Holiday baking and sugary miscellany

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Because of my need to give homemade food gifts for the holidays, this is traditionally the weekend I atone for my lack of baking throughout the year — all at once. But instead of saying two dozen Hail Marys and 10 Our Fathers, my personal penance was making THREE batches of pralines, a few POUNDS of spiced nuts, and TWO types of cookies. Oh, my friends, I’m on a sugar high that would do Beavis proud. (What? You’ve never heard of quality assurance?)

For the pralines, I dug out my dad’s recipe which adulterates the traditional praline with marshmallows, but you’ve never tasted anything like them; they’re really creamy instead of gritty the way straight-sugar pralines can sometimes be. Gil would chime in to agree, only he’s shoving broken praline bits into his mouth and banging his head on the wall in the kitchen. Don’t worry — he’s wearing a bucket for protection. The sugar crash is going to be ugly.

But the real surprise of the weekend were the cookies, primarily surprising for the fact that I baked them and did not burn even one. I normally bring in savory treats for my co-workers (last year — bacon brittle and gougères), but I suspect people appreciate the sweet stuff a little bit more, so I was willing to go that extra mile for them. And we weren’t disappointed; I really hope they won’t be, either.

Here’s the really soft and sticky sugar cookie dough, cut and ready to be moved (CAREFULLY) to the parchment paper-lined baking sheet.

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As it turns out, I didn’t really need to be SO careful because these cookies s-p-r-e-a-d in the oven.

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But dressed up with chocolate and nut toupées, they turned very suave, indeed.

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So I’m really looking forward to a well-deserved break from baking this week. Maybe I’ll be chained to my desk at work, but at least I won’t be in the kitchen, forced to bake and sample delicious sweets!

Are those tiny violins I hear in the distance?

Incidentally, how sad is it that this is the only brandy we have in the house? I had to break into our kitschy Eiffel Tower stash to flavor the cookies.
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recipe after the jump

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