Delectable holiday treats

Published 10:00 pm Friday, December 21, 2018

Tribune staff members share holiday recipes

By Albert Lea Tribune

It has become an annual tradition for Tribune employees to share their holiday recipes with readers. In case you’re still in need of a treat to bring to your Christmas gatherings, consider trying one of these.

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Ritz Cracker Toffee

I’m usually not a big fan of sweets, so I was looking for something a little salty that would balance well with the sweetness of a traditional Christmas snack. I ran across this recipe on Facebook and decided to give it a shot. — Tyler Julson


Ritz crackers

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup butter

1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips

Chopped pecans or walnuts


Line a deep cookie sheet with parchment paper and line the Ritz crackers in a row until the pan is filled.

Melt the butter and brown sugar together, stirring slightly until fully melted. Bring the mixture to a rolling boil, but do not stir after everything is melted.

Remove from heat and pour the mixture over the crackers.

While the mixture is still hot, pour the chocolate chips over the top. While the chips are melting, use a spatula to spread them evenly.

Top with pecans, walnuts or sprinkles.

Refrigerate for approximately two hours, then remove and break or cut into pieces. 

Peppermint Meltaway Cookies. Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

Peppermint Meltaway Cookies

I love everything peppermint, so I’m always trying new mint-based recipes. The cookie in this recipe is really a blank canvas, so these cookies are best eaten by people who love a little cookie with their frosting. I doubled the peppermint in the frosting — because I love everything peppermint — and I found that to be just enough flavor to carry the recipe. — Sarah Kocher



1 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 1/4 cup flour

1/2 cup cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (I would recommend doubling)


1/2 cup butter

2 tablespoons cream cheese, softened

3 cups powdered sugar

1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract (I doubled this)

Red food coloring (use sparingly for a lighter pink)

1/4 cup finely crushed candy canes


Mix together butter and powdered sugar until smooth. Add flour, cornstarch and vanilla and mix again until dough comes together. Cover and chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°. Scoop about 2 tablespoons of dough into a ball. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough.

Gently press each dough ball with the heel of your hand to flatten slightly. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Allow to cool completely on cooling rack.

Make the frosting by creaming together cream cheese and butter. Mix in powdered sugar and peppermint extract. If desired, mix in a drop or two of red food coloring. Spread over cooled cookies and top with crushed candy canes.

Makes 16 cookies.

— Recipe from Creme De La Crumb website

Chocolate Peppermint Cake. Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

Chocolate Peppermint Cake

I love any opportunity to bring chocolate and peppermint together. I was gifted “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by Simone Beck, Louisette Bertholle and the almighty Julia Child earlier this year and thought the book’s Almond Cake recipe could be made festive by switching out the almond components for peppermint. If you have a major sweet tooth, this should be right up your alley. Bon appétit! — Colleen Harrison



8 tablespoons or one stick unsalted butter, plus more for the pan

1/2 cup cake flour, plus more for the pan

4 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted

2/3 cup granulated sugar, plus 1 tablespoon sugar

3 large eggs, separated

Pinch of salt

1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract


1 1/2 cups heavy/whipping cream

1 1/4 cups powdered sugar

1/3 cup baking cocoa

1 teaspoon peppermint extract

Crushed peppermints


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour the cake pan.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until pale yellow and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and beat until well blended.

In another large bowl, with clean beaters, beat the egg whites and salt until soft peaks form. Sprinkle on the sugar and beat until stiff peaks are formed.

With a rubber spatula, blend the melted chocolate into the butter and sugar mixture and stir in the peppermint extract. Stir in one quarter of the beaten egg whites to lighten the batter. Delicately fold in a third of the remaining whites and when partially blended, sift in one third of the flour and continue folding. Repeat this process until all the flour and egg whites have been added.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake until 2 inches from the edge of the pan are set and the center is still moist, about 25 minutes.

Let cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan and flip the cake onto a rack or a plate. Let cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting, beat all ingredients except for the crushed peppermints in a chilled large bowl with an electric mixer on high speed until stiff.

Frost the cake once it has completely cooled and press crushed peppermints into the sides of the frosted cake.

Grinch Cookies. Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

Grinch Cookies

I enjoy making not only delicious cookies, but fun-looking ones too! I’ve seen a lot of these on social media this season, so I thought I would try them out.  — Sarah Stultz



1 box vanilla cake mix

1 stick unsalted butter, softened

1 tablespoon canola oil

2 eggs, room temperature

1 cup powdered sugar

1 cup cornstarch

Green gel food coloring

Parchment paper

Royal icing

2 egg whites

1 cup powdered sugar

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Red gel food coloring

No. 2 tip

Pastry bag


Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 375° F.

Add powdered sugar and cornstarch together in a loaf pan. Mix well.

Mix the butter, cake mix, oil and eggs together. Stir green food coloring to get the Grinch green.

Using a small ice cream scoop, get a chunk of dough and then roll it into the powdered sugar and cornstarch mixture.

Pick up the dough and roll into a ball and place on cookie sheet. Place the cookie balls 2 inches apart on the cookie sheet.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until they puff up. Cool on the cookie sheet for several minutes.

To make the icing:

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl, mixing on medium speed for 4 minutes. (except your food coloring) If icing is not stiff enough add 1/4 cup powdered sugar. Spoon the icing into a bowl.

Add several drops of red gel food coloring in the large bowl of icing and stir well to mix the color.

Spoon the red icing into a piping bag with a No. 2 tip.

Line a cookie sheet with wax paper.

Free hand draw the tiny red hearts or, if needed, trace the hearts to the underside of the wax paper to copy with the red icing. Allow to dry for 5 to 10 hours.

Cut the wax paper surrounding the hearts into small squares then peel the wax paper away from the back of the heart.

Place the small heart in the bottom of the cookie. If you need it to stick, you can use a bit of the royal icing to “glue” it to the cookie.

Decorated Sugar Cookies. Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

Frosted Sugar Cookies

I have been making the frosted sugar cookies for over 20 years — it’s actually expected at holidays each year now from family and friends. It’s a little more work and time consuming than your typical cookie but worth the timewhen you see how much everyone enjoys them. — Kathy Johnson


1 cup unsalted butter

1 cup granulated white sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1 egg

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 cups all purpose flour


Preheat oven to 350° F.

In the bowl of your mixer, cream butter and sugar until smooth, at least 3 minutes.

Beat in extracts and egg.

In a separate bowl, combine baking powder and salt with flour, and add a little at a time to the wet ingredients. The dough will be very stiff. If it becomes too stiff for your mixer turn out the dough onto a countertop surface. Wet your hands and finish off kneading the dough by hand.

Do not chill the dough. Divide into workable batches, roll out onto a floured surface and cut. You want these cookies to be on the thicker side (closer to 1/4-inch rather than 1/8).

Bake at 350° for 6 to 8 minutes. Let cool on the cookie sheet until firm enough to transfer to a cooling rack.

Christmas Cookie Frosting


1 cup shortening

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 large bag powdered sugar

1/2 cup heavy cream or whole milk (more if needed to reach desired consistency)

Food coloring, if desired


In the bowl of your mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl for use with your handheld electric mixer, place shortening and extracts. Beat until creamy (at least 1 minute).

Begin adding powdered sugar 1 cup at a time.

When the mixture starts to become dry, start adding cream a little bit at a time, alternating with the powdered sugar.

Beat until creamy. Use more or less cream to reach desired consistency. (I like for it to be smooth enough to pipe through a piping bag, but still a bit more firm than typical store-bought frosting.)

Add food coloring if desired.

Roasted Garlic and Onion Cheese Ball. Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

Roasted Garlic and Onion Cheese Ball

The cheese ball recipe is one of my favorites. It has a rich, nutty flavor combined with the sweet flavor from the onion and garlic jam. This recipe is super easy to make and can be divided into two cheese balls. — Kathy Johnson


16 ounces cream cheese

1/4 cup Stonewall Kitchen Roasted Garlic Onion Jam

Dash of pepper

1 1/2 cups Monterey Jack cheese

1/2 cup pecans, chopped


Mix together the cream cheese, Roasted Garlic Onion Jam and the pepper.

Fold in the Monterey Jack cheese.

Chill for one hour or more.

Form mixture into a ball, and roll it into the pecans.

Garnish with a sliced apple or try pouring mixed ingredients into a baking dish, topping with pecans and warming in the oven for a hot cheese dip.

Salted Chocolate Caramel Pretzel Bars. Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

Salted Chocolate Caramel Pretzel Bars

I made these treats because who doesn’t love chocolate and caramel and hates doing all the dishes that are typically used in baking? — Kelly Wassenberg


2 (12-ounce) bags of chocolate chips

1 (11-ounce) bag of caramel bits

1 (8-ounce) bag of pretzels

Sea salt


Line a baking sheet or dish with parchment paper. Melt the chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl, stirring frequently. Pour two-thirds of the chocolate onto the parchment paper and spread evenly. Immediately add pretzels on top, covering the mixture. They can overlap. Gently press them into the chocolate. Melt the caramel bits in a microwave safe bowl with 2 tablespoons of water. Drizzle caramel over pretzels then drizzle the remaining chocolate on top. Sprinkle sea salt on top and allow to cool before cutting or breaking into pieces.