For just a moment, imagine that you're here on our Nova Scotia homestead. The fierce wind of a hard winter snowstorm shakes our windows and batters the surf against the ice-piled shore of the bay. But inside ... ah, inside our snug island cabin a crackling fire keeps us cozy-warm and—best of all—bakes our special, sugar-free holiday treats: three large, doughy "candy canes," a sweet-tooth-pleasing "Christmas wreath," and some zesty yuletide molasses cookies.
Old-Fashioned Molasses Cookies
We find all three of our Christmas confections hard to resist, but the molasses cookies make for some especially good eatin'. To "batch up" these crispy treats, cream 1/2 cup of goose fat (use lard or some other conventional shortening only if you have to!) together with the same amount of butter, then beat in 1 teaspoon of ginger and 2 cups of molasses. Next, in a separate container, combine 1/3 cup of hot tea with 2 teaspoons of baking soda, and alternately add this tea brew and 4 1/2 cups of well-sifted flour to the creamed mixture.
Chill this prepared dough for a bit, then roll it out to a 3/8" thickness on a floured board. Try cutting round cookies (the recipe yields around 42 crispy 2 1/2" circles), or be creative and design angels, "gingerbread" figures, birds, butterflies, stars, bells, and other festive shapes. Bake your treats for 10 to 15 minutes in a 350°F oven (watch 'em close so they don't burn). After they cool, decorate the finished fixin's with raisins, nuts, or a flavorful sugarless icing. (The last-mentioned spread can be prepared by slowly adding 1/4 cup of honey and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla or peppermint extract to an already well-whipped egg white, and then continuing to beat the entire mixture until it thickens.)
Dough Candy Canes
To cook up some large—and luscious—replacements for those all-too-common striped holiday sugar sticks, first let 1 3/4 cup of yogurt or sour cream heat up to room temperature. Then place 2 tablespoons of yeast in 1/2 cup of warm water. Allow the bread starter to "brew" for five minutes while you stir together your yogurt, 1/4 cup of softened butter, 2 beaten eggs, and 1/4 cup of honey. Next, add the readied "yeast juice" and 3 cups of flour to the yogurt-based mixture and beat these ingredients together until smooth. After that, mix in 1 cup of bran flakes and another 3 cups (more or less) of flour to produce a nice soft dough.
Knead the mass on a well-floured surface for eight minutes, then place it in a greased bowl, flip it over (to "lubricate" the entire surface), and cover the container. Let your dough rise in a warm place until it doubles in bulk. At that point, put the mix through a second kneading and rising cycle, then knead the dough one more time.
Divide the spongy blend into three equal parts. Roll each segment out until into a thin 5" X 16" rectangular "loaf" and place them on greased cookie sheets. Spread one cup of dried fruit (apricots, cherries, dates, raisins, currants, etc.) on each rectangle, fold 'em over and pinch their sides together to form long rolls, and flip 'em so their "seams" are on the bottom.
Now cut small stripelike diagonal slits one inch apart down each roll, stretch each doughy log out to a 22" length, and shape it like a candy cane (or "draw" someone's initial). Bake the three confections for 15 to 20 minutes at 375° F, brush their tops with butter, then cool the canes and decorate them with sugarless icing and nuts.
A Christmas Coffee Cake Wreath
You can concoct the dough for this last treat by following the candy cane recipe, but make the following changes: Use one less teaspoon of salt—as well as one less cup of flour—and substitute a cup of previously scalded, room-temperature milk for the yogurt. Then, once your dough has been kneaded for the third time, all you have to do is braid it into a Christmas wreath (or shape a tree, or a Star of David). Coat the goodie with a simple fruit glaze (made by combining 4 to 5 tablespoons of fruit purée or jelly with one well-beaten egg), bake this Christmas coffee cake at 400° F for 25 minutes, and decorate the sweet with fruit and nuts.
Peace and Contentment
By now all our pastries have been cooked to perfection. We're sitting with our stocking feet propped on the open oven door drinking cups of hot milk and honey and gobbling down our homemade treats. The storm has ended: Fresh, unbroken snow coats the countryside, and we're all planning to get outdoors to explore our "new" winter landscape.
Yessir, we're just about ready to get all bundled up and trudge out into that crisp, invigorating December air. In fact, we're definitely going to trek outside, just as soon as ... as soon as.... Say hon, could you pass me another cookie?