By Joy Wilson
Updated December 09, 2014
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Credit: Copyright © 2014 by Joy the Baker

Baker of everything delicious and author of the new cookbook Joy the Baker Homemade Decadence, Joy Wilson is here to save you from boring cookies and bars this holiday season. With five simple baking tips, you can create desserts so yummy that you may not want to share.

1. Add bourbon.

I'm a firm believer in the idea that a splash of bourbon makes almost everything better. I add a healthy splash to my Pecan Pie Bars, and it lends just the right complement to the earthy pecans.

2. Cornmeal for crunch!

I like a variety of textures in my baked goods. I think creamy consistencies pair very well with just a bit of crunch. Adding a tablespoon of coarse cornmeal to a cookie batter or bar crust adds a lovely textural flair that's also still familiar and comforting.

3. Rub some herbs on it.

Herbs are often underrated in baking, but they add such a lovely layer of flavor. Consider rubbing a sprig of rosemary into the sugar of a lemon bar recipe. Remove the sprig, but the essential oils remain in the sugar, creating a lemon bar with a slight herbal flair.

4. Popcorn!

Deb of Smitten Kitchen taught us that we're allowed to put popped popcorn into our chocolate chip cookies, but why stop there? Buttery popcorn is also a welcome addition to traditional Rice Krispie treats, adding to the texture of the already chewy and crunchy treats.

5. A flakey, crispy crust.

A buttery shortbread crust is my go-to cookie bar crust because once it comes together in a stand mixer, there’s to need to fuss over rolling it out. Simply press the buttery dough into a square baking pan and bake until golden for a flakey and crisp crust. Perfect every time! Try it out with this amazing dessert perfect for the holidays:

Toasted Marshmallow Squares

Makes 9 squares.

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup chocolate-hazelnut spread
  • 15 large marshmallows, cut in half

1. Put a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper and grease it with butter.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Stop the mixer, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and then scrape the vanilla seeds into the bowl. Add the egg yolk and beat well. Stop the mixer and add the flour and salt. Beat on low speed until completely incorporated.

3. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the top with a little flour. Using your fingers, press the dough into the bottom of the pan. Try to make the shortbread crust as even as possible.

4. Bake until the crust is golden brown around the edges but still slightly soft in the center, 20 to 24 minutes. Remove the pan.

5. Run a thin butter knife around the edges of the pan. Use the parchment paper to carefully remove the crust. Run a butter knife between the crust and the paper, and carefully slide the crust from the paper and onto a baking sheet.

6. Top the crust with a thin layer of the chocolate-hazelnut spread. Arrange the marshmallow pieces on top. Return the pan to the oven and bake until the marshmallows are warm and soft, about 4 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and turn on the broiler. Use the back of a spoon to gently press and smash the top of each marshmallow.

7. Broil the marshmallows. Keep a very, very, very, very close eye on them, because they’ll toast in seconds. Don’t even close the broiler door; they just need a kiss of broiler action. Remove the pan from the oven and let the s’more rest for 10 minutes before slicing. The squares can be served slightly warm or at room temperature. They’ll keep, well-wrapped and at room temperature, for up to 4 days.