil, but that might even work) – put it all in a bowl, stir, drop it from a spoon and flatten it with a sugar-encrusted glass. No chilling, rolling, frosting or extra decorating.
These won’t win awards for delicate texture, but they are great with a cup of tea or a bowl of ice cream.
As a side note on time: I made all four recipes in one night, just to test how fast they are. (I really wouldn’t recommend this approach.) The sweets all go together quickly, but any single recipe will make plenty to share and to savor.
And now, if you don’t mind, I’m not going to make cookies for a while.
White chocolate snowflakes
Total time: 45 minutes
Makes about 4 dozen
Maybe not strictly a cookie, these treats couldn’t be easier: Melt, stir and chill. A dozen wrapped in red cellophane would make a nice last-minute gift for a neighbor.
Adapted by Kathy Morrison from Merrill Stubbs’ recipe on Food52.com.
1 pound white chocolate, chopped
2 1/2 cups crisp rice cereal, such as Rice Krispies
1 cup salted roasted peanuts
Melt the white chocolate in a double boiler, stirring until smooth. Stir in the cereal and the peanuts, coating them evenly in the white chocolate.
Dollop the mixture by rounded tablespoons onto baking pans covered with wax paper. Chill (or even freeze) until the white chocolate is solid.
Testing and tasting
▪ I used a 12-ounce package of white chips combined with a 4-ounce Ghirardelli white baking bar.
▪ I followed tradition and used a double boiler for melting the white chocolate instead of microwaving it. It took longer, but once I started mounding the mixture on pans, I could just pop the pan back over the hot water if the mixture started to harden.
▪ I think I’d cut the cereal back next time to 2 cups to get a little more heft to the snowflakes.
▪ A different nut could be used, but be sure it’s salted, to get that sweet/salty contrast.
▪ These were quite popular among tasters.
Total time: 30 minutes plus 1 hour for chilling
Makes about 30, depending on cutter size
Adapted by Kathy Morrison from a British food blog, Food To Love. The finished treats don’t have to be chilled, but a good chill beforehand is crucial. Note: The pan determines the thickness of the cutouts. I used a 9-by-9 pan but would use a 9-by-13-inch one if I were to make this again.
One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
3 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
1 box (about 4 cups) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ounces white chocolate (I used a Ghirardelli white baking bar), melted
1/3 cup dark chocolate chips, melted with 1/2 teaspoon shortening or coconut oil
Colored sprinkles for decoration
Grease and line with parchment paper a 9-by-9 baking pan, extending paper at two sides for handles.
Place condensed milk, coconut, sugar and vanilla in a medium to large bowl. Using clean hands, combine mixture until thoroughly blended. Press evenly into prepared pan. Chill for 1 hour to set.
Remove coconut mixture from pan using the paper handles. Set on a cutting board or counter. Using a high-sided metal cookie cutter, about 1 1/2 inches in diameter, cut shapes from mixture and set them on a wax paper-covered pan.
After cutting as many as possible, push the leftover coconut mixture together, as if baking biscuits, and pat it to an even height. Cut more treats. Repeat until all the mixture is used.
Brush the cutouts with melted white chocolate or dark chocolate, adding sprinkles for decoration. Chill again if desired. Store in a tightly covered container.
Testing and tasting
▪ I used a spatula for the first half of blending and then switched to using my hands. Prepare to get messy.
▪ You could of course do all white chocolate or all dark chocolate for the topping. I just liked trying both.
▪ An alternate and probably quicker way to finish these treats would be to cut the coconut mixture in rows, and then squares, as with brownies. But add the topping after cutting; it will be difficult to cut when it hardens.
▪ Mounds bars fans loved these treats, but some others in the newsroom found them too sweet.
Orange nut balls
Total time: 45 minutes
Makes about 30 balls
This is an update of several popular recipes that used frozen orange juice concentrate as its base. Adapted from cooks.com. A food processor is handy for chopping and mixing this recipe but isn’t necessary.
3 cups fine crumbs of vanilla wafers (most of a 12-ounce box)
1 cup finely chopped pecans
1 cup powdered (confectioners) sugar, plus 1/2 cup more for rolling
Zest from 1 medium to large orange
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
3 tablespoons white corn syrup
Combine crumbs, pecans and 1 cup powdered sugar in a large bowl. Blend in the orange zest, juice and corn syrup. Blend well until thoroughly combined. Using 1 level tablespoon for each cookie, shape into balls.
Roll balls in remaining powdered sugar. Place in mini paper cups, if desired. Store in tightly covered container. (Chilling optional but I like them that way.)
Testing and tasting
▪ These little balls also could be rolled in coconut instead of powdered sugar. Different nuts also could be used.
▪ These proved to be my favorite of the three no-bake options here.
▪ Try a little orange liqueur in the mixture instead of some of the orange juice, if desired.
▪ If you’re not serving these right away, you might wait to roll them. The dough will keep, covered, in the fridge.
Stir-and-drop sugar cookies
Total time: 40 minutes
Makes about 3 dozen
This is an old reliable that I bake when we need a quick treat – it even can be hand-beaten with a whisk or wooden spoon, easing cleanup time. Do note that choice of pans will affect the look of the cookie.
Use your favorite cooking oil – corn, canola or vegetable. I’ve made it most recently with coconut oil and was really pleased with the results. (Be sure the coconut oil is liquid before adding it.)
No lemons or oranges available? Skip the zest.
Recipe adapted by Kathy Morrison from Betty Crocker.
2/3 cup cooking oil (corn, canola or liquid coconut oil)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 to 2 teaspoons lemon or orange zest (optional)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Coarse, holiday or granulated sugar for decorating
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Use ungreased insulated cookie sheets or parchment paper-covered regular pans. (Insulated sheets produce less-brown cookies, but the cookies must be removed immediately or they will stick to the pan.)
Beat the eggs in a large bowl until well-blended. Stir in the oil, vanilla and zest, if using. Blend in sugar until mixture thickens. Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in another bowl. Add to the egg mixture, stirring until incorporated.
Drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls about 2 inches apart on the baking sheets.
Place the decorating sugar in a small bowl. Grease the flat bottom of a glass and dip it in the sugar, then flatten one of the mounds of dough with the glass. Repeat for each cookie.
Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until cookies are just barely starting to brown. Remove the cookies immediately from the baking sheet to a cooling rack. They keep best in a tightly closed container.