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Make the holidays sweeter with some homemade treats

Forget the mall; stay home and bake some holiday gifts.

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, buy, buy, buy! The pressure to get just the right gift for everyone can be overwhelming sometimes. One gift that's sure to be appreciated is a foodstuff that's lovingly homemade, carefully wrapped in beautiful Christmas wrappings and ribbons and meant to be enjoyed over the holiday season. An idea I enjoy is scouring our local thrift stores for a beautiful plate, bowl or jar and filling it with Christmas goodies. Let the Christmas baking begin!

Bourbon Fruitcake

2 c. mixed candied fruit, coarsely chopped

1 c. candied cherries, halved

3 c. raisins

1 c. currants

1/2 c. bourbon

1 c. (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature

1 c. firmly packed brown sugar

6 eggs, at room temperature

1/2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted

3 c. walnuts, coarsely chopped

2 c. all-purpose flour

1 t. ground nutmeg

1 t. ground cloves

1/2 t. baking soda

3/4 t. salt

1/2 c. brandy

In a large bowl, combine the candied fruits, raisins, currants and bourbon. Mix well, cover and marinate 3 hours on the counter. Cream together the butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the melted chocolate, walnuts and the marinated fruit along with the bourbon. Blend for a minute and add the flour, nutmeg, cloves, baking soda and salt. Mix well until all is incorporated. Pack the heavy batter into a greased 10 x 4-inch tube pan. Bake in a preheated 300-degree oven for 2 hours and 10 minutes. Remove to a rack. When the cake is cool enough to handle, remove it from the pan and cool o the rack. Place the cooled cake in a stainless-steel pot with a lid and drizzle half the brandy over it. Cover and allow to rest on the counter for 1 week. After 1 week, drizzle with the remaining brandy, cover and allow to rest another week. Slice and serve. This cake will keep for months in the refrigerator.

Rum Date Cake

3/4 c. butter or margarine, softened

1 1/2 c. firmly packed brown sugar

1 lb. dates, pitted and chopped

1 lb. pecans, chopped

1 c. boiling water

1 t. baking soda

3 eggs, beaten

2 1/4 c. unbleached flour

1/4 t. salt

1/2 c. rum

In a large bowl, cream the butter or margarine and brown sugar until well blended. Fold in the dates and pecans. In a small bowl, combine the water and baking soda and pour over the sugar mixture, stirring to blend. Add the eggs, flour and salt and beat until smooth. Add the rum and blend well. Pour into a well-greased 10-inch Bundt pan and bake in a preheated 300-degree oven for 1 1/2 hours. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 miutes, then invert onto a serving plate. Serves 18 to 20.

Apple-Walnut Scones

2 1/4 c. unbleached flour

1/2 c. granulated sugar

2 t. baking powder

1/2 t. salt

1/2 c. butter or margarine

2 eggs, beaten

1/4 c. milk

2 t. vanilla

1 t. grated lemon rind

1 c. chopped apples

1/2 c. chopped walnuts

1/4 c. firmly packed brown sugar

1 t. ground cinnamon

In a large bowl, combine the flour, granulated sugar, bakign powder and salt, mixing well. Cut in the butter or margarine until crumbly. In a small bowl, mix the eggs, milk, vanilla and lemon rind, then stir into the flour mixture (the dough will be sticky). Stir in the apples. Greast an 11-inch diameter circle on a baking sheet, place the dough on top and pat it into a 9-inch circle. Mix the nuts, brown sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over the top. Cut the dough into 8 wedges and bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until lightly browned. Serves 8.

Christmas Caramels

1 pint whipping cream

1 3/4 c. light corn syrup

2 c. sugar

3/4 c. butter

1 t. vanilla

1 c. chopped nuts

Mix cream, syrup, sugar and butter in a heavy saucepan. Cook until 246 to 248 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and beat in vanilla. Pour over chopped nuts that have been put in a 9- by 9-inch pan. Cool and cut into squares. Wrap individually in waxed paper squares.

Peanut Clusters

1 (12-oz.) pkg. chocolate chips

1 lb. white almond bark

1 t. vanilla

2 (12-oz.) pkgs. salted peanuts

Melt chocolate chips and almond bark. Add vanilla and then the peanuts. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto waxed paper.

Crème de Menthe Squares

1 1/4 c. butter

1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder

3 1/2 c. sifted powdered sugar

1 egg, beaten

1 t. vanilla

2 c. graham cracker crumbs

1/3 c. green crème de menthe (syrup can be used)

1 1/2 c. semisweet chocolate chips

In saucepan combine 1/2 c. butter and cocoa powder. Heat and stir until well blended. Remove from heat and add 1/2 c. of the powdered sugar, egg and vanilla. Stir in graham cracker crumbs. Mix well. Press into bottom of ungreased 9- by 13-inch pan. Middle Layer: Melt another 1/2 c. butter. In small mixer bowl combine melted butter and crème de menthe. At low speed, beat in the remaining 3 c. powdered sugar untl smooth. Spread over the chocolate layer. Chill. Top Layer: Melt the remaining 1/4 c. butter and the chocolate chips. Spread over mint layer. Chill slightly. Cut in small squares. Store in refrigerator. Hint: Wrap squares individually in plastic wrap and fill clear glass jars; decorate with holiday ribbons.