I. Love. Food. And as I've gotten older, I've loved figuring out how to make my own. I've dabbled a bit in actual cooking, but when it comes to getting creative in the kitchen, baking has always been what I've enjoyed most (whether that's a blessing or a curse is up to you). So, you can imagine my sadness as I moved off to college and left behind something I had come to hold very close to my heart – a real kitchen. Sure, my dorm has an oven on the ground floor, but making anything in there requires buying all the baking materials in addition to the ingredients, which is a bit much on my tight college-student budget. Having at least the space and materials (pans, spatulas, measuring devices, etc.) already available makes everything much easier.
Now, I'm home for a two month winter break and will certainly be whipping up my favorite seasonal treats while I'm here. To find out just what those treats are, read on! (All recipes that I use will be linked in the title of the dish if you click on it, unless otherwise noted).
1. Pumpkin Muffins
First, I'll start off with breads/muffins. Mmmm. I may not be a pumpkin spiced latte fanatic, but when it comes to pumpkin desserts, I can't resist. The recipe I use is actually one I've been making since seventh grade (that's nearly seven years now, for reference). My love affair with pumpkin muffins, specifically these ones, began back in my Consumer Science (essentially, Home Ec.) class, when we had a whole baking and cooking unit. Within the baking unit, there was a day when the whole class split into groups and each group was responsible for making a different type of muffin. Funny enough, I was not in the pumpkin muffin group, but loved them so much that I went home and made them.
From time to time, I've experimented with adding different types of nuts, including/not including raisins, and even adding cream cheese frosting. Basically, whether you add things or not, these muffins are always incredibly moist and satisfying and make the house smell like autumn and happiness.
Unfortunately, the recipe can't be accessed through the internet, as it is only available in a word doc, so I took the liberty to take a screenshot. Here it is (thank you, Mrs. Heckman):
2. Banana Bread
I grew up on banana bread. Like, I really did. When we were younger, my younger brother and I were both fiercely picky eaters, and banana bread was one of the only things we would eat. To me, as an young adult, it is the epitome of comfort food in the baking category. The first night I was home for Thanksgiving break, my mother made her banana bread (with walnuts, this time), and it was such an amazing welcome home. The top gets all sticky and sugary, while the sides develop more of a bread consistency and the inside stays both dense and moist.
While I would love to share the recipe my family typically uses with you, I cannot (some secrets are so good they must be kept). BUT I've never met a banana bread I didn't like and I have tried the recipe linked in the title and I can say that it is up there among our usual. Whatever banana bread you make, I recommend serving your slices warm with either plain Greek yogurt or whipped cream on top. If you want a fantastic little taste of my childhood, make yourself some banana bread. You won't regret it.
Moving into cookie territory, here we have a true classic. How could I not include them? No matter what age you are, I feel like if you like chocolate and you like happiness, you like chocolate chip cookies. I've gone through many different recipes over the years and they're all honestly great, but this is the one I've been working with for the past bit
Typically these recipes are pretty basic and are super adaptable for adding in whatever you want (ideas include peanut butter chips, raisins or cranberries, pretzels, nuts, candy canes, M&M's... you name it!). And that's not to mention that you can have any type of chocolate chip/chunk you want! I'm personally a dark chocolate person, but milk, white or any combination are all great choices too! This is a dessert that comes to mind pretty quickly when one thinks of baking, but basically I just wanted to talk about how much I love chocolate chip cookies for a moment. We can move on now.
What happens when you want to bring cookies to a holiday function but not everyone likes/ can have chocolate? You make Snickerdoodles! Besides how much I love the name (I owned both a guinea pig named Snickers and a hamster named Doodle when I was younger), I have always been a Snickerdoodle fan. If you don't like cinnamon, this one probably isn't for you, but they do definitely make the house smell amazing and pair SO nicely with tea. They're pretty easy, too! You make the dough, you make the coating, roll the dough in the coating and then just bake it! But, I will say, you should follow the instructions and place the cookies a little farther apart than I did in the picture above, if you want your cookies to remain round on all sides.
Okay, so say you want a break from the usual cinnamon-y, nutty flavors typically associated with the holiday season. That's okay! These Key Lime Crinkle Cookies give a slightly tangy, but still sweet flavor that tastes exactly like some cookies that my parents brought back from Florida one year. Funny enough, the whole reason I ever looked into making these cookies is because we had an excess of limes in my house that we didn't know what to do with (my mother is a private events chef, so sometimes this happens). While these cookies certainly didn't take all of the limes we had, they did help use up some and we were able to take the limes life gave us and make, well, key lime cookies.
I'm not quite sure what had propelled me to make these cookies for the first time, but I'm pretty sure it was a trial that came out of boredom during last year's winter break. I've always loved regular sugar cookies and I've always loved brown sugar, so when I found a recipe for sugar cookies made/topped with brown sugar, I was definitely interested. The picture above is actually from when I made a giant tray of these cookies to be sold at my school's winter play last year and they were nearly all taken during just one intermission. If you like the simplicity of just the taste of sugar and don't want to be bothered by chocolate, nuts, cinnamon or fruit, this is the cookie for you. Not to mention that they make your house smell like sugar and vanilla.
Go to any holiday gathering and I bet you that someone will have made these little treats. They only take a few ingredients, you can easily include whatever colors you want, they don't take long to make and they're both salty and sweet. If you're in a pinch for what to make for a white elephant party or a winter sleepover, these are definitely a good choice. And, if you need even more convincing, take a look back at the recipe's picture. I mean, come on.
8. Pecan Pie
You'll realize throughout the next few recipes that I really adore pecans. They're one of my favorite nuts, if not my favorite. So of course I had to include a pecan pie recipe (also, I don't have other pies or cakes, so this kind of has to be its own category). Each year for Thanksgiving, my step-dad makes a few pecan pies to bring with us, plus one that we keep at home. Even with so much, pecan pie does not last long in my house and I feel that it's easy to see why.
If I'm involved in the actual baking of the pie, I love to decorate the top with extra pecans, like I did in the picture above. If you're feeling artsy, definitely don't skip this step (plus, it adds a nice crunch on the top when you're eating it). As far as crust, you can either buy one (no shame!), make one out of a dough (as the recipe suggests), or use graham crackers like I usually do! In this particular picture, we had actually used chocolate graham crackers, and it was delicious. In summary, if you're looking for a fab dessert to make this holiday season, I highly recommend this one. (P.S. if you're put off by the corn syrup in this recipe, there are plenty more out there with substitutions.)
Welcome to the "I love oats" category. When I came home over Thanksgiving, I was eager to keep my favorite snacks in my life but we didn't have any granola. My school's break began before the rest of my high school friends, so I had plenty of time to do whatever. So, I looked up a recipe for seasonal granola and made it! It's only a few ingredients and you can also add whatever type of dried fruit or seeds you want to it if you want to bulk it up a little. In the end, the whole house smelled like I had just baked cookies and I had enough granola to last me through the week, plus a day or two once I got back to school (considering how much I eat, that's a real feat). I will warn you this is a "healthier" recipe, so while there is syrup and sugar included, it isn't a lot. I didn't have a problem, but if you want something a little sweeter, simply adjust the ratios to your liking.
10. Spiced Oatmeal
How could I finish off an oats category without oatmeal? Okay, okay, oatmeal is not a baked good, but it might as well be; it tastes and smells just like one! This recipe came out of my own noggin, technically, although I have no doubt there are exact recipes online that are probably pretty similar to this one, so I can't take too much credit for creativity here.
Over the past few months, I have become an oatmeal fanatic; I have one of those little packets pretty much everyday for breakfast at college, as they are filling and I can easily make them in my microwave. However, I find myself also picking out the little clumps of sugar included in them because even without those, the oatmeal is STILL. So. Sweet. So when I came home, I decided to see if for the time being I could enjoy a healthier version of one of my favorite breakfasts, because contrary to me writing a whole article about sugary treats, I do try to stay healthy. The cool thing about this dish is that technically, if I bought some spices, I could actually make it in my dorm. Nevertheless, here's what I came up with:
First, take 1/2 cup of quick oats and pour it into a bowl. Add cinnamon (1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon or so, depending on how you like it) and a dash of cloves, maybe 1/8-1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg, and a dash (or more because, again, it depends) of ginger.
Mix your spices and oats together while the oats are still dry. Then, once they're combined, you can add the water. I know I do have an oven at my disposal, but I normally use the microwave for these guys. After a minute and a half, I take either honey or pure maple syrup (you could probably use agave, too) and add a TINY bit. Mix everything together and put back in the microwave for about 40 seconds. Afterwards, I've been topping mine with dried cranberries and pecans, but I know that apples, bananas, berries and any other type of nut or seed would be amazing as well.
To bring us back to where we started, I love food and I love all of this food in particular. I hope this helps in the event that you find yourself needing to bring dessert to a holiday function or just want to try your hand at making something new and scrumptious. Whatever your reason, take advantage of having a real kitchen during your winter break and bring around family or friends to make something together! It will certainly make for some sweet memories.
Lead Image Credit: Pexels