Thursday, December 19, 2013


Candy-Box Caramels

   Dress up caramel squares by dipping them in sprinkles, crushed nuts, and bits of candy. Add a drizzling of dark or white chocolate to make them even prettier.

Candy Box Caramels

  • 12
    ounces chocolate- and/or vanilla-flavor candy coating*, coarsely chopped

  • 1
    cup toffee pieces, crushed; finely chopped pistachios; and/or nonpareils

  • 48
    short plastic or wooden skewers (optional)

  • 1
    14 ounce package vanilla caramels (about 48), unwrapped

  • 2
    ounces chocolate- and/or vanilla-flavor candy coating*, coarsely chopped (optional)
1.In a microwave-safe 4-cup measure, place the 12 ounces candy coating. Microwave on 100% power (high) for 3 minutes or just until melted, stirring every 30 seconds.

2.Place toffee pieces, nuts, or nonpareils in a shallow dish. If desired, insert a skewer into each caramel. Dip one caramel into melted candy coating; turn to coat as much of the caramel as desired, allowing excess coating to drip off caramel. (If not using skewers, use a fork to lift caramel out of candy coating, drawing the fork across the rim of the glass measure to remove excess coating from caramel.) Place dipped caramel in toffee pieces, nuts, and/or nonpareils, turning to coat. Place coated caramel on a baking sheet lined with waxed paper. Repeat with remaining caramels. Let caramels stand about 1 hour or until coating dries.

3.If desired, microwave 2 ounces of a contrasting color of candy coating in a microwave-safe bowl on 100% power (high) for 2 minutes or just until melted, stirring every 30 seconds. Cool slightly. Transfer coating to a small, heavy plastic bag; cut a small hole in one corner of bag and drizzle additional coating over coated caramels. Let caramels stand until set. Makes 48 pieces.

From the test kitchen
  • Layer caramels between waxed paper in an airtight container; cover. Store at room temperature for up to 1 week or freeze for up to 3 months.

  • *If desired, substitute milk chocolate, dark chocolate, and/or white chocolate baking squares with cocoa butter for candy coating.


The Christmas Cake as we know it today comes from two customs which became one around 1870 in Victorian England. Originally there was a porridge, the origins of which go back to the beginnings of Christianity. Then there was a fine cake made with the finest milled wheatflour, this was baked only in the Great Houses, as not many people had ovens back in the 14th century.


Originally people used to eat a sort of porridge on Christmas Eve. It was a dish to line the stomach after a day's fasting, which people used to observe for Christmas Eve, or the 'Vigil' as it was called long ago. Gradually, they began to put spices, dried fruits, honey etc in the porridge to make it a special dish for Christmas. Much later it was turned into a pudding, because it got to be so stiff with all the fruits and things, that they would tie it in a cloth, and dunk it into a large cauldron of boiling water and boil it for many hours. This turned into Christmas Pudding.


Later, around the 16th century, it became popular to add butter, replace the oatmeal with wheatflour, add eggs to hold it together better. This became boiled plumcake. So boiled plum pudding and boiled fruitcake existed side by side depending on which ingredients the housewife used.
Only big houseS had proper ovens to bake in. In the castles and fine homes, people would make a special cake for Easter, which was a rich fruitcake recipe with a topping of what we now call marzipan or almond paste. A similar cake was baked for the Christmas festivities, but whereas the Easter one was a plain cake with almonds, the Christmas one had dried fruits in season and spices. These represented the exotic spices of the East, and the gifts of the Wise Men . Such things were first brought to Europe and Britain particularly, by the Crusaders coming back from the wars in the Holy Land in the 12th century.


But it was not a Christmas cake, but a Twelfth Night Cake. Twelfth night is on the 5th January, and has been for centuries the traditional last day of the Christmas season.. It was a time for having a great feast, and the cake was an essential part of the festivities. This was slightly different in different countries, and also at different social levels.
In the GREAT HOUSES, into the cake was baked a dried Bean and a Pea. one in one half and the other in the other half. The cake was decorated with sugar, like our icing, but not so dense, and ornamentation. As the visitors arrived, they were given a piece of the cake, ladies from the left, gentlemen from the right side. Whoever got the bean became King of the Revels for the night, and eveyone had to do as he said. The lady was his Queen for the evening.
In smaller homes, the cake was a simple fruitcake, with a bean in it, which was given to guests during the twelve days of Christmas. Whoever got the bean was supposed to be a kind of guardian angel for that family for the year, so it was an important task, and usually, it was arranged that a senior member of the family would get the bean! This was observed until recently in Poland in fact.
In Britain the cake was baked as part of the refreshments offered to the priest and his entpourage who would visit on the feast of the Epiphany, January 6th, to bless each house in the parish. this custom died out after the Reformation in the late 16th century.. In Mallorca, the main island of the Spanish Balearics Islands, they have a similar custom which takes place at Easter.
The festive cake in Britain was revived at the end of the 17th century, and became very much part of the Twelfth night partying again. It is recorded In royal households, that the cakes became extravagantly large, and the guests divided into two side could have a battle with models on the cake! One battle was a sea battle, and there were minature water canon on the cake which really worked!


This is the Church festival of Ephiphany. The traditional day when Christians celebrate the arrival of the Magi or Three Kings at Bethlehem. It used to be the time when people exchanged their Christmas gifts. The feast was marked, as were all the old feasts, by some kind of religious observance. A visit to the church, a service or some kind, and then a folk observance which was tightly wrapped up as part of the Church activities. As we have seen, Twelve Day (the day following Twelfth Night) entailed the blessing of the home, and in some countries is still observed. But after the Reformation, these customs of the Church were banned by the Puritans, and fell into disuse. Without its religious overtones, Twelfth Night became a time of mischief and over indulgence. By 1870, Britains Queen Victoria announced that she felt it was inappropriate to hold such an unchristian festival, and Twelfth Night was banned as a feastday.


The confectioners who made the cakes were left with boxes full of figurines and models for Twelfth Cakes, and also had lost revenue by the banning of the feast. So they began to bake a fruitcake and decorate it with snowy scenes, or even flower gardens and Italian romantic ruins. These they sold not for the 5th January, but for December Christmas parties. And it was thus that we developed the Christmas cake.


People in Britain began to make the boiled fruitcake to send to their families who had gone to the new world colonies - in Australia, Canada, etc. and to send to those who worked on the missions. The boiled cakes lasted bestter than the baked ones, and in those days of the 19th century, they could take many weeks or months even to cross the world by ship. These cakes were usually sent as part of a Christmas Hamper of food and presents, and this way the tradition of Christmas cake, often eaten with a piece of cheese or apple pie, became known all over the world.
The Americans in turn were getting cakes sent from all parts of Europe by relatives in the 'Old Country'. Then in the 1890's a German immigrant opened a cake bakery in a small town, and began to bake cakes which the Americans in turn would send to their relatives back in Europe. This cake was based on a traditional Christmas cake, but contained many of the fruits which were grown in the Americas. This cake is now sent out to countries all over the world by the bakery, and is probably the most popular Christmas Cake today!


   FIRST MENTION OF FEAST OF NATIVITY ON 25th DECEMBER: Possibly the earliest mention of a special feast for the Nativity on the 25th December is in the Philocalian Calendar in the year 354. This does refer back to earlier information from 336. However, in 388, St Chrysostom wrote that the observing of the festival of the Nativity (on December 25th) was not yet ten years old.

*WHEN CHRISTMAS CAME TO BRITAIN: The first records show that St Augustine came to Britain with his missionary monks from Rome, and on Christmas Day 598 it is said that he baptised more than 10,000 English people in the Christian faith.
*According to the Venerable Bede in his History of the English Church, the legendary King Arthur was crowned by St Dubricius on Christmas Day, somewhere very close to this date.
*In the year 816, the Council of Chelsea enforced the observance of Christmas on December 25th in Britain. This date was formerly called 'Mothers Night, a vigil in honour of the re-birth of the new sun, so it had been deemed easy to replace it with the birth of the Son of God. /

*PEACE AND GOODWILL: During the reign of the Saxon King Ethelred 991-1016- a law was made that the season of the Nativity should be a time of peace and goodwill, when all strife must end.
*WHEN THE NATIVITY BECAME 'CHRISTMAS' Until c1170, the festival was always referred to as 'In Festis Nativitatis' Or 'Natalis' The Feast of the Nativity. The anglicised 'Christes-Masse' did not appear until after the Norman invasion.
* WHEN CHRISTMAS WAS BANNED: Christmas became the chosen time for coronations, decrees and all manner of important events. The Reformation brought about by King Henry VIII (mid-16th century) brought this all to a stop. In 1644 the puritan parliament first sat on Christmas Day setting a trend of 'no Christmas', in 1645 they had declared Christmas a working day. Christmas actually was banned! Anyone found making Christmas pies was in severe trouble, and often arrested as an example to others.

   At this time also all the customs began to die out, because anyone found celebrating was similarly chastised. Priests were in hiding, and few people managed to attend the old 'Christe-Masse.'. No 'Waits' sang in the streets; people were compelled to work on Christmas Day, and there was no feasting or decorating of houses or streets.
*CHRISTMAS REVIVED: After the restoration of the King (Charles II) in 1660, things got better, but after over 100 years of reformation and puritan restraint, many of the old customs were not restored in their former style. Mostly, it was country people who held onto them, and although there was an element of the 'Christmas of Olde England' in Georgian England,( as you can read from the extract of CHRISTMAS IN GEORGIAN ENGLAND), for many townspeople the customs were just not there. It was not until the Victorian scholars began to research into old documents, and talk to ancient characters in villages and hidden areas of the North of England etc where things changed more slowly, that the old customs were to be practiced again. Sadly many of the symbolism and reasons behind the christianised versions of these customs was lost, a fact particularly obvious in the custom of KISSING UNDER THE MISTLETOE - THE KISSING BOUGH.


Quick: what’s green, at least 65 feet tall, stands in an iconic location, and gets lit up like a Christmas tree?
Yes, it’s the Christmas tree—one of America’s tallest and perhaps its most-photographed—that hovers over New York’s Rockefeller Center. This year, the tree will rise a whopping 74 feet into the air and be lit on November 30 with great fanfare.
When it comes to our cherished symbols of Christmas, few towering, twinkling firs can rival Rockefeller Center’s yearly display of yuletide cheer. But some of them succeed, at least when it comes to height: America’s tallest Christmas trees can top 100 feet. And they make for fun stopovers during the holiday travel season.
You’ll often find these trees in unlikely places. For nearly 20 years during the 1970s and ’80s, for example,National Enquirer owner Generoso Pope placed trees in excess of 100 feet next to the tabloid’s offices near Palm Beach, FL. In 1979, Pope’s holiday tree reached nearly 120 feet tall and was promptly listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the “World’s Largest Decorated Christmas Tree.”
When Pope died in 1988, so did his tradition. But across the U.S., communities of all sizes continue to celebrate by decorating the tallest trees they can find. Often these trees are identified for cutting and purchased a year or more in advance, sometimes cut at great municipal expense, and transported across the country on wide flatbed trucks.
Though tree decorators don’t agree on which breed is best for public display, the experts at Rockefeller Center claim the Norway spruce is unmatched—thanks to the dense, dark-green needles and branches that droop gracefully over the pyramid-shaped body. The spectacularly decorated tree in Manhattan’s midtown is always at least 65 feet high and 35 feet wide and, some years, exceeds 100 feet in height.
These tall Christmas trees are highly valued by civic party planners across the country, but not every mammoth evergreen is destined to be chopped down and hauled away. America’s tallest living Christmas tree looms proudly over the picturesque grounds of Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene resort, where each year visitors gather to enjoy a dependably white Christmas. At 161 feet tall (and counting), it’s taller by twice than most city trees. It’s so big that the star on top is more than 10 feet tall—larger than the tree most people keep in their living rooms.
But snow is not a prerequisite for staging a popular Christmas tree show. This year, two majestic 100-foot-tall white firs were trucked down from northern California’s Mount Shasta to Los Angeles County and adorned with 10,000 lights and 15,000 decorations—apiece. The lighting ceremonies will include fake snowfall and real fireworks. It’s not the most traditional of Christmas celebrations, but this is Los Angeles, after all.
Only the biggest cities can afford to transport and maintain these giant firs, but size isn’t really the point. Tree lightings represent “a moment of togetherness and true unity,” says Alexandra Lewis, author of The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, “a moment in which hope and happiness win out over bitterness or worry, when togetherness wins out over partisanship.”

Coeur D'Alene, Idaho Christmas tree

The Tree at Coeur d’Alene Resort,Idaho

Height: 161 feet (and growing)
Alas, neither Rockefeller Center nor Washington, D.C.can lay claim to America’s tallest Christmas tree. Rather, a little-known resort in Idaho called Coeur d’Alene has those bragging rights. At a whopping 161 feet, this record-holding grand fir is the tallest living Christmas tree in America. It’s so huge that the star on top is itself 10 feet tall. That’s bigger than the tree most people keep in their living rooms.

The Tree at "Victorian Village" Ferndale, CA

Height: 150 feet
Tree Lighting Ceremony: December 5
Year-round, the self-described "Victorian Village" of Ferndale, CA, looks like it was lifted from a Norman Rockwell painting. This hamlet in Humboldt County, near the state's famous Redwoods, is prized by film directors for its well-preserved 19th-century architecture. Every winter since 1934, the fire department has decorated the spruce that grows at the end of Main Street. Can't get there this season? There's always next year. As an historical landmark, the town isn't looking to change its traditions anytime soon.

The Outlets at Anthem, Arizona

Height: 110 feet
That's right—the country's tallest cut Christmas tree isn't found in New York City, D.C., or Chicago. This year, the suburb of Anthem, just north of Phoenix, claims to have the nation's tallest tree. Its 110-foot white fir-imported from California-is decorated with two miles of lights and more than 3,000 ornaments. It took 14 workers to put this massive evergreen in place. Now through Christmas, Santa will greet visitors at his cottage next to the tree.

The Grove at Farmer's Market, Los Angeles

The Americana at Brand & the Grove at Farmers Market, Los Angeles

Height: 100 feet (each)
Southern California will never have a white Christmas, but that’s not stopping area residents from showing off some of the country’s tallest trees. Thanks to favorable growing conditions on Mt. Shasta, near the state's border with Oregon, SoCal's shopping centers have ready access to 100-foot white firs that make Rockefeller Center's tree look puny. The finest are the twins on display at the Grove at Farmers Market near West Hollywood and in nearby Glendale. Each is adorned with 10,000 lights and 15,000 decorations.
Read more on the Americana at Brand and Grove at Farmers Market tree-lighting ceremonies.

Mayor’s Christmas Tree at Crown Center Square, Kansas City, MO

Height: 100 feet
In many cities, the town's tallest Christmas tree is bought, decorated, and hosted by a local business—often a shopping mall. In Kansas City, mayor Mark Funkhouser takes pride in being responsible for the tree that bears his office's name. "No other city does it the way we do it," he said after flipping the switch on for 7,200 lights covering the Mayor’s Christmas Tree, a 100-foot Douglas fir. "At moments like that, I feel very proud to be the mayor of Kansas City.”

Toledo Zoo's Christmas Tree

Height: 85 feet
For 25 years, the Toledo Zoo has hosted the city's biggest holiday party, Lights Before Christmas. Not only is their resident Norway spruce taller than Rockefeller Center's, it's decorated with more lights: some 35,000. To encourage energy conservation, the zoo is using LED lights. They've also rigged two bicycles to the energy grid, allowing visitors to help light the grounds using pedal power. With 120,000 visitors expected, they shouldn't have any problem keeping the lights on.

Christmas Tree on Boston Common, Boston

Faneuil Hall Tree, Boston

Height: 85 feet
Since the 1940s, Bostonians have gathered on the Boston Common to watch the mayor flip on the seasonal lights. But the city's tallest tree is actually on display a sleigh’s ride away, in front of Faneuil Hall Marketplace. This year, revelers will be treated to a gigantic 85-foot-tall tree—plus bell-ringers, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and a cappella choirs. Taken together, Faneuil Hall and the nearby Common will brighten Beantown with more than one million seasonal lights.

Portland's Christmas Tree at Pioneer Square

Height: 75 feet
Oregonians found their state's Christmas tree the subject of national headlines when an area teen was arrested for allegedly planning to detonate a car bomb during the popular lighting ceremony. Fortunately, the celebration went off as planned, and their towering 75-foot-tall Douglas fir now shines brightly in Pioneer Square. This year's tree was grown in nearby Gaston, OR, and is the eighth donation from Stimson, a locally owned lumber company.

New York City: Rockefeller Center Tree

Rockefeller Center, New York

Height: 74 feet
When it comes to iconic status, Rockefeller Center’s Christmas tree—usually a Norway spruce—has no rival. (Well, except for the White House’s smaller National Christmas Tree, which has more glitz than girth.) Its size is in full accordance with its fame. Chosen trees must be at least 65 feet tall and 35 feet wide. Though recent years have seen 100-footers, this year’s unofficial national tree is “just” 74 feet tall. Still, it’s one of the country’s most cherished symbols of the season. Gawk in person at the 78th Annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, held a few days after Thanksgiving.

Houston Mayor's Tree

Houston City Hall Holiday Tree

Height: 70 feet
Every holiday season, Houston unveils the Lone Star State’s tallest Christmas tree in front of City Hall. This year, the Mayor’s Holiday Celebration tree is a 70-foot white fir, sourced from a snowcapped mountainside north of Medford, OR. It’s believed that trees grow better in this particular area due to superior soil quality, better exposure to sunlight, and more moisture. At this year’s celebration, Santa and Mayor Annise Parker will turn on the lights together.

Chicago's 97th Annual Christmas Tree

Daley Plaza Christmas Tree, Chicago

Height: 70 feet
On the day before Thanksgiving, the Windy City will perform its 97th Annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, a longstanding tradition that draws huge crowds to Daley Plaza in the downtown Loop district. Chicago’s tree traditionally exceeds 60 feet, but this year’s 70-footer is “very big for us,” as one city spokesperson put it. The tree is surrounded at ground level by a “Christkindlmarket”—inspired by the famous 16th-century Nuremberg Christmas market.

White House's National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse, Washington D.C.

U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree

Height: 67 feet
Tree Lighting Ceremony: December 7
Not to be confused with the National Christmas Tree, in the Ellipse park behind the White House (lit with great ceremony by members of the First Family), the U.S. Capitol Tree is much taller than its cousin across town. A tradition since 1963, when a live 24-foot Douglas fir was planted and decorated (that tree died in 1968), the Capitol tree is always D.C.’s tallest. This year, Wyoming contributed its first Capitol tree—an 83-year-old Engelmann spruce described by one local reporter as the tree “you’d want for your living room—if you had 70-foot ceilings.”

Michigan State Tree, Lansing

Height: 65 feet
Choosing the state's official Christmas tree is "a yearlong project," says Denny Olson of Michigan's Association of Timbermen, one of three groups that handle the hunt. This year, the winning tree is 65-foot white spruce grown by Rudy and Ruth Maki of Iron Mountain, MI. When it was felled in November, the tree was 68 years old and 30 feet wide at the bottom. It's now on display at the state capital, Lansing.

Macy's Great Tree (aka Rich's Great Tree), Atlanta

Macy’s Great Tree, Atlanta

Height: 62 feet
The lighting of Macy’s Great Tree, known to earlier generations as Rich’s Great Tree, is Atlanta’s most famous Christmas tradition. Since 1948, a towering cut eastern white pine has been chosen a year in advance and erected atop the Macy’s department store. The tree is a sight to behold, with miles of wiring that holds lights, ornaments, and mirrors—and a throbbing strobe light. This year’s tree came from a private property in Ocoee, TN, and was felled on November 11.

San Francisco's Pier 39 Holiday Tree

San Francisco’s Pier 39 Holiday Tree

Height: 60 feet
The traditional Christmas tree lighting gets a multicultural twist on San Francisco’s Pier 39, where the heavily decorated tree—this year, 60 feet tall—commemorates Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. Los Angeles’s dual white firs are taller, so Frisco’s tree can claim only to be northern California’s tallest. Seasonal songs are performed live, and Santa is even around to take gift requests—no matter what holiday you plan to celebrate.

Seattle: Tree Lighting Celebration & Holiday Parade

Westlake Center Tree, Seattle

Height: 60 feet
Seattle’s city officials are unlikely to forget the 60-foot Douglas fir they installed at the Westlake Center in 2007. With its top missing and many branches broken, the donated evergreen was immediately derided as a “Charlie Brown Christmas Tree,” in honor of the sad sapling immortalized in A Charlie Brown Christmas. The city learned its lesson. This year, Seattleites can expect a healthy, attractive tree—grown locally, no less—that reaches 60 feet into the cold Washington sky.

The Gateway's Christmas Tree, Salt Lake City

Height: 50 feet
Like many of the country's tallest Christmas trees, Salt Lake City's is hosted at a popular shopping center. This year, the Gateway mall is proudly displaying a brightly lit 49-foot-tall pine. There's also the Old World Christmas Market, modeled after the holiday markets found in Europe.

The National Tree in Washington, DC

Height: 42 feet
National Christmas Tree Lighting December 9
When the Colorado Blue Spruce that currently sits on the Ellipse park behind the White House was planted in 1978, it was 15 years old and just 30 feet tall. It has since grown to nearly 42 feet, an impressive height—but still a pipsqueak when compared to the country's other towering trees. Nonetheless, its lighting ceremony is one of America's hottest Christmas events. If you don't have your ticket, it's probably too late—tickets for the general public have already been awarded via online lottery.