The night before Thanksgiving, a friend and I sat at my kitchen table. We talked about kids and travel plans. We talked about changing family dynamics and grief. We talked about what we were learning, what we were struggling with, and what Christmas traditions we wanted to continue this year.
And, most importantly, we talked about what we were going to bake for the holidays. My friend showed up with a stack of recipes, ingredients to try a new cookie, and a bag of candy we needed to sample.
Holiday baking is serious business. That night, we compared notes, edited plans, and did a few experiments. Yes, the next day was Thanksgiving, but the cookies and candy we were going to eat in December were already center stage. Nothing some middle-aged moms love more than baking in December.
Here’s my 2021 plan for holiday goodies. Some of these are regulars that show up every year (looking at you, chocolate chip cookies and zesty Chex Mix) and some of them are new additions (decadent rice crispy treats and Chelsea’s chocolate peanut butter balls), but they’re all delicious and deserve a spot in your cookie jar this season.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
If I leave these out, the people will revolt. Here’s the recipe. If you follow me on IG, you can see a Reel later this week with all my tricks and tips to make them.
Decadent Rice Krispies Treats
Full disclosure, my friend Christine perfected this recipe. I’d been using a different one, because I wanted something a little more gooey than the traditional ones. Then we went camping this summer, and she brought a batch of these with her. I think my family finished off the whole container before the second night. These are grown up, richer Rice Krispie treats. A million times better than the ones you had as a kid. (Also, this recipe calls for the whole box of cereal and whole bags of mini marshmallows. Nothing more annoying than using half a box of cereal or marshmallows and then letting the rest sit until they go stale. We don’t really use those things for much else in our house, so being able to make a large batch and have nothing left to store until I decide to throw it away is a bonus.)
1 box (10 oz.) of Rice Krispies
12 tablespoons of butter
3 bags (10 oz.) of mini marshmallows
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
– Melt butter in a large pot. Browning it just ups the flavor, but it’s not necessary.
– Reserve 3 cups of marshmallows then pour the rest in the pot with the butter.
– Slowly melt the marshmallows, stirring continuously.
– Once the marshmallows are melted, add the salt and vanilla.
– Remove from heat and add the Rice Krispies, stirring until the cereal is coated in the marshmallow mixture.
– Then add the remaining marshmallows into the pot and incorporate.
– Transfer the cereal mixture to a greased pan or cookie sheet covered in parchment paper. (This makes a lot! Don’t pick a small pan.)
– Spread the cereal mixture out evenly; don’t mash it down, you want the treats to be airy and gooey, not packed in and completely solid.
– Let cool and enjoy!
Extra Credit Additions:
Add in mini chocolate chips with the 3 cups of mini marshmallows if you’re feeling fancy. My friend Christine buys the bulk bags of Lucky Charms marshmallows from Rural King and throws those in there. (They also sell the tiny marshmallows, the kind you see in hot chocolate packets. Those would be fun too!) Throw in sprinkles, whatever your little heart desires. If you don’t want to add more stuff to mix in, just add the chocolate or sprinkles to the top. You can’t really mess these up.
White Chocolate Oatmeal Cranberry Cookies
I first saw this recipe years ago on the side of an Ocean Spray dried cranberry package. I’ve been making them a few times a year ever since. Every time I make these, I think the dough looks too dry and I’ve done something wrong…then I try one for quality control purposes and they’re perfect. So don’t freak out if you’re used to wetter dough, these work their magic in the oven and come through in the end.
Chelsea’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls
I grew up eating buckeyes at family Christmas gatherings. Both my grandmas made them, so we were never without and that made me feel #blessed. But I’d never made them; they didn’t seem like a thing I should make. It might ruin the magic. But then my friend Chelsea shared this recipe and I finally took the plunge last year. She uses Rice Krispies in her balls so they are lighter than the traditional ones you might have grown up eating. What’s great about this is you can eat more of them. One traditional buckeye and you’re done because they’re super rich. These peanut butter balls? 3-4 with ease. Don’t make these too far in advance of your holiday gathering though, because they will not last. I’m serious. Be careful.
Puppy Chow (or Muddy Buddies for people who like to be wrong)
I made a batch of Puppy Chow last year on a whim with leftover cereal, and the girls went crazy for it. I forgot how delicious it is and how fun it is to make. Here’s the recipe I used. We just sprinkled this in cookie containers as filler, but putting it in cute bags and tying it with some ribbon is a fancy touch if you’re in the mood to impress.
Okay, so this recipe is a little more intense than I normally do, but I love the look of the sticks with it, so I’m sharing it in case you do too. If you just want to coat some Oreos in melted chocolate and add some sprinkles, do that. This recipe has all the information you’ll need. The girls love helping with these!
Chocolate-Covered Pretzel Rods
This is similar to the Oreos, so if you like the idea of holiday treats, but baking isn’t really your jam, these should work for you. Also, they just look pretty and festive. For a fun twist, bag a few of these in a Christmas baggies and top your gifts with them.
Rolo Pretzel Turtles
These are classics and super easy. If you feel like baking is hard and everything always ends up ruined, start here. Low heat in the oven with lots of pre-made things. You’re literally just warming up some stuff. I bought my bag of Rolos too early this season and have to pick up another one this weekend to be able to make these. But no regrets, honestly. Those Rolos supported me well.
Iced Sugar Cookies
Make this dough the day before you want to roll out the cookies and bake them for the best flavor. Here’s the recipe. Ice with whatever your heart desires, you can’t really go wrong with these cookies. (Side story: this is a recipe my mom got from a friend when I was in elementary school. The lady was a home ec teacher and knew her cookies. This recipe calls for Crisco and you just have to go with it. Don’t ask questions.)
Zesty Chex Mix
My family LOVES this stuff. It’s really bold, so if you don’t like garlicky, salty treats, skip this one. For everyone else, make a few batches with this recipe and take it to all your holiday gatherings. Your breath will be kickin’ afterward, but it’s worth the sacrifice. (I normally make 3-4 batches to use up all the cereal. Otherwise, it’s just goes to waste because no one eats it for breakfast.) This one will be on Instagram this week too, if that’s your jam.
I make banana bread all the time. It’s a great way to use up bananas that no one ate, and the bread freezes really well. I’ve shared before that I believe in the ministry of banana bread. If someone is hurting or sick or just having a bad Tuesday, I’ll grab a loaf or two from the freezer and deliver it to them. You can do this too or whip up a batch for Christmas morning. I use a four-loaf stone from Pampered Chef to make smaller loaves, but this recipe can be made into muffins or one giant loaf as well.
Two new recipes I’m trying this weekend:
Soft Gingerbread Cookies (link)
The girls decorated gingerbread houses about a week ago. While they were working, I realized they’ve never actually had gingerbread cookies. Harper kept licking her house, which was edible, but probably not delicious. Then I saw these, and they made my mouth water. We’re trying them out this weekend.
The Very Best Chocolate Cookies (link)
Both the gingerbread cookie recipe and this one are from Pinch of Yum. She always has recipes that look delicious, now we get to see if they actually are. (I have no doubt they’re good, I’m just being dramatic.) I need to grab a few ingredients to be able to make these and then it.is.on.
The girls and I love to spend a long weekend in December baking and watching cringe-worthy Christmas movies. We buy a few DIY Christmas ornament kits from the craft store and assemble ornaments. Sunday afternoon, we pack up all the goodies topped with homemade ornaments, jump in the car, and drive around the city dropping off packages of deliciousness to all our favorite people. We put Elf on the TV, sing Christmas carols at the top of our lungs, and try to sneak onto front porches without getting caught (with the prevalence of Ring doorbells and cameras, this is actually pretty challenging!).
For me, this is reminiscent of the Christmas cookie Tupperware my grandma would drop off every December to our house when I was a kid. We’d come home and find the huge bin sitting on the chest freezer in our garage. It was a mad dash into the house to open the container and grab your favorite sweets before someone else did (buckeyes and the green shortbread cookies with red sprinkles, please and thank you; if you chose wrong and got the chocolate coconut balls, it was acceptable to immediately barf them into the trash can. Sorry, Grandma).
I hope my friends aren’t barfing our holiday creations into the trash can, but who knows. They’re all nice enough not to mention that part if they are. But I’m actually pretty confident you could make anything on this list and it would be met with nothing but love. Last year a friend was having a particularly challenging time, so we returned to her house a few days later with another package of cookies. So maybe make a few extras and keep them on hand for holiday parties and emergency emotional support. Because, truly, everyone loves holiday treats.