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Local favorites for your holiday desserts

Story by Loukia Borrell

Photographs by Loukia Borrell and submitted

The holidays are synonymous with baking, so whether you are a seasoned pro or an amateur with a sweet tooth, it’s time to haul out the mixer and measuring cups.

And, with summer long gone, hunkering down in the kitchen can make gray, winter days brighter.

“During the holidays, we want to bring comfort to our family, friends and even ourselves,” said Karen Collier, owner of The Cake House on South Church Street in Smithfield. “It’s a time when we take a bit of a breath and think about what we can do to create and share happiness,” Collier said.

Cooking also has gotten a boost during the coronavirus pandemic, when people who love to rustle up good eats use their time at home to experiment with recipes and get creative. Alyssa Kimball, owner of Cakes & Things by Alyssa in Smithfield, finds baking, for the most part, to be a good way to relieve stress. “This could be the case for people at home during the pandemic as well,” Kimball said. “They may have the time to finally make that recipe they’ve been holding onto and forget about the outside world for a little while.”

Boxing up that creativity to share with friends is a way of helping others during these difficult times. “Dropping off baked goods to your neighbors, when maybe you can’t sit and visit with them, is a way to show support and love for your community and can guarantee that a smile will be shared,” Collier said.

Whether you prepare traditional favorites or are just looking for a quick way to add sugar and spice to the season, baking is a great way to spread holiday cheer. Slice asked a few of Isle of Wight County’s talented bakers for easy recipes that will put you in the holiday spirit at first bite. Here’s what they came up with:

From Karen Collier, owner of The Cake House in Smithfield:

Grandma Collier’s Molasses Cookies

“Grandma Collier is my husband’s mother, Joan. My husband loves telling stories about growing up and memories he has of her cooking and baking. With the molasses cookies, their favorite thing was coming home from school and smelling them as soon as they walked in the door. They’d take two cookies, a glass of milk for dunking, and all sit around the kitchen table enjoying them.”

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Bake Time: 9 minutes

Yield: About 20 cookies

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. ground ginger

½ tsp. salt

1 cup (plus additional ½ cup in a small bowl) sugar

¾ cup shortening

¼ cup molasses

1 egg

Directions:

Line a cookie sheet with parchment or wax paper. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Sift the flour into a medium bowl. Add baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. Whisk to combine and add air. Set aside.

Using a hand mixer or stand mixer, combine the sugar, shortening, and molasses until fluffy in texture. Add egg. Mix again until fluffy.

Gradually add the dry mixture to the sugar mixture, mixing just enough to fully incorporate the ingredients.

Using your hands, roll the cookie dough into balls about 1.5” in diameter. Drop the rounded cookie into the small bowl of sugar to lightly coat the cookie. Place the cookie onto the cookie sheet. Do not press down to flatten it; just place it. Repeat for the rest of the cookie dough, placing the cookies about 3” apart.

Bake the cookies for about 9 minutes.

From Alyssa Kimball, owner of Cakes & Things by Alyssa in Smithfield:

M&M Cookies

Kimball said she learned this recipe from the Picky Palate blog. “I love these cookies because they are so versatile. During Halloween, I like to use white chocolate chips and candy corn and during Christmas, you can use colorful holiday M&Ms. You can even use triple chocolate chips, Heath bar toffee bits, or even pecans with caramel bits and chocolate chips for a turtle cookie! Combinations are endless, which makes this the perfect soft baked cookie recipe that you can make your own.”

Prep time: 10 minutes

Bake time: 10-12 minutes

Yield: 24 cookies

Ingredients:

1 stick unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1 large egg

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons instant vanilla pudding mix

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

3/4 cup mini chocolate chips

1 or 1-1/2 cups mini M&Ms

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl or stand mixer, cream your butter and sugars until well combined, approximately 2 minutes. Add your egg and vanilla; mix to combine. Add your flour, pudding mix, baking soda and salt, stirring to combine. Fold in chocolate chips and M&Ms, with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, until combined.

Scoop cookies into balls approximately 2 tablespoons in size, place dough 1 inch apart from each other on baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes until cooked through (do not overbake, cookies will continue to cook on the cookie sheet once out of the oven). Let cool on cookie sheet for 10 minutes before transferring to cooling rack.

From Stacey Fruchey, owner of Hooked on Fondant Cakery in Smithfield:

Pumpkin Rice Krispies Treats

Fruchey says this is a great fall and Thanksgiving recipe. She tweaked the basic Rice Krispies Treat recipe until she had something she was happy with. “It is a delicious twist on a traditional Rice Krispies Treat, and the kids love eating their own pumpkin!”

Cook/Prep time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Yield: 8-10 pumpkins

Ingredients:

3 tbsp butter

1/4 cup canned pumpkin

1 10-ounce bag of mini marshmallows

1/4 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp allspice

1/8 tsp nutmeg

orange food coloring (optional)

12 ounces Rice Krispies

green (watermelon) Airheads (or other soft green candy)

mini pretzel sticks

Directions:

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium-low heat.

Add the canned pumpkin. Stirring constantly, cook for about two minutes, until it is warm.

Fold in the marshmallows, stir constantly until they are completely melted. Add vanilla, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and coloring; stir until combined.

Remove from heat and let cool for about 20 minutes.

Pour Rice Krispies into a large bowl and stir the marshmallow mixture until combined.

Allow to sit for about 30 minutes to firm up a bit.

Meanwhile, with scissors, cut leaf shapes out of the Airheads. You can use the line down the center of the Airheads as a leaf vein.

Form a ball with the Rice Krispies. Add a pretzel stem and candy leaves.