holiday pretzels I love to bake during the holiday season but don’t have loads of time. So while there are a few things I set aside time to really cook up right, I also rely on simple recipes that have been proven crowd pleasers.

At the top of my list is the Junior Mint brownie. Brownies in general are a great idea because there is so much you can do with them but for whatever reason the Junior Mint brownie always gets the most oohs and aahs. Simply make a fudge brownie (package mixes do fine) and during the last five minutes of baking evenly spread a box of junior mints across the top. When you pull the brownies out take a spatula and spread the melted Junior Mints across the top to ensure a thin, glaze like coating across the entire batch. This is a recipe that can be found all over the internet and is incredibly easy to make.

Another favorite recipe comes from Old Dutch Pretzels. You need the Christmas Wreath/rings pretzels for this recipe. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees. Place pretzels on a greased baking sheet. Place unwrapped chocolate kisses in the center of each pretzel ring. Bake for three to four minutes, remove from oven and immediately place an M&M or similar candy in the middle of each ring, pressing down with your thumb so the chocolate fills the ring. A salty, sweet snack easy to make in large quantities ensues. If you search the internet you can find some fancy takes on this little gem.

Trifles have always been a favorite of mine and the easiest is one that involves brownies, chocolate Cool Whip and chocolate pudding. Bake the brownies, then in a large, decorative bowl put a layer of brownies, a layer of chocolate pudding and a layer of chocolate Cool Whip. Repeat layers. Garnish top with shavings from a Hershey chocolate bar.

My “big” holiday cheat is my own version of the brownie mountain that my local super Target carries. I bake a couple of dozen brownies, stack them one on top of the other on a tray two to three layers deep, leaving a hole in the middle. In that hole I place a chocolate or vanilla mousse, then I drizzle chocolate and caramel syrups down the sides. I don’t go crazy with the syrup – enough to decorate but not so much that the brownies become a gooey mess. The center can also be a flavored whip cream like the cinnamon variety Cool Whip has out right now. You can also mix regular cool whip with smashed Oreo cookies for another center. You can garnish the whole with sprinkles or not as you wish. The brownies are then dipped into the center for a really yummy treat. These are so popular with the people I bake for I’ve actually had people call and ask if I will be baking, will they be on my list and may they please have a brownie mountain if so.

My last bit of holiday cheating advice is to check out company websites. Pillsbury has a wonderful veggie appetizer using their crescent rolls as a base. Kraft has some amazing truffle recipes with cream cheese. Jell-O has some great recipes too. All of these sites tend to concentrate on quick and simple.

So what cheats do you use in your holiday baking?

– Maggie AAR