Eco-Friendly Homemade Holiday Cheer… and a Happier Pocket Book

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, but I figured better late than never… and what better time than Christmas? With winter setting in in frigid Wisconsin, I’m missing Florida more than ever, but with all the flurries of snow comes a little holiday cheer. After Christmas I’ll be heading down to beautiful Walt Disney World for a hiatus with my family, and then when they fly back, I’ll be staying down to work for a week or two (gotta keep that seasonal status!).

Before all of that happens though we’ve all got the holidays to get through, full of family cheer and last-minute shopping. Being environmentally and financially conscious, I’m always looking for homemade or repurposed ideas for gift-giving, and this year, a brand new idea gets a gold star (or would a sprinkling of pixie dust be more fitting?)!

While on vacation in Germany, my parents and I stopped at a little chocolate shop. There we discovered part 1 of this holiday treat. It was chocolate… but it was more than that. It was hot chocolate! A cube of chocolate was stuck with a wooden spoon. Apparently you heat up a cup of milk and melt the chocolate in your cup, creating a steamy, frothy, chocolatey concoction. They came in different percentages of cocoa content and different flavors. Some had peanut butter, some had peppermint candies on top. Your cocoa limit was the extent of your imagination. But wait! There’s more! For those of you that like a little kick in your eggnog, now you can spike the cocoa. Several of the chocolate chunks also had pipettes inserted into the mix. They were filled with assorted beverages of the alcoholic variety. Rum and Amaretto made it into the mix, along with several others. My parents decided to partake in these beverages and found them quite enjoyable.

Upon returning to the United States, I found a recipe that appeared similar to what we had seen in Germany and we gave it a shot. We found 7mL pipettes on Amazon.com and invented our own with Kahlua and Peppermint Schnapps. We didn’t add wooden spoons, but if you’d like, I’m sure you can find them online. We’ve also used popsicle sticks as a substitute. All in all, it turned out great! (Scroll down for the recipe.)

Many of us have lots of extra coffee cups accumulated in the cupboards, so what a great way to repurpose/recycle them while making some extra storage space at the same time: wrap the hot chocolates in cellophane if you so desire (I know, not totally environmentally friendly, but needed to cover the chocolate–if you have a better idea, please let me know!!!) and set them in the cup. Tah dah!

Wanting to jazz up our hot chocolate with a little extra holiday magic, I found another cocoa-esque recipe: Coffee Cup Gingerbread Houses. They were putsy, but so much fun to make, and they work perfectly with the hot chocolate gift. You can just set these little babies on the side of your coffee cup/hot chocolate gift combo and wahlah! (Scroll down for the recipe.)

Solving the problem of juggling a cookie plate and coffee cup everywhere!

Chocolate+Gingerbread= Holiday Cheer!!!

So if you’re looking for the perfect White Elephant Gift or that little something to share with your co-workers, boss, or friends… you’re officially set!

Hot Chocolate on a Stick (from cokiesandcups.com/words-and-valentines/

  • 2 lbs. melting chocolate (we used Dove and Hersheys–high cocoa butter content is what you’re going for here for smoothness)
  • 1 cup sifted unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 cups sifted powdered sugar
  • ice cube trays or some sort of chocolate mold–we used mini muffin tins with mini muffin wrappers and it worked great!
  1. Heat chocolate at medium heat in a double boiler until chocolate is melted. Remove from heat and stir in sifted cocoa powder and powdered sugar (you’ll need muscles for this part–it gets quite stiff).
  2. Spoon chocolate into molds and insert your pipette and/or spoon. (You might have to wait for the chocolate to cool a bit in order to actually hold whatever your inserting.)

Coffee Cup Gingerbread Houses (from notmartha.org)

Gingerbread Cut-Out Pattern  – a great pre-designed pdf. file you can download as a pattern to cut out the pieces of your gingery house…

Gingerbread Dough (from marthastewart.com)

  • 6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup packed dark-brown sugar
  • 4 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon finely ground pepper (yes pepper–trust me, it turns out tasty–I was skepticle too)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup unsulfured molasses
  • Royal Icing (recipe follows)
  • Fine sanding sugar, for sprinkling

Directions

  1. Sift together flour, baking soda, and baking powder into a large bowl. Set aside.
  2. Put butter and brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium speed until fluffy. Mix in spices and salt, then eggs and molasses. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture; mix until just combined. Divide dough into thirds; wrap each in plastic. Refrigerate until cold, about 1 hour.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out dough on a lightly floured work surface to a 1/4-inch thick. Cut into pieces according to your gingerbread house pattern. You’ll need 2 walls with a door indentation, 2 solid walls, and 2 roof pieces.
  4. Bake cookies until crisp but not dark, 12 to 14 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks.
  5. Put icing in a pastry bag fitted with a small plain round tip (such as Ateco #7)… or just use a knife… I found that that worked quite well… and build houses.

It worked best to construct the house and then let it dry and harden before frosting the roof and decorating it.

Royal Frosting

  • 2 pounds confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons meringue powder
  • Scant 1 cup water, plus more if needed

Directions

  1. With an electric mixer on low speed, beat ingredients until fluffy, 7 to 8 minutes. Use immediately, or transfer to an airtight container (royal icing hardens quickly when exposed to air) and refrigerate up to 1 week. Stir well with a flexible spatula before using.
  2. Thin icing as needed by stirring in additional water, one teaspoon at a time. For piping designs, add just enough water that icing is no longer stiff; for floodwork, add water until icing is the consistency of honey.

**I actually used a 2 lb. bag of powdered sugar and about 4-5 egg whites (no water). I couldn’t find meringue powder at our local grocery store, so this substitute worked just fine!

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