December baking combines two of the greatest things: the cheerful spirit of the holiday season with the sweet satisfaction of cookies. And chocolates. And squares. And everything else you could possibly think of.

If time allowed, I could probably spend the entire month of December creating every last sweet I could find in the depths of the Internet (or my imagination). That being said, there are a few staple categories I need to cover off every year to ensure my home is properly stocked and our tastebuds are satisfied.

There is a method to my madness. I call it the Four Cs of Christmas Baking.

Classic

You know it well — that delicious treat seasoned with just a tinge of nostalgia. It could be something your mom made for you as a child, an old family recipe, or just something so perfectly holiday, you can’t imagine December without it.

For me, it’s a mincemeat tart.

My mom made an army of these bad boys every year when I was growing up and for the longest time I wouldn’t try them because the word “mincemeat” alarmed me.

Learn from my mistake: these tarts are delicious.

I get together with my mom every December to make these. It just wouldn’t be Christmas without them. We may buy store brand mincemeat and use a pretty standard pastry recipe but there is definitely a deep family connection to these treats: the tart pans we use each year belonged to my grandmother and my great-gram before that. A classic, indeed.

Mincemeat tart

  • Recipe (yields about four dozen)
  • 5 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 lb lard
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • cold water
  • 1 jar mincemeat, flavoured with rum
  • fruit sugar (superfine)

Ingredients: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix flour and salt together. Cut in lard with pastry blender or two knives. Combine egg and vinegar in a measuring cup; add water to make one cup. Gradually stir into pastry mixture (only add enough to make dough cling together). Roll out dough in sections. Using a small glass or round cookie cutter, cut tart bottoms and place into tart pans. Spoon mincemeat into the pastry; about one teaspoon per tart. Roll out more dough and cut tart tops. Lightly brush the outer rim of the pastry top with warm water; cover mincemeat, making sure to pinch the edge of the top piece together with the pastry bottom, sealing the tarts. Cut a small “x” vent in the top of each tart. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool for 5-10 minutes. Once cooled, gently toss tarts in fruit sugar until covered.

Tip: These freeze really well, so you can make them early and have them all season long. They’re also not as common on the holiday baking scene so they add variety to your standard sweet tray.

Cute

It’s not enough to simply have delicious treats — you also need something that looks adorable, right? That’s my theory, anyway. My go-to for this category is the Oreo pop. It’s simple: Take everyone’s favourite store-bought cookie, put it on a stick, dip it in chocolate, sprinkle it with candy canes, add a ribbon and ta-da — you have a sweet treat that’s cute as can be (and rich as you can imagine!)

Oreo Pops

Recipe (yields about 25 pops)

Ingredients

  • 1 package double-stuffed Oreos (regular or golden)
  • 3 cups white or dark chocolate (I use white for regular Oreos, dark for golden)
  • 4 candy canes, crushed
  • paper lollipop sticks

Directions: Line 2-3 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Carefully twist tops off Oreo cookies and place them on sheets. Working from the outside in, using the end of a beater (or chopstick/skewer) to dig a channel in the cream filling on each Oreo. Melt chocolate in a microwave safe bowl or measuring cup. Dip the ends of the lollipop sticks in chocolate and carefully place in the channels. Spoon a dime-sized dob of chocolate onto the blank Oreo cookie and sandwich it together with its mate. Let set completely. Once set, dip each pop until it’s completely covered, then lightly tap against the bowl to remove excess chocolate. Place pop back on cookie sheet, sprinkle with candy canes, and allow them to set.

Tip: Wrap in clear cellophane candy bags and tie with ribbon for a festive treat to add to gifts.

Chocolate

Christmas is the best and worst time for a chocoholic like myself — temptation is everywhere! And so is reward. I tend to create a lot of chocolate barks each year as they are so simple and make great gifts, but I also like to try my hand at alternatives to the standard boxed chocolates.

Enter homemade Turtles.

This recipe is simple and delicious, and that’s really all there is to say about it. If you like a combination of salty and sweet, this is the treat for you.

Homemade Turtles

Recipe (yields 40 chocolates)

Ingredients

  • 40 mini-pretzels, salted
  • 40 caramels, unwrapped
  • 40 toasted pecan halves
  • 1.5-2 cups dark chocolate chips
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil (optional)

Directions: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper; arrange pretzels neatly, then top with the caramels. Bake until caramel is softened, not melted (about 5 minutes). Remove from oven and promptly press a toasted pecan half onto each caramel. Set aside and cool completely. Meanwhile, melt chocolate with coconut oil (microwave or stovetop). Once caramels have cooled, toss them in the prepared chocolate until covered; allow excess chocolate to drip off. Transfer to your baking sheet. Let harden before serving (you can speed this up by placing them in the fridge).

Tip: Make extras, as these go quickly.

Cookie

You can’t have Christmas without cookies — what would Santa eat?

If you’re like me, you’ll want more than one option for this category. But if you can only have one, I absolutely recommend cherry chocolate kisses. These beauties combine the delight of buttery shortbread with the sugary taste of milk chocolate. Plus: cherries. You really can’t go wrong.

Cherry Chocolate Kisses

Recipe (yields 36 cookies)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, softened but still cool
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons maraschino cherry juice
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 and ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup maraschino cherries, chopped
  • 36 milk chocolate kisses, unwrapped
  • granulated sugar for sprinkling

Directions: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Beat butter until creamy. Reduce speed of your mixer and slowly add the powdered sugar and salt. Add cherry juice and almond extract until combined. Slowly add flour, then cherries. Shape dough into 1-inch balls; place on baking sheet. Gently press your thumb into each cookie until the centre is about ½-inch thick. Sprinkle each cookie with granulated sugar. Bake until bottoms are lightly browned; about 15 minutes. Once out of the oven, immediately press a chocolate kiss into each cookie. Let cool completely.

Tip: These are a lot easier to make with a stand mixer. You can use a hand mixer but you will require a lot of patience, as the dough is quite thick and tends to clog up the attachments. It’s worth it, though.