Homemade Sweet Shop: Favorite Family Recipes

November 27, 2018 Maria Noel Groves
.During the holidays, I tend to put a few of my good health habits aside and indulge in a day or two of intense baking and making sweet treats to share with my loved ones. I’d tell you that the goodies I make are full of whole grains and nuts, but it’d be a lie. This time of year, I want nothing less than the festive sweet treats I learned how to make from my mom.
Yet, these recipes do get a little bit of an upgrade. Crisco has been replaced with organic shortening, coconut oil, or butter. My organic, grass-fed butter is so yellow it gives my sugar cookies a golden hew, and my fudge has half the sugar and twice to cocoa content of the original recipe.These recipes are truly yummy and make great gifts. If you’re turned off by the amount of sugar and butter in such treats, remember that moderation is key. One of my thin sugar cookies has less than 35 calories, and a heaping teaspoon (1/2 ounce) of hot fudge has about 50 calories. I never eat a whole batch, either. Remember: These are gifts that you’ll primarily be giving away. They freeze well, too.

My Not-So-Secret Family Recipes

Brigham’s Hot Fudge Sauce

My mother got this in a homemade book of recipes as a wedding gift, complete with '70s-style bright orange and red flowers and paisley artwork. Rumor has it that this is the original recipe from Brigham's Ice Cream (which started out as a shop near where my mom grew up in Boston).  This is simply the best hot fudge you’ll ever have! (Warning: The cocoa content is so high, you might not sleep at night!) This recipe makes a QUART of hot fudge, so plan to bring it to a party, give some away, or freeze it in smaller containers. It keeps for about a month in the fridge, a year in the freezer. When cold or room temp, it will be very thick, almost fudge-y, so you’ll want to warm it to pour over ice cream or brownies. Buy the best quality chocolate you can find or afford. Your fudge will be much better for it. Hershey’s brand will NOT do. Trust me. Also make sure it's unsweetened chocolate. I use twice the chocolate and half the sugar of the original recipe, but you can make yours to taste.

  1. 8 ounces of quality pure unsweetened baking chocolate bars or chips
    (original recipe: 4 ounces)
  2. 1/2  pound of confectioner’s sugar (original recipe: 1 pound)
  3. 1 stick of butter (no substitutions!)
  4. 1 can (13 1/2 ounces) evaporated milk (NOT sweetened condensed milk)
  5. 1 teaspoon real vanilla extract

Melt butter and chocolate in a saucepan. Alternately add milk and half of the sugar. Taste to and add more sugar and/or chocolate as desired. Stirring, bring to a slow boil (bubbles just around the edge of the pan). Remove from heat, add vanilla, stir. Pour into one quart jar or into smaller jars. Keep refrigerated or freeze. (It is not shelf stable.)

Vegan/Dairy-Free Hot Fudge Variation: Follow the directions above using 4 ounces pure chocolate, 1 can sweetened condensed coconut milk, confectioner sugar* to taste (about 1/8 lb... less than the regular recipe because the condensed coconut milk is already sweetened), and 1/2 to 1 teaspoon vanilla. If desired, melt 2 tablespoons coconut or Earth Balance "butter" with the chocolate. *Strict vegans will need to find a vegan sugar company such as Wholesome Organic Sweeteners.

Sugar Cookies

Any cookie that calls for almost as much butter as sugar wins in my book. These are absolutely delicious... but very time-consuming to make. Use a variety of cookie cutters like snowflakes, stars, and evergreen trees, but try to opt for simple designs with pieces that won’t break off easily. Visit your local kitchen shop for unique cookie cutter shapes. I have a collection of snowflakes and other nature-inspired cutters from Things Are Cooking in downtown Concord. A basic confectioner’s sugar, vanilla, butter, and milk frosting is great on these cookies, though I also leave most of the batch unfrosted. Before you think of making a double-batch, know that single batch makes about 100 thin, small cookies! If you make a double-batch, you'll be crying with exhaustion around 2 am trying to frost them all.

  1. 3/4 cup butter
  2. 1 cup sugar
  3. 2 eggs
  4. 1 teaspoon vanilla
  5. 2 1/2 cups flour
  6. 1 teaspoon baking powder
  7. 1 teaspoon salt

Mix dry ingredients, then mix in wet ingredients thoroughly.
Cover and chill for one hour.
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Roll 1/8-inch thick, cut into shapes.
Carefully transfer to ungreased baking sheet with spatula.
Bake for 6 to 8 minutes, until golden. Watch carefully – they burn easily! Cool on a rack.

Mimi's Italian Anise Cookies

My family is Sicilian, so our family cookbook contains no fewer than four anise cookie recipes. My mother’s favorite came from a neighbor who is descended from Italians. This is a simple recipe, and the cookies are yummy! The recipe makes soft, round/mound-type cookies with icing. This recipe makes three to four dozen, but my mum always makes a double batch.


  1. 1 cup sugar
    1/2 cup organic shortening and/or butter 3 eggs
    2 2/3 cup flour
    3 heaping tsp baking powder
    2 teaspoon natural anise flavor, or more to taste

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Cream sugar and shortening/butter.
Beat eggs and add to the previous mixture.
Add flour, baking powder, and anise flavor.
Mix well, flour hands and make small round balls.(They will double in size when cooked.)
The dough is sticky, so flour hands frequently or use a melon scoop dipped in flour each time. (That is what we do.) Bake for about 8 minutes. The tops will stay white. Once cool, dip cookies into frosting (see below), and sprinkle with naturally colored sprinkles, naturally colored sugar, or nuts.


  1. 1/2 cup confectionery sugar
  2. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  3. Milk, just a little
  4. Colorful sprinkles (such as Let's Do Organic Sprinkelz)

Combine sugar and vanilla extract. Add 1 or 2 drops of milk at a time until the frosting is the right consistency. Frost, then add a dusting of sprinkles before the frosting hardens.

Mom's Molasses Cookies

A family classic gets an upgrade with organic shortening. No trans-fats here! Super easy.

  1. 3 cups flour
  2. 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  3. 1 tsp salt
  4. 1 cup organic shortening
  5. 1 1/2 cups sugar
  6. 2 eggs
  7. 1/2 cup molasses (not blackstrap -- go for the lighter stuff)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Combine ingredients.
Drop on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 10 minutes.

Mom's Toffee

This recipe comes originally from the American Family Cookbook but has become a holiday gift regular in our family. It never lasts long! (Due to allergies, I make mine nut-free.) Makes 3 pounds of toffee.

  1. 2 cups butter
  2. 2 cups sugar
  3. 2 cups salted almonds, coarsely chopped,
  4. optional 6 tablespoons water
  5. 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  6. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  7. 8 ounces milk chocolate

Start melting butter in a heavy two-quart pan over low heat. Gradually add sugar, stirring constantly. Blend in 1 cup of almonds, water, and corn syrup. Set the thermometer in place. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until 300°F (hard-crack). This takes about 45 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in extract. Quickly pour into a buttered 15 x 10 x 1 jelly roll pan and spread to corners. Cool slightly. Mark into squares with sharp knife. Cool.
Melt chocolate over hot water. Cool. When candy is completely cool, spread chocolate evenly over the top. Sprinkle with remaining nuts.
When chocolate is set, break toffee into pieces and store in covered container.

Fudge-y Gluten-Free Black Bean Brownie Bites

with or without peppermint and dairy

You can easily leave out the peppermint and swap it for something else (such as raspberries arranged on top), too. This is my riff on a recipe available at Meal Makeover Moms. I’ve added dairy back in (in the form of butter and cream-based ganache frosting) but am including the dairy-free alternatives in the ingredient list. I really these brownies cooked in a mini-muffin tin as cupcakes, topped with ganache frosting. They’re good as a typical brownie, too.

  1. One 15-ounce can (or 2 cups homemade, slightly overcooked) black beans, drained and rinsed very well
  2. 4 large eggs
  3. 3 tablespoons melted butter (or canola oil)
  4. 3/4 cup granulated sugar (or maple syrup)
  5. 1/2+ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (to taste - I use about 1 cup+)
  6. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  7. 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract or 1 tablespoon dry peppermint leaves (optional)
  8. Pinch salt
  9. 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  10. 1/2 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided (optional – I prefer without)

Preheat the oven. Prepare pan or cupcake tin and set aside.

Place the black beans in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth and creamy. Add the eggs, butter/oil, sugar/syrup, cocoa powder, vanilla extract, peppermint extract/leaves, baking powder, and salt and process until smooth. If using chips, add 1/4 cup of the chips and pulse a few times until the chips are incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan (for brownies, smooth the top with a rubber spatula) and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup chocolate chips, if using.

Bake until the edges start to pull away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan before slicing into squares or frosting with ganache.


  1. Traditional Brownies: Bake at 350°F in a lightly oiled 8x8-inch baking pan for 30-35 minutes. Makes 16 brownies (cut into 2-inch squares). Chocolate chips work better in this recipe b/c they have more time to melt.
  2. Mini-Cupcake Brownie Bites: Bake at 350°F in a mini cupcake tin with cupcake papers (or w/o, if it’s well-oiled or nonstick) for approximately 15 minutes. Makes 24 mini cupcakes. Chocolate chips work better in this recipe b/c they have more time to melt, but this is amazing when topped with a bit of ganache.

Brownie Bite Adaptations & Tips

  1. Chocolate Raspberry: Skip the peppermint. Place raspberry atop some or all of the mini cupcakes, in the ganache, tip up.
  2. Freeze It! To really wow guests with fresh-baked desserts, freeze the raw dough in the cupcake tin (using wrappers). Once solid, put them in a freezer bag. When you want to cook them, pop the desired number of frozen cupcakes into your tin.
  3. Ganache Frosting: Melting down equal parts heavy cream and dark chocolate. Once it cools I scoop it into a Ziplock bag, snip an end, and use that as a pastry bag. If you have leftovers, you can just put that bag into another Ziplock and store it in the freezer til you need it next.
  4. Vegan Frosting: Melted chocolate or cocoa powder + avocado OR coconut cream + a little sweetener will do in a pinch but has a shorter shelf life.

Make it a Gift

Wrap It: Gift bags, decorative tins, small cardboard boxes... Our vegetarian waxed paper makes a safe inner lining.

Bottles & Jars: Look at craft stores; small, local hardware stores; kitchen stores, online suppliers...

Decorate It: Ribbons, cloth, colored paper...

Label It: Blank mailing label stickers, colorful paper, reused paper...