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Illustrations by Wenting Li

Welcome to the second instalment of The Globe and Mail’s 24 Treats of Christmas. Between Dec. 1 and 24, we’re publishing recipes for cookies and squares, chocolate desserts and holiday favourites along with last-minute sweets for when there are more cravings than time. Visit this link for details on how to receive the recipe links one a day by text message.

Each batch of recipes includes easier and more difficult treats to suit your skill level and time commitment. From fruitcake to marmalade to pumpkin puddings, lets warm up on cold nights with flavours of the season.

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* Gluten-free recipes are indicated, but please check labels to ensure ingredients used are gluten-free.

Difficulty rating

🍪 = Almost as easy as a mix

🍪🍪 = Get out your rolling pin

🍪🍪🍪 = Clear your calendar

Christmas fruitcake

Kritchanut/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Makes 2 cakes

Level of effort: Easy

Recipe notes: Most fruitcakes need a month to ripen, but this recipe is a last-minute one. It is mostly boozy fruit held together with cake batter. The secret is to marinate the fruit for five days and then finish the cake. The recipe has no nuts, but you can add whichever nuts you enjoy when adding the fruit to the batter. To make your own self-rising flour, add 1 teaspoon baking powder and ½ teaspoon salt to 1 cup all-purpose flour.

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  • 6 cups of your favourite dried fruits
  • ½ cup chopped dried figs
  • ½ cup candied orange peel
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp cloves
  • ¼ tsp allspice
  • 1½ cups booze, such as a mixture of rum, brandy, port and Cointreau (you can use whatever is in the ends of bottles)
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ cup demerara sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1½ cups self-rising flour
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Use dried fruits interchangeably, in combination or just one. Sultanas, currants, any variety of seedless raisins, apricots, figs, dates, glacé cherries, pineapple, pears and peaches all work well, or dried cranberries, cherries, blueberries and even strawberries. Use scissors to make short work of cutting dried fruit. Candied peels – orange, lemon and citron (a type of lemon peel) – are also interchangeable.

Combine dried fruits with dried figs and candied orange peel. Sprinkle in cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, cloves and allspice. Stir in booze and water. Leave to marinate for 5 days, stirring once a day.

When ready to bake, beat together butter and sugar until well mixed. Gradually beat in eggs, one at a time. Fold in self-rising flour and vanilla. Fold in all the fruit along with any soaking liquid. Divide between two 8-inch greased and parchment-lined cake pans (avoid black pans, which absorb heat and tend to caramelize the fruit). Cover top with parchment to stop the fruit from caramelizing.

Bake at 275 F for 2 hours or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. (Fruitcakes are usually baked for a long time at low temperatures so that they cook evenly.)

Cool the cakes, then unmould.

– Lucy Waverman

Molasses jam tart

Danielle Matar/The Globe and Mail

Makes 1 tart

Level of effort: Moderate

Recipe notes: This is the famous Newfoundland tart affectionately known as lassie tart. Assemble like linzer, rolling out the dough slightly thicker than you would for regular tart and pie doughs. You can make a filling by cooking together 1 cup red currant jelly with 3 cups cranberries and 1 cup water until the cranberries just pop, about 5 minutes over medium heat. Blueberry jam works well too.

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 6 tbsp molasses
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp black tea, cooled
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 1/2 cups partridgeberry or other berry jam

Cream together butter, molasses and salt with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add tea, cinnamon, baking soda, cloves and ginger and mix until combined. The mixture will look split. Slowly mix in flour to form a smooth cookie dough. Take one-third of dough and form a disc. Use the remaining dough to form a larger disc. Wrap each disc with plastic wrap and chill 3 to 4 hours or until very firm.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Roll out the larger disc of dough on a floured surface into a 14-inch round about 1/8-inch thick. Place in a 10-inch tart pan and gently press in corners. Fill with jam. Chill tart in refrigerator while you prepare lattice top.

Roll out the remaining disc to a 10-inch round. It should be about 1/8-inch thick. Cut dough into 1-inch strips. Top the filled tart with the strips in a lattice pattern. Firmly press the ends of each strip into the tart shell, trimming away any excess. Refrigerate until firm and cool, about 30 minutes.

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Bake until the jam is bubbling and the spices are fragrant, about 35 to 45 minutes.

– Lucy Waverman

Marmalade

natashamam/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Level of effort: Moderate

* Gluten-free

Recipe notes: The principles of making marmalade are like other jams, but marmalade is easier because it always sets. I think the best marmalade is made with the bitter Seville oranges, which are full of pectin, a natural substance found in the pith, skin and seeds of many fruits. When pectin is used along with sugar and an acid, it forms a jelly.

  • 3 pounds (1.5 kilograms) oranges
  • 10 cups water
  • 3 to 4 pounds (1.5 to 2 kilograms) sugar
  • Juice of 2 lemons

To start, rinse the oranges well; the peel is sometimes treated with a wax coating. The peel must be tenderized with long slow cooking which helps to extract the pectin from the pith and seeds,

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Simmer oranges in water for about two hours, covered, or until soft. The oranges should be squishy. Remove and cut in half. Scrape out the pulp and seeds and place in cheesecloth. Return to the orange water in the pot. Simmer together for 10 more minutes, squeezing the cheesecloth occasionally to remove any further pectin. Remove cheesecloth.

Meanwhile, slice the orange peels into thin or thick slices, dice them or even purée in the food processor, whichever you prefer. Add as much back into the liquid as you like, along with the granulated sugar. One way to figure out the sugar quantity is to measure the liquid and peel together in measuring cups then add an equal amount of sugar. As I like my marmalade tart, I usually add ½ cup (125 ml) less sugar. Stir in the juice of two lemons for further pectin.

Return to a boil. Fast boiling is the secret to good flavour and a quick set. If the marmalade sets quickly, it will retain the bright colour and fresh flavour. It takes about 15 to 25 minutes depending on your pot size, but test early.

To test if the marmalade is set, have several saucers chilling in the freezer. Place a spoonful of the mixture on one saucer and let it cool a few minutes. Push your finger through the marmalade; if it’s set, the sides should crinkle. Alternatively, a sugar thermometer should read 220 F (105 C).

When you test the marmalade, take the pan off the heat to stop further boiling. Marmalade that boils past the setting point cannot be resurrected. If it’s not set, return the pan to the heat and continue boiling. Retest after a few minutes.

Wait 20 minutes before spooning into sterilized jars to avoid the peel rising up. I use the dishwasher to sterilize jars, but I also refrigerate the marmalade as I do not process it in a water bath. It will last several months in the fridge.

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– Lucy Waverman

Spiced popcorn

Tara O'Brady/Handout

Makes about 12 cups

Level of effort: Moderate

* Gluten-free

Recipe notes: Humidity will soften the popcorn coating. After it cools completely, immediately transfer to an airtight container for storage.

  • 11 cups popped popcorn (plain, without seasoning)
  • 3/4 cup raw, unsalted nuts (peanuts, almonds, cashews and/or pecans)
  • Kosher salt, as needed
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, paprika, or dried chili powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup golden corn syrup
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup mixed seeds (poppy, sesame, pepitas and hulled sunflower)
  • Sea salt, flaky or fine, or other finishing salt

Pour the popped popcorn in a large, wide bowl.

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Preheat oven to 250 F. Line two heavy, rimmed baking sheets with Silpats or parchment paper. Spread the nuts across one of the pans and roast in the hot oven, stirring regularly, until aromatic and golden, about 10 minutes. Season with salt, scatter the nuts onto the popcorn and set both prepared baking pans aside.

In a small bowl, stir together 3/4 teaspoon salt, cinnamon, cumin, ginger, black pepper, and clove.

Scrape the butter into a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Tip in the sugar, corn syrup and water. Set over medium heat and cook, stirring regularly, until the butter is melted and the sugar has dissolved. Stop stirring and bring to a boil. If any sugar clings to the side of the pan, wash the crystals away with a pastry brush dipped into water. Continue to cook the sugar until golden in colour, around 5 minutes. If you have a candy thermometer, the syrup should be about 250 F. While it is bubbling, carefully swirl the pan now and again to distribute any dark spots.

Pull saucepan from the heat and quickly stir in baking soda and half the spice mixture with a heatproof spatula or spoon (the mixture will bubble up enthusiastically).

Carefully pour the caramel over the popcorn, turning the kernels with the heatproof spoon or spatula to coat. Scatter the seeds on top. Divide the popcorn between the two prepared pans and spread into even layers.

Bake the popcorn in the hot oven for 30 minutes, turning occasionally. After the first flipping, sprinkle the remaining spice mix unevenly over all so there are dusty, rusty patches.

Once the full 30 minutes are up, season with salt, then bake for 5 minutes more. The kernels should be thinly coated and shining when ready.

Leave the popcorn to cool completely on the trays. Break up any large clumps then transfer to an airtight container for up to 1 week.

– Tara O’Brady

Pumpkin puddings

Tara O'Brady/Handout

Makes 8 servings

Level of effort: Difficult

* Gluten-free

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Recipe notes: The pudding requires a few hours to set, preferably overnight. The caramel can be made in advance, as well. To make your own squash puree, use a small pie pumpkin, butternut squash or sweet potato. Prick all over with a fork, place on a baking sheet in a 400 F oven and roast until tender enough to be pierced with the tip of a knife. Split in half lengthwise, then continue to roast, seeds and all, face down until tender. When cool enough to handle, peel the skin, discard any seeds and press the flesh though a food mill on the finest blade, or mash.

Puddings
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream, divided
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 cup butternut squash, sweet potato or pumpkin purée
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon medium-grained kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 6 egg yolks
Coffee caramel
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon finely ground coffee
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon medium-grained kosher salt
Gilded seeds
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • Scant 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup hulled green pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • Medium-grained kosher salt, as needed
Optional toppings
  • Whipped cream
  • Coffee caramel
  • Gilded seeds
  • Sesame brittle, smashed
  • Granola
  • Candied pecans or other nuts
  • Gold sanding sugar
  • Chocolate-covered espresso beans

Start with the puddings, as they’ll need a few hours to set. Combine 1 cup of the whipping cream with the milk in a saucepan. Slit the vanilla pod down its length. Scrape the seeds into the milk mixture with the back of the knife and drop the pod into the liquids. Warm the liquids on the stove over medium heat until barely steaming. Set aside and steep for 5 minutes.

While the milk mixture infuses, blend the squash purée in an upright blender with the remaining 1 cup heavy cream and maple syrup. Set aside. Place a sieve over a large bowl.

Whisk together the brown sugar, cornstarch, salt and spices in a medium bowl. Pour in the egg yolks and beat until airy and lightened in colour, maybe 2 minutes.

Fish the vanilla pod from the milk mixture and discard. While still whisking the eggs, slowly introduce the warm milk in a thin, steady stream. Once combined, pour everything back into the saucepan and return to the stovetop over medium heat. Cook, stirring regularly, until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens, 5 minutes or so. Immediately pour the hot custard into the blender atop the squash puree and run on low for 15 seconds, with the pouring lid ajar to release steam. Pass the pudding through the prepared sieve. Divide between 8 small glasses or bowls. Press plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pudding to prevent a skin from forming, if desired. Chill until truly cold and set, 4 hours. Overnight is preferred.

To make the caramel, microwave the heavy cream in a 2-cup heatproof measuring cup until barely steaming. Stir in the coffee and leave to set to one side.

A deep pot is important for making caramel, as when the cream is added it will sputter and expand. Pour the water into a tall, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the sugar into the centre of the water (no sugar should touch the sides of the pan). Set the pan over medium and cook, swirling the pan until the sugar is completely liquid. Turn the heat to medium-high and continue to cook until the sugar turns tawny, 5 to 8 minutes; swirl – never stir – to maintain even colour as it develops. Once the sugar is deep amber, pull the pan from the heat and carefully pour in the coffee-stained cream. After the eruption has spent itself, add the salt and whisk the sauce smooth. If the sauce sticks in the corners of the pan, place back over low heat and stir until melted. Set aside at room temperature to cool slightly, until warm. If making in advance, cover and refrigerate. Rewarm gently before using.

Candy the seeds. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a Silpat. Melt butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Stir in sugar, then cook, undisturbed, until the sugar takes on colour, 2 to 3 minutes. Swirl the pan, and cook until fully golden, around 1 minute more. Swirl in the spices. Carefully tip in the pumpkin seeds and cook, stirring with heat proof spatula or wooden spoon, until the seeds are toasted and crackling, 90 seconds or so. Spread seeds onto prepared sheet pan, keeping fingers away from the molten sugar. Season with salt. Cool completely.

To serve, adorn the puddings with a pour of caramel, the gilded pumpkin seeds, whipped cream and any and all other dressings desired.

– Tara O’Brady

Tahini date marmalade knots

Tara O'Brady/Handout

Makes 12 buns

Level of effort: Difficult

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Recipe notes: The dough is best when it gets its start the night before, which means the preparation is spread out with rests in between. For the filling, use the darkest sugar you can find, such as muscovado, a semi-refined cane sugar. Instead of cocoa nibs, toasted nuts would do nicely.

Dough
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 4 cups bread flour, plus more as needed
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons medium-grain kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons or 1 packet instant yeast
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened, plus more for bowl and pan
Filling
  • 1/4 cup well-stirred tahini
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar, see headnote
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, soft
  • 1/2 cup marmalade
  • 1/4 teaspoon medium-grain kosher salt
  • 1 cup pitted dates, chopped small
  • 1/4 cup cocoa nibs, toasted
  • 1/4 cup mixed seeds (white and black sesame, poppy seeds)
Syrup
  • 1 clementine
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2/3 cup sugar
Frosting
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cream or milk, divided
  • A good pinch medium-gained kosher salt

Ideally the day before you intend to bake the buns, make the dough. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook attached, pour in the milk, honey and eggs. Scatter 3-1/2 cups of flour across the liquids. On one side of the flour, sprinkle the salt. On the other, scatter the yeast. Stir on low to moisten, then turn the machine up to medium and knead until the ingredients come together to form a dough. If the dough seems too loose and won’t collect around the hook, spoon in more flour, a little at a time.

Once the dough is smooth, start adding the softened butter, bit by bit, kneading until the butter is incorporated and the dough is elastic and dense, 3 to 5 minutes. Should the dough become sticky, stingily flick more flour into the bowl as needed. When ready, the dough will cleanly come away from the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough onto a work surface and knead by hand to form a ball, then place in a large, greased bowl, smooth side down. Cover with plastic wrap. Let stand for an hour at room temperature, then move to the fridge to rise overnight. Alternatively, keep the dough in a draft-free spot on the counter for 2 to 2-1/2 hours, until doubled in bulk.

When the dough is almost ready, grease a standard 12-cup muffin tin, and get the filling started. In a medium bowl, cream the tahini, sugar and butter together with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon. Stir in the marmalade and salt. Set aside.

Deflate the dough by punching it down gently with a closed fist. Tip dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and roll into a 15-by-22-inch rectangle, with a long side close to you. Spread the tahini-marmalade paste across the dough, leaving a finger-width of a border on all sides. Strew the dates atop, followed by the cocoa nibs and mixed seeds. From the long end closest to you, fold one-quarter of the dough up, so you have three-quarters still exposed. Press the fold lightly to compress. Fold the rectangle over two more times, to form a sort of squashed Swiss roll. Let rest for 5 minutes. Use the rolling pin to flatten the roll away from you, extending its height, being careful not to force out the filling. With a sharp, thin-bladed knife or pizza wheel, cut the dough into 12 short strips. Pick up a strip, holding an end in each hand. Simultaneously twist, turn and stretch the strip, exposing the filling layers. Bring the two ends together to form a tightly coiled round. Tuck the round into one of the wells of the prepared muffin tin. Repeat the shaping for the rest of the dough. Cover the tray with a damp, lint-free tea towel and allow to rise at room temperature until the buns are puffed and just about twice their size, 1 to 1-1/2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 F (190 C). Bake buns until golden brown, and an internal temperature of about 200 F (93 C), 25 minutes or so. Set tin onto a cooling rack.

While the buns are baking, make the syrup. Cut lengths of zest from the clementine with a vegetable peeler. Squeeze its juice into a small saucepan. Drop in the zest, then pour in the water and sugar. Set the saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil, swirling the pan regularly. Lower the heat to a simmer and let the syrup bubble for 1 minute. Take off the heat.

As soon as the buns emerge from the oven, brush half the syrup over the buns. Wait 2 minutes, then brush with the remaining syrup. Allow the buns to stay in their tins until they’re only warm, then remove to cool completely on the rack.

If you wish to ice the buns, wait until the syrup has dried to a shining glaze. In a small bowl, stir together the confectioners’ sugar, 1 tablespoon of cream and salt. Add more cream to reach desired consistency. Drip the frosting from the tines of a fork or use a small piping bag fitted with a plain tip to decorate.

The buns are best the day they are made, but can be kept at room temperature under a cake dome for a day or so.

– Tara O’Brady


Our next batch of treats: Chocolate cookies, truffles and meringues to sate your sweet tooth

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