According to my research, people are really organized with their cookie exchanges. I did more of a lazy hostess version - I told everyone to bring at least a dozen cookies in a Facebook invite. Then later, I said it was okay if they bought cookies instead of baked because I didn't want to be TOO demanding. At least I'm not the host that says you have to make 8 dozen, package up 7 dozen in matching gift tins, labeled, with recipe, and put the other dozen on a holiday themed plate for tasting and for voting. I just said 'bring cookies.' And it worked out really well! No one made the same kind, even though we didn't talk about who was doing what. We set them ALL on the table to snack on (we used gift tags as labels), and at the end, everyone grabbed a paper plate and piled it up with a mixture of no calorie treats, threw some plastic wrap on it (and maybe a bow) and probably finished them up for dinner like I did! Simple!
The best part besides the guests and cookies was the hot cocoa bar. And honestly I didn't even drink hot cocoa because we also had holiday sangria. But it was so much fun to put together. Two hours before the party, I made hot cocoa in the Crock Pot. I did about a cup per person. I set out pretty much everything you would want to put into hot cocoa and more - a few favorites were the Reese's peanut butter chips, homemade whipped cream, Chocolate Cherry Bailey's, and homemade cupcake marshmallows (custom recipe below!). I even made a sign. Gosh, I'm cute.
Since I got a little manic on Pinterest, I just had to make gingerbread dip with graham crackers. I also thought we needed something healthy to go with all the desserts, so I whipped up chocolate dipped clementines with sea salt (we are not going to call them Cuties - ever) and wine soaked grapes. Hey, it's still fruit!
All in all, a successful Sunday. Who wants to come to the cookies and cocoa party next year? Or next weekend?
(adapted from Butter Baked Goods and Martha Stewart)
2/3 cups water
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
1.5 cups sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp cupcake syrup (why doesn't Starbucks have this??)
powdered sugar to coat them at the end - around a cup
butter or cooking spray for your pan
Tools: Baking pan; saucepan, stand mixer, spatula, measuring cups, parchment paper, plastic wrap
- Prep your baking pan - I put parchment paper in the bottom and sprayed with cooking spray. You could also butter or spray the pan instead & skip the parchment paper - just be generous with the coating.
- In a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, pour in 1/3 cup of the water and sprinkle with the gelatin. Set aside so it can soak.
- In a medium saucepan, bring sugar, corn syrup, salt and remaining 1/3 cup water to a rolling boil - continue boiling for 1 minute and then remove from heat.
- Turn the mixer on low and mix the gross gelatin to combine with the water. Slowly and carefully add the hot sugar mixture, pour down the side of the mixing bowl - away from the beaters. It's molten sugar! Mix on low.
- When it feels safe, crank up the mixer to high and whip for 10-12 minutes - the batter will become thick and expand. Scrape down the sides the bowl as it mixes. Stop the mixer and add the vanilla & cupcake syrup. Try not to face plant into it because it smells so good. Whip briefly to combine.
- Transfer to the buttered baking pan and use a spatula to spread evenly.
- Stick a buttered or sprayed sheet of plastic wrap across the top. Press down firmly to seal it up - this is also a good time to flatten out the slab and make it more even.
- I let it sit at room temp overnight - at least 3 hours though.
- When it's been 3 hours or more - sprinkle a cutting board with powdered sugar. Remove the top plastic wrap. Flip the pan upside down and it should come right out if you prepped your pan in step 1. Rub the slab with powdered sugar. Use cookie cutters (sprayed with cooking spray) or a knife to cut up. Roll each piece into powdered sugar so they're not so sticky to handle. If you use cookie cutters, you can cut up the scraps into smaller, misshaped pieces that are good for snacking.
- Toss into hot cocoa. Store at room temp for up to a week in a sealed container.