Food & Drink

Hack these 7 incredibly easy cookies

So simple (clockwise from upper left): Microwave pecan brittle, Nutella Brownie Bites, Sweet and Salty Thin Mints, Tiger Butter, Butterscotch Bark, Chocolate Peppermint Sandwiches and Sea Salt Chocolate Wafers.
So simple (clockwise from upper left): Microwave pecan brittle, Nutella Brownie Bites, Sweet and Salty Thin Mints, Tiger Butter, Butterscotch Bark, Chocolate Peppermint Sandwiches and Sea Salt Chocolate Wafers. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

You wait all year for baking season, hoarding recipes while visions of perfect cookie trays dance in your head.

Then, when it’s finally time to bake Christmas cookies, the December calendar explosion means you have no time for baking at all, much less time for crafting three-stage, beautifully decorated, magazine-ready cookies.

Sure, stores are full of products that promise to do it all for you this time of year. But isn’t there’s a sweet spot between slice-and-bake Santas and full-on Martha creations?

We hit the kitchen with a handful of easy products, the kind of things you probably already have on hand. We came up with seven cookies and candies that are so easy, you could turn out a batch in less time than it takes to plug in Rudolph’s nose. All of them either take only three ingredients or can be put together in less than 15 minutes.

Use them to fill in your cookie tray while you accomplish a few more complicated cookie feats, or grab them when you need something with no notice. Consider your sugar crisis solved.

Tips for easy-bake cooks

▪ Be careful when you’re melting white chocolate and butterscotch morsels. They’re higher in sugar than chocolate, so they can burn even more easily.

▪ To get chocolate to set at room temperature, add a little shortening, usually a teaspoon per cup of chocolate. Even better: Use coconut oil instead.

▪ A lot of specialty-baking products, like brickle, unsweetened chocolate and candied cherries, are easier to find at the holidays when stores put out special displays. If you like to bake all year, grab a few packages now and store them in a cool, dry place.

Nutella Brownie Bites

1 cup Nutella

2 eggs

2/3 cup all-purpose flour

Line a mini-muffin pan with liners. Beat all the ingredients until smooth. Fill lined muffin pan and bake 25 minutes at 350 degrees.

Optional: Press a pecan half or a half of a maraschino cherry in each before baking.

Yield: About 32.

Peppermint Sandwich Cookies

1 (12-ounce) bag white baking morsels

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

1 teaspoon peppermint extract (optional)

2 to 4 tablespoons heavy cream

3/4 of a box of chocolate wafer cookies, such as Nabisco (see note)

About 1 cup crushed peppermint

Place white baking morsels in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat on 70 percent power for 1 minute. Stir. Return to microwave for 15 seconds if needed. (It will be soft enough to stir, but still stiff.)

Place the melted white chocolate in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the confectioners’ sugar and peppermint extract and beat until crumbly. Beat in cream 1 tablespoon at a time, until it comes together in a smooth dough.

Place about 2 tablespoons dough on the flat side of a chocolate wafer and press into an even layer, making sure it reaches the edges. Top with a second cookie and press gently. Roll the edges of the filling in crushed peppermint, pressing it in with your fingers. Repeat with remaining filling and cookies.

Note: Look for chocolate wafer cookies on the ice cream aisle.

Yield: 14 to 16 sandwich cookies.

Sweet and Salty Thin Mints

Adapted from “Dessert & Booze Hacks,” by Peggy Wang (Clarkson Potter, $19.99).

1 (4.67-ounce) package Andes creme de menthe thins (about 28 pieces)

About 1 1/2 sleeves butter crackers, such as Ritz or Townhouse

1 teaspoon shortening or coconut oil

Crushed peppermint

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and set aside.

Unwrap mints and place in a microwave-safe bowl with the shortening or coconut oil. Microwave for 30 seconds on 50 percent power. Stir. Continue microwaving in 15-second bursts at 50 percent power until completely smooth.

Place a cracker in the melted chocolate, turning to coat both sides. Use a clean pastry brush to coat thinly, removing excess. Place on lined baked sheet. While chocolate is still wet, sprinkle with crushed peppermint. Let stand until set.

Yield: About 4 dozen.

Tiger Butter

1 pound vanilla almond bark or white candy coating

1 (12-ounce) jar or 1 1/2 cups crunchy peanut butter

6 ounces or 1 cup semisweet chocolate morsels

Line a jelly roll pan with waxed paper.

Chop almond bark into 1-inch pieces and place in a 1 1/2-quart microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on 80 percent power for 2 minutes. Stir until smooth. Add peanut butter, stir and microwave on high for 1 to 2 minutes, or until smooth and creamy. Pour onto prepared pan and spread out. (It may not reach all the way to the corners.)

In a small microwave-safe bowl or glass measuring cup, melt semisweet chocolate for 30 seconds on 70 percent power. Stir and continue microwaving for 15 seconds at a time, until smooth. Drop dabs all over the peanut butter mixture. Draw a knife through the mixture, creating swirls and stripes. Chill until set and cut into squares.

Yield: 2 pounds.

Microwave Pecan Brittle

From “Pecans: A Savor the South Cookbook,” by Kathleen Purvis. This has more than 3 ingredients, but it takes hardly any time to make. The bowl will get hot, so make sure you have oven mitts. Once you add the baking soda, you need to spread the brittle quickly. Make sure you have the pan prepared before you start.

Nonstick cooking spray

1/2 cup light corn syrup

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 cups pecan halves

1 teaspoon unsalted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

Spray a rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray. Set aside.

Combine corn syrup and sugar in a 1 1/2-quart microwave-safe mixing bowl. Stir to blend. Microwave on high for 4 minutes. Carefully remove from microwave and stir in the nuts. Return to microwave and cook for 4-6 minutes on high, until the sugar is light brown. (The time will depend on the wattage of your microwave. Keep an eye on it, and stop if the nuts start to smell burned.) Stir in the butter, vanilla and salt. Microwave on high for 1 to 2 minutes.

Place the bowl with the hot mixture close to the prepared pan. Sprinkle the baking soda over the hot sugar and stir gently just until foamy. Quickly pour out onto the prepared baking sheet. (Be careful, the sugar is very hot.) Tilt the pan around to spread it a little. (Don’t try to spread it with a spoon, it will just dissolve the foam.)

Let stand until completely cool. Break into pieces and store in an airtight container.

Yield: About 2 dozen pieces.

Pretzel Peanut Butterscotch Bark

2 (11-ounce) bags butterscotch morsels

1 cup pretzel sticks, broken into short pieces

1 cup salted roasted peanuts, chopped coarsely

Line a 13-by-9-inch baking pan with foil. Set aside.

Place butterscotch morsels in a microwave-safe mixing bowl. Microwave 30 seconds on 50 percent power. Stir. Continue microwaving for 30 seconds at 50 percent power until smooth. Stir in pretzels and peanuts.

Pour into prepared pan. Cool at least 2 hours. Peel away foil and break into pieces or cut into squares.

Yield: About 3 dozen pieces.

Sea Salt Chocolate Wafers

12 to 16 thin crispbreads, such as Wassa Bread or Finn Crisp

7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, (65 to 75 percent cacao)

Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Cut or break the crispbreads in half or quarters, trying not to break them too much.

Chop the chocolate into small chunks and place in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds at 70 percent power. Stir and repeat just until only a few chunks remain. Remove and stir until smooth.

Working quickly with a clean pastry brush, brush both sides of a crispbread to coat completely with chocolate. Place on the prepared baking sheet. Let stand for a minute, then sprinkle with sea salt. (You want the chocolate to cool a little so the salt doesn’t immediately melt, but still be soft enough for it to stick.) Refrigerate just until set, about 5 minutes. Store in an airtight container at room temperature up to 5 days.

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