Elf’s Mix

Elf's Mix

This past weekend was what I call my annual “bake-palooza”. When it comes to coworkers and neighbors, I just find it much easier to gift food. My idea is…when in doubt, give food. :-)

Every year, I have so much fun coming up with the recipes for gifts. I have so many ideas written on paper, but I usually narrow things down to 5-6 recipes, just to remain sane. This was a new recipe for gifts, and it couldn’t have been easier. I based it off of bunny bait, which I bookmarked on my friend Amy’s blog. Of course, I changed the mix up to make it more Christmas-y and added holiday oreos for an even more fun Christmas colored addition.

The mixture of sweet and salty ingredients is what makes this mix so awesome, and just to let you know, it makes a LOT. I thought I’d have to make a double batch, but after making one batch, I realized I had more than enough for gifts.

Of course, I wasn’t going to call this bunny bait since, well, it’s not Easter. I had to call it something else. When I had it cooling on a silicone mat, I kept telling myself it looked like a Christmas elf barfed in my kitchen. Kinda gross, I know. Since I don’t have to guts to name a dessert “Elf’s Barf”, I decided to play it safe and call it “Elf’s Mix”. :-P

Elf’s Mix
inspired by Sing For Your Supper‘s “Bunny Bait”

Ingredients:

  • 1 bag of popped microwave popcorn
  • 6 oz. almond bark
  • 1 bag of mint M&Ms
  • 15 holiday oreos, chopped
  • 2 cups of pretzel sticks, broken into small pieces
  • Christmas sprinkles

Directions:

  1. Place the popped popcorn, pretzel sticks, M&Ms and oreos in a large bowl or pot. Place 4 oz. of almond bark in the microwave in 30 second increments, until well-melted.
  2. Add the melted almond bark to the popcorn mixture and stir the mixture thoroughly. Spread the mixture out on a large silicone mat or wax paper. Top with Christmas sprinkles.
  3. At this time, microwave the additional 2 oz. of almond bark in a disposable plastic piping back in 30 second increments until well-melted. Then, snip the end off of the bag and randomly pipe the almond bark over the popcorn mix. Allow the mixture to cool.
  4. To serve, break up the mix into pieces and place in a bowl. Enjoy!

Peppermint Bark Cheesecake Truffles

Peppermint Bark Cheesecake Truffles

I absolutely love making holiday treats. You know it’s the holiday season in our house when our fridge has at least 5 lbs. of butter, 8-10 packages of cream cheese at any given time and 2 extra bags of flour and sugar in the pantry to ensure that I don’t run out of the essentials. :-)

The big bake-palooza (as I like to call it) is this weekend. There’s quite a few coworker and neighbor gifts to make this year, which has me super excited! This year’s packages are going to have some old favorites and new ones too, which I plan on sharing with y’all next week.

While this particular recipe won’t be with the gifts this year (since they need to be refrigerated), I wanted to share these truffles with y’all, since this is still a delicious recipe if you’re looking for something to include with your holiday parties. I came up with this recipe for a local recipe contest with the newspaper. I was actually torn between an eggnog inspired dessert and a peppermint bark inspired dessert. This recipe idea won out though, because after asking some friends, it seems like a peppermint bark inspired recipe would be more popular, since quite a few people hate eggnog. Fair enough.

The great thing about these truffles is that they come together pretty quickly. It’s definitely an easy dessert recipe to add to your holiday menu! Just keep in mind since the recipe involves cream cheese, these truffles can’t sit out for too long without needing to be refrigerated. They actually taste a lot better cold anyway.

So, I’m sure you’re wondering how these little truffles did in the recipe contest! I won first place! FIRST PLACE! I still can’t believe it. The prize was a big deal too… $1000 to a local furniture store! (I can’t wait to share with y’all what we used that generous prize on, but I’ll save that for another post once it’s delivered.)

I’m also supposed to be in the paper tomorrow. Crazy, right? I’m completely giddy about that! I’m sure I’ll buy multiple copies for family. :-)

Peppermint Bark Cheesecake Truffles
Source: an original

Ingredients:

For the filling:

  • 1 pkg cream cheese, slightly softened
  • 5 candy canes
  • 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 cup (appx. 6 large) ground graham crackers
  • 1/4 cup white chocolate chips, chopped

For the coating:

  • 2 cups of white chocolate chips or almond bark
  • 1/2 cup of semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips
  • 2 crushed candy canes

Directions:

  1. With a spatula, whip up the cream cheese to a stirrable consistency.
  2. Using a food processor, grind 3 of your candy canes to a powder. Stir the ground candy canes, powdered sugar and ground graham crackers into the cream cheese with a spatula until everything is well-incorporated.
  3. Place the last two candy canes in a quart sized plastic ziploc-type bag, and using a heavy bowl, crush up the candy canes into small pieces (not quite a powder, since you want these to add a bit of a crunch to your truffles). Add the candy canes, along with the chopped white chocolate to your cream cheese truffle mixture.
  4. Chill the mixture well, for four hours or overnight.
  5. When ready to assemble the truffles, divide the mixture into tbsp. sized balls and put the balls on a cookie sheet. By the time you’re done making the truffle balls, the mixture probably warmed up a bit, so place the cheesecake balls in the freezer for 5-10 minutes to firm up.
  6. In the meantime, melt your white chocolate for the coating (either in the microwave or with a double boiler).
  7. Take your cheesecake balls out of the freezer, and individually dip each ball in the white chocolate mixture. Place the finished dipped balls on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper for the chocolate to set.
  8. Once the white chocolate has set, melt your milk or semi-sweet chocolate chips and add a small amount on top of each truffle, along with some crushed candy canes for decoration.
  9. Enjoy these cheesecake truffles right out of the refrigerator and keep the truffles cold, since there is cream cheese in the recipe.

S’mores for a Shower

Homemade S'mores

I really think the idea for virtual blog parties is so great. I sort of wish food bloggers could have real life parties/potlucks/etc., because it would be some SERIOUS good eats! I was so flattered when I was asked by Amy of Sing For Your Supper to participate in this virtual bridal shower for Kelsey of Apple A Day, but of course, the dilemma was what to bring?

I wanted it to be a simple finger food, but also something that is pretty familiar to most people. That’s when the idea of homemade s’mores somehow popped in my head. I’ve made marshmallows before, so I knew that wouldn’t be a problem and homemade graham crackers? How hard could that be?

Of course, my assumptions were wrong. While cooking my first batch of marshmallows, my candy thermometer somehow SHATTERED in the pot. And before you ask the obvious, no, the thermometer was not sitting at the bottom of the pot. Things like this only happen to me, heh. Because of this, I ran out of one of the ingredients while measuring out my second batch, so the marshmallow flavor was completely an accident. Mixed berry. Not a bad accident, though. I promise. :-)

To make the s’mores a little different, instead of using Hershey bars, I spread on a dollop of Nutella! Yummy…majorly…just sayin’.

If you’d like to check out the amazing food that other bloggers are making for Kelsey’s shower, check out Sing For Your Supper and Apple a Day!

Graham Crackers
Source: Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt
  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen
  • 1/3 cup  mild-flavored honey, such as clover
  • 5 tablespoons milk, full-fat is best
  • 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Combine the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low to incorporate. Add the butter and mix on low, until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse meal.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the honey, milk, and vanilla extract. Add to the flour mixture and mix on low until the dough barely comes together. It will be very soft and sticky.
  3. Lay out a large piece of plastic wrap and dust it lightly with flour, then turn the dough out onto it and pat it into a rectangle about 1-inch thick. Wrap it, then chill it until firm, about 2 hours or overnight.
  4. Adjust the oven rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat the oven to 350°F.
  5. Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. Sift an even layer of flour onto the work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle about 1/8 inch thick. The dough will be sticky, so flour as necessary. Use a cutter to get the shape desired or cut into squares.
  6. Place the crackers on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets. Chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes in the fridge or 15 to 20 minutes in the freezer. Repeat with the second batch of dough. Finally, gather any scraps together into a ball, chill until firm, and re-roll.
  7. Mark a vertical line down the middle of each cracker, being careful not to cut through the dough (again, this is for the traditional cracker shape). Using a toothpick or skewer (I like to use the blunt end of a wooden skewer for more dramatic dots), prick the dough to form two dotted rows about 1/2 inch for each side of the dividing line.
  8. Bake for 15 to 25 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the touch, rotating the sheets halfway through to ensure even baking.


Mixed Berry Marshmallows
Source: mildly adapted from Martha Stewart

Ingredients:

  • Vegetable oil or cooking spray, for pan
  • 4 envelopes unflavored gelatin
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup seedless strawberry jam or jelly
  • 1/3 cup seedless raspberry jam or jelly
  • 2/3 cup light corn syrup
  • Dash of salt
  • Red food coloring
  • Cornstarch, for dusting

Directions:

  1. Brush a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with vegetable oil. Line dish with parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on 2 sides; oil parchment. Set dish aside.
  2. Pour 2/3 cup cold water into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Sprinkle with gelatin; let stand until softened, 5 minutes.
  3. Stir together granulated sugar, jam, corn syrup, salt, and 1/2 cup water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring often. Continue to boil until syrup registers 238 degrees on a candy thermometer (soft-ball stage).
  4. Add syrup to gelatin. Beat on low speed until slightly cooled. Gradually raise speed to high, beating until mixture is cool and peaks form, 10 to 15 minutes. Mix in red food coloring, one drop at a time, to achieve desired shade of pink.
  5. Pour mixture into prepared pan; smooth surface. Let stand, uncovered, until firm, about 3 hours or overnight.
  6. Dust a cutting board with confectioners’ sugar. Run a knife around edges of marshmallow to loosen; un-mold onto cutting board. Peel off parchment. Lightly coat a large sharp knife with oil; cut marshmallow into 1 1/2- to 2-inch pieces, coating knife with more oil as necessary. Dust with cornstarch; toss to coat completely. Marshmallows can be stored in an airtight container up to 1 week.

Best Fudge Ever!

Fudge

I’m sorry. I really am. Most of us are making resolutions to be healthier (myself included), and here I am posting a recipe that includes 5 cups of sugar. Please don’t hate me.

I will say, though, this is a recipe I need to share with y’all. This is the fudge that my Mom makes every holiday season. My Memaw makes a very similar version as well, except she swears by marshmallow cream instead of marshmallows.

I finally got the guts to give this recipe a whirl the week of Christmas, and I’m happy to say that I didn’t completely mess it up! I ended up slightly overcooking mine though, so it wasn’t quite as creamy as Mom makes it. I’m still working on getting better with candy making. :)

Mom’s Fudge
Source: My Mom

Ingredients:

  • 5 cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 12 oz. can evaporated milk
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 2 cups mini marshmallows
  • 1 tbsp. butter

Directions:

  1. Mix cocoa and sugar in a dutch oven. Add both milks and mix.
  2. Bring the mixture to a boil (to where the mixture almost bubbles over).
  3. Lower the heat and stir the mixture.
  4. Keep cooking and stirring occasionally until the mixture reaches soft ball stage or 235 degrees. (This video is EXCELLENT in helping you to figure out what soft ball stage is.)
  5. Remove the mixture from the heat and working quickly, stir in the butter, peanut butter and marshmallows.
  6. Pour the batter in a parchment paper lined 9×13 inch pan. Allow it to cool for 2-3 hours. Cut and enjoy!

Peppermint Marshmallows

Ever since I found out that you could make your own marshmallows, I wanted to make them. The problem? I had a cheap hand mixer before our KA mixer. Now that we had the KA mixer, I had nothing holding me back from making these.

These are delicious, light and have a subtle peppermint flavor. I’m definitely putting the leftover ones from the gift tins in some hot chocolate ASAP.

Peppermint Marshmallows
Source: adapted from Alton Brown

Ingredients:

  • 3 packages unflavored gelatin
  • 1 cup ice cold water, divided
  • 12 ounces granulated sugar, approximately 1 1/2 cups
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon mint extract
  • 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • non-stick spray

Directions:

  1. Place the gelatin into the bowl of a stand mixer along with 1/2 cup of the water. Have the whisk attachment standing by.
  2. In a small saucepan combine the remaining 1/2 cup water, granulated sugar, corn syrup and salt. Place over medium high heat, cover and allow to cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Uncover, clip a candy thermometer onto the side of the pan and continue to cook until the mixture reaches 240 degrees F, approximately 7 to 8 minutes. Once the mixture reaches this temperature, immediately remove from the heat.
  3. Turn the mixer on low speed and, while running, slowly pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the gelatin mixture. Once you have added all of the syrup, increase the speed to high. Continue to whip until the mixture becomes very thick and is lukewarm, approximately 12 to 15 minutes. Add the vanilla during the last minute of whipping. While the mixture is whipping prepare the pans as follows.
  4. Combine the confectioners’ sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Lightly spray a 13 by 9-inch metal baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Add the sugar and cornstarch mixture and move around to completely coat the bottom and sides of the pan. Return the remaining mixture to the bowl for later use.
  5. When ready, pour the mixture into the prepared pan, using a lightly oiled spatula for spreading evenly into the pan. To get red striping, add drops of red food coloring to the mixture in the pan and quickly swirl the coloring in. Dust the top with enough of the remaining sugar and cornstarch mixture to lightly cover. Reserve the rest for later. Allow the marshmallows to sit uncovered for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.
  6. Turn the marshmallows out onto a cutting board and cut into 1-inch squares using a pizza wheel dusted with the confectioners’ sugar mixture. Once cut, lightly dust all sides of each marshmallow with the remaining mixture, using additional if necessary. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.

Baking Gifts

Coworkers are typically difficult to buy for. In college, I would really only buy for fellow female student coworkers. It was easy…Starbucks gift cards, bath stuff, etc. When I graduated and got thrown into the real world, I was introduced to working in a primarily male field. I can’t shop for males, at all. I have enough trouble shopping for  my husband, father and brother! So, I started making edible gifts.

Last year, I bought cute Christmas chinese take-out boxes and put decorated sugar cookies, oreo truffles and chocolate covered pretzels in them. This year, I branched out from those ideas just a little bit.

I had my first adventures of making homemade peppermint marshmallows. The KA definitely was put to use here! I couldn’t have even fathomed making these last year with a $10 hand mixer.

Another recipe from Cookie Craft that I’ve been wanting to try is their rolled gingerbread cookies. These did not disappoint.

Of course, the oreo truffles made an appearance, and this time, instead of putting a bunch in one bag, I bought cutesy Christmas foils to wrap them in!

Adorable right? I love you Hobby Lobby.

Of course, here is a small picture of the packaging in action. I will say my kitchen was a big ol’ mess after this, but it was worth it! My coworkers seemed to love the goodies. Of course, the easiest recipe (oreo truffles) became the hit of the gifts!

Pumpkin Cheesecake


I remember how excited I was to finally have a springform pan. I could make cheesecakes galore! However, with being on a diet lately, I had no excuse to make one, until now. Work had a Thanksgiving potluck, and I thought, perfect excuse to make a PUMPKIN cheesecake. I have had my eye on this pumpkin cheesecake recipe that I found on The Way the Cookie Crumbles, and it did not disappoint. I was still getting compliments on the cheesecake a couple of days later!

I topped it with the caramel I made earlier that was a little too soft to be candy, and it ended up being a little too hard to be a topping too. It made a bit of a mess for people trying to slice up cheesecake, but oh well! :)

Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake
Source:  The Way the Cookie Crumbles, where (crust from Cooks Illustrated, filling adapted from Gourmet via Epicurious)

Ingredients:

(Crust)

  • 5 ounces graham crackers (9 whole crackers), broken into large pieces
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

(Filling)

  • 1½ cups canned solid-pack pumpkin
  • 3 large eggs
  • ½ cup (3.5 ounces) packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon bourbon liqueur or bourbon (optional)
  • ½ cup (3.5 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1½ teaspoons cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature

Directions:

  1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 350F. Spray bottom and sides of 9-inch springform pan evenly with nonstick cooking spray. Pulse crackers, sugar, and spices in food processor until evenly and finely ground, about fifteen 2-second pulses. Transfer crumbs to medium bowl, drizzle melted butter over, and mix with rubber spatula until evenly moistened. Turn crumbs into prepared springform pan and, using hand, spread crumbs into even layer. Using flat-bottomed ramekin or drinking glass, press crumbs evenly into pan bottom, then use a soup spoon to press and smooth crumbs into edges of pan. Bake until fragrant and browned about the edges, about 12 minutes. Cool on wire rack while making filling.
  2. Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese on medium speed, scraping down the bowl often, for about 4 minutes, or until it is velvety smooth. In a medium bowl, stir together granulated sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and salt. Add granulated sugar mixture to cream cheese and beat for another 2 minutes. In a medium bowl (or the same one), whisk together pumpkin, eggs, brown sugar, cream, vanilla, and liqueur (if using) until combined. Beat at medium speed until combined, about 2 minutes.
  3. Pour filling into crust, smoothing top, then put springform pan in a shallow baking pan (in case springform leaks). Bake until center is just set and measures 140 to 150 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 50 to 60 minutes.
  4. Cool cheesecake completely in pan on rack, about 3 hours. Chill, covered, until cold, at least 4 hours. Remove sides of pan and bring to room temperature before serving.

Pumpkin Spice Vanilla Bean Caramels

I’ve never played with caramelized sugar before, but I’ve been curious about it for a while now. I finally just got the guts, and told myself I needed to try. Worst thing that can happen is burnt caramel, but I’m usually careful to avoid burning.

I was actually a little too careful. I took it out a little early and that resulting in a very soft caramel. Nothing jaw breaking about it at all, which is something that can happen if you leave it simmering for too long. So, I learned a little lesson about candy making, and let me tell you, if these were left a little longer, this would be an amazing candy to give as gifts!! Don’t let my mistake deter you away from this buttery goodness…I promise this caramel is just lovely. I plan on using the soft stuff in another recipe that will be pumpkin-licious!

So, you ask why pumpkin spice? Well, I’m a weird Starbucks customer. I get my Pumpkin Spice drinks with caramel drizzle, and believe me when I tell you that the combination is divine! Oh, and vanilla makes everything taste so much better, so do not skip out on the vanilla bean in this recipe!

I received these complimentary vanilla beans from Marx Foods for a vanilla bean photography contest. While my photography isn’t the best out there, I found this to be a fun challenge, and of course, I’m still hopeful for a win!

Pumpkin Spice Vanilla Bean Caramels
Source: adapted from Confections of a Foodie Bride

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 5 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1/2 tsp. Tahitian vanilla
  • 1 Tahitian vanilla bean pod, split and scraped
  • 1 1/4 tsp. Fleur de sel
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. ginger
  • pinch of ground cloves
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup Lyle’s Golden Syrup or corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup water

Directions:

  • Line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper or foil, then lightly butter the pan.
  • Place cream, butter, vanilla, vanilla bean, spices and fleur de sel in a small saucepan, bring to a boil,  then remove from heat and set aside.
  • Boil sugar, corn syrup, and water in a 3- to 4-quart heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil, without stirring but gently swirling pan, until mixture is a light golden caramel.

This is just about the color you want to attain.

  • Remove vanilla bean and carefully stir cream mixture into the caramel (The mixture will bubble up here.) and simmer, stirring frequently, until caramel registers about 250°F on thermometer.
  • Pour into baking pan and allow to cool for about 30 minutes. Then, sprinkle another pinch or two of fleur de sel over the top of the caramel for a nice salty crunch and let it cool until it’s no longer warm to the touch. Cut into 1-inch pieces (I used a pizza cutter with butter.), and then wrap each piece in a 4-inch square of wax paper, twisting 2 ends to close.

Cupcake Pops

I made cupcake pops for my shower hostesses this past weekend. They came out awesome! Check out how I did it here!

Foodie Christmas Presents!!

This Christmas, I decided to give a bunch of homemade presents. I love the thought of gifting something that is homemade. It feels more personal, and who hates food?

For some family members, I gave spice baskets with homemade vanilla extract and sugar. For the extract, I found very reasonably priced bottles (that you didn’t have to buy in bulk or pay a TON for shipping, since they were glass) at American Spice Company, and I simply used mason jars for the vanilla sugar. To give it a cuter touch, I purchased label sheets at Office Depot and designed the labels for them myself. Check them out!

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I also made some homemade peppermint bark to put in the baskets. This is very simple…just place some parchment on a rimmed baking sheet and pour in melted semi-sweet or milk chocolate. Pour melted white chocolate on top (and swirl a little, if you’d like). Then, before the chocolate hardens, sprinkle crushed candy canes on top. Once everything hardens, break the bark off into large chunks and place in bags.

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I thought that my family would enjoy some spice mixes, and I decided to give them our favorites from Penzeys: Northwood seasoning and BBQ 3000.

As for our coworkers, I baked sugar cookies using this recipe. I would say this book is a definite read for anyone who is interested in learning to decorate cookies! I adapted it to add almond extract, in addition to the vanilla extract and lemon rind called for in the recipe. It gave the cookies more of a sugar cookie flavor and less of a butter cookie flavor. This was the first homemade sugar cookie recipe that my fiance loved too! I FINALLY ended the search for the perfect recipe! :)

This recipe barely spread, allowing the cookies to keep their great crisp shape. It also rolled VERY easily. I never had a sticking problem, which is something I experienced with some previous recipes.

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To show how well they hold their shape, the cookies on the left are not cooked, while the ones on right are cooked.

I also made candy bark coated pretzels with Christmas M&Ms on top. This was a SUPER easy recipe. Just melt candy melts or bark, spoon into the middle of the store bought pretzels (laid out on wax or parchment paper) and top with 3 M&M’s.
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Last, but not least, I made the infamous Oreo Truffles. To make more, I used 1/2 tsp. as a measuring tool for how big the truffles should be. These made a more decent sized truffle, and I made about 80 with the recipe this time.

Then, I put each treat in holiday cellophane bags, as pictured.

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These went in cute little holiday take-out boxes that I found at Michael’s for $1 each. I absolutely love how these all came out! They were also well-received, so I’m definitely going to keep making edible gifts for future holidays!
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