Click. The sound of a turn on/turn off switch. The snap of the brain when it switches moods instantly. Click. My Christmas spirit was activated suddenly one day last week, without warning. I had spent several weeks dreading the entire Season, feeling too tired and too overwhelmed to even want to use my spare time and spend it on others. The loss of a loved one will do that I guess, even if the loss comes at the end of a full and vibrant life… Grief has a funny way of manifesting itself; anyone who has gone through the death of someone extremely close to their heart will have different reactions. It is not cast moulded. And sometimes, even the signs of grief elude us…
In my case, I just wanted to be quiet. I wanted to be a spectator and not a participant in the hustle and bustle of the Holidays. On a good day, I already find that Christmas related activities (and every other money-making calendar day of the year) have become extreme marathons of craziness. Women, especially mothers of young children, are exhausted trying to create some magic that will outdo the previous year. Fathers are exhausted being told they are not proactive enough. Children are exhausted from being pulled left right and centre to every single Santa Claus appearances that start as soon as November rolls in. It really shouldn’t be that complicated… Constantly bombarded with an unrealistic message to make “this Christmas the best Christmas ever”, (I can’t imagine how much better it will have to be next year), my heart was sluggishly trying to get «into it». And then, it just happened… Must have been a nice December snowfall or maybe a comment made by one of my Princes, alluding to the magic of Christmases past. At any rate, the spirit of everything red and green and twinkly and shiny surfaced unexpectedly! As I started to decorate the house, I resolved to only do what was fun and promised to fit in plenty of rest, relaxation and several good doses of sappy made for TV Christmas movies. If I don’t find the time to “do it all“, oh well… There is always next year! And this might be MY best Christmas ever, where I am present and awake enough to enjoy everyone else around me. That is what the Holidays are all about. And of course, a decent healthy helping of homemade sweets. In my house, if I can only make time for one recipe, it has to be the Peanut Butter Balls, which I have been rolling without fail since 1984, maybe 1985… It’s not because it is my favourite but it is everyone else’s favourite. Am I not such a generous and giving soul? Nah, not really: I use these chocolaty peanuty balls as leverage and blackmail (giggles).
Of course, these treats are never the only ones to grace Santa’s plate and lure the jolly old fellow in our house. There was a time, not so long ago, when I was young, foolish and had stamina coming out of my yin-yang where I would make 15 to 18 different kinds of cookies and candies of all shapes and sizes, each more beautiful than the other. And after years of going at it alone, a close friend, then a second and eventually a third, tagged along to share the workload and join in on the fun. At our peak, we were 4 bakers who buzzed around the kitchen for 2 days straight, each leaving with enough cookies to last until the following June; trust me, some shortbread was pulled out from a freezer in the middle of the summer on a few occasions. We kept the ritual going for years. And then, without much warning, life got a bit complicated: ill parents, a move to a smaller home and changes in the friendship landscape: the Christmas cookie bake was dropped and forgotten for quite some time… Good awesome traditions are hard to part with and nostalgia has a funny way of tugging at the heart strings… So after a long hiatus, the original three gathered again this year for a couple of days of fun, banter and of course, baking! Day one was dedicated to yakking, gathering recipes, making a shopping list, going shopping and enjoying a lovely dinner in a local pub. Day two was dedicated to the main event: baking our goodies. We even managed to include little breaks here and there such as one to a Cancer fundraiser craft sale at a friend’s house as well as enjoy another dinner together. A relaxed schedule made possible thanks to the wisdom we have acquired with time (we need breaks and wine) and the ability to settle for six, not fourteen, different recipes. In the end, even with our reduced list and tame goals, the day still managed to stretch from 9am to close to 9pm. How did we ever pump out so many in the past? I can’t even imagine… It goes without saying that Peanut Butter Balls were rolled and dipped in chocolate that day. These gluten-free treats do not require baking in the traditional sense of the word: no oven required. However, no baking does not necessarily equate quick and easy. Not that these would qualify as difficult: just tedious and time-consuming. In my world, once the peanut Butter Balls are done, after much sighing and whining at how loooooong they take to roll, dip and decorate (I exaggerate a tiny bit here), Christmas can officially happen!! Any additional sweet treats that come out of the kitchen are simply icing on the “cookies”, pun intended. But since I was sharing the fun with friends this year, our list went beyond the Peanut Butter Balls and included White Chocolate Peanut Butter Bark (gluten-free), Classic Shortbread, Chocolate Turtle Brownies, and some Rice Crispies™ butterscotch squares (no bake and gluten-free as well). We also made cookie dough to be frozen and baked as needed. If the brownies and the crispy butterscotch squares had turned out flawless, I would have added the recipe to this post. However, a bit more tweaking is required with plenty of taste tests in between before I can share on the blog. Maybe next Holiday Season… But for now, please enjoy these 2 family classics which have graced our dessert table at Christmas for many, many years. Happy sweet treat season to all!
PEANUT BUTTER BALLS
Original source: this recipe came out of a magazine purchased between 1984 and 1986. Exact source is unknown
What you need:
- ½ lb butter (250g)
- 4 cups creamy peanut butter (1000ml)
- 2lbs icing sugar (1kg)
- 8 cups Rice Crispie™ cereal, measured then crushed
- 2 lbs good quality milk chocolate and bittersweet chocolate¹ for coating (approx. 1kg)
How to make it:
- Cream butter and peanut butter
- Add sugar and mix well
- In thick plastic bag, crush cereal
- Add to peanut butter mixture and mix well
- Shape in small balls, about ¾” each. Set on cookie sheets lined with parchment or wax paper. Place in freezer until balls are very firm
- Meanwhile, in double boiler over simmering not boiling water, melt both chocolates, starting with 2 cups each type of chocolate. Do not over heat the chocolate
- Take peanut butter balls out of the freezer, only a few at the time², dip individually in chocolate, coating well, and return to cookie sheet. Sprinkle with decoration if using while chocolate is still melted. Return coated balls in fridge to cool.
- Peanut Butter Balls will last a long time in the freezer in an airtight container
¹Buying the right chocolate: I have found that “pure” chocolate bars and/or pure chocolate wafers made specifically for coating work best. In my area, I buy President’s Choice™ product of France chocolate bars (300g size) or Callebaut™ wafers found in bulk stores. The trick is to not over heat the chocolate. When it is just melted, it is ready to go.
² I take no more than 10 or so balls from the freezer at a time. When the peanut butter softens, it tends to disintegrate in the chocolate making it gritty and lumpy. If using sprinkles, top each ball as soon as it is coated: the chocolate will solidify quickly.
PEANUT BUTTER CHOCOLATE BARK
Original source: Canadian Living Magazine. I have searched Canadian Living’s website without success, hoping to find a link to this old recipe and give proper credit. The recipe was found in a November or December issue sometime between 1995 and 2000.
What you need:
- 1 lb + 2oz white chocolate¹ (500g + 60g)
- 1½ cup chunky peanut butter (750ml)
- 8 oz bittersweet chocolate* (250g)
How to make it:
Line 15X10 baking sheet with parchment paper
- In top of double boiler, over simmering but not boiling water, melt 1 lb white chocolate and peanut butter, stirring occasionally
- Spread onto prepared baking sheet
- In a separate bowl, melt bittersweet chocolate over simmering but not boiling water
- Drizzle melted bittersweet chocolate over white chocolate mixture creating long lines, about 5-6
- Run a knife or bamboo skewer through the chocolates to create a marble pattern. Circular motion will yield a very pretty effect
- Melt the remaining 2 oz white chocolate and drizzle over the marbled chocolate bark in random patterns²
- Refrigerate until completely firm. Either cut into triangles or snap into pieces
- Refrigerate up to 2 weeks or freeze up to 1 month
¹Use only top quality chocolates. Stir away from chocolate compounds or chocolate containing high levels of added oils such as palm oil. Ingredients of a good chocolate should include: cocoa, cocoa butter, chocolate liquor and lecithin (an emulsifier). Belgian chocolate chips, usually available in bulk stores, work very well and eliminate the need to chop the chocolate.
² This year, we completely forgot to save white chocolate for the drizzle. If it happens to you, don’t sweat it as no one will notice… The bark will still look great and taste good.