The holidays can be a very stressful time, especially for those of us who live by the academic calendar. When added to a long to-do list of end-of-semester research papers, holiday festivities can seem more daunting than appealing. Giving gifts is great, but who under 40 has the time or money to buy them? And when all the preparing and present-wrapping is said and done and the time for celebrating arrives, you’ll more than likely find yourself quarreling over politics with a conservative uncle or grandparent at the holiday dinner table. There is much to fret over around the holidays, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll set your responsibilities aside and pour your anxieties into a big ol’ mixing bowl with some sugar, flour, eggs, and Christmas cheer.
To help get you into the spirit, here are three reasons you might find yourself needing to delve into stress baking, and three simple recipes to suit them.
#1: Finals — As in, those 20-page research papers you have to write or three-hour exams you have to suffer through before you get to head home for the holidays.
The recipe for your weary mind?
A sweet, delicious way to get your much-needed caffeine fix—and easy to take with you to the library, where you’ll be spending every second of your time.
Cupcakes: (adapted from here)
2 tablespoons boiling water
4 teaspoons instant espresso granules or 8 teaspoons instant coffee granules
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
5 tablespoons butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
optional: ½ – 1 cup dark chocolate chunks (or semi-sweet chocolate chips)
- Preheat oven to 350°.
- In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons boiling water and 4-6 teaspoons espresso (depending on how strong you want/need them), stirring until espresso dissolves. Stir in buttermilk.
- In a separate bowl combine flour, baking soda, and salt, stirring well with a whisk.
- In a separate large bowl mix together (ideally with an electric beater, but if you don’t have one, strong and patient hands will do) sugar, butter, and vanilla extract in a large. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour mixture and buttermilk mixture alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture.
- Mix in chocolate chunks (if desired).
- Spoon batter into a cupcake tray lined with paper liners. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool cupcakes in pan 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pan. Wait until they are completely cool to frost.
Espresso Buttercream Frosting: (adapted from here)
3/4 tsp. vanilla
3/4 tsp. instant coffee powder
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter at room temperature
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
- In a small bowl mix together espresso and vanilla until dissolved.
- In a separate, larger bowl beat or whisk butter until light and fluffy. Add powdered sugar a little at a time until well incorporated. Scrape the sides of the bowl and whip until light and fluffy.
- Add vanilla and espresso mixture. Mix until completely incorporated.
#2: Family — As in, the crazy group of people you find yourself with during the holidays. Of course you love each other, but of course you are also going to bicker with each other over the pasta dish.
The recipe for dealing with dysfunctional relatives?
Mini Cheesecakes with Fruit Topping
Crowd-pleasing, easy to share, and an unconventional Christmas “cookie” tradition of my mother’s. My family has always topped these with cherry pie filling, but this year I made my own blackberry compote for the topping instead—recipe included below.
Makes about 16 mini cheesecakes
1 package vanilla wafers
16 oz (2 blocks) cream cheese
¾ cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp lemon juice
mini muffin or cupcakes liners
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Combine cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and lemon juice and mix well. Add eggs and beat until combined.
- Place cupcake liners in tray and place a vanilla wafer at the bottom of each cup.
- Pour batter into each cup, filling about ⅔ of the way.
- Bake for 20 minutes. Wait until cooled to add topping.
1 cup blackberries, fresh or frozen
1 tbsp orange juice
3-4 tsp sugar
- Combine ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat.
- Lower to a simmer and let cook, stirring frequently and mashing berries, for 20 minutes or until it thickens to your liking.
- Remove from heat and let cool, then spoon onto cooled cheesecakes.
#3: Finances — As in, what you’re severely lacking in after stretching your budget to spend on presents and travel.
The recipe for your empty wallet?
Dulce de Leche Rice Krispy Treats (adapted from here)
These easy treats can be cut into shapes and decorated as well as any Christmas cookie, and they won’t take up very much of your time or your money.
Makes 1 tray or about 8 bars
2 cups dulce de leche
3 cups rice krispies cereal
½ tbsp butter
1 tbsp milk or almond milk
- Grease a 8×4 inch pan with butter.
- Microwave dulce de leche in a large bowl for 30-second intervals until warm and liquid.
- Add the rice krispies to the dulce de leche, stirring until evenly coated.
- Press the mixture into the pan.
- Refrigerate for at least one hour.
- Cut into squares with a knife or into shapes with greased cookie cutters.
Share, enjoy, and watch your worries dissipate—at least for a little while.