Readers Share Holiday Recipes

Food, People, Recipes, Seasonal, Shared Stories, Traditions
on December 16, 2001

The enticing aromas of baking pies, cakes, cookies, and any number of other desserts are more than just a holiday staple in most households—they are tradition. Favorite, oft-used recipes take a special place of honor when the holidays roll around.

We invited American Profile readers to share desserts that show up on their tables year after year, and here are some of our favorites.

Gram’s Popcorn Balls

Myra Ashcroft of Westminster, Vt., has made popcorn balls since 1950. “Relatives and friends expect me to send popcorn balls for Christmas gifts,” she writes. “If I forget, they will write or call me and I send it by New Year’s Day.” They’re extremely popular; she makes 500 each year

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 cups popped corn
  • 1 cup peanuts (optional)

Use 1 tablespoon butter to grease a roaster and your hands to make popcorn balls. Place the popcorn and peanuts, if desired, in roaster. In a saucepan, simmer sugar, molasses, and salt to hard ball stage. Drop a teaspoonful of mixture in cold water; if it forms a hard ball, it’s ready. Or a candy thermometer can be used. Mixture is ready when thermometer reaches 260 degrees. It takes only a few minutes to reach hard ball stage; don’t overcook. Pour mixture over popcorn, mix well, and quickly form into balls. After popcorn balls cool, wrap in plastic wrap and tie with ribbons.

Applesauce Bread

Mildred Hall of Pikeville, Ky., found this moist recipe years ago, and it has become a favorite breakfast, particularly because it’s so good with hot coffee.

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3/4 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts
  • 1 1/4 cups applesauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. With an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar in a bowl until light. Beat in egg. Sift flour, soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and cloves. Gradually add to butter mixture. Stir in raisins and nuts. Add applesauce and stir well. Pour into greased and floured 9-by-5-inch loaf plan or bundt pan. Bake one hour. Cool in pan. Dust with powdered sugar.

Pecan Tarts

“I don’t have to fix any desserts at holiday time as long as I have plenty pecan tarts made,” writes Nancy Crew of Napoleon, Ohio. “They are so good, and my girls look forward to them during the holiday season.”

  • 1 3-ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup flour

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl; then roll into balls. Work each ball into a minicupcake or minitart pan, forming a crust. Makes about 21.


  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon soft butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mix egg, butter, sugar, and vanilla in a bowl. Fill each minicupcake or minitart one-half full with filling. Top with chopped pecans. If desired, glaze with an egg wash before baking to make tarts shiny. Bake 25 minutes.

Cranberry Pie

Beth Vanderveen, of Hillsboro, Ore., makes this pie every Christmas. “They are a huge hit topped with vanilla ice cream.”

  • 2 cups fresh cranberries
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup melted butter or shortening
  • 1 cup flour

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place cranberries in a 10-inch pie pan that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Sprinkle 1/2 cup sugar over cranberries. Mix eggs, 1 cup sugar, vanilla, butter, and flour and pour over cranberries. (Egg mixture and cranberries can be reversed for a more colorful pie.) Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Red Chocolate Cake

This has been a favorite of Cecelia Oakland of Harrison, S.D., for most of her 47 years of marriage. “It makes a large cake, or lots of cupcakes, and freezes well,” she writes.

  • 1/4 cup shortening
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 1/4 cups minus 1 tablespoon flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 4 or 5 tablespoons cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 2 drops red food coloring

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Using an electric mixer, cream shortening, sugar, and eggs in a large bowl. Sift flour, baking soda, salt, and cocoa together. Add to shortening mixture alternately with sour cream. Add vanilla, boiling water, and red food coloring. This makes a thin batter. Pour into greased and floured cupcake pan or two 9-inch baking pans. Bake 20 to 25 minutes for cupcakes and 25 to 30 minutes for a large cake. Cool and frost with Cream Cheese Frosting. Decorate as desired. Makes 24 to 28 cupcakes or one two-layer cake.

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 3 ounces cream cheese
  • 2 tablespoons softened butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups sifted powdered sugar

Using an electric mixer, mix cream cheese, butter and vanilla in a bowl. Add powdered sugar, beating until smooth.

Reindeer Cookies

Flo Burtnett of Gage, Okla., and her grandchildren help make these whimsical reindeer cookies with pretzel horns.

  • 1/2 cup margarine, softened
  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  • 1 1/4 cups sifted powdered sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 cups flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In large bowl, with electric mixer on medium high, beat margarine, cream cheese, and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg, vanilla, salt, and baking powder. Mix in flour on low speed until dough just holds together. Form into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill at least one hour. On lightly floured surface, roll out dough until 1/4 inch thick. Cut in triangle shape. (Burtnett says she makes a stiff cardboard pattern so all cookies are same size.) Bake about 15 minutes until lightly browned on edges. Do not overcook. Remove to wire rack and cool completely.

To decorate, frost with chocolate frosting. Use small pretzels broken in half for antlers. Use round red candy for nose and a dot of white frosting for each eye with a dot of chocolate in the middle of each white eye. (You can buy candy eyes at party supply stores.) Let dry on rack until frosting is firm.