I had a neighbor once who baked the most delicious confections
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She'd arrive at the cookout or neighborhood block party with something extravagantly handcrafted, like a Dobos torte. Artisan lavender shortbread infused with a sprig of fresh mint for the annual cookie exchange. Once, she even tackled an oversized creme brulee for a baby shower
We all crowded around her campfire of sugar, cheering as it went up in a single flame
Her collection of serving trays was as impressive as that of her cake stands. All of which she used to display her creations .. immaculately drizzled with hints of chocolate, a sprinkle of sugar, or even accents of flowers and twigs
“Pretty things taste better.”
She was also known to show up at your messy house on a Monday afternoon carrying pretty colored macaroons stacked on a holiday tray. She'd declare “It's National Cookie Day .. let's eat!”
( She was obviously a favorite of mine )
All of the neighbors had long adapted to her baking whims, but once, at a picnic, when everyone else brought chips and salsa or boxed wine, she presented over thirty miniature glazed chocolate tarts from a gingham-lined picnic basket. With tiny forks(!)
While the kids ran underfoot and kickballs flew into the air, another friend couldn't help but comment “Jan! You're making us all look bad. Shouldn't you take a nap or something?”
To which she looked puzzled and said, simply “But hun, you have to understand .. baking IS my nap.”
I thought surely; there is no one else like her, that is until ten years later when I met a woman with a heart for the homeless
She'd humble you with the hand-knitted scarves made for the teens at the recovery house, gingerbread houses as decorations for the homeless shelter. Not to mention, the hundreds of cookies she baked, packaged and gave away at Christmas to anyone lucky enough to be on her list of friends (or organizations near and dear to her heart)
A tradition she started in the mid-1950s
I heard from the director that at seventy-two, she regularly stayed up until 2 am baking, knitting and puttering around. Her cookie baking tradition included fourteen varieties that had evolved over the years. All petite and beautifully decorated, they varied from chocolate shortbread, to spritz, to thumbprints with homemade jam, chocolate crinkles, and soft sugary cut-outs decorated with colorful icing
Her kitchen resembled a museum of appliances, beginning with a top of the line dishwasher, the Geroge Forman Grill she used all the time, an original Cuisinart, and a Smeg fridge in pastel blue. A butcher-block counter where she rolled out the shortbread dough.
(Tip: She used a Cook's Illustrated two quarter-inch-diameter dowel rods to guide the dough and make sure she rolled it to the perfect thickness)
She never used a timer. For her, baking was like breathing
The day I finally had the opportunity to meet her, she couldn't understand why I was so curious
Telling me that year she was ahead of schedule. Her husband's department at the university was closing early for the holiday ,and she wanted to make sure all of his colleagues would receive their gifts. The sugar cut-outs were one of the last things left to make
It all began the year they got married, right after graduating from Berkley
“It was a way to give gifts without spending very much money”
She started with her grandmother's oatmeal raisin, added her mother's chocolate chip, and production quickly ballooned from there
“One year it was a little out of control, and we were still eating them in June”
Her repertoire of recipes, like most great cooks I know, came from friends, cookbooks, and magazines. Although she'd changed each one and perfected shapes that would better fit into her boxes
Each recipe was represented on the spreadsheet she'd created, and this made for easy tripling and quadrupling. A separate tab for her shopping list, with crazy amounts of every ingredient needed to pull it all off. And yes (of course) she was a recipe sharer
Her friends offered to help, but she'd have none of it. Instead, tasking them with collecting empty chocolate boxes throughout the year. She used them for packing the cookies before wrapping it in Christmas paper
“This is my own madness; I'd hate to drag anyone else into it”
Occasionally her husband would offer to help with the decorating. That is until she noticed that the sprinkles weren't done just so, and he found himself back in the living room in front of the t.v.
The people lucky enough to be on the receiving end had it good. Their only mandate? To eat the cookies right away; letting them sit around would surely make her frown. As for getting your name off of her holiday cookie list? Nothing doing, once a friend, you're a friend for life
“You'd pretty much have to die”
While our family doesn't exchange gifts at Christmas time, this week I did follow in the footsteps of these two baking legends and made holiday care packages to give to our neighbors
A reminder that it's not really the gift itself, but rather the act of giving that makes the world a little brighter place
Balls like this aren't a new thing, but if you're someone that regularly reaches for a snack, and you're not already on board, give these a try as a DIY alternative. They're a great travel option, and festive enough to bring to your holiday parties
Kids love them. Adults love them. The balls are a breeze to make, and the best part is you're in control of the ingredients
They're naturally sweetened and crammed with as much good stuff as they can hold. Crunchy nuts, luscious fruit, and vibrant flavors, these protein-rich treats have become a favorite energy booster. In short, all-natural, unprocessed balls of goodness, you can feel great about enjoying every day
A note about the recipes: Because dates can vary in size, I've found it's best to go by weight when using them in a recipe
~ Adapted from Donna Hay | Fresh and Light, Aug – Oct 2017
Cacao + Raspberry Bliss Balls
- 20 soft dried figs (~ 280 g)
- 1 ¼ cup almonds
- ⅓ cup raw cacao powder
- 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
- ¼ cup black chia seeds
- 1 cup Brazil nuts (or macadamia nuts)
- 1 cup freeze-dried raspberries, crushed (optional)
- To the bowl of your food processor, add the figs, almonds, cacao, vanilla, and chia seeds. Process 3-4 minutes, or until the mix comes together
- Add the Brazil nuts and pulse until roughly chopped
- Roll tablespoons of the mix into balls
- Place the raspberries in a plastic bag, if using, and roll the balls in them to coat.
— — — — — — — — — — — — —
- ¼ cup tahini
- 18 fresh dates, pitted (~ 270 grams)
- ¼ cup cacao powder
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 Tbsp black chia seeds
- 1 ½ cups almonds
- 1 cup cacao nibs, divided
- To the bowl of your food processor add the tahini, dates, cacao powder, vanilla, chia seeds, almonds, and ¼ cup of the cacao nibs
- Process until the mix comes together
- Roll tablespoons of the mix into balls and then roll in the remaining cacao nibs, pressing them to secure
— — — — — — — — — — — — —
Peanut Butter Buckwheat Balls
- Peanut Butter Balls
- 2 Tbsp peanut butter
- 1 cup almonds
- ¾ cup salted peanuts
- ¼ cup buckwheat
- 2 Tbsp flax seeds
- 20 fresh dates, pitted ( ~ 300 grams)
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 150 grams 70% dark chocolate, melted
- Buckwheat Crumb
- ⅓ cup buckwheat
- 2 Tbsp flax seeds
- ⅓ cup puffed amaranth
- 2 Tbsp maple syrup
- Buckwheat Crumb
- Preheat oven to 350° F
- Place the buckwheat, flax seeds, amaranth, on a lined baking tray. Drizzle with maple syrup and toss to combine
- Cook for 10–15 minutes or until golden. Set aside to cool. Break up into crumbs and set aside.
- Peanut Butter Balls
- To the bowl of your food processor, add the peanut butter, almonds, peanuts, buckwheat, flax seeds, dates, and vanilla. Process for 2-3 minutes or until the mix comes together.
- Roll tablespoons of the mix into balls
- Working one at a time, dip a ball into the melted chocolate and dip half into the buckwheat crumb
- Place on a tray lined with non-stick baking paper
- Refrigerate for 20 minutes to set
— — — — — — — — — — — — —
Matcha Sesame Balls
- 35 pitted prunes ( ~ 280 g)
- 1 ¾ cups pistachios
- 1 ¼ cup unsweetened coconut
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 Tbsp matcha powder + extra for dusting
- ½ cup sesame seeds lightly toasted
- Place the pistachios, coconut, vanilla, matcha and half of the sesame seeds in a food processor and process, scraping down the sides, for 2-3 minutes, or until the mix comes together
- Roll tablespoons of the mix into balls
- Place the remaining sesame seeds on a tray and dust the seeds with extra matcha to coat
- Roll the balls in the sesame mix, pressing to secure
ooooo looks tasty. Maybe I should visit your home someday and eat those. And pack some for to-go 😛 :D. Seriously these are amazing, especially Peanut Butter Buckwheat balls, looks very similar to Ferroro Rocher but tastier and healthier.
Those sound awesome. We are hosting Christmas dinner on Monday and I am short on desserts, so I love these. I think I will add them to the menu.
How blessed you are to have had two different friends/neighbors who love to bake and share with friends, family and those going through difficult times. I’d love to try the Peanut Butter Buckwheat Balls. They all look festive and delicious.
Wonderful idea making several different balls. Everyone gets to choose their favorite or try several different types. Something for everyone to enjoy. Make great gifts of course.
Yum, these all sound fantastic. I like all the various flavors. I think it’s sweet that you passed things out to your neighborhood. I would love if someone did that to me! I’m a terrible baker so when people offer something delicious, I’m thrilled.
These are so vibrant and pretty … not to mention delicious-sounding! The ingredients are all pretty healthy too, for a dessert :). Interesting story re: the lady who bakes, too. I wish I was a better baker – I’m usually better at savory foods or entrees.
I wish I had a neighbor like that! I would’ve gained a ton of weight but it would be worth it. Which are making here looks absolutely delectable.
Oh, these are very pretty. I love the red and green colors, and I love how simple they all are to make. I’d love to eat some of those.
I know for a fact, a party is NOT a party without… FESTIVE BALLS. Or balls in general? LOL! Did that come out wrong?
Thanks so much for these beautiful recipes and I agree with your friend “Pretty things taste better” . I am bookmarking that recipe for Matcha Sesame Balls for my healthy NYE party.
Longtime follower, first-time poster. It’s worth taking a moment to say these are AWESOME and I want to tell everyone I know to make them. They were super easy and delicious – the perfect portable good-for-you snack. They’ll definitely be in my regular rotation going forward. Thanks for all your great work, Ali!
The raspberry and nut ones look absolutely divine!
Now that school is out, I need to make something like this for snacking. Making out my shopping list now.
I want to meet them ladies! They sound amazing and you’re so blessed to know not 1 but 2! And these holiday balls…you’re right, I don’t need the holidays to make them. I would snack on them all year!
“Baking is my nap.” That’s totally my case! Also how cute and creative are these holiday balls!! With all the ingredients you added in there, this sounds yummy to try!
Yooooooooo. Those cute little balls look so lovely. I’ve been making peanut butter balls that I’m rather fond of, which my in-laws have now adopted as their go-to neighbor gift. I hadn’t thought to crushed frozen raspberries to coat them. They make everything is SO SPARKLY!
She sounds like quite the woman! I laughed out loud when she said they were still eating one of the cookies in June!
Great tip about the dates! Glad you snuck that in! Also thank you for all of these recipes. What a beautiful story and you told it so well. I wish I could be like these ladies someday. Maybe I can! I should aim to be more like them! Inspiring women!
That woman sounds like the perfect neighbor, always bringing amazing baked goods to parties and neighborhood events. It’s interesting though how she said baking is her nap. I guess it makes sense that she finds baking relaxing and the perfect way to unwind. Dates are a great addition to any baked good.
She really is the perfect neighbor isn’t she? I wish that I lived next to someone who would bring me baked goods as well! I guess we all find that different things are therapeutic, for me I relax by watching TV shows.
I smiled reading about the baking traditions that the two had. I like how the first woman said that ‘baking was her version of a nap’ because it is important for us to all have hobbies. But at the same time I also loved how the second woman would help the homeless and have a giving heart. I think that is a true indication of Christmas spirit when you relish giving others a piece of your heart. I am guessing that your neighbours must have loved the energy balls!
I just love your neighbor! For me, baking is like meditation! It gives my mind and thought more calm and get to enjoy the process of baking and enjoy delicious afterwards! I love your true Christmas spirit and those balls would be giveaway to neighbors easily!
A little different but as a child, I had an American neighbour and for our birthdays she would cook us American cookies and oh my it was such a treat, they tasted so different, I have very happy memories of those cookies and how she was such a lovely lady.
Christmas is the season for giving. Some go out and get lavish gifts for family and friends, but I am the type that gives unconventional gifts. I spend hours baking in the kitchen, wrap my creations in pretty boxes and give them to family and friends and neighbors. It is the thought that counts, not the gift, right. I love what your wrote, “A reminder that it’s not really the gift itself, but rather the act of giving that makes the world a brighter place.”
WOW, you had the perfect neighbor, she sounds wonderful! Those festive holiday balls look so delicious and I like how easy they are to create. My old neighbor Carl was like her, OMG he could bake just about anything and always shammed me when it came down to his treats and dishes..LOL
Those are the sorts of people that leave Lasting Impressions on us. My grandmother would make homemade sourdough rolls for everyone that she knew during the holidays. She would spend days making them from scratch and then packaging them up neatly to guess.
This reminds me of my childhood. When we were kids, every Christmas my Mom would make Rum balls. They were sooo good!
Thanks for the recipe – we are traveling soon and this looks like a healthier alternative to the snacks one can usually get int he airport! It made me smile that you made these to give to the neighbors. Do they realize how lucky they are to have a food blogger living on the block? xx
Those treats are really colorful! I can’t believe she never used a timer at all for baking!
These are so Christmassy. Have you ever made that English delight known as a Mince Pie? My grandmother did every holiday season. So, so good! xo
I loved reading about two lovely women who have left a lasting impression in your like. These DIY balls look amazing, I am someone who loves desserts and would love to make them. Plus, the recipes are easy too!
What a beautiful hobby she had of baking, Loved these balls, more so the raspberry one. i really need to bake them up. From these balls, I remember my mama making jaggery and sesame balls in winters , though simple, they tasted delicious and healthy.
I wish I had a friend who was as good at baking as yours and would come round with cookies all the time! These look so pretty x
My mother-in-law used to make the best rum balls for their holiday parties. Yep, rum balls, the holiday party stape from the ’60s, one of the things we thought went the way of bellbottoms and turtlenecks under dinner jackets. I figured they were just a giddy little way for people who need their booze cloaked in layers of sugary dessert to hit the sauce, and thus were not my thing until she plopped one in my hand and I had to hold myself back from eating three more. I wonder if I can get her to branch out a bit. I know she’d love these too!
You are amazing. The recipes are always reliable and we can count on you for quality. Thank you for a great 2017 and looking forward to reading more of your witty words and discovering more delicious recipes in 2018!
Wow, I want a neighbour like that! These bliss balls look amazing too, and sound simple enough to make. YUM!
I love this post, it is all about giving back this year and what a great way than care packages, to give to your local neighbours or community.
What a woman! I must say these look so impressive and I’d love to try making these x
My neighbor across the street from me is from Minnesota and she is the sweetest lady. She is my favorite neighbor and in fact the only neighbor that has been kind enough to reach out, her and her husband are wonderful. They bake things and bring them over and even make sure they meet my diet restrictions due to medical conditions even though I never told her but she always is considerate.
These are so original. I love how each one is a healthy treat, its like sneaking health into Christmas. I love figs, these like fun to pair with a cheese platter.
I love energy balls at the moment as they are so healthy and easy to make. I really love the sound of the choco and caramel balls and these would make a lovely gift and more special than buying a box of chocolate
I love finding new dessert recipes to try during the holidays. I have never made these before but these look amazing and pretty easy to make too. Love that. I really like the colors of them too. fun addition to a dessert table this weekend.
These look incredible and great for party food *sigh* I wish I didn’t have a nut allergy – I wonder if these could be replicated using seeds only?
The balls all look great and I love that some are red. What I really love is some of the amazing people who have moved through your life. You are very lucky.
Oh gosh how lucky you are to have the perfect neighbour!! I wish my neighbour loved to bake instead of just screaming at my kids to be quiet over the back gate!! These look amazing!
Your pictures look amazing. I wish we have such an inspiring and incredible neighbor. When you are surrendered by people like that you become motivated to be a better person as well. I’m gonna try and attempt some of these ball recipes lol
You have some incredible friends both lovely and unique in their own way, I need a Jan next door to me so I can enjoy her sugary treats
Wow I would love to have your neighbor! Haha! I have nice neighbors but not like that. Speaking of which, I love these balls they not only look appetizing but they seem to be easy to make too!
These look incredible! And for a party food, they are just perfection! Great photos!
You’ve definitely accomplished the cute artisan type desserts with these. They are simply gorgeous and look tasty too. Nice!
I just love your story telling!
These two ladies sound amazing. Every single Christmas I say the kids and I will spend hours one day in the kitchen baking cookies. And then I cheat and buy refrigerator dough. I have all the recipes… its just time. Women like the ones you shared inspire me so much!! This is such a great reminder of why I need to make it happen this year. Legends for sure!
Those two ladies reminded me of my sister. She loves to bake and gives them as gifts to her kids’ teachers. I wish I lived across the street from her house. I would be there the minute I smell something baking.
My mother-in-law makes christmas treats a bit like these for us all to pick at over the holidays. These recipes sound so very delicious though – I might need to show her the recipes!
I love your different flavors. Looks very delicious, my husband liked the taste of almonds. My husband will be happy when I do this for him. 🙂 Checking your recipe!
I can`t find my words to describe how scrumptious the festive holiday balls look !! The women staying up until 2 am baking reminds me so much of my grandma. I have always believed no matter how much practise you have, not everyone can bake/cook; you need something extra. Maybe is the passion or just love and the desire to share happiness using a magical taste.
Have a lovely Christmas Alison !♥
This woman sounds like a truly amazing person. I always feel like I am blessed when I come into contact with people like that. You’d think people are just people, but their not. At least to me, the good ones that become part of your life are gifts.
This dessert looks very Christmasy for sure! Looks amazing and delicious. I love that they’re different colors too. Thank you for sharing them with us!
The variety in style is fantastic, I could happily devour one of each just by looks alone. Looking at the ingredients I’d no doubt be back for seconds 🙂
My goodness, these are stunning! Your neighbour sounds wonderful too x
These recipes all sound so delicious. I make a similar protein ball that I love for breakfast. Have to try yours.
This looks delicious! I will definitely make them for the party we’re hosting over the weekend. Btw: I often go to your site for inspiration:-)
Both of those women sound truly inspirational! Imagine, at the age of 72, still baking and knitting and pottering around until 2 am making all those gifts for those less fortunate?? How remarkable, and how lovely that you should have people like this in your life x
Able to find the matcha and toasted sesame seeds in bulk at my local coop – love these recipes. I need something sweet at work that’s better for me as an afternoon snack and these fit the bill beautifully. Thanks again, Ali
I just made the snack balls with crushed raspberries. Omg, they’re so good. I wish i can post the picture. Every week I am looking forward to your stories and recipes. You rock dear ..
If you could just get some of these coming my direction,…. that would be amazing!! Oh my goodness you know your way around Christmas treats! These look fantastic.
I love reading your posts because you always share a story along with your recipe. It was so nice to read about such amazing and inspiring neighbours you have had! Of course, those colourful ball look super yummy too. I am scrolling up to take a second look at the recipes now 🙂
It’s so beautiful that there are people like this in the world. I do make things every year, but usually just things for my family like eclairs. I cannot imagine staying up til 2 am every night and knitting and baking til the wee hours of the morning to get out the things for everyone. It is so beautiful to know that there are people like that out there. As for the balls, they do look like a delicious treat. I think I will try to make them with my daughter.
I love baking for Xmas gifts and filling Kilner jars with treats so these are something to add to the list for next year e
These look so delicious! I need to make this for my healthy start in January
These look so delicious and easy to make. At any time of the year, too. I’ve never tried to make these, but I’m saving this post so that I can do so!! 🙂