WIN THE HOLIDAYS WITH TIPS FROM MILK BAR’S CHRISTINA TOSI

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We’re major fans of NYC dessert destination Milk Bar, so we joined forces with founder Christina Tosi on an exclusive collab of goodies—both to wear and to eat. Wanting to keep the festive feelings flowing, we asked Christina to share her top holiday tips—from what she wears on those marathon cookie-baking days, to the last-minute gift ideas that save her every time.

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Nostalgic treat: PB & J squares

by Sarah Z. Wexler (Brooklyn)

Admit it: PB & J is just about the best combo ever. That’s especially the case with my new obsession, the featured flavor at New York City’s Doughnut Plant: a blackberry jam–filled doughnut covered in a peanut butter glaze. It’s so good, in fact, that I almost brought some to a friend’s birthday party—but, let’s be honest, a pile of purchased doughnuts doesn’t give quite the same love. So I set out looking for alternatives that would be slightly healthier but just as tasty. The holy grail: Rachael Ray’s Nutty Peanut Butter & Jelly Squares. They only took half an hour to make and the results actually rivaled their doughnut inspiration. (Plus, the childhood-flashback taste was amazing.)

Holiday Treat Tutorial: Red Velvet Reindeer Cake Balls

by Lauren Romo (Madewell)

The table at my friend’s second annual Cookie Exchange Party.

Tired of bringing your tried-and-true chocolate-chip cookies to holiday parties? Well, I recently found myself in the same position when I was invited to a gal pal’s annual Cookie Exchange Party. Feeling uninspired by all the cookie recipes I came across—some were too complicated, some too boring—I finally decided to buck the trend and try Red Velvet Reindeer Cake Balls. The verdict? They look ridiculously cute, taste insanely delicious and couldn’t be easier to make. In other words, steal this recipe ASAP.

Ingredients

1 box red velvet cake mix
1 16-ounce container cream cheese frosting
2 12-ounce bags semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 large bag thin pretzel twists
1 bag Sno-Caps or Holiday M&Ms

Directions

1. Prepare cake mix according to box. (Tip: I substituted applesauce for oil in mine, which makes for an even more velvety result.)
2. Remove finished cake from oven and let sit for five minutes.
3. While still warm, crumble cake into a large mixing bowl. (Caution: the middle may still be hot.)
4. Stir cream cheese frosting into cake crumbles with a fork until well mixed.
5. Using an ice-cream scooper or melon baller, form mixture into balls. Shape to your liking.
6. Set cake balls onto foil- or wax paper–lined pan.

Decorating

1. Pour one of bag chocolate chips into a microwave-safe bowl.
2. Microwave for 30 seconds, then stir chips and repeat until all chips are melted. (Tip: I prefer to work with one bag of melted chips at a time.)
3. Drop one cake ball at a time into melted chocolate and rotate with a fork until fully coated. (If chocolate begins to thicken, simply pop it back in the microwave for 30 seconds and stir.)
4. Place chocolate-coated cake ball onto foil-lined pan, place a Sno-Cap or M&M on as a nose and stick in two broken pretzel pieces as antlers.
5. Repeat until you have a complete herd of little reindeer.
6. Let chocolate dry (or pop them into the refrigerator if you’re short on time).
7. Enjoy!

Happy cookie-eating campers Jocelyn, Johanna and yours truly.

So You Think You Can’t Bake?

by Svetlana Legetic (D.C.)

Sprinkle Pretzel recipe courtesy of my buddy Emma Kelly; photos by Kimberly Cadena.

Here is that well-known scenario: you have exactly 1,000 holiday parties to attend and walking in with a bottle of wine is becoming a little predictable. If only you knew how to bake something festive and awesome.

Worry not: Here is the ultimate foolproof, super-adorable holiday dessert that takes no time, will wow friends and, yes, is totally OK to make even if you do know how to bake. Behold, the genius simplicity and all-around cuteness of Holiday Sprinkle Pretzels.

Ingredients (all of which I found at the corner store, so you have no excuse):

● 1 medium bag of pretzels
● 3 chocolate bars
● water
● sprinkles

1) Add water to the bottom of your double boiler and wait for it to boil. (If you don’t have a double boiler or have no clue what that is, put a small metal pot inside a bigger metal pot and add water between them.)
2) Place chocolate in smaller bowl and let melt.
3) Dip pretzels in chocolate and place on parchment or wax paper.
4) Apply sprinkles and let sit until chocolate is firm.
5) Place finished treats in a cute bag and impress all your party friends. (Or throw into a bowl and carry to your couch—we won’t judge.)

Fall Adventure: Apple Picking in Warwick, NY

by Lauren Romo (Madewell)

Ah, it’s autumn—the season of crisp air, soft sweaters, fall foliage and, of course, apple picking. If you haven’t made a date with your local orchard, I have to tell you: You are missing out on a quintessential autumnal experience, not to mention the freshest and most delicious apples you’ll ever taste.

Marie and me feeling psyched about McIntosh season.

For the second year in a row, I took a trip to Masker Orchards—located about 45 minutes north of New York City in Warwick, NY—with my friends (and former roommates) Brittany and Marie. We intentionally planned our trip for early October, when the McIntoshes are super ripe and the temps are pleasantly cool, but much to our surprise, the day warmed up to a balmy 80 degrees. (Too bad—I was really looking forward to wearing my Cableknit Crewneck Sweater.)

Brittany, diving right in.

When we arrived at the orchard, we were handed a few large plastic bags and a map that outlined where each sort of apple grew. Then we proceeded to hunt down and eat as much fruit as we could, free of charge (don’t worry, they encourage it). Once we had our fill, we paid for all our (uneaten) fruit and drove home.

In my case, the story didn’t stop there, though. The second I got back to my apartment with a big five-pound bag of apples, I knew what I had to do: consult a time-tested, well-loved family recipe and immediately start making one of my favorite childhood treats. So without further ado, Grandma Marlene’s Apple Cake.

Just seconds after this photo was taken, everyone at our office devoured it.

Grandma Marlene’s Apple Cake

3 cups chopped or grated apples

1 cup vegetable oil

2 cups white sugar

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups chopped nuts

1 tablespoon soda

2 tablespoons cinnamon

1 tablespoon vanilla

2 whole eggs

½ tablespoon salt

Directions:

Mix all ingredients together by hand. (Mix will be stiff.)

Bake at 325 degrees for an hour (in loaf pan) or for 45 minutes (in muffin tin).

Dig in.

When Life Gives You Meyer Lemons…

by Fiorella Valdesolo (NYC)

If you haven’t experienced the utter deliciousness that is a Meyer lemon, do your taste buds a favor and get over to your local grocer immediately. Traditionally, the season for this spectacular golden citrus fruit—a moderately tart, extra-juicy hybrid of a lemon and a Mandarin orange brought over from China by “agricultural explorer” Frank Meyer—runs from November to March, but a few weeks ago, I miraculously uncovered an early delivery at my neighborhood gourmet market in Brooklyn. Though the taste will likely improve as the season gets closer, I was still so impressed when I got home and sliced one open to take a nibble (uh huh, you can do that with these).

Since Meyers are sweeter than traditional lemons, they’re really ideal for making desserts. Knowing that, I set about scanning my favorite recipe website, Food52, for ideas (if you’re not already a fan, you should know it’s amazing). I settled on Lazy Mary’s Lemon Tart for two reasons: 1) It made use of the entire lemon, rind and all, and 2) its name implied that the recipe would be light on labor. The result? Mary may have been lazy, but she’s also genius.

A few things to note before you get baking. The recipe calls for you to make your own tart shell (my vote is for either Gourmet’s or Mark Bittman’s recipe, but you can also get away with using a pre-made variety if you’re feeling extra lazy). If you want your tart to be slightly more, well, tart, reduce the amount of sugar (I tried it with 1 cups and it was just right). Serve the tart plain, in all its lemony glory, or garnish with fresh strawberries and a sprig of mint. If you feel like getting extra fancy, whip up a quick fruit sauce by throwing a handful of strawberries or blueberries into a saucepan with some balsamic vinegar and a few heaping tablespoons of sugar, and let it simmer on low heat until it reduces. Enjoy. (I certainly did.)

Lazy Mary’s Lemon TartSERVES ONE TART

  • 1 large Meyer lemon cut into 8 pieces
  • 1½ cups superfine sugar
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 4 whole eggs
  • Your favorite tart shell

Directions:

1. Put all ingredients (except tart shell) into a blender and whirl like crazy.

2. Pour contents into tart shell.

3. Bake 40 minutes at 350 degrees (watch that the top doesn’t burn).

4. Devour.

The ABC’s of Baking Tasty (and Healthy) Crackers

by Anna H. Blessing (Chicago)

101 Cookbooks + alphabet cookie cutter set = very adorable oatmeal crackers.

I absolutely love baking, but it often involves piles upon piles of delicious, addictive, sugary, floury, buttery stuff. Enter superfoods goddess Heidi Swanson, whose beautiful photo-centric blog, 101 Cookbooks, emphasizes whole, fresh and local foods. That’s where I found the recipe for the rye flour and rolled oats crackers I made above. Crispy and tasty, these guys feel indulgent but turn out to be really healthy (which is why I made them in kid-friendly alphabet form for my little girl).

Heidi says the trick for crackers that perfectly snap in two (instead of crumbling) is to make them extra thin and then flip them midbaking so each side gets browned. My tip? Use the freshest rolled oats you can get for that toasty flavor. (Fellow Chicagoans, I’ve found great ones at Three Sisters Garden.)

101 Cookbooks: Oatmeal Crackers

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1¼ cups whole milk, heated just to boiling
  • ¼ cup room-temperature unsalted butter
  • 4 tablespoons natural cane sugar
  • 3 teaspoons aluminum-free baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons crushed anise seed (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon fine-grain sea salt, plus more for sprinkling
  • 1¼ cup dark rye flour
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting