‘Tis the Season for Sugary Sweets

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Let the holiday sugar rush begin! Home bakers share four festive recipes that are guaranteed to keep your friends and family coming back for more.

Photography by James Stefiuk


An aerial view of sugary cookies topped with an almond

Amy Megan Rogers is a personal chef and dessert-maker who posts her creations on her Instagram account, @gimmesomesugarnc. She previously worked at Pyewacket and Magnolia Grill in Durham and currently crafts desserts for Paul’s of Oak Island. These rich, crispy and chewy almond cookies with a surprise tart cherry filling happen to be gluten free.

Makes about 2 1⁄2 dozen cookies

About 30 dried tart cherries
1 lb. whole blanched almonds (if not available, you can use sliced or slivered almonds)
2 cups sugar
3 large egg whites, plus additional egg white to glaze
1⁄2 tsp. almond extract
3 Tbsp. cream cheese
1⁄4 tsp. salt
Additional almonds for topping cookies

  • In a small bowl, cover cherries with hot water. Allow to soak for 5 minutes, then drain and pat dry with a paper towel. Set aside.
  • Using a food processor, grind almonds and sugar to a fine powder. Add egg whites, almond extract, cream cheese and salt, and pulse until mixture comes together to form dough. Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 325 F. Scoop dough into 1 oz. (about 2 Tbsp.) portions and roll into balls. Poke hole into each ball and tuck about 3 dried cherries into the hole, then roll between hands to smooth and cover cherries.
  • In a small bowl, lightly beat the remaining egg white and paint on top of each cookie, then either press one whole almond into the top or roll in sliced or slivered almonds.
  • Bake for 15-18 minutes until lightly golden. Allow to cool completely, then store airtight at room temperature for up to three days, or freeze for longer storage.


Kelli Hammond was trained in culinary arts and worked as a pastry sous-chef at Lantern in Chapel Hill. She now works at UNC as a research coordinator. Kelli says her husband, Scott Hammond, makes this dessert with their three daughters every year. (Recipe is from Kelli’s mother-in-law, Lu Ann Hammond.)

Makes 8-10 dozen cookies

1 cup butter
1 1⁄4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1⁄2 tsp. baking powder
1⁄2 tsp. salt
red food coloring
1⁄4 cup finely diced candied cherries
1 square unsweetened chocolate
1 Tbsp. poppy seeds

  • In a standing mixing bowl, cream butter, and add sugar gradually. Beat in egg and vanilla. Blend in sifted dry ingredients.
  • Divide dough into three equal parts. Mix a few drops of red food coloring and cherries into one part. Melt the chocolate, and mix into the second part. Add poppy seeds into the third part.
  • Line a 9-by-5-by-3-inch pan with wax paper. Spread cherry mixture evenly over the bottom. Refrigerate to set slightly. Cover the cherry layer with chocolate mixture. Refrigerate to set slightly. Then, add the poppy seed layer. Cover and chill overnight.


Photo by John Michael Simpson

Ronda Bowman is vice president of customer and employee learning for North America tools at Stanley Black & Decker. She often includes these biscotti in gift packages for friends and neighbors.

1⁄2 cup softened unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 1⁄2 Tbsp. Kahlua
2 1⁄4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1⁄2 tsp. baking powder
1⁄4 tsp. salt
1 1⁄2 tsp. cocoa 1 cup almonds
Optional: white chocolate chips or vanilla candy coating, melted

  • Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  • In a large bowl, combine butter and sugar and beat with an electric mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs and beat well. Add Kahlua and beat into mixture.
  • In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa, and then add to the butter mixture. Mix well. Fold in almonds.
  • Divide the dough in half and form into two 8-by-2-inch logs. Place onto a greased cookie sheet and bake for 30 minutes or until the toothpick comes out clean.
  • Remove logs from the pan and place onto wire racks to cool completely. Once cool, carefully cut each log, using a gentle sawing motion, into 3/4-inch to 1-inch slices (cut on the diagonal for fancier biscotti).
  • Place cut biscotti on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 6-7 minutes. Flip biscotti over and bake for an additional 5-7 minutes. Transfer from pan to wire racks to cool.
  • Optional: Once cool, line the cookie sheet with wax or parchment paper. Follow directions on the package to melt white chocolate chips or vanilla candy coating in the microwave or on the stovetop. Dip one end of biscotti in melted chips or coating. Lay dipped cookies on the sheet and place in the refrigerator until melted coating is set.



Sylvia Taylor Townsend is one of five siblings. She bakes this classic dessert when their families gather for special occasions and holiday meals.

1⁄2 cup Crisco
2 sticks butter
3 cups sugar
3 cups flour
1⁄4 tsp. salt
1⁄2 tsp. baking powder
5 large eggs
1 cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. lemon extract

  • Preheat the oven to 325 F.
  • In a large bowl, cream together Crisco, butter and sugar with a mixer until light and fluffy. Set aside.
  • In a separate bowl, sift flour, then add salt and baking powder to the flour. Add an egg to the creamed butter mixture, then gradually add dry ingredients and milk. Mix well. Continue to add eggs, one at a time, alternating additions of flour and milk. Add vanilla and lemon extract and mix.
  • Pour even amounts of batter into three separate layer pans. Bake for 1 hour.

Cream Cheese Icing

1 stick unsalted butter
8 oz. cream cheese
4 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
8 oz. crushed pineapple
1 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. cornstarch

  • In a large bowl, mix together butter, cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla. Set aside.
  • In a pot over medium-high heat, add pineapple, sugar and cornstarch and bring to a low boil, stirring constantly. Let cool.
  • To assemble the cake, remove one cooled layer from the pan and place on a large flat plate.
  • Poke holes in the cake layer with a fork, and spread pineapple mixture on top. Spread cream cheese icing over this layer.
  • Remove the second cake layer from its pan, and stack on top of the first layer. Repeat the process of poking holes and spreading cream cheese icing for the second and third layers.

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Anna-Rhesa Versola

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