Simply Homemade

During this busy time of the year, I like to keep things in the kitchen as easy and relaxed as possible. These recipes are not only company-worthy, but they also make wonderful gifts—and preparing these sweet treats together can be a fun family activity during the holidays.

Sugar’s Pralines

1 box (1 pound) light brown sugar
8 ounces heavy whipping cream
1 (½ cup) stick butter
1½ cups pecan halves

1. In a large, microwave-safe bowl, heat sugar and whipping cream on high for 11 to 12 minutes, until hot and bubbly. (Cooking time may vary slightly with microwaves.) DO NOT LET IT BURN.
2. Remove from the microwave, and add butter, combining thoroughly until completely melted. (I cut the butter into smaller pieces to allow it to melt faster.) Add pecans, and stir to combine.
3. Drop pecan mixture onto wax paper with a spoon or small measuring cup. Allow to cool completely. It may take an hour or two. The pralines will lighten as they harden. Makes 2 dozen

Judy’s Brownie Pie

½ cup butter
1 ounce unsweetened baking chocolate
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 cup toasted pecans
Garnish: powdered sugar, fresh cherries (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2. Combine butter and chocolate in a small saucepan; cook over low heat until chocolate melts. Cool 5 minutes.
3. Whisk together eggs, sugar, and vanilla in a medium bowl until blended. Add chocolate mixture, and stir until blended; stir in flour. Stir in pecans. Pour mixture into a greased 9-inch piepan.
4. Bake 30 to 35 minutes. DO NOT OVERBAKE. Cool on a wire rack. Garnish with sugar and cherries, if desired. 1 (9-inch) pie

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FROM LESLIE’S PARTY DIARY Judy Feagin was one of the first people I met during my interview at Southern Living in 1989. She worked in the Test Kitchens. As part of the interview process, I had to do the job of a photo stylist for a week, competing against five other stylists. Well, luckily I made the cut and went on to work with Judy for nine years. My book, Leslie’s Party Diaries, would not be complete without including one of Judy’s favorites, her brownie pie. And she has been sweet enough to edit all my recipes too. Thank you, Judy! I couldn’t have done it without you.

Super Sugar Cookies

These are the crispiest sugar cookies I have ever put in my mouth. I love to make them around Valentine’s Day. They can keep for days in a tin, but they usually don’t last that long.

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
4¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
½ teaspoon salt
Colored granulated sugar

1. Beat butter at medium speed with a heavy-duty electric stand mixer until creamy. Gradually add sugars, beating until blended. Add oil and eggs, beating well. Stir in vanilla.
2. Combine flour, cream of tartar, and salt in a small bowl; gradually add to butter mixture, beating until blended. Cover dough with plastic wrap; chill several hours or overnight.
3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
4. Roll dough into balls the size of a walnut; place on baking sheets. Lightly grease the bottom of a glass and dip into the colored sugar; press cookie flat with the bottom of the glass. (Sometimes I will dip glass into sugar a second time if I want the cookies to be more colorful.)
5. Bake 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Makes 5 dozen

Yum Yum Bars

cup butter, softened, plus 2 tablespoons, divided
1 pound brown sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2¾ cups flour, sifted
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
½ cup pecans, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
2. Beat softened butter and brown sugar at medium speed in a heavy-duty mixer until thoroughly combined; add 3 eggs and 1 teaspoon vanilla.
3. Combine sifted flour and salt in a medium-size bowl. Add flour mixture to the butter mixture; beat at medium speed until combined, scraping down sides once.
4. Remove the bowl from the mixer. With a wooden spoon, stir in chocolate chips and pecans.
5. In the preheated oven, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a 9-x-13 glass baking dish. After the butter is melted, remove from the oven, and tilt the dish to completely coat the bottom of the pan. Spoon mixture into the pan, and spread out evenly. (Don’t worry if the mixture does not cover the bottom of the pan entirely; it will spread out while baking.)
6. Bake for 30 minutes. DO NOT OVERBAKE. Allow to cool before cutting into squares. Makes 24 (2-inch) squares

LEARN FROM LESLIE Baking can be messy, but this one doesn’t make a sticky mess. I use my Kitchenaid mixer, but you can use a hand mixer too—or mix manually. I do think the mixer gives it an extra whip that makes it super yummy. For perfectly cut squares, place pan in the freezer for a few minutes to chill before cutting.

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