Since joining Wilton's Sweet Treat Team last February, I've had the opportunity to try out all kinds of new products and explore new ideas in confectionery. It's been a sugar-filled fun year to say the least!

To end the year on a sweet note, the members of the Treat Team decided to have a cookie exchange. I was paired to swap cookies with Marilyn of Pink Martinis and Pearls. She makes some of the most beautiful sugar cookies I've ever seen, so I knew I had to up my cookie game. Plus, something pink with pearls had to happen!

Today I've cooked up something a little different - treats for your tree! These salt dough ornaments look and smell just like real gingerbread, and they make a sweet homemade gift. Best of all, they keep indefinitely, so you can use them each year to decorate your tree.

You'll find the complete instructions along with step-by-step photos here on the Etsy Blog!

1. Sugar Cookie Lollipops; 2. Peanut Butter Cup Bars; 3. Almond Florentine Cigars, 4. Almond Buttermints; 5. Golden Gingerbread with Hard Sauce; 6. Sprinkle Christmas Tree Cookies; 7. Rosemary Shortbread; 8. Sugar Cookie Bark; 9. Gingerbread Cupcakes; 10. Microwave Sea Salt Caramels; 11. Muddy Reindeer Cookies; 12. Peppermint Mousse Cups

It's hard to believe that we're a mere 9 days away from Christmas Eve! Time sure does fly, so I resolved to make the most of Christmas baking this year. I started planning and recipe testing the 12 Treats of Christmas in early November. It's been a lot of fun posting every day for the past two weeks, and I hope you've enjoyed the treats as much as I have. Many of them are easy and make great homespun gifts.

I'll be back to regular posting soon. Right now I'm catching up on a mountain of Christmas gift wrapping!

Happy Winter!

Silly me. I thought all party punch was supposed to be bright red and fruity, but this punch changes everything. It's like sipping on a combination of chocolate milkshake, Yoo-hoo and café frappé. The ice cream on top mixes with the chocolaty punch and creates the most divine frothy topping. If you're looking for something unexpected to serve at your next party - this may be it!

I decided to display some of my most-loved vintage party napkins beside this punch. I collect mid-century cocktail napkins, and I'm seriously stingy about using them. I only bring them out for special occasions, and apparently, when chocolate punch is being served (smile).

One dip or two? 

The chocolate curls on top makes the punch look like a million bucks - and when has extra chocolate ever been a bad idea?

I doubled this recipe because my punch bowl holds 12 quarts.

Mocha Party Punch
[click for printable version]
Yields: about 5 quarts, or 20 punch cup servings

The coffee flavor in this punch is mild but obvious and it intensifies the chocolate flavor. I certainly recommend using it, but if you're serving this to children or you do not like the flavor of coffee, you may omit the instant coffee granules. If you  have instant chocolate milk mix or powdered hot cocoa mix, then you may use it in place of the freeze dried coffee.

1 1/2 quarts water
3/4 cup/255 g prepared chocolate syrup
1/2 cup/65 g powdered vanilla coffee creamer
1/2 cup/100 g granulated sugar
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
4 tablespoons instant coffee granules
1/2 gallon vanilla ice cream
1/2 gallon chocolate ice cream
Whipped topping or whipped cream (I used 2 cups, but use as much as you like!)
Chocolate curls or shavings for garnish

In a large saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Remove from the heat. Add the chocolate syrup, creamer, sugars and instant coffee granules. Stir until well dissolved. Cover and refrigerate until cold, about 3 hours, or overnight (preferred).

20 minutes before serving, pour the chilled chocolate punch into a punch bowl. With a large ice cream scoop, place dollops of ice cream on top of the punch; stir briefly and let stand until the ice cream spreads and covers the surface of the punch. Heap the whipped topping in the center of the punch and garnish with chocolate curls or shavings.

This is one of the easiest and prettiest treats to make this holiday season, and best of all? It's totally edible, right down to the candy cups and peppermint spoons.

These cups are yet another sweet inspired by Wilton's Christmas products. The candy cups are easy to make with white vanilla candy melts. Just paint the melted candy on the inside of a paper cupcake liner. When the candy is set, just peel away the liner!

Instant candy cup!

Santa's reindeer have quite a job to do on Christmas Eve. They have just one night to travel 75 million miles and carry a sleigh of toys that weighs over 300 tons (some years more or less depending on the naughty to nice children ratio). Wow!

That's a lot of landing on sooty rooftops and traveling through inclement weather. No doubt the reindeer would become a little sullied from the journey. These cookies are my way of regarding Santa's antlered helpers.

Remember when I said I was SO into gingerbread this year? Yeah. I wasn't kidding (see here and here). This vintage gingerbread recipe was new to  me and I'm so glad I decided to try it. It's made differently than some of the contemporary gingerbread cookie recipes. Instead of creaming butter and sugar together (like most any cookie recipe) the butter is cut into the flour with a pastry blender (or a food processor) as you would to make pie crust. This makes for a truly delectable texture.

These guys were "muddied" with melted semisweet chocolate. It gives the cookies just a little extra sweetness, and that makes them delicious with hot tea or strong coffee. You could also dip the cookies in white chocolate - I'm sure the reindeer encounter many snowy rooftops on their travels as well!

This is one of my favorite caramel recipes because you don't have to use a candy thermometer. Total cooking time is about 7 minutes in the microwave (as opposed to 20 + on the stovetop) and after a short chill in the refrigerator, they're ready to be cut and wrapped. This is a great recipe for busy holiday cooks.

Sea salt is the ultimate complement to this caramel. I use coarse Celtic grey sea saltto finish this candy because it's beautiful and makes the candy taste like it's been kissed by a mermaid.

I'm into gingerbread in a big way this season, and that's not always been the case in previous years. I'm not sure why. Perhaps because I was too busy stuffing Oreos inside Red Velvet Crinkles, or building the biggest Black Forest Cake ever, ever, ever. But this year is different and I just can't get enough ginger-spiced goodness!

There's just a touch of cream cheese added to the frosting - not enough to call it cream cheese frosting, but just enough to give it a tang. It's a nice complement to the spiced cake.

I gave the frosting a candy stripe with red and green gel food color painted on the inside of the piping bag. I think next time I make these, I'll add a little peppermint extract so the flavor matches the appearance.

Who doesn't love candy bark? There must be a million different ways to vary the confection and I want to try them ALL. I created this version when Wilton sent me a bag of sugar cookie-flavored candy melts. Boy, are those things good! I ate one or two (or five) right out of the bag.

They also sent the cutest candy bark mold imprinted with Christmas greetings. I think I'd rather get candy bark than a Christmas card, wouldn't you?

I love making cookie crumbles for cake and muffin toppings, so I knew it would be a delicious addition to this candy bark. It only takes minutes to whip up a batch, and it really adds a delicious homemade element to this candy bark. Sugar cookies of all kinds need sprinkles, if you ask me, so I added Christmasy red and green nonpareils to the mix.

For those of you without a moment to spare, you can short-cut this recipe by crumbling bakery-purchased sugar cookies in a bowl and mixing them with red, white and green sprinkles.

This shortbread is the best kind of aromatherapy. Rosemary has a piney fragrance that reminds me of a freshly cut fir tree, and when combined with buttery shortbread dough you've got a cookie that tastes like Christmas!

I usually cut shortbread into long fingers (they're great for dipping in coffee) but this aromatic dough absolutely begged to be cut into evergreen shapes.

I love how the chopped rosemary speckles the cookies throughout. It's just so naturally beautiful.

Just about any cookie-lover will appreciate these, but I'm especially excited to give these to the avid herb gardener on my Christmas list.

I'm not exactly sure how it happened, but one day after some experimentation with sugar cookie dough, I ended up with green slice-and-bake triangles. They looked so much like Christmas trees, that I felt they should have some kind of decoration - cue the sprinkles!

I love these so much, I decided to make them into a Christmas card!

The technique for making these is pretty simple. Just divide the sugar cookie dough in two and tint one piece dark green and the other light green. I decided to make mini trees, so I divided the dough into four pieces (2 dark green pieces and 2 light green pieces). Roll the light green piece of dough into a fat log and then shape it into a triangle (I did this by gently pinching the dough with my fingers as I pressed the dough flat against a work surface). Roll the dark green piece of dough flat between two pieces of parchment paper, and then wrap it in a single layer around the light green triangle dough.

Time for sprinkles!

I am deeply smitten with giving little bundt cakes at Christmastime - and getting them (hint hint)!

This classic gingerbread recipe has been around for ages. My personal touch to the confection is sorghum molasses (I recommend  Muddy Pond pure sorghum from my home state, it's the best!). Sorghum is lighter in flavor and color than regular molasses. It gives this cake a golden appearance and mild flavor, but if you prefer a darker, more typical gingerbread, then blackstrap molasses can be used in place of the sorghum.

This is a good cake to gift to long distance friends, because it's sturdy enough to ship. The liberal soak of rum preserves the cake and prevents it from drying out. A slice is great alone but even more delicious with strong coffee.

December 4th's treat is one of my favorite sweets of all time. Go to any bridal shower in the south and you're likely to find buttermints on the reception tables. It's tradition, but I don't limit them to showers. I make them for all kinds of occasions! They're cute and petite with a mighty sweet punch. At Christmastime I flavor them with vanilla and almond extracts, which gives them a sugar cookie flavor.

The candy dough takes about 5 minutes to put together (it's no-cook/no-bake!), and it can be tinted any merry and bright color you choose. The dough can be molded into bonbon shapes using a candy mold, or make them into patties by rolling marble-sized pieces and flattening them with the tines of a fork.

I used thissilicone mold to form them into various shapes. After filling the mold with candy, just pop it into the freezer, and when the candies are firm, pop them out from the bottom-up. So easy and über cute!

I don't know which ones I like best. Maybe the red ones because they remind me of Rudolph's nose.
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