Home Made: Christmas Cookies

Home madeA great thing about life as an expatriate is celebrating twice as many festivals and holidays. However, seeing so many red days on the calendar does seem to lessen the significance of each one. It’s all too easy to hide behind a separation from local culture as an expat and excuse myself from the formalities of giving moon cakes and red envelopes. It’s also easy to slight my own culture’s festivals with the excuse that I have limited access to decorations or ingredients for traditional foods. On the contrary, Christmas has slowly taken on much more meaning for me than it used to—despite the fact that I’ve spent the last four Christmases abroad, it’s the only holiday I really put my heart into anymore.

Christmas has retained its significance for me because it’s the one holiday that has not yet fallen victim to my assimilation. Now that it has been several years since my last Christmas home, the minute details of my family’s Christmas-time traditions seem to be growing foggy. What hasn’t changed is that I always want to celebrate it with reverence and enthusiasm, in whatever way that might be. I like being over-the-top for this holiday, as if it’s my and everyone else’s birthday all at once. And, it will forever be a time when I want to be around people I respect in my life, whoever they may be and wherever we are in the world. Put simply, my favorite thing about Christmas is being able to spread some Christmas cheer.

For my first Yuletime in China, I remember being pretty excited over finding decorations and a small tree to put in my sparsely furnished apartment. I played party to a massive gift opening when my friend’s mom shipped him two boxes full of wrapped presents. He loaned me some, knowing that my family hadn’t yet figured out how to send things to China. In my third year, frustrated with making non-Christmas food for celebrations, I went out and bought a small oven just to make a turkey and dressing, and my culinary opportunities blossomed again. I could now bake, roast or broil all of the things I’d been missing out on before, and my limitation since then has only been finding traditional ingredients.

This month’s recipe is a no-bake cookie ready for Christmas. For more no-bake Holiday treats find Robin’s Home Made column online at www.test.heredg.com.

Oven or no, every Christmas I’ve spent in China has been special in its own way. To be sure, I’ve missed my family and the abundance of Christmas spirit I miss out on by not being with them, but I’ve always found some way to pay tribute to the traditions I grew up with. This Christmas, I’ll be moving to a new apartment just before the holiday and probably won’t have my new place set up enough to make it very hospitable. But, my kitchen is always the first room to be unpacked, so I plan to follow in the footsteps of my grandmother this year. She’s famous for baking an outrageous amount of Christmas cookies and desserts; in fact, she makes so many that she has to give them away to visitors, family and friends since she can’t possibly eat them all herself. I have fond childhood memories of walking away from Nana’s house with a whole tin of assorted cookies.

A big fan of making things from scratch, I’ve learned that not being able to find the ingredients a recipe calls for is a constant problem for an expat, especially when making sweets. In fact, when I look up a certain thing I’d like to make, I have to read several recipes for it just to find one that can be accomplished with my current kitchen resources. When buying new ingredients, things that I can easily use up for other dishes are easy choices. You can’t go wrong buying a nice block of cheese, for example.

But, when a recipe calls for cocoa powder, I’m not always sure that having the rest of the box around for two years as I slowly go through it is worth the price. The trick, of course, is to find a recipe that allows a special treat without breaking the bank or requiring a whole-kitchen upgrade. And, on the bright side, investing in cocoa powder for a Christmas dish just means you’ll always be able to make hot chocolate on cold days.

For me, the possibilities have only increased since I have so many methods of cooking available to me now. But, I still remember the days of struggling just to find something special to make in my Chinese kitchen with the limited ingredients found in an import store. So, here is a recipe for Christmas delights that anyone can enjoy, no matter how well-stocked your kitchen is. Try it out, share it with friends and colleagues and spread a little cheer.

No-bake cookies


  • ½ cup milk
  • 2 cups sugar
  • ½ cup butter
  • 45mL cocoa powder
  • ½ cup peanut butter
  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup chopped nuts
  • ½ small spoonful vanilla
  • 1 large pinch of salt


  1. Mix sugar, butter, cocoa and milk in a large saucepan. Boil for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
  2. Remove from heat and add peanut butter. Stir until blended.
  3. Add rolled oats, nuts, vanilla and salt. Combine.
  4. Pour into a 20cm x 20cm pan and chill. Cut into squares.

Serving size: About 16 squares.

Serve with: Glass of milk


Butterscotch pretzel bars (no-bake)


  • Nonstick cooking spray (or butter)
  • 1.5 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 90mL or 1/3 cup butter, melted
  • 2 cups crushed pretzels
  • 2 cups butterscotch-flavored pieces
  • ¼ cup whipping cream
  • ½ cup coarsely crushed pretzels
  • ½ cup chopped peanuts


  1. Line a 13 x 9” pan with foil. Lightly coat the foil with cooking spray or butter; set aside.
  2.  In a large mixing bowl, stir together powdered sugar, peanut butter and melted butter. Stir in 2 cups crushed pretzels. Press mixture firmly into the bottom of prepared pan.
  3. In a heavy medium saucepan, combine butterscotch pieces and whipping cream. Stir over low heat until pieces are just melted.
  4. Carefully spoon and spread butterscotch mixture over crumb mixture in pan. Sprinkle ½ cup coarsely crushed pretzels and the peanuts evenly over butterscotch mixture; press gently.
  5. Cover and chill for at least 2 hours. Cut into bars to serve. Store in refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Serving size: About 36 bars.


Graham cracker bars (no bake)


  • ¾ cup butter
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 12 graham cracker rectangles
  • 15mL or 1 large spoonful butter, softened
  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • 15mL milk


  1. For filling, in medium saucepan combine ¾ cup butter, granulated sugar, ¼ cup milk and egg. Stirring constantly, cook over medium heat until mixture comes to full boil. Remove from heat. Stir in pecans and crumbs. Cool 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, place 6 of the graham cracker rectangles, side by side, on a foil-lined baking sheet to make a rectangle about 10 x 7” in size. Spoon filling in small mounds onto graham cracker rectangles. Carefully spread to an even layer being careful not to move crackers. Place remaining cracker rectangles on top to match up bottom rectangles. Lightly cover bars with plastic wrap. Chill in refrigerator for at least 4 hours or until filling is firm. Cut into bars.
  3. In small bowl beat softened butter with whisk or electric mixer until smooth. Gradually whisk in powdered sugar and enough milk to make a thick drizzling consistency. Drizzle over bars. Let stand until set.

Serving size: 24 bars