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Microwave Mulled Wine

There’s a nip in the air and decorative gourd season is almost over. It’s time for warming, festive beverages. This mulled wine recipe uses your microwave so you don’t have to babysit a simmering pot of wine for 20 minutes. And it’s a great way to put a cheaper bottle of wine to work. Don’t skip the brandy: it adds a boozy edge to the mix. The resulting spicy-sweet concoction is so tasty and easy to make that you’ll fly through that bottle of brandy in no time. One of the best parts about this recipe is that it gets tastier the longer the spices sit in it, so you can make the whole thing ahead of time, and just strain and reheat individual servings when the mood strikes.

Pine Nut Cookies (Pignoli)

There’s no prettier cookie to serve at tea time then these pignoli studded bites. The addition of almond paste makes for an incredibly tender, moist dough while a bit of finely grated orange zest cuts through the richness of the nuts. Because they use powdered sugar, instead of granulated, these cookies really do melt in your mouth. Be careful when shopping for almond paste that you don’t accidentally pick up marzipan (often sold right next to one another). While they are made of the same ingredients—ground almonds, sugar, and some sort of binder like corn syrup or egg whites—almond paste is less sweet and more coarsely ground.

Pour-Over Sugar Cookie Icing

We love a meticulously decorated holiday cookie as much as the next gal but sometimes (all of the time?) we just don’t have the time. So we developed the easiest icing yet, no careful dipping and drying required. Instead, you just whip up a batch of this one bowl icing, pour it over your cookies, e voila! For ultimate success, line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment or aluminum foil (for easy cleanup) and set a rack inside of it. Arrange your cookies on the rack about 2 inches apart so they have plenty of room to dry without sticking together.

Slow-Cooker Gingerbread Hot Chocolate

What’s better than a cup of steaming spiced hot cocoa? One that’s ready and waiting for you after a long afternoon of sledding or skiing. We slow-cooked a batch of subtly sweet cocoa sweetened with both powdered sugar (because it melts evenly) and molasses (for a rich base note). Traditional gingerbread spices like cinnamon, ginger, and cloves make it smell like you’ve been baking all day when you’ve actually been out playing in the snow. If you have cheesecloth, bundle the spices inside of a square and secure it with kitchen twine. That way you won’t have to strain. Here’s an idea: use any leftover hot cocoa as a milk substitute in your morning coffee.

Twice-Baked Butternut Squash

For all the twice-baked potato lovers out there, this squash is for you. Filled with creamy butternut squash, vibrant sweet potatoes, and tangy cream cheese, this is one vegetarian dish that deserves center stage. We’d consider serving it alongside the Thanksgiving turkey or other holiday roast as a generous option for non meat-eaters. Why should omnivores have all the fun? Cutting squash can be intimidating so be sure to set yourself up for success. Place a couple layers of damp paper towels underneath your cutting board to keep it from slipping around and use a sharp knife—they’re safer than dull ones.

Puff Pastry Spiced Almond Wreaths

Puff pastry might be the most underrated item in our freezer. It goes sweet or savory and is a savior during the holiday season when you’re called upon to whip up tarts, quiches, and cookies at a moment’s notice. Take these almond wreaths: chances are you have most of the ingredients on hand (and you can substitute any nut you like for the roasted salted almonds). Don’t skimp on the egg wash, it helps to hold the wreaths together but also gives them a golden sheen. Be sure to let the cookies cool completely before packaging: if you wrap them up warm they can steam and get soggy.

Puff Pastry Mexican Chocolate Sweethearts

We love the spicy, slightly bitter notes that cinnamon and coffee lend to cocoa powder. The trick is to dust your surface with the sweetened cocoa mixture instead of using plain flour and roll the pastry in that—that way the chocolate really sticks to the dough. If you’re feeling adventurous, you could even add a pinch (up to ¼ teaspoon) of cayenne pepper to the spice mixture for cookies with a kick. If at any point during preparation, the dough gets too soft and sticky, transfer it to a parchment-lined sheet and stick it in the fridge to firm up. If it’s too soft, the dough won’t rise nicely and you’ll lose those flaky layers.

Puff Pastry Salted Caramel Macaroons

These pretty things have sweet and salty down pat. If you don’t have flaky salt, be sure to add a pinch of sea salt or kosher salt to the coconut mixture (otherwise these will be too sweet). And don’t be intimidated by the caramel sauce recipe that follows. Caramel is one of those things like riding a bike: once you learn it, you’ll know it forever. Just have your cream ready and don’t walk away from it. Caramel waits for no one! But the leftovers actually wait quite nicely: use any extra for ice cream, drizzled over cakes, or to sweeten your hot cocoa.

Puff Pastry Chocolate-Hazelnut Rugelach

Consider these the ultimate pantry cookie: all you really need to buy would be puff pastry and a jar of Nutella and you’re a few steps away from the easiest rugelach ever. Look for puff pastry made with all butter (many are cut with shortening). They can cost a little bit more but that pure butter flavor is worth the price. Puff pastry tends to defrost best on the counter at room temperature but if you’re not sure when you’ll get around to baking you may want to stick it in the fridge to defrost overnight. If at any point during preparation, the pastry gets too soft, stick it back in the fridge to firm up before proceeding.