All hands on deck! – Taking holiday baking to the next level

December 2021 Posted in Uncategorized

Sonja, London and Alexis Wagoner wrapping caramels.

By Melissa Wagoner

Christmas candy has a long tradition in my family. Beginning with stories of my grandfather stealing maple fudge from a jar stored in the root cellar; to my own memories of running through the snow, festively wrapped candy plate in hand, while my mom waited, Christmas list in hand, in the car; to my own children, bedecked in their holiday finery, delivering tasty treats to our neighbors in an old wooden wagon. It’s a ritual as much a part of Christmas for my family as the obligatory lighted tree.

Each December it starts, like so many holiday traditions, with a list. Everyone has a favorite. My middle daughter loves homemade caramels. My youngest, peanut butter crackers – two Ritz sandwiched together with peanut butter and dipped in white chocolate. My oldest daughter and my husband are fond of macaroon trees. And I like “cinnamon candy” – an old family recipe I’ve never seen anywhere else, which involves holding a bowl of hot sugar and melted butter on your lap for an unbearable amount of time while you stir until your arm falls off.

Every year nearly a dozen of these favorites make the cut and every year we add at least one more to try. Bizcochitos – a snickerdoodle-like New Mexican treat that contains red wine and anise seeds – champagne glazed sugar cookies that contain only a handful of ingredients but taste like heaven or Mexican chocolate truffles with a hint of cayenne pepper that catches everyone by surprise. 

Once the list is compiled it’s on to the ingredients and off to the grocery store where my husband will text me each and every year with the requisite, “How much butter?!” and an alarmed warning about just how much this is all going to cost. 

Sometimes I even catch myself thinking – is it all worth it? So, why then do I do this, fill my house with more sweets than a candy shop, knowing full well that we will all eat far more than our share before it’s all gone?

The answer lies in the next step – baking day. This is an all day, all-hands-on-deck, four alarm holiday candy-making extravaganza. If you think I’m exaggerating, I assure you, I’m not. 

The day before I prep. I clean every surface until it shines, removing any and all clutter. I amass the tools and ingredients, making certain each and every item is within reach. I check my list. I check it twice. I text my sister – my partner in this since we were kids – letting her know what I’ve forgotten so she can stop by the store. Then I get a good night’s sleep. 

The next morning, I get up early. I make coffee for energy and something without sugar to sustain us through the glucose-influx ahead. I give the troops a short pep-talk and then we begin. 

My sister usually arrives when the first couple of recipes are already underway – generally the caramels and truffles because they take the longest to set. She brings more peanut butter, more crackers, more chocolate, more cream. We put the kids to work and then we send her fiancé to the grocery store for the first – but never the last – time, describing in detail some ingredient this poor Midwestern man has never heard of but is always game to find. 

The temperature in the house climbs as we light all four burners on the stove and fill the oven. Our hair and skin smell of vanilla and sugar, our clothes are smeared with chocolate, speckled with cinnamon. We laugh, we put holiday movies on in the background, we taste everything for quality. 

By the time the sun sets we’re exhausted. Our legs ache, the kitchen is a mess. I have nothing for dinner and everyone feels sick. But we’ve had too much fun to care. 

We help my sister pack half of everything into boxes and bins to send with her, half to stay. We bemoan the mistakes and we cheer the triumphs. We call it a day.

And yet, there’s more. Over the next several weeks my office is covered in candy, stacked on every surface, even an ironing board set up only once a year for this specific purpose. I arrange plates and boxes and tins. Every person that comes to the door gets a plate. Every teacher at school gets a box. 

When school lets out and the plates are nearly gone, we pile what’s left in the wagon – kept around for no other purpose than this – don our Santa hats and reindeer antlers and take to the streets singing carols to deliver what’s left, more often than not in the rain.

My kids will tell you this is their favorite tradition. I have to say I agree. It’s our own little Santa Claus magic, from the planning and creating to giving it all away, it’s our chance to be involved in what Christmas is really about – spending time as a family.

Peanut butter bon-bons — courtesy of Tiffany Zimmer

Peanut Butter Bon-Bons

Little hands are great at rolling and forming the peanut butter balls. 


• 1 ¼ cups peanut butter

• 2 Tablespoons room temperature butter

• 1 cup powdered sugar

• 1 bag chocolate chips or melties

In a large mixing bowl, add butter to the peanut butter and mix with a hand mixer until smooth. Slowly add powdered sugar until a dough forms. 

Scoop small spoons of dough, rolling each one gently between the palms to make a ball. Place them on a waxed paper lined cookie sheet. Refrigerate at least one hour. 

Pour chocolate into a microwave safe bowl. Heat for 30 second intervals, stirring between each one, until the chocolate is just melted. Do not overheat. 

Using a fork, dip each peanut butter ball into the warm chocolate, coating it, then placing it back on the waxed paper. 

Allow bon-bons to cool before storing in a sealed container in a cool place. 

Peanut Butter Crackers

This recipe is incredibly simple, which means it’s great for young children, who can usually handle the slathering of the crackers.


• Ritz (or another buttery cracker)

• Creamy peanut butter

• Almond bark

Put a small amount of peanut butter on one cracker, placing another on top to form a sandwich. Do not allow the peanut butter to ooze out the sides. 

Place the almond bark, broken into pieces, in a microwave safe bowl, heat for 30 second increments, stirring between each one, until the almond bark is just melted. Do not overheat or it will congeal. 

Once melted, place a cracker sandwich in the melted almond bark, gently flipping it with a fork to coat. Place the now fully-coated sandwich cookie on a piece of waxed paper to cool. Continue until all crackers are coated. Store in a sealed container in a cool place.

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